Hey, I'd Like to Orgasm, Too!
We've likely all been here before. You're in the throes of passion. You begin to feel the buildup until…and then…nothing.
"Everybody has difficulty orgasming here and there," said Karen Stewart, Psy.D., a psychologist who specializes in sex and couples therapy in Santa Monica, California.
If you occasionally have a difficult time getting off, it's nothing to worry about. But if it's happening so often that it's putting a significant damper on your sex life, the issue may be worth some investigation.
Stewart explained the root causes behind not reaching orgasm generally fall into two categories: physical and psychological.
Physical causes may include certain medical conditions (diabetes, for example), hormonal imbalances, complications after gynecological or urological procedures, particular medications—especially some types of antidepressants—or frequent drug/alcohol use.
But much more often, difficulty having an orgasm is psychological in nature, which could be the result of "anything from that mini-fight you had 12 hours ago to doubts about where the relationship is going to body image issues," Stewart said.
Other times, it could be something deep-seated, like past sexual trauma or an upbringing where sexuality was stigmatized. But the most common reason is that people just aren't truly present in the moment, Stewart noted.
"You can be thinking, 'Oh, my God, this is amazing,' and then 'Oh, sh-t, did I ever email my boss back?'" she explained.
What you can do
If you only occasionally have trouble having orgasms, you may just want to accept it as something that happens from time to time.
"If it becomes a real concern or your body is getting really tired of trying, then it may be worth getting a consultation with either a medical doctor or a sex therapist," said certified sex therapist Gwen Lotery, M.A., located in Santa Monica, California.
The right option depends on whether your issue is physical or psychological.
"And while it's hard to say for certain without being evaluated by a professional, one good litmus test is whether you're able to orgasm when you're alone," Stewart said. "If you're not, there's a real chance it stems from a medical issue."
However, if you are able to orgasm alone, the problem is more likely to be psychological. In this case, you probably want to see a therapist, who can be especially helpful addressing complex issues or unpacking long-held beliefs.
Beyond that, there are a few steps you can take on your own to ensure orgasms are more likely:
Setting the mood
A study carried out in 2005 indicated that couples who wear socks during sex are more likely to orgasm. Though that may seem bizarre, there's a good reason. According to the lead researcher, people are more comfortable when their feet are toasty, allowing them to climax more easily.
This doesn't mean donning a pair of socks during sex is the silver bullet for orgasms, but doing what you can to relax and enjoy yourself may be what you need to reach the finish line.
"Make sure you have the time, the space, the privacy," Stewart said. "If there are things that work for you, tell your partner."
These helpers could include a certain type of lube or relaxing music, but if you're not the slow and sensual type, maybe you want something kinkier, such as dirty talk or toys.
"Pay attention to what you want and be in tune with your own body," Stewart added.
Taking a breather
People who have a hard time orgasming often put a lot of pressure on themselves to make it happen. In such a case, allowing yourself to take a step back and relax can often prove helpful.
"Try not to focus on the failures you've had in the past. Focus on the positives," Stewart said. "Remember that time on vacation when you had the best orgasm of your life or focus on the fact that your body can do and has done this before. Try to be present and really take in all the senses. What does your partner look like, feel like, smell like?"
Don't hesitate to take a break if you need one, Lotery added.
"We're so afraid to say, 'I need a minute' or 'I need some help here,'" she added. "Sometimes you just need this pause to figure out 'What do I need?'"
Getting the right kind of stimulation
You may have heard of "the death grip," which refers to a man regularly masturbating with such a tight grip that he's unable to orgasm during partnered sex.
"Often, that need for stimulation only increases," Stewart said. "Over time, his hand might become tighter or maybe he doesn't use lube anymore because he needs to have that friction to be able to orgasm. In those situations, I highly recommend cutting back on masturbating and definitely cutting out porn. By doing that, you're going to be able to connect better with your body and those sensations."
It happens with women, too, particularly when they become so used to orgasming with a vibrator that they can't climax without it. Again, Stewart recommended cutting back on that particular form of masturbation if you suspect this could be the cause of your orgasm troubles.
"It is very possible that during this process, you will not have an orgasm," she said. "Try manually stimulating yourself with your own hands or a partner's."
However, if you discover that only intense stimulation works, you can incorporate it into partnered sex. For men who want tight pressure, there are toys such as penis sleeves, Lotery said. And you can always ask your partner to do that kind of grip or do it yourself, she added.
"[For women,] sometimes it takes pulling out the toy during sex and having your partner participate to be able to reach that orgasm," Stewart said.
In any case, if you're not getting the kind of stimulation that works best for you, don't be afraid to tell your partner.
"If your partner is doing something that doesn't feel good, it's OK to gently tell them, 'Hey, I love when you do this, but try it a little harder or a little softer,'" Stewart advised. "Oftentimes, people really like instruction because they don't know what their partner likes, especially if it's a newer relationship."
Sometimes it's not going to happen
Even if you're doing everything right, you won't always be able to get off, and that's OK. In that case, the best thing you can do is tell your partner.
"Try saying something like, 'I'm enjoying this but I'm not going to have an orgasm,'" Lotery suggested. "It's like any difficult conversation: It's hard at first until it's not."
Praising your partner's skills can be a good way to ensure they don't blame themselves or feel inadequate.
"I think it's important to say, 'This feels really good' or 'I feel so satisfied,'" she added. "And I love saying 'Thank you' to a partner."
If they still push back or seem hurt, Stewart recommended going with something along the lines of "It has nothing to do with you. You're doing a great job, my body's just not there today."
The one thing you don't want to do is fake an orgasm, Stewart said. It conditions your partner to continue doing something that doesn't work for you, and it can also blow up in your face.
"[Faking an orgasm] starts a really bad pattern, and you will probably get caught at some point, which can turn into a whole hot mess," she explained.
Remember, orgasms aren't everything
As wonderful as orgasms are, keep in mind that they aren't the be-all and end-all.
"People often think that orgasm is the end result, and I really want to take that idea off the table," Lotery said. "When we think of it as a goal, we sometimes forget to enjoy the pleasure and the journey of getting there. You don't always get dessert after every meal, but that doesn't mean you don't still enjoy your dinner."
Instead of framing orgasm as the end goal, she suggested focusing on what makes you feel good.
"Orgasms are great, we all love them," Lotery said. "But if we think along the lines of pleasure, the whole thing will be a lot more enjoyable."