Let’s call him Louis. He was referred to me by a well-known Bay Area urologist we’ll call Dr. Berg. “The doctor said there’s nothing wrong with me physically, so he sent me to you,” said my new patient.
Louis is 66 years old, in a two-year relationship with a woman we’ll call Maria. Louis’s first wife died of cancer a few years ago, and after a few uninspiring dates here and there, he connected strongly with Maria, who’s 60. “Maria loves sex,” said Louis earnestly, “and I really want to please her.”
And what pleases Maria? Something Louis can’t always provide. His erections are fine, thank you. But Maria expects Louis to climax every time they have sex, and the guy’s body just can’t deliver an orgasm every time.
In a friendly, professional voice, I asked, “Is that doubly true if you have sex two days in a row, or if you two do a day-night doubleheader, like on a Saturday?” It was. Louis was intrigued—“How did you know?”
I smiled. “We’ll come back to that later,” I said. “Please tell me more about your situation. Are you personally frustrated when you don’t orgasm with Maria?” Not really, he said. “Doc, I would have been frustrated if this happened when I was younger. But at this point, it’s really OK with me.”
“But it’s not OK with Maria?” I gently sympathized. Louis nodded. “And that’s why you’re here, right? Not because you’re dying to climax more, but because Maria’s upset, right?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he replied. “We get along great, and I’d do anything for her. Since me orgasming every time is so important to her, I thought I’d see you for help.”
“So you enjoy the sex with Maria?”
“Oh yes. She’s beautiful and enthusiastic and she’ll do anything in bed.” “And she enjoys it?” “Oh yes, she tells me I’m sexy and it’s great for her, and she comes a lot, and she’s always in the mood.”
Sounds quite nice, I told him. “So why are either of you creating a problem out of this lovely arrangement?”
Louis paused. “I hadn’t really looked at it that way. She says she doesn’t feel like she’s doing her job if I don’t come every time. She says guys need to come. She says that she doesn’t want me to ever feel unsatisfied, or that she isn’t trying enough.”
“Hmm, so if I could snap my fingers and get Maria to accept your sexuality just as it is, would you consider the situation resolved?” Louis rushed to her defense. “She does accept me,” he said, “more than any woman ever has, even including my deceased wife. She’ll do anything in bed I want, she’ll wear lingerie if I like, she encourages me to share my fantasies, she never says no to any part of sex.”
“That does sound great,” I said. “I bet you feel fortunate to have such a sexually-oriented partner, especially at, well, your age. You’re almost as old as I am!” I said, smiling. “Yes,” he replied, “I’m a very lucky guy. My friends and my adult kids all tell me that.”
“And yet,” I said gently, “and yet, there’s one part of your sexuality that Maria’s not entirely comfortable with…your ejaculation. Or lack of it. Is that a tiny bit confusing, or frustrating, or disappointing?”
“Well…” Louis paused, gathering his thoughts and choosing his words carefully, “I have no complaints. Maria’s great. But if she could just back off a little on the orgasm thing…she says she’ll do whatever it takes—different positions, her hand, her mouth, we could watch porn if I want to…” His voice trailed off, a hint of sadness in his eyes.
“You really want to please her, don’t you?” Of course he did. “But some things in sex you can’t really control—like if and when you orgasm, right?” Right. “And let’s face it, the older you get, the more true that is, right?”
“Is that how it is for all guys my age—it’s not just me having this problem?” Yes, I said, your body’s changes are pretty common. He lit up with relief as he realized this. But that’s actually why I hesitate to tell anyone ‘don’t worry, you’re just like other people’—even though people LOVE when I tell them that.
When I tell Louis ‘you’re just like other men your age,’ neither he nor Maria have to do quite as much heavy lifting, psychologically. They have the option of deciding that Louis’s sexuality should be accepted because he’s ‘normal,’ rather than because he’s a unique human who deserves to be accepted no matter what.
What if I hadn’t said he’s ‘normal’? And what if he brought something to a different therapist—say, he likes to be spanked, or likes to watch Maria with another man, or needs his penis caressed with a shoe to get excited—and that therapist says he’s not normal?
In any case, Louis was pleased to find out that he’s ‘normal’ (his word, not mine), but he was still left with two problems—Maria’s need for him to climax every time they have sex, and his need for Maria to not be disappointed.
I said just that. “And you can see that they’re related, right?” He thought he did, but asked me to clarify anyway. “Well,” I said, “She wants something from you that you can’t really control, and you feel bad that she feels bad. She’s made your orgasm her problem, and you’ve made her problem your problem. It’s a shame to do that to such a great sexual relationship, don’t you think?”
He responded with a completely reasonable question: “So what should I do?”
“The key is to realize that there’s nothing wrong with how you express your sexuality, especially if you’re content with it—other than Maria’s frustration.” Here are the steps I recommended they take together:
~ Let her know you’re very, very happy with your sex together. Tell her that you’re the one who gets to decide whether you’re satisfied, not her.
~ Let her know she’s a wonderful sex partner for you, and you don’t want her to do anything different.
~ Let her know you’re willing to say these two things as much as she likes, and using any words or gestures she likes—but that your orgasm is NOT going to be the way you say either one.
~ Let her know that if she has trouble believing either of these that you’re sympathetic, and want to be helpful. But you will not try to deliver more orgasms as a way of comforting her.
Louis listened quietly. Finally he spoke: “This is a big change in how we’ve been approaching this, isn’t it? You’re not solving the problem I came with—you’re taking away the problem itself. Right?”
Did I mention that Louis is an engineer? (Remember, I live and work in Silicon Valley, where everyone is either a real estate agent, a venture capitalist, or an engineer.) Engineers can be maddening in their limited emotional literacy, but one thing they understand is a systems approach to things. And Louis finally understood that he didn’t have an orgasm problem; they have a systems problem.
“I’m going to tell all this to Maria,” he said excitedly. “Do you have any homework for us?”
I did. “The next time you have sex together…” Louis was all ears. “The next time you have sex together, decide IN ADVANCE that you WONT orgasm.” He looked at me. “Isn’t that exactly the problem we’re fixing here?”
“No,” I said. “Remember, the problem isn’t about your orgasm, it’s about Marie’s disappointment and your dismay about her disappointment. So PLAN—together—that you won’t come. Have great sex together, and don’t come. She won’t be disappointed, because she’ll know in advance what to expect. And then you won’t feel guilty about disappointing her.”
“Oh, I get it,” said Louis. “We’re going to just have sex—which we know how to do really well!”
“That’s right,” I replied. “And once you have great sex without disappointment, and you see how much you like it, and how relaxed you both were, and you talk about how you created it…you might never go back to the sex you’ve been having.”
“Sex without feeling bad that she feels bad? That would be awesome,” said Louis.
Our time was up, so I asked Louis if he wanted another appointment. “Let me tell Marie all this stuff we talked about, and have this new kind of sex a few times, and I’ll let you know if I need to come back,” he said.
I never saw him again. But I did get an email from Marie a few weeks later. It simply said:
Dear Dr. Klein:
You were right. Louis enjoys sex when he has an orgasm, and he enjoys sex when he doesn’t have an orgasm. And now I enjoy sex with Louis whether he orgasms or not. Thank you!
PS: Louis really does think I’m a great sex partner whether he orgasms or not—I believe it!
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Did you enjoy this? I bet you’ll love my article at www.MartyKlein.com/what-is-normal-sex