Many of us think of earth-shattering, cinematic orgasms — think Sally Albright in the deli scene — as the pinnacle of great sex. But for some of us, they may feel out of reach; having an orgasm is rare, extremely challenging, or maybe has never happened at all. This is a common experience; achieving orgasm can be a challenge for many people. But fear not – you’re not alone, and there are strategies to enhance your sexual experience.
Know that difficulty with orgasm is both common and value-neutral
While TV, movies, romance novels and porn often depict women orgasming constantly and with the mildest possible stimulation, reality is much different. Roughly 25-30% of women report difficulty orgasming; in some studies, 10% said they’d never had an orgasm during partnered sex, and 4% said they’d never had an orgasm at all. These numbers translate to millions of women worldwide who have struggled with the same issue. Struggling to have an orgasm is the most common reported sexual complaint from women.
Why does this occur? There are a variety of possible causes that can all intersect with each other: physiological differences between different people; emotional or psychological stressors; sexual trauma; relational issues; or a connection to low sex drive or libido. It’s normal for orgasmic experiences to fall along a bell curve; most people are somewhere in the middle, but there will always be some people with experiences at either end of the spectrum.
It’s important to keep in mind that if you’re struggling to have an orgasm, regardless of the specific reason(s), it does not mean there is something wrong with you, or that you’re “broken.” Orgasming is a complex and delicate physiological response and is an extremely normal thing to have difficulty doing, much like rolling your tongue or whistling.
If you’re the partner of someone who’s having difficulty orgasming, it’s important to remember that this is likely out of their control, and that increased pressure is likely to make the situation more stressful, not better. Even if your only intention is to help, single-minded focus on why your partner isn’t orgasming and what you could do to change that will only make everyone more anxious and stressed. Sex and orgasms aren’t the same thing; it’s entirely possible and even common to have a fulfilling and healthy sex life that isn’t centered around orgasming. Ask your partner directly how they feel about orgasms during sex and how they’d like you to navigate this topic — and take their response at face value.
If orgasming is a goal, know that you have options
Again, it’s perfectly normal not to orgasm during sex, and as long as you feel fulfilled and stimulated by your sex life, you don’t need to change a thing. If orgasming, or orgasming more often or more easily, is of interest to you, though, there are a range of things you can try.
Try masturbating more, and more seriously
To be clear, difficulty orgasming isn’t a failure on your part; you aren’t “doing something wrong.” But if you find that you have trouble articulating to partners what you like or what your body responds well to when they’d like to help you orgasm, it may mean that you haven’t built a familiarity with your own body and what feels good to you.
Masturbating regularly and with intention, bringing as much thoughtfulness and effort to it as you would to partnered sex, can help you really get to know what turns you on both physically and mentally, and help make partnered sex amazing — as well as teaching you what your body needs to orgasm.
Approach your wellness — and body — holistically
Stress and anxiety can significantly impact your ability to orgasm. It’s worth trying to incorporate relaxation techniques into your routine, such as deep breathing, meditation, or even a warm bath or sauna; studies have shown benefits from regular heat therapy.
Your physical wellness, including your sexual responses, are also deeply intertwined with your mental and psychological health. If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety or trauma, these can significantly impact your body’s responses and relationships to pleasure; it may be helpful to seek counseling. For many people, trouble orgasming can be connected to trouble with sex in general, driven by internalized shame and stigma around sexuality; working with a sex therapist may be a meaningful step forward.
Consider incorporating toys in your sex life
For many people, their bodies need a more intense level of stimulation to orgasm than can easily be achieved by a partner or themselves alone. As many as 50% of American women use vibrators; if you wish you were having a different experience during sex and haven’t used toys before, it’s worth giving toys a try.
Explore pelvic floor exercises
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can contribute to more intense orgasms; taking on regular Kegel exercises to enhance muscle tone and increase sensitivity could impact your experiences during sex. Working with a sex therapist, gynecologist or other healthcare professional can help ensure you’re doing these exercises safely and professionally; ask your ob-gyn for a referral.
Know that pleasurable sex doesn’t begin and end with orgasms
Sex is about pleasure and, in the case of partnered sex, connection — neither of these require orgasms. For many people, the best sex of their life didn’t include an orgasm; for just as many, sex that did include an orgasm was overall terrible or even traumatic. If you’ve tried everything above — or have no interest in trying any of it — it’s crucial that both you and your partner(s) understand that this doesn’t diminish anything about your sex life or its quality.
You determine what constitutes good sex; even if your partner has staked their sexual self-worth on a fantasy of providing multiple orgasms every night, if you’ve defined your desired experience during sex as one that’s focused on overall pleasure rather than orgasms specifically, they need to respect that.