Get Real! How Do You Tell When Women Are Done With Sex?


This column originally appeared on Scarleteen.

Liam asks:

I know for a
guy, sex is over once he ejaculates. But when is the sex over for a
girl? Because I’ve always been told in sex ed that the guy is
"finished" once he cums & that girls don’t always ejaculate during
sex. But I never really thought to ask about when a girl is "finished."
So when does a guy know the sex has finished for both, if the girl
doesn’t always "finish off" like guys do?

Heather replies:

For
men or women, sex is over when one or both partners don’t want to have
it anymore, either because they both feel satisfied with the sex they
had, or just because one partner or both, even if the sex didn’t result
in orgasm, or feel like they wanted it to, just feels done with the
whole works and not very interested in sex anymore.

Obviously, some partners may decide for their partners that sex is
over just because THEY are have gotten what they wanted out of it, but
since partnered sex is supposed to be about two people, not one, that’s
not an approach I’d advise for a sex life of any real quality for
everyone involved.

Sex isn’t just about orgasm, or about getting one or both people to
orgasm, and having that be the whole point. Sex is about the people
involved experiencing physical and emotional pleasure together
throughout, with or without orgasm, before, during and after. Ideally,
during sex, we’re both checking in with our partner to tell them what
feels good and to ask if they are feeling good. We ask what our partner
wants throughout sex, and that communication is part of sex. We don’t
need to just guess or wonder, nor assume that because one or both of us
has reached orgasm, sex is or should be over.

One thing to understand is that men and women alike can reach orgasm
more than once: just because a person reaches orgasm once or ejaculates
doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all done. Now, not everyone can
ejaculate or orgasm more than once, nor can people who can do those
things do them every day or even want to every time they have sex. But
often enough in your sex life, you’ll probably fine that reaching
orgasm once, for you and your partner, doesn’t automatically turn off
your or their desire for more sex or other kinds of physical intimacy.

As well, just because one person reaches orgasm doesn’t mean sex is
over or done: what you were taught in sex ed, in fact, may have been
biased. For a very long time, through much of our history, women’s
sexuality was all but dismissed, or made to only be about satisfying
men. Many, many women have been taught that what determines when sex is
over is when a male partner says that it is or reaches orgasm. But just
because a guy feels done doesn’t mean his partner does (that’s huge
with vaginal intercourse, since while most men will orgasm with that
alone, most women will not, and additionally, on average, it takes
women longer to reach orgasm than it does men), nor that, even if he
can’t get another erection, the sex has to be over: sex isn’t just
about genitals or erection, for men or women. We can and do have sex
with more than a penis or our genitals: we have hands, mouths and all
kinds of other body parts which are sexual for both of us. Too, a lot
of the way people approach sexuality when teaching it is based around
reproduction, even though not only is sex not about that for everyone,
even for those trying to reproduce through sex, it’s still usually also
about pleasure and about sharing something intimate together. By all
means, when a male and female couple is having sex to try and
reproduce, once the male ejaculates, that’s all that’s needed to make
pregnancy possible: a woman doesn’t have to orgasm or ejaculate to
become pregnant.

Women with male partners do often know when their partner has an
orgasm, but not just because he ejaculates (if he does: men sometimes
do not ejaculate when they orgasm: they’re usually related, but
separate, events). Sex is a pretty goopy, wet enterprise, and often, a
woman isn’t going to specifically feel that her partner has ejaculated
if his penis is inside her vagina, which is also a wet place. With oral
sex, because semen has a taste, you can tell, and with manual sex or
mutual masturbation, you can see ejaculation. Often, whatever the
gender of our partner, if our genitals, mouths, or hands are around or
in their genitals, we can learn to feel the contractions which usually
happen with orgasm, and have a pretty good idea of when a partner is
having one. All the same, women usually know best when their male partners have reached orgasm because they say so, as in "Holey moley, that orgasm rocked!"

You’re right: some women do ejaculate with sex or some kinds of sex,
and some women do not. But for many who do, ejaculation doesn’t always
happen with orgasm: sometimes it happens considerably before orgasm.
Women who ejaculate also usually don’t with every orgasm, and more
women than men can have multiple orgasms. So, as is the case with male
partners, knowing when a female partner is done is going to be about
when she says she’s done, or asking her if she feels done.

Of course, not all men or all women will reach orgasm with
intercourse or any other kind of sex all the time. So, men don’t always
"finish off" in that way, either. It’s not just women who don’t always
orgasm. Sometimes, too, a woman might feel done with sex before a male
partner reaches orgasm or ejaculates, just like men might have that
experience. Obviously, when we’re having sex with a partner, we want to
try to each do our best to please the other person, but if either of us
just doesn’t feel like having sex anymore on a given day, no one should
feel they have to keep going when it’s a drag. After all, we all have
ways of getting ourselves to orgasm, too, for those times when our
partner is not feeling well, has lost the mood or is just plain
tuckered out.

What it all boils down to is that men and women are more alike that
it seems when it comes to all of this, and ejaculation isn’t a good way
to tell that anyone is finished with sex.

One more thing? Our feeling of being "done" isn’t always just about our own pleasure.

Sometimes, even if we’ve had several orgasms, and don’t really feel
like we can handle or are up to more being done with our bodies, we
might see that our partner is still up to more. Since partnered sex is
about giving pleasure as well as receiving it, and a lot of our
excitement is about our partner’s pleasure, we might not feel done if
we have the opportunity to please THEM more, even when in one respect,
we’re done. In fact, sometimes we may want to have sex with a partner
that is entirely about pleasing them, about their bodies and genitals
more than our own or exclusive of our own altogether. We can be in the
mood for that kind of sex sometimes and not others where it’s more
about both of us having genital or other stimulation.

Not all people feel done with sex just because they reached an
orgasm, either done for their own pleasure, nor done when it comes to
their partner. In other words, it’s not a race where whoever comes
first wins and the other partner is S.O.L. If you ask me, when any two
(or more) people are sexually active together, if everyone is doing it
for the right reason and really invested in each other, none of us is
really going to feel done unless we both feel done. As I
explained a bit earlier, it doesn’t always work out that way. We’re
human, and our moods, relationship dynamics and the way we feel in our
bodies tends to vary from day to day. Sometimes, we just aren’t
connecting enough physically or emotionally to continue with sex, we
get distracted and lose the mood, or just aren’t feeling well or
energetic, even if we really wanted to be sexual at first. It happens,
and it’s okay that it does now and then. But for the most part, our
feeling of pleasure and being "done" should be interconnected with the
way our partner is feeling.

Hopefully, that fills in the gaps for you. And by all means, if your
sex education had a gap like this you saw, you might want to pipe up
and say something. I get that group sex education in school can be
awkward, so it’s not always so easy to interject in class, but you
could certainly tell your teacher privately afterwards where they had a
blind spot or left something as critical as this — as the sexual
experience of more than half the globe, and a more realistic idea of
what sex between people is like — out. Who knows, you may wind up
being the person students in the future have to thank for getting that
information from the get-go, and for getting a sexuality education
that’s not only more realistic, but about everyone sitting in the
classroom!

Here are a few extra links for you which may fill some additional gaps in your education:

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  • alison-cole

    This reads like a how-to for sexuality at its best. We all need to learn from this. Thank you.