This shouldn’t feel like a confession, but it does: When I have sex, I do not insist on having an orgasm. Because I don’t climax. Or at least, I never have.
I’m not alone in being sexually active yet not reaching the O-zone. “Anorgasmia, or delayed orgasm, is something that 10% to 15% of women suffer from," says Courtney Cleman, co-founder of The V. Club, a sexual wellness center in New York City.
Anorgasmia has many possible causes, experts say. It can be the result of a physical condition, libido-lowering medications like antidepressants, poor communication with sexual partners, or even just lack of skill, says Liz Powell, PsyD, a sex educator, coach, and licensed psychologist in Portland, Oregon. Not hitting that high note could be rooted in an inability to relax due to feelings of guilt or shame, or it could be triggered by a past traumatic experience, she says.
“There’s also a misconception that having an orgasm is going to be easy,” Cleman adds. “It’s possible to have a lot of sex and really enjoy sex and not have figured out what buttons to push because female anatomy is complicated. In reality, it might take a lot of exploration. It might take practice."
The first time I had sex, I didn’t know that. Though I started masturbating when I was younger and did it a lot, I didn't orgasm during these solo sessions. I assumed my first O would happen during partnered sex. But when I lost my virginity, I felt nothing orgasmic; certainly no waves of pleasure took hold of me. I felt disappointed and cheated.
After that first time, I worried that perhaps I wasn't an active-enough partner. I vowed that the next time I had sex, I would give it my all. But the more partnered sex I had, and the more I masturbated in an effort to “capture” my elusive orgasm, the more apparent my absent orgasm became. That made me think about it and strive to experience it even more.
Trouble is, “when you start to focus on the orgasm during the sex, it actually takes away the likelihood of that orgasm because so much of of our sex life is up in our heads,” explains Powell. In other words, the anxiety over having an orgasm is the buzzkill that keeps an orgasm from happening.
My lack of orgasms kept me from experiencing the kind of intense sensation sex is supposed to bring. I started questioning my body and my sense of worth. Was I defunct? Was my body somehow less deserving of pleasure? I thought the answers were yes…until I found my current partner.
My partner is different from any other I've had: older, tattooed, a confident, muscled beauty with a voice like cigarettes and honey. The first time we had sex, I trusted her innately. There was a comfort and urgency that can only be described with woo-woo phrases like soulmate, or meant to be, or magic. I writhed against her without inhibition.
But my lack of orgasms weighed on me. So I confessed to her that I'd never climaxed before, ever. Instead of making it an issue, as past partners had, she made it clear that she didn't need me to have an orgasm. She gave me permission to experience sex without orgasm being the goal.
This was exactly what I needed. “When you take orgasms off the table, it can reveal a lot of things about pleasure,” says Powell. Making orgasm the sole focus of sex creates pressure for everyone involved, she adds. One partner feels pressured to make an orgasm happen, and the other feels inadequate if, for whatever reason, that big bang fails to show.
The sex we have is amazing because of the level of pleasure we both feel. And it turns out that during our first week together, my partner didn’t achieve an O either. When we talked about it later, she said, “I didn’t know how incredible sex could be without either one of us having an orgasm, without that end goal.”
I love my sex life because there is room for both of us to ask for what we want. Because we communicate, we're able to explore and expand what sex can feel like. “Expanding your idea of what it means to enjoy sex and how you define sex can help," says Powell. "Cuddling can be sex, mutual masturbation can be sex. Sex can mean so many different things."
In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers asked nearly 3,000 women how often they had an orgasm, how frequently they engaged in sexual activity, and what types of bedroom activity they'd recently enjoyed. The researchers found that women who participated in more than penis-in-vagina sex were more likely to orgasm. In other words, enlarging your definition of sex and not limiting it to penetration was shown to bring on the Os.
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Maybe I’ll lose my orgasm virginity to my partner as we continue expanding our definition of sex. Maybe I’ll lose it to myself as she watches. Or maybe I’ll never climax. Whatever happens, I’m full of lust for my current partner, who showed me the benefit of moving away from goal-oriented sex and allowing me to experience sensations that devours me. The sex is not about her or my ability to orgasm. The sex is entirely about the intense pleasure we let take hold of us.