An orgasm doesn’t come as easy ― or as often ― as Hollywood or even conversations over brunch tries to make us believe. That fact is that there are many people who struggle with getting off during sex.
There’s nothing wrong with you if you rarely or have never climaxed. But, luckily, there are ways to change that fact. We spoke with sexual wellness experts to understand why some people may have trouble orgasming, and what can be done about the issue.
There are a multitude of reasons why people struggle with achieving orgasm, according to Aline Zoldbrod, a sex therapist and psychologist based in Boston. “The most basic reason, and the one that people don’t want to believe, is that sex isn’t that simple,” Zoldbrod said.
Holly Richmond, a certified sex therapist, psychologist and K-Y partner, said that, for starters, you should check in with a doctor if an inability to orgasm is causing serious concern. The struggle to orgasm is can be associated with either physiological or emotional reasons, which can include past trauma, sexuality, your upbringing and more.
“Particularly for my clients with non-binary sexual expression, we do our research together to find a practitioner in their area who is sex-positive and therefore inclusive in their treatment approach,” she said. “Many men and transgender people feel enormous shame from the inability to orgasm because of cultural standards and expectations, so I want to ensure to the best of my ability that the practitioners treat them work in a way that reduces shame, normalizes their circumstances and move to improve it.”
It could also be a matter of not yet knowing what works best for your body, so taking the time for self-exploration can be key. “Pleasure is something we need to take into our own hands rather than thinking someone else can create it for us,” Richmond said. Both experts stressed how important it is for individuals to learn what is pleasurable on their own, and then practice communicating these findings to their partners.
Additionally, research shows that performance anxiety is a real issue, for both women and men. Generalized anxiety can also prevent someone from reaching orgasm. Zoldbrod said that individuals dealing with excessive stress or worry may benefit from anti-anxiety treatment that can help them calm down and “be able to focus enough on their bodily sensations to have an orgasm.”
As a fix for this, Zoldbrod said she’ll have her patients first try to practice mindfulness, “because this is likely to be calming enough to allow them to learn to orgasm.” Zoldbrod said a lot of women, in particular, may be “unconsciously frightened” of letting go, especially those that like being in control (Type A folks, wave your hands in the air).
And regardless of your gender, if anxiety is affecting your everyday life ― including preventing you from having an orgasm ― some experts may prescribe medication or offer more tailored treatment to help you better manage the condition.
Another obstacle in achieving orgasm could be rooted in teachings from childhood. “The missing piece of sex education is pleasure,” Richmond explained in a video about women’s experiences in learning about sex. “For many of us, with the religious or the familial piece, you get shamed.”
Many women are often taught that sex is merely a biological function to have children, receiving little to no education about pleasure and having the right to experience sexual pleasure.
“Despite the fact that sex is used to sell cars, makeup, vacations, food [and] clothes, there are plenty of segments of society, and plenty of families, who believe that women should be asexual to maintain their ‘purity,’” Zoldbrod said. “In order to have an orgasm, you have to be determined to let yourself focus on your genitals, on having animalistic pleasure in your genitals, and on letting go. You have to give yourself permission to do this, because many times you won’t get permission to do this from your church or your family.”
Finally, be aware that some health conditions (like vitamin deficiencies or low testosterone) and medications you might be taking could lower your libido. These include prescriptions like antidepressants and blood pressure medication. You may want to bring up these side effects with your doctor, whether that be your general practitioner or OB-GYN, Richmond said.
“These are definitely the experts to talk with about medications, and the pros and cons of staying on them or going off,” she added.
So, what can you do to better achieve orgasm?
As Zoldbrod mentioned, a mindfulness practice might be the thing to help with anxiety and focus on how your body feels. There are plenty of ways to practice mindfulness: You might start by observing your breath or performing a body scan. These techniques can help you to feel more present.
Both Zoldbrod and Richmond also reemphasized the importance of getting to know your own body. “To achieve better orgasms alone, self-exploration is the best bet, both psychologically and physiologically,” Richmond said. “I encourage my clients to consider desire and arousal — desire pertaining to what turns them on and the mental aspects of pleasure, and arousal focusing on how we are turned on and the physical aspects of pleasure.”
While you may have notions of what should be arousing based on pop culture or otherwise, Richmond said that no two people are alike when it comes to sex and pleasure, “so the ways we have sex, including with ourselves, is extremely varied and an entirely individual experience.”
Above all, being kind to yourself during the process is key, Zoldbrod said. Once you’re comfortable with orgasming solo, communicating with your partner is essential. “Knowing yourself and being able to speak up about what you want are by far the best strategies for moving into a sexually healthy and empowered life,” Richmond said.
And if you’re still struggling, know that it’s OK, especially if you have experienced sexual trauma, where it might take more time to work through. Zoldbrod suggested working with a certified sex therapist in cases like these, or a mental health professional, who can certainly help you treat and manage trauma as well.
Orgasms can be beneficial to your health, Richmond pointed out, including improved sleep and mood, reduced stress and anxiety and stronger immune response. But know this: Not all sex has to end in the Big O.
“It is critical that we don’t individually or societally pathologize, shame or blame people who can’t — or haven’t — reached orgasm,” Richmond said. “There is no timeline for having great sex.”
Zoldbrod added that many people, most often women, have “a lot of sexual pleasure without being orgasmic.” And rule of thumb here: “If it’s fine with you, then it should be fine with your partner,” she said. As always, communication is key and talking about it with them will help you get closer to what works. Giving yourself patience and compassion first is a great place to start.