It's tempting to blame partners, and there are some who need a hand-drawn map in order to find certain erogenous zones, but given we've basically just learned the difference between a vagina and a vulva ourselves, it might be that we could use a little more education, too. After all, it's complicated!
To that end, I asked sexperts and psychologists to enlighten us as to the myriad ways by which we're sabotaging our own pleasure, and how to orgasm. Below, they share tips for getting out of your own way in order to get yours.
Here's what to do when you're having trouble orgasming
1. You're 'Spectatoring'
Spectatoring refers to looking in on your experience from the outside instead of enjoying the physical sensations of the experience itself, says Jess O’Reilly, PhD, host of the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast. "If you’re worried about how you look or you’re focused on what your partner is thinking, you may be less likely to orgasm," she says. "Some research suggests that you have to 'let go' in order to allow your body to release and relax into the moment; instead of thinking about what the experience looks like from the outside, focus in on one sensation—physical touch, for example—to remain more present and mindful throughout the experience."
Professor of clinical sexology Laurel Steinberg, PhD, agrees that self-consciousness is a big barrier to pleasure."Women are more often focused on how they look, sound, smell and taste than they are focusing on enjoying the wonderful, building sensations they feel as a result of their partners’ touch. Instead, they can accept themselves unconditionally and recognize that if their partner seems into the situation (focused, aroused) s/he is thrilled to be there. This will free up the mental space required to be very in the moment and tuned into what they feel—and simply enjoy, enjoy, enjoy," she says.
This one is easier said than done for many of us, but when I'm hating on myself I turn to this Lizzo gem to quit that sh*t and instead embrace the mentality that my partner is just lucky to be in my orbit, let alone anywhere near my vulva; here, 5 other ways to tame that body shame.
2. You're copy what you see in porn
"Porn often involves a whole lot of bouncing up and down, screaming at the top of your lungs, back-arching and hip popping," says Dr. O'Reilly. While this may feel good for some, it won't often (or even usually) lead to orgasm for most, she says; the truth is that how to orgasm really depends on the person doing it. "Many of us orgasm from rubbing, grinding, rocking and sliding—when you rub up and down and side to side, it allows you to create friction against your clitoris—externally and internally (though our lips); this is more likely to lead to orgasm than a simply in-and-out motion (for most of us)," she says.
3. You’re too focused on your partner’s pleasure
"If you’re worried about what [your partner's] thinking, feeling, seeing, tasting and smelling, you cannot indulge in your own pleasure," says Dr. O'Reilly. "If you’re willing to be a little more selfish, you’ll be more less likely to have trouble orgasming."
4. You're refusing to give yourself a hand
"If you’re hung up on one type of pleasure or one type of orgasm—penis in vagina orgasm—you’ll be less likely to orgasm," says Dr. O'Reilly. In other words, don't be afraid of masturbation in the middle of sex (this is more likely than not to be a turn on for your partner, she says).
5. You’re holding your breath
Dr. O'Reilly explains that holding your breath during sex can impede sexual response. "Try breathing in rhythm with the movement of your hips or with every lick, stroke or pump," she advises. "As you approach orgasm, exaggerate your breathing (longer inhales and exhales) to prolong the climax and intensify your body's delightful spasms."
6. You're censoring your sounds
"Research indicates that women's 'copulatory vocalizations' don't always correspond to our own pleasure—instead, we make sounds to please our partners. Stop holding it in. Let loose with your moans, screams and purrs to ensure that your experiences are more authentic and pleasurable," says Dr. O'Reilly.
7. You're not engaging in foreplay
If you're having trouble orgasming and you aren't engaging in any foreplay when you have sex with your partner... ding, ding, ding! It's a great place to start—literally. "Foreplay for 21 minutes or more increases the percentage of vulva-owners who orgasm during a sexual encounter," says Alicia Sinclair, certified sexologist and creator of Le Wand Massager. "It can take time to get revved up and feel relaxed. Don't be afraid to pepper foreplay with a toy."
8. You're not communicating with your partner
According to licensed sex therapist Shannon Chavez, PsyD, it's important to tell your partner what works for you in bed, but not while you're in bed. Instead, she suggests having a side conversation that's more educational than in-the-moment instructional. After all, you can't complain that your partner doesn't know what they're doing if you don't tell them!
9. You're not experimenting with anal sex
Research shows that anal sex can help close the orgasm gap between men and women. According to Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, LELO sexpert and professor of human sexuality at New York University, this is not just because anal can feel good for some women but also because sexual encounters which include it tend to be longer in duration and more varied. Plus, they often include more open communication.
9. You're receiving oral sex horizontally
Okay, so you might totally be able to orgasm if your partner is performing oral sex on you in a horizontal (read: head-between-the-legs) position. If this doesn't work, however, you may want to convince him or her to lie on their side instead, engaging in a technique known as the Kivin method. This allows for more, um, coverage.
10. You're pressed for time and don't know how to expedite the situation
Research shows it takes (heterosexual, coupled) women 14 minutes to orgasm, and ain't nobody got the time for that when a 7 a.m. spin class beckons on the other side of whenever you get to sleep. Instead of taking the long-distance route, have your partner begin sex by giving you a clitoral orgasm, or try one of these three other methods for expedited orgasms.
11. You're not cycle-synching your sex life
According to women's hormone expert Alisa Vitti, understanding how hormone changes throughout your cycle affect your body's response to sexual stimulation can go a long way towards helping you get your orgasm on. For example, in the follicular phase, you're likely to be less wet than at other times in your cycle. Understanding this can help you ditch painful sex in favor of lubing it up. "Everyone needs a little (or a lot!) of lube sometimes," says Sinclair. "There's absolutely no shame in the lube game."
12. You're barefoot in bed
Yeah, so... apparently research shows that couples who wear socks in bed are more likely to achieve orgasm. I mean, I guess if you close your eyes this could work?
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