“Maybe try touching your clitoris faster with more pressure, or have you ever used a vibrator?” My college friend advised over a greasy, hungover lunch.
If she opened my bedside drawer to find my overflowing collection of sex toys, she would know that another vibrator was not my solution.
The outdoor Chicago seating was not our best choice for a hot Sunday in September. We downed pitchers of water while sweating out the tequila from the night before. My friend told me about the amazing orgasm she had with a random guy she met at a bar. That is usually how conversations with friends would go when talking about sex and masturbation. I’d hear about their intense orgasms by themselves or with partners, and then they’d offer me advice on how to reach climax.
My sex life ― both partnered and solo play ― was good. But I never seemed to reach the “mind-blowing” level that I read about in magazines. I was not orgasming on my own, with consistent partners or with one-night stands.
I’m always so grateful for the support and advice from those I confide in, but I couldn’t help feeling insecure. “Should I feel embarrassed — is this normal?” I questioned.
I was a young adult who had never orgasmed. At age 25, I still haven’t.
I started masturbating at age 14. Or, at least, what I thought was masturbating. I found myself experiencing pleasure through core exercises like hollow-holds or leg raises.
As a former competitive swimmer, I had some type of workout going at least five days a week. One day after practice, an ab workout in my room got pretty hot and heavy. While some women do these core exercises to reach what I learned was a coregasm, I would ”exercise” until I became tired or bored — that is my finish line when masturbating.
At that age, I had heard the term ”orgasm” before but never knew what it really meant or how to have one. This curiosity funneled me to my Google search of “How to have an orgasm,” where I found: “How to have mind-blowing orgasms!” “How to climax faster!” “7 different orgasm techniques you NEED to try.” “These vibrators will make you orgasm within minutes!”
These headlines were thrilling to see as a 14-year-old trying to figure out her body, but they eventually became frustrating. None of these articles addressed women who were not orgasming. Quite the opposite. The electric sexual language made it seem like all women were.
I am aroused and feel pleasure. It heightens to an extent, and I get close to what I think would be an orgasm, but it never reaches that peak.
But nothing worked for me. I was touching myself in different patterns, varying pressures and speeds, and with different techniques. In college, I tried a bunch of toys, explored porn and eventually became sexually active.
Masturbating is still exciting and something I crave, even though it looks different for me. I am aroused and feel pleasure. It heightens to an extent, and I get close to what I think would be an orgasm, but it never reaches that peak.
I have wondered before if perhaps I actually am having an orgasm — maybe they’re just underwhelming. But doctors and friends I have talked to made it clear that I would know if I had one.
After exploring porn, strengthening my pelvic floor, trying multiple masturbation techniques, reading a number of books, having sex with partners, using toys, attempting meditation and mindfulness practices, and reading up on the research and resources online, I feel as if I have exhausted all my options.
The pressure I put on myself to orgasm reached a boiling point when it came to sex with my first long-term partner. I never cared to fake my orgasms. I knew I needed to be open with him about what I was struggling with so we could have stress-free sex full of playful experimenting.
Of course I wanted to have “normal” sex where we both “finish,” but I needed to shove this programmed definition of “normal sex” out of my head, avoid my negative thoughts surrounding my struggle and feel present. I shifted my mindset but didn’t completely account for what my struggle might make him feel.
I never expected him to make me orgasm. But he felt pressure to be the one to get me there. I tried to explain that if I’m not able to get myself off, he shouldn’t feel less than because he couldn’t either. The insecurities punctured our stability, and we dissolved quickly.
He cheated on me for reasons I am still unsure of, but I projected that he wanted to find some version of “normal sex” to fill the void that our intimacy brought. This was distressing, but it shed light on how my struggle could strain my relationships.
Attempting to understand what was going on with my body didn’t end during or after the relationship. If anything, the way things ended fueled me to keep exploring more options. But my tireless internet searches eventually led me to results about anorgasmia and other forms of sexual dysfunction.
Anorgasmia is the struggle to achieve orgasm after a fair amount of stimulation. This can be due to a wide range of physical or psychological causes. Do I have this, I wondered, and should I stop trying to achieve orgasm if I do have this? I started to doubt that I would ever figure this out.
Approaching a medical professional felt like the next best move. My gynecologist told me to focus on slower, in-depth foreplay with partners or try to set myself up to masturbate in a relaxing, methodical way. Even with this useful advice, I was still unsuccessful.
But you always find your magic bullet when you least expect it. I finally came across a book that did not get me to my orgasm but eased my anxiety.
According to Lori Brotto, who wrote ”Better Sex Through Mindfulness,” nearly 50% of American women have some form of sexual dysfunction, including difficulty achieving orgasm. This book’s research regarding sexual dysfunction helped me understand that there are tons of women of all ages going through a similar struggle. I’m not alone in this.
Seeing work from Erica Marchand also helped me overcome a large part of my insecurities. One piece of advice that stuck with me: “It’s easy to feel like we have to ‘perform’ sexually and do it ‘perfectly’ in order to please partners and be a desirable partner. We have to examine and challenge that kind of sexual perfectionism when we encounter it within ourselves and in other people.”
There is so much pressure to be ”normal” when it comes to sex and our sexuality. I want to be more upfront with myself and future partners about what brings me pleasure. I want my masturbation and sex with partners to feel less self-conscious and more gratifying, safe and fun.
My sexual confidence wavered for years because of my struggle to have an orgasm. My dilemma isn’t really solved, but I found peace and permission to enjoy my efforts to orgasm. I feel like I can rid my worries, embrace my body and enjoy my journey to finding my orgasm.
Understanding that my story is common has helped me redefine and confidently claim my sexuality. I hope whoever is struggling out there can do the same.