The moment is set. You’re feeling good, the vibe is on, the chemistry is there. Your breath is heavy, the excitement is building, and then … nothing. No orgasm in sight. It doesn’t make any sense—or maybe it happens all too often. Either way, it can feel frustrating and demoralizing for you and your partner in the moment. It’s common for men and women to have all sorts of expectations about orgasms: how often they should occur, how seismic they should feel, how loudly they should be expressed, how many should be had per sexcapade, how wet they should make the sheets, etc. These ideas are born entirely out of fantasy. And while most people can distinguish between fantasy and reality and may not have any expectations for their orgasmic potential, some may be let down if their sexpectations pale in comparison to an unconscious ideal.
Orgasms come in all shapes, sizes, sounds, and strengths. Some feel like a low quiver, others like an earthquake about to shatter your … well, you get the picture. Other times, a climax just isn’t in the cards, and it can be as much of a bummer as it is a mystery. If reaching orgasm is something that escapes you more often than not, you might consider talking to your OB/GYN or a pelvic floor specialist to rule out any medical or structural issues that might be impeding orgasm.
Too much pressure is also a climax killer. Nothing snuffs out an orgasm faster than the expectation of or demand for its arrival. Whether the pressure is coming from you or your partner, your orgasm is probably not coming out of hiding if the heat is too demanding. Lack of energy can get in the way as well; when fatigue is dominant, your body goes into energy conservation mode and is less likely to expend vital resources for a little fun.
Or, your bits may be desensitized. Too much clitoral or vaginal stimulation with sex toys can lead to difficulty reaching climax with a human hand or other appendage. No matter how hard they try, body parts just don’t work the same way as a vibrator. Try easing up on the toys for a few months to let yourself regain sensitivity and see what happens.
In French, an orgasm is often referred to as la petite mort, or “the little death,” because following one, humans go in to a gooey state of semi-consciousness after expending their life force. Interpreted another way: you have to surrender in order to have an orgasm. If you’re not letting someone in psychologically, have been betrayed, or are someone who loves control, you may find it challenging to let go enough to relax fully into the sensations that bring about an orgasm.
Relax your mind, body, and expectations. Ensure you make some time for grounding and self-love—affirmations included—if you tend to tense up during sex or under the pressure of whether or not you’ll reach climax.
Sometimes your partner just isn’t hitting the mark. If that’s the case, kindly talk to them and teach them how to please you. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your own orgasm.
Slow down, especially if you find yourself checking out or dissociating. Bodies require finesse, and if all they experience is a jackhammer, they may not be able to fully open up to the experience that slower sensations allow. Play with different sensations, speeds, and temperatures. Get creative and investigate how your body responds to different things.
Make eye contact. Sexual pleasure can infinitely increase with safety, trust, and connection, and the eyes are the windows to each other’s sexual and emotional souls.
Schedule an appointment with a sex therapist. They are trained to help people move through sexual blockades and into a more empowered and enlivened sexual state.
A partner ought never to judge or shame—ever. Shame and sex don’t mix (unless masochism is your thing), and shaming someone for not being able to climax is cruel and will likely only make it more challenging for them to relax and experience orgasm in the future.
Your partner shouldn’t take it personally. Even if their technique isn’t fully on par with what you like, the issue isn’t about them. Everyone is different, and every combination of bodies requires different stimulation to hit all the right marks.
Your partner should refrain from comparing you to others. It’s not fair to compare you to what they’ve seen in porn, and especially not to past partners. Talk about a mood killer! Everybody is different, and there is no right way to enjoy sex. Instead, encourage them to take some time to learn what you like together, and be open-minded and enthusiastic (as long as your actions don’t cross any boundaries either of you have.)
Whatever you do, don’t fake it! Be honest with your partner if you’re ready to stop. Championing the journey and not the destination takes the pressure off. Re-envision the goal of sex to be one that is centered on pleasure, not performance. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels.
Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, certified sex addiction therapist, PACT therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy, a group practice in Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago. Listen to her podcast, Modern Intimacy, and follow her on IG @drkatebalestrieri.
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