13 Tips for Having an Orgasm and Owning Your Pleasure
No matter your level of experience when it comes to solo and partnered play, it's possible you've struggled at times to have an orgasm. And if that's the case, it's completely normal — and more common than you might realize. In fact, a 2016 study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior that looked at over 52,500 adults in the U.S. found that while 95% of heterosexual men were most likely to say they usually or always orgasmed when sexually intimate, that percentage dropped for lesbian women (86%) and bisexual women (66%), and (perhaps unsurprisingly) heterosexual women came in last (65%).
It bears noting that there's plenty of satisfaction to be had outside of climax. "Orgasm doesn't need to be the goal of sex, as any kind of sexual pleasure results in similar benefits as orgasm, and pleasure of any kind is beneficial," says Anne Hodder-Shipp, an American College of Sexologists (ACS)-certified sex educator. Nonetheless, experiencing orgasm or climax can be a powerful way to give yourself full permission to let go, enjoy, and receive, she notes.
So, if you're finding reaching orgasm to be challenging, here are some potential culprits — as well as tips from Hodder-Shipp and other experts on how to get to your own big "O."
Why Reaching Orgasm Can Be Challenging
A lot of factors contribute to the struggle to climax. "Fear is a big one," says Hodder-Shipp. "For example, fear of letting go can be a major factor for folks who can feel the build-up but struggle to reach the full release of orgasm."
Another one: fear of judgment. You might worry about your partner's reaction — whether you are taking "too long" as well as how you look, smell, or sound during orgasm, says Hodder-Shipp. "And because orgasm is so often built-up and talked about with so much meaning and expectations, we can feel pressure — internalized and externalized — to have one and for it to feel or look a very certain way," she explains. "These expectations and pressures can actually help prevent orgasm from happening, because we're so focused on controlling the outcome instead of allowing it to build and come — or not — as it needs to."
Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., LELO sexpert and Author of Becoming Cliterate & A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex adds that you might be stressed and distracted, experiencing intrusive thoughts about the things you have to do and/or are stressed about, or not feel entitled to pleasure or orgasm. This is especially the case in heterosexual sex, i. e. considering his pleasure more important and central than yours, she says.
Finally, not getting enough clitoral stimulation and expecting to orgasm from penetration alone can stand in the way of climax, says Mintz. Up to 96% of women need clitoral stimulation — either alone or coupled with penetration — to experience orgasm, she points out. "Despite this, in heterosexual sexual encounters, the clitoris often gets ignored or relegated to just 'foreplay' (i.e., the lead up to the main event, intercourse)," says Mintz.
How to Set the Stage to Have an Orgasm
You can optimize your chances of reaching orgasm by priming your environment and mental and emotional state ahead of solo or partnered play. A few ways to do this, according to experts:
Block out distractions and interruptions.
"Make sure you have privacy and aren't worried someone is going to walk in on you," says Mintz. "Similarly, make sure you aren't rushed and have plenty of time and that your room is a comfortable temperature."
Do something to decompress and get in the mood.
Take a bath or get some exercise to promote blood flow, notes Mintz. Additionally, you might want to try reading an erotic book or watching erotica.
Focusing on one's present awareness and body state is exactly what mindfulness teaches one to do, and that's why mindfulness is sex's best friend, explains Mintz. She recommends trying an app like Insight Timer or Headspace.
Speak positive pleasure affirmations and pay attention to your breath as you go.
Affirmations might be something like, "However I feel pleasure is perfect," "How I experience this today is exactly how it's supposed to be," or "I am allowed to want what I want and do what I do, and no one gets to tell me otherwise." Then, notice if you're holding your breath or breathing shallowly into your chest, as though you're running from a lion or nervous before a test, says Hodder-Shipp. "Intentionally deepen your breath so you can get more oxygen into your bloodstream."
For partnered sex, communicate, communicate, communicate.
Sex is falsely portrayed in movies as spontaneous and needing no advance prep or communication, but in real life, a bit of pre-sex discussion can be important and also a turn-on, says Mintz.
Jess O'Reilly, Ph.D., Astroglide's resident sexologist, recommends talking about what you like not only physically but emotionally. "Talk about how you want to feel before, during, and after sex," she advises. "Do you want to feel loved and appreciated? Or do you want to feel ravenously desired? The feelings that underpin your desire and arousal can affect the ease and intensity of your orgasm."
Communication goes hand-in-hand with having compassion for your partner. "If communicating about sex and pleasure is hard for you, it's probably hard for them, too, so keep your expectations fair," says Hodder-Shipp. "They may not have a perfect response, but if they genuinely want to experience pleasure with you and want to try new things – especially whatever you're bringing to them – that's a great sign. Give them the benefit of the doubt just as much as you want them to give it to you."
Tips and Strategies for Having an Orgasm
Incorporating the following moves into your routine can maximize your satisfaction, pleasure, and your chances of reaching an orgasm.
Try practicing an erotic meditation.
This will help you cultivate more awareness in your body, explains Amy Baldwin, sex educator, sex and relationship coach and co-host of the Shameless Sex Podcast.
"First, create a space where you can feel as relaxed as possible with no distractions or time limits," she advises. "Then, find a comfortable position where you can move freely. Feel free to add sensual music, candles, ambient lighting — whatever helps you dive deeper into your erotic body. Take a few deep breaths, and then without much thought, just allow your hands to slowly glide wherever they want to go on your body."
Focus on each and every sensation that comes up — tingling, warming, buzzing, pleasure. "This is different from following what you think you should feel good," points out Baldwin. "Invite your body to be your guide instead of your mind. Feel free to involve your genitals later if or when your body calls you in that direction, but don't force it until you get a big yes."
As you continue the practice of focusing on every sensation that arises, know that the smaller ones often serve as the stepping stones to the larger ones (orgasm!), notes Baldwin.
Pleasure yourself without trying to reach orgasm.
O'Reilly recommends touching yourself for 20 minutes while putting the goal of reaching an orgasm on the backburner entirely. Although it might seem counterintuitive, you'll actually be more likely to climax sans the pressure of having to.
"Explore your entire body with your hands, lube, massage oil, toys and/or objects of various textures," she advises. "As you get in touch with your body's distinct responses and breathing patterns, you'll find that your ability to stay present during sex — partnered and solo — increases, as you're less hung up on the performance and more focused on the pleasure itself."
Check out an educational website.
Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., a clinical sexologist and sexuality and relationships expert for SexToyCollective.com, recommends checking out OMGYes.com, a research-based platform that was created in partnership with researchers at Indiana University and The Kinsey Institute. The site features techniques for women's pleasure (as well as helpful clips of real-life women self-pleasuring), which stem from thousands of interviews and the first-ever large-scale, peer-reviewed and published studies about female self-pleasure.
Get a vibrator.
Whether you're playing solo or with a partner, Mintz recommends using a vibrator — especially those that either target the clitoris alone (like LELO's ORA-2 and SILA) or that simultaneously target the clitoris and the vaginal canal (e.g., the G-spot) (like LELO's SORAYA 2). "Women who use vibrators have easier and more frequent orgasms," she notes.
A great clitoral vibrator for partner sex is LELO's MIA-2 or NEA-2 as both are easy to hold and fit between two bodies, add Mintz. "Another fun thing to try is a cock ring with an attached clitoral vibrator, such as LELO's TOR-2," she explains.
That said, any kind of vibrator can be super-helpful. "It doesn't have to be expensive, fancy, or multi-function for it to help you out," says Hodder-Shipp. "Finger vibes or bullet vibrators can be a great starter toy that are affordable and discreet. If you've tried vibrators and find them to be too buzzy, there are air-pulsation toys that don't rely on vibration. Just keep in mind that they are specifically made for clitoral stimulation and tend to come with a heftier price tag."
Adopt a turn-taking approach to sex.
Many heterosexual couples, in particular, adhere to the idea that sex should start with foreplay, be followed by intercourse and male ejaculation, then end scene. "Instead of this linear, goal-oriented — and male pleasure-centered — way of having sex, adopt a turn-taking model," recommends Mintz. One example: Oral sex during which you come, followed by intercourse where your partner comes.
Or you might focus on clitoral caressing for a while, have intercourse during which your partner comes, followed by stimulation with a vibrator and an orgasm for you. "The possibilities are endless," says Mintz.
Don't curb noises that come naturally.
"Most of us muffle or alter our sexual sounds to reflect what we hear in porn, and this can impact orgasmic tension," explains O'Reilly. "As we soften our groans and grunts into moans and sighs, the rhythm of our breath becomes unnatural. This breath-holding impacts blood flow and oxygenation of muscles, which can impede orgasmic response."
Keep those positive affirmations in mind.
"You have a right to feel and experience pleasure on your terms, in a way that feels safe and respectful to you," says Hodder-Shipp. "Anyone else's opinion about your pleasure — or body, or process, or anything — is about them and their issues. Not you and yours."
Ultimately, maximizing your ability to climax is a mind game. "Your brain is your largest sex organ," says Baldwin. "You just need to train it to trust your body to be the guide."