Why can't I orgasm? 8 reasons you have trouble getting over that hump

By Maya Khamala

For many women, climaxing is anything but easy. In fact, some women can’t seem to cum at all, in spite of their efforts. And still others never have—not even once. But while anorgasmia (the medical term for regular difficulty reaching orgasm after ample sexual stimulation) can be quite distressing, know this: you are far, far, far….far from alone. That’s the good news and the bad news, of course. Because anyone who wants to climax should be able to get there. In fact, here are so many reasons women have trouble cumming that it’s enough to make a gal lose sleep.

The orgasm gap

Let’s start with a li’l look at the numbers, shall we? Disclaimer: finding reliable data about women and orgasmic dysfunction isn’t easy, because the ways dysfunction is defined, how questions are phrased, and who is sampled are inconsistent at best. That said, according to Glamour, 16% to 25% percent of women in the western world report challenges reaching orgasm, while in other countries where cultural attitudes about sex are even more negative, rates are much higher. For instance, 74% of women in Ghana report having trouble orgasming.

If we look at just the US, Cosmopolitan's Female Orgasm Survey found that only 57% of (straight) women typically orgasm when they have sex with a partner while their male counterparts orgasmed 95% of the time. There’s more: 50% of women said their partners were really close but just get them there; 38% felt they weren’t getting enough clitoral stimulation; and 35% said they weren't getting the right type of stimulation. And then there are estimates like the Cleveland Clinic’s, which states that only 10% of women can easily achieve orgasm. Again though, definitions and questions vary so much that the only message worth retaining here is that the orgasm gap is very real.

No matter what the numbers say, if you're struggling to climax, there are reasons for it! And they’re not always what you’d expect (some are emotional, some physical). But guess what: figuring out what they are and addressing them is the key to achieving a more satisfying sex life!

Here are 8 common reasons you may be having trouble reaching the big O:

1. You’re anxious

Anxiety can make it nigh on impossible to orgasm. Oxytocin, AKA the “feel good” hormone plays a major role climaxing, but stress can cause your body to under-produce it. This survey shows that more than half of women attribute their struggle to orgasm to anxiety. The antidote to being too much in your head, of course, is to try being more present in your body by focusing on the physical sensations like skin against skin, breath against neck, etc. Whether it’s work-related stress (i.e., an inability to relinquish control), relationship stress (bad vibes do not good sex make), or stress related to the narratives of sexual shame which are so pervasive (and so gendered) in our society, once you know the source, you can begin trying to reduce your anxiety. If you need help, consider enlisting a sex therapist.

2. You’re insecure

If you feel shitty about yourself (or—more specifically, your appearance, though the two are connected), you may have more difficulty experiencing pleasure. I’ve been there: you may worry your partner will feel some kinda way about your belly rolls or cellulite. All of this is very useful for snatching you right outta the heat of the moment. First off, if your partner does shame your body in any way, dump their ass (they probably suck in bed anyway, just one woman’s opinion). The more likely scenario, though, is that the insecurity stems from within. Overcoming all that deeply ingrained shit takes time and effort. Inspiration to counteract overthinking: integrate a mediation practice or breathing exercises into your day, start journaling, or focus on eating healthy and getting exercise (not as a weight loss regime, but as a feel good regime!).

3. You’re in pain

To state the obvious, if you experience any pain or discomfort when having sex, it will be extremely difficult to orgasm, whether solo or with a partner. Vulvodynia and vaginismus are disorders that cause pain and often go undiagnosed for a very long time—because in spite of how common it is, doctors still don’t understand it well. I’m gonna come right out and tell you that this is largely due to the systemic discrediting of women’s pain, along with gendered gaps in research. If you suspect you have a chronic pain condition, consult a doctor or, better yet (IMO), see a qualified pelvic floor therapist, stat.

4. You’ve experienced sexual trauma

Traumatic experiences related to your sexuality can block your ability to relax into pleasurable sensations and feel both comfortable and entitled to experiencing an orgasm. Trauma can refer to a broad range of experiences, from religious parents who punished you for touching yourself, to sexual harassment, to sexual abuse and assault in their many forms. It doesn’t matter how recent or long ago said trauma occurred, either; our minds tend to hold on (without much regard for our bodies) until we dig down deep and deal with our stuff. If this sounds like you, do your homework and find a good therapist you feel comfortable opening up to.

5. You don’t pleasure yourself

Truth: how often you masturbate can directly affect your chances of orgasming with a partner. The ability to let one's fantasies run wild, whether alone or with a partner, is the key to climax for many. Thing is, it’s usually easier to really unleash your mind when you're alone (at least at first). What’s more, doing so can teach you invaluable lessons about how and where you like to be touched. For instance, many (if not most) women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm, but you may need to put some real time into your solo sessions before internalizing this information. If you're not a sex toy person, consider trying one anyway. If you don’t like to masturbate, or don't even want to try, you may be experiencing a shame-based sexual blockage worth investigating further. Think of self-exploration as your sexual foundation, and go from there.

6. You aren’t comfortable communicating what you want (or need)

I can’t overstate the importance of communication with your sexual partner(s), both in and out of bed. First off, believe it or not, making noise or talking dirty (i.e. “yes, right there!”) As a way of communicating your desires during sex can be the difference-maker. Try it and tell me you don’t contribute to your own arousal. Additionally, however, it’s important to have honest conversations with your partner about your sexual needs, your hangups, etc. It’ll make you more vulnerable, bring you closer together, and make for better sex. That said, if you have a selfish lover who doesn’t listen, skips foreplay, or disregards your pleasure altogether, there’s your problem. Bonus tip: if you have to pee, don’t hold it in for fear of breaking the moment: go! Real sex is hot sex, and hot sex requires you not be afraid of stating your needs and desires as they arise.

7. Your meds are cock blocking you

This just in: certain meds cause a spike in prolactin, AKA a protein that decreases your libido. Your doc may or may not have mentioned this. Culprits include blood pressure meds, birth control pills, and antidepressants. Antihistamines may even cause issues because they can actually lessen your ability to self-lubricate, which makes sex less-than-comfortable. Always have lube on hand if that's the case, and talk to your doc about switching up your meds (or look into natural alternatives) if this is an ongoing problem.

8. You’re too focused on the destination

Frustrating as it may seem, trying too hard to reach orgasm can definitely stand in the way of an orgasm. Too much emphasis on cumming turns sex into a goal-oriented task, which, ultimately, is more work than pleasure; more effort than intimacy. Try to focus less, enjoy every sensation, and be more present to the sensual experience which is unfolding—otherwise you may not be able to relax into pleasure enough to really feel it. Try developing some sensual practices to reduce your sense of urgency, such as exploring tantric sex with your partner or tantric masturbation on your own.

Bottom line: the path to orgasm is paved with pleasure. To open yourself to this pleasure, you must learn to breathe, be present, and open yourself to the moment. As far as I’m concerned, where there’s a will, there’s most certainly a way to jump through that biggest hoop (O) of them all. You got this. Just remember to revel in the journey! <3

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