So You Can’t Orgasm—But You Want To

Not everyone needs to have an orgasm to enjoy sex. But for many people, the inability to orgasm can feel like a pretty important issue. If you’ve lost your ability to orgasm—or never had that ability in the first place—sex and masturbation may feel frustrating or stressful.

But there’s no reason to lose hope! Most of the time, preorgasmic people are perfectly capable of achieving orgasm. If you need a little help achieving the big O, read on for some useful advice from sex coaches.

Step One: Rule out any possible medical issues that might be hindering your climax.

Most of us are completely capable of achieving orgasm under the right circumstances, but there are a few medications and medical issues that can make climaxing difficult (and sometimes entirely impossible). Antidepressants—specifically SSRIs—are a known culprit in the anorgasmia department. And people who suffer from conditions like vulvodynia and vaginismus, where genital stimulation is more painful than pleasurable, can have a hard time achieving orgasm for obvious reasons. If you’re worried your inability to orgasm is a sign of a bigger problem, chat with a doctor to rule medical issues out.

Step Two: Figure out what’s going on in your head.

Orgasms happen in your brain, not your body, so if your brain is preoccupied, anxious, or unable to relax, that can make it pretty hard to come. Shame around sex, trauma, and anxiety can all be culprits in anorgasmia; if you’ve got an emotional block that feels too big to tackle on your own, a sex therapist can definitely help you out here. (Not sure where to find one? AASECT has a great directory.)

Even if you’re not dealing with a major trauma, regular, garden-variety stress can put a damper on your orgasmic potential. Sexologist Emily Nagoski likes to talk about the “dual control” model of arousal. Many of us are used to thinking of getting turned on as a matter of more stimulation—hotter porn, more powerful toys, just more exposure to turn-ons—which Nagoski compares to putting more gas in a car. But if we want that metaphorical car to go, we also need to take our foot off the break—in other words, decreasing the various stresses that might be distracting us from our pursuit of pleasure. (For more on the dual control model, check out this delightful cartoon.)

Step Three: Carve out some alone time.

When you’re ready to pursue your orgasm, “keep all other humans away,” says sex educator Anne Hodder. Although putting yourself in someone else’s hands might seem like a way to get a guided tour towards orgasm, adding another person into the mix often ups the chances for arousal killing stress. Go it alone, Hodder says, and that way, even “if you are going to be putting pressure on yourself, you’re not also going to be wondering about what the other person is thinking or judging you about.”

Step Four: Follow your bliss.

How you ultimately explore your pleasure is up to you, your body, and the things you find relaxing and arousing. Sex toys—vibrators in particular—can be a great way to guide yourself to your first orgasm, but if you find them off-putting, uncomfortable, or intimidating, exploring yourself with your hands is great, too. (Got a vulva and want suggestions on how to stimulate it? OMGYes has a great guide to a variety of pleasure techniques.)

Rather than trying to make a beeline to orgasm, sex coach Domina Franco suggests that you “enjoy yourself and see what feels good. Just explore with it, just play with it.” Focus more on increasing your own pleasure rather than achieving an orgasm. It may seem counterintuitive to get yourself to orgasm by not trying to have one, but being goal-oriented is likely to create more stress—and, well, that stress is likely to slam the breaks back down on your arousal.

You may not get to orgasm the first (or second, or fifth, or fortieth) time you try, and that’s OK, too. Connecting with your body, enjoying sexual pleasure, and getting relaxed? Those are some of the main benefits associated with orgasm—and if you’re getting them without it, you’re doing just fine.