Now That I’m Single Again


TwitterFacebookCopy LinkPrintEmail

Dear Elizabeth,

I’m writing to say thank you for your first column about vibrators. When I read it, I felt normal for the first time. I’m hoping you’ll have some further advice for me. I’m a divorced woman who just turned 50, from a conservative religious background. I had some friction with my ex-husband, particularly in the bedroom. I could never reach orgasm from regular sex with him, and he often belittled me for it and made me feel like there was something wrong with me. Imagine my surprise to read the statistics about female orgasm! How would you suggest I start exploring now that I’m single again? Never thought that would happen.

Fresh Start

Dear Fresh Start,

Civilization does a lot of good things for us as human beings. We get a social network that provides structure such as safety, education, and health care. Things like traffic lights and toilet paper are great, but commonly held ideas about how we should behave in our relationships are sometimes
problematic. We are sexual beings. Our bodies evolved through reproduction, and pleasure is one way to ensure we do that. But instead of harnessing pleasure as this great joy and birthright we have as human beings, organized society opted to spend a heck of a lot of time and energy preventing us from doing just that. It’s a pity, because it creates a lot of guilt and shame around sexual pleasure and it has greatly limited sexual education, particularly here in Puritan New England. As a result, there are a lot of people like you who are unaware of what is normal for women’s bodies. 

There’s a lot of talk in sexual research about something called the “Orgasm Gap,” which is the notion that men and women experience orgasms at dramatically different rates. In penetrative heterosexual sexual encounters, 90% of men will climax, compared with 30% of women. This was true in the 1950s when Kinsey did his research and it is still true today. You’re not alone in struggling to reach orgasm. Your body isn’t to blame; lack of knowledge is the culprit.

Your ex-husband also wasn’t alone in not knowing how best to please you. In a YouGov study, roughly half of men and women couldn’t accurately label basic anatomical parts in a diagram, including the urethra, labia, and vagina. If people don’t learn what their body parts are or what they do, how can we be expected to finesse ourselves to pleasure?

When I coach women struggling with orgasm, the first step is nearly always self-exploration. Give yourself time and space to learn what you enjoy. You can’t teach anyone else what you like until you first understand your own body. Luckily there are great resources online these days that can help women learn about their bodies. The Kinsey institute’s OMGYes is a great starting point full of informative videos by sex educators taught in accessible language.

I recommend giving yourself several solo play dates, where you simply spend time with yourself, your hands, and some toys and explore what feels good and what doesn’t. Don’t have any specific goals in mind and remember that as an adult you don’t have a curfew. Take your time, don’t pressure yourself to reach an orgasm, and don’t feel bad about feeling good. We’re supposed to feel good. When it comes time to share this information with a partner, I highly recommend couples take several play sessions with the specific instruction not to orgasm. It takes the pressure off, and it keeps things light and fun. It builds desire, which is a bonus. Remember that the primary goal of intimacy is connection and simply enjoying the skin to skin contact we’ve evolved to crave.

The good news is pleasure can absolutely be taught, and you’re not doomed to that 30% figure I mentioned before. The other relevant statistic for female pleasure? Lesbians orgasm 86% of the time with their sexual partners which tells us what women’s bodies are capable of with more knowledge of their own anatomy. The other encouraging statistic is that heterosexual encounters involving activities other than penetrative sex result in climax for 65% of women which takes into consideration oral sex, touching, and playing with toys. Find a new partner who is willing to branch out and explore with you and enjoy the journey to discovering each other. But before that can happen, your first new partner is yourself.


Elizabeth R. Busbee earned a doctorate at Yale and specializes in issues of gender, sexuality, and communication. She has been helping people explore and enjoy intimacy for over 20 years. Her private relationship and intimacy coaching practice can be reached at

Have a question you’d like answered? Write to Elizabeth at