For some time, Manisha thought that the lack of her husband’s stamina was to blame for her sexual dissatisfaction. The 32-year-old came to this conclusion after she believed all other avenues had been exhausted—they’d had couples therapy and her husband had even been on medication to make him last longer during sex. When she still did not orgasm, she was convinced that the issue was one of sizing.
Her therapist then took a different approach. She asked Manisha to go home and figure out how her body responded to her own touch. She was asked to experience clitoral sensations by herself and to understand her needs and pleasure points based on this. Back at the therapist’s office after a few weeks, Manisha said she had finally climaxed.
What Manisha experienced was no magic, although its impact was life-changing. She had discovered what made her tick sexually, and equipped with a better understanding of her body she could guide her husband during sexual encounters.
“It is true that many women in India do not experience orgasms. The most common reason is their lack of understanding or acknowledging their physical needs,” says clinical psychologist Anindita Chowdhury.
We spoke to a bunch of therapists to find out how women can take ownership of their orgasms during sex.
Penetrative sex is overrated
Kolkata-based psychotherapist Mansi Poddar says it’s important to understand that women need more than penetrative sex to orgasm. “It is perfectly normal if you don’t orgasm each time you have penetrative sex. Women are just not wired that way,” she says.
Sex educator Pallavi Barnwal says she frequently meets women who don’t climax due to lack of foreplay and clitoral stimulation. “One of my clients came to me and said that sex was yet another mundanity in her married life. This dissatisfaction turned into frustration—she said she felt numb during intercourse.”
Upon further digging, Barnwal discovered that the husband in question approached sex as if it were a mechanical activity. “She wanted her husband to make lovemaking special and worthwhile, but clearly he was only interested in penetration. I advised her to tell him that he was not doing enough to turn her on,” Barnwal says.
Ruchika, a 35-year-old single mom, says penetrative sex is overrated. “Foreplay in bed is an arousal for me. I have noticed that I orgasm when there’s a lot of or oral sex involved. Like every woman, every vagina is different. There are different ways to pleasure every woman. But just penetration hardly ever works.”
According to Barnwal, women take nearly 20-30 minutes to climax, while men could be good to go in just five minutes. “Just think of how huge this gap is! I suggest keeping it exciting and pleasurable with sensual foreplay and massages,” she says.
Masturbation is underrated
In a society that views women who seek sexual pleasure as immoral, masturbation is still a taboo. However, therapists are increasingly advising women to spend quality time with themselves. If you don’t know your body, or don’t know how it reacts to touch, how will you let your partner know? Barnwal says she wants every woman to go on a date with her body. “Touch yourself with love and kindness. It doesn’t have to be the genitals. Touch every part of yourself to know what comforts you, what turns you on,” she says.
Smriti, 37, says her former husband had no understanding of the female body. Sex for him was the eight to ten minutes of penetration that led to his orgasm. “I felt sexual desire, but I never enjoyed sex with my husband. It may sound strange but during those years of marriage the only orgasms I had were through self-pleasure,” she says.
According to Poddar, the notion that the ultimate goal of sex is to orgasm is problematic. “I know women who call themselves frigid or defective if they cannot climax during sex. These ideas make sex a stressful chore. When women experience self-pleasure and orgasm through masturbation it makes a world of difference to their emotional and physical well-being,” she says.
Show and tell
In India, women learn from an early age that not only must they not express their sexual desires, they must do all they can to protect the so-called “fragile male ego”. It’s a recipe for insipid bedroom encounters.
However, all the experts we spoke to reinforced that open communication about sex is essential. Poddar recounts how one 40-year-old client had been sexually active for 20 years, but had hardly ever climaxed during sex. “She would fake orgasms so that her partner would not feel inadequate. During therapy sessions she opened up about her struggle to have orgasms without a vibrator,” she says. Happily, this client was able to express her needs to her partner and now occasionally uses her vibrator during sex to have an orgasm.
Poddar says couples need to acknowledge that sex is about mutual pleasure, and not keeping up appearances at the cost of real fulfilment. An honest heart-to-heart may even ease the pressure of performing that a man might face. If he is receptive, he becomes more attuned to the woman’s needs. He can take pleasure in her pleasure too. This leads to better sex and orgasms for both.
Therapy can work wonders
Barnwal compares sex to going on a train journey with a partner. “Imagine you are both on a train and you’re both excited about reaching the destination together. However, what if your partner jumps out before the destination arrives, leaving you alone and abandoned?” According to her, orgasm during sex works the same way. “If your partner reaches his destination first and leaves you high and dry, you feel let down and a little lost,” she says.
So, how do you and partner both “get off” (pardon the pun) together? Therapy, says Barnwal, can work wonders in guiding partners to shed their inhibitions and lay bare their hearts. She suggests making a list of dos and don’ts—if the missionary position makes you feel like a passive partner, switch roles or try new positions. “I tell my clients sex should be shame-free. This is what results in those feel-good hormones being released!”
Often, women feel discussing their desires may make them look needy, or wanting to experiment with sexual positions will make them less desirable. “This is where we come in. We help them initiate a conversation and express their desires without fear of being judged,” says Chowdhury.
Poddar too advises couples therapy to many of her clients. She has a message for men: “If your partner struggles to climax, it is important to understand this is not about you. Don’t take it personally. Instead, support her by creating a safe space where they can explore.” For mutual sexual gratification, she says women have to be more vocal about their needs and men need to listen and act upon them.