Guest written by Missy Modell, a musical parody artist and activist focused on the intersection of social justice and pop culture. Missy is the founder of YES MAM Creative, a consultancy for mission-based brands. You can find Missy on Instagram at @missymodell.
I have always had a really hard time orgasming.
I’ve been on SSRI’s for most of my adult life and although able to reach high levels of arousal, when it came down to climaxing, it either never came (literally) or it seemingly took forever and I got in my head and stopped trying. I was so frustrated by this dilemma, that I once asked my college psychology teacher why I had trouble orgasming. True story. Inappropriate? Perhaps. Helpful? Extremely! It turns out, the more I shamed and stigmatized my orgasm abilities or inability, the more pressure I put on myself, making it even more difficult. There are more factors than you can even imagine that influence the ways you experience pleasure.
There are many reasons why people experience difficulty reaching orgasm. Some people may struggle to reach orgasm due to a medical condition called Anorgasmia, while others attribute their struggles to situational factors such as lack of foreplay and hormonal changes.
Anorgasmia: A medical term for regular difficulty reaching orgasm after ample sexual stimulation.
Lifelong Anorgasmia: You've never had an orgasm.
Acquired Anorgasmia: You used to have orgasms, but now have difficulty reaching climax.
Situational Anorgasmia: You're able to have an orgasm only in certain circumstances, such as during oral sex or masturbation or only with a certain partner.
Generalized Anorgasmia: You aren't able to have an orgasm in any situation or with any partner.
As we develop throughout our lives, our physical and hormonal health shifts and can affect how we move or the level of our drive. For women, as you reach menopause, the body begins to produce less estrogen and progesterone. You might also experience hot flashes, insomnia, mood swings, or vaginal dryness which can lead to general discomfort. The pelvic floor also plays a large role down there!
“In women, contraction of the pelvic floor muscles can increase the amount of blood circulation to the clitoris and pelvic region, which in turn increases arousal and vaginal sensation. In men, this muscle group is essential for gaining and sustaining an erection.” - Body with Soul
Men might experience andropause, during which the body produces less testosterone. This can cause decreased energy, libido, and erectile dysfunction. As we live through these changes, being sexual and embracing pleasure within our body can naturally be a bit more tricky!
Many prescriptions, such as SSRI’s, blood pressure medicines, and antihistamines can inhibit one’s ability to reach an orgasm. They impact both our blood flow and brain chemistry, which can lower sex drive, making it more challenging to reach an orgasm.
Emotional and Mental Health
The biggest sex organ is the brain! Stress can heavily affect the ability to reach a pleasure peak. Chronic stress can increase the body’s production of cortisol, which impacts our other hormones. Feeling stressed in general can impact how comfortable we are within ourselves. If our mind is focused on lists, responsibilities, or problems we’re experiencing, it can be harder to stay present and focus on what we actually feel.
The emotions and mindset that we have about ourselves can also play into how we feel during pleasure. While it is natural to be insecure about how we look, the more we feed those thoughts, we can easily get drawn away from our own present self.
“Any type of trauma can cause problems with any areas of sex, from desire and arousal to orgasm,” says Sandra Lindholm, a sex therapist and nurse practitioner. “The way trauma affects the brain also affects our sexuality, especially if the trauma is unprocessed.” - Healthline
Lack of Foreplay Before Penetration
Not everyone is able to go from 0 to 100 in the bedroom. Foreplay not only serves a physiological purpose, but also allows for mind AND body preparation. It builds emotional intimacy and for vagina havers, allows time to lubricate and therefore increase arousal. Allow me to refer back to my college thesis “Men Are Like Microwaves, Women Are Like Ovens.”
In Elisabeth Lloyd’s book The Case of the Female Orgasm, only 20-25% of people who identify as women were able to climax from penetration alone. This statistic is potentially even lower because of indirect clitoral stimulation during intercourse. This scary statistic is exactly why we recommend incorporating sex toys into the bedroom.
No Communication During Sex
If you are not expressing what you like or don’t like, it limits your pleasure potential. Communication builds trust and security, thus allowing for more expansive exploration! It also allows for a level of comfort, leading you to better connect to yourself and others.
Throughout pop culture and media, we see pleasure being reflected in a very specific way. In most cases, there is limited foreplay, yet the woman is somehow able to reach climax within a minute or two. Not so realistic. This peak moment of orgasm is so heavily highlighted and truncated, that when we practice our own pleasure, it can feel like there’s a time or expectation. It can feel embarrassing if we don’t live up to this in the time we anticipate and can even make us feel nervous or shameful when engaging with others.
Here’s a reminder that our bodies are quite complex.
As we learned above, there are many factors that can lead to you having trouble reaching an orgasm. Reaching an orgasm is not a requirement, but if you think there might be something preventing you from accessing your full pleasure potential, at that moment we recommend just stopping and taking a deep breath. Direct yourself to how your body is feeling in that moment. Once you tune into your body versus your racing thoughts, the more connected you are to how you feel. It feels counterintuitive, but the less you focus on the goal of orgasm, the more likely you are to have one. Pleasure is a journey after all, so might as well enjoy the ride!
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