We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. Today’s topic: how to get past those frustrating orgasm mental blocks that prevent you from coming.
Q: Often, when I'm on the edge of orgasm, I'll feel overwhelmed, and will need to pause. It's always been that way — needing to stop a few times as I go along — but lately, I’ve been wondering, is it normal for a girl to not come? I feel like I'm stopping myself just when it's getting really good, but I worry about what will happen if I do let go. It's not easy for me to come, but it’s a block I want to try to push through. I guess I’m wondering, why can't I make myself come? What's going on? Should I push through?
A: Thanks for the question! It can be so frustrating to feel yourself right on the edge of something awesome, only to wind up feeling like you’ve blocked yourself. Orgasms can feel easily distractible! There are a number of possible reasons why you might be feeling blocked at that particular moment. It’s also very common to struggle to orgasm, even when masturbating. According to a 2020 study from the International Society for Sexual Medicine of 230 women, 30% of women don’t frequently orgasm.
I think it's most useful to think about your blockages outside of the bedroom, to minimize getting distracted when you're with your partner in the moment. Here are six possibilities that might be causing your mental blockages, and strategies for minimizing your distractions during sex.
1. You Don’t Know What An Orgasm Feels Like
Lots of women have never had an orgasm before, and sometimes there’s a fear of the unknown that can come up. If you can’t make yourself come, you might find yourself worrying about what having an orgasm will really be like, and that fear may end up preventing you from having one.
If you think this may be the case for you, check out my handy primer to knowing what an orgasm feels like, and read these descriptions from five real women. I also highly recommend that you explore masturbation on your own. You can learn how to give yourself an orgasm, in the privacy of your own space. That way you'll know what to look out for when you're with a partner.
I’ve also found it useful to compare having an orgasm to losing your virginity. When you were a virgin, you didn’t know what sex would be like. You may have felt anxiety about your first time, but you didn’t let that anxiety cripple you. You jumped into the deep end and had sex, even though you didn’t know exactly what to expect. Try to think of your orgasms in the same way. You’re not going to know exactly what’s coming (no pun intended!) but you can show the same bravery you did when you lost your virginity.
2. You’re Afraid Of Losing Control Of Your Body
Our society is control-obsessed. We want to be in charge of every minute detail of our lives, and we can feel incredibly anxious when we’re not in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, control is often a myth. There are so many aspects of our lives that we have absolutely no control over, and orgasm is one of those — but that’s what part of what makes an orgasm so fun! Think back to a time where you and your girlfriends got each other laughing so hard that none of you could stop. Or think back to the last time someone surprised you with a romantic gesture. I’m willing to bet that fond memories come to mind. The point is that you don’t need to be in complete control of something to have it be pleasurable.
If you still find yourself afraid of the physical experience of losing control, it’s important to understand that having an orgasm doesn’t mean you lose complete control of your body. At most, your limbs will shake a bit, and your vaginal wall muscles will contract — but it’s not like you’re going to start violently convulsing. You’re not going to get up and start running around the room. You’re not going to become a completely different person. This might seem obvious, but there are so many women who don’t realize just how much they psyche themselves out about “what will happen” if they let go. In the moment, try reminding yourself of these realities.
3. You Don’t Feel Comfortable With Your Partner
Sometimes our bodies can feel blocked because we don’t fully trust the people that we’re sleeping with. Having an orgasm is a vulnerable experience. Even if you think you’re comfortable with that person, your body may still be picking up on some sort of energy that it doesn’t like. Ever gotten a “weird vibe” from someone, even though they weren’t actually doing or saying anything all that strange? That’s a prime example of your mind and your body picking up different signals.
If you’ve felt blocked with certain partners but not others, that may be your body’s way of sending you a message that it’s just not ready to have an orgasm with that particular person. In some cases, all your body may need is a little more time to get to know your partner. In others, it might be a sign that this person isn’t the right fit for you.
4. You’ve Had Negative Sexual Experiences In The Past
It kills me every time I have to type this, but 29% of women have experienced some sort of sexual abuse in her life, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Countless more have had sexual experiences that felt difficult or uncomfortable. Our bodies hold onto that trauma, even if our minds think that we’re “over it”. If you’ve experienced any sort of negative sexual experience, it can be very hard to stay present in the moment and allow yourself to experience pleasure.
If you've experienced any sort of trauma, I highly recommend checking out the book Healing Sex by Staci Haines and considering booking a consultation with a psychotherapist.
5. You’re Distracted During Sex
We are a culture of multi-taskers. We scroll through Instagram while we brush our teeth, watch TV while we eat, and answer emails while we have conversations with our friends. Our brains are so used to being in overdrive mode that it can be difficult to relax and focus on just one task at a time!
If you feel your brain going haywire during sex, you may want to take up meditation. I really like Headspace, which is great for meditation newbies. You can also try doing a no-multitasking challenge; for one day a week, try to only do one activity at a time. It will feel ridiculously challenging at first, but it will slowly get easier.
One great strategy you can use during sex is to come up with a mantra to help bring yourself back into the moment. When you start getting wrapped up in thoughts about your blockage, say to yourself, “OK, I’m getting distracted again, but I want to try to focus on the pleasure instead.” Keep gently bringing your attention back into the present moment. You can also try taking slow, deep breaths, which will help you relax and feel more connected to your body. The point is to focus on the sensations you're feeling in your body, and not to think specifically about the blockage.
6. There’s Not One Solid Reason
Sometimes it can feel really hard to know what that damn blockage is all about! If none of the above possibilities are resonating for you, try asking yourself, “What am I afraid of?” or “What’s the worst that could happen?” Your adult brain is going to kick in immediately and say, “This is so silly! There’s nothing to be afraid of!” Try to gently put those thoughts aside and keep asking yourself with curiosity and openness. Or try a different tactic by visualizing yourself having an orgasm with someone, and see what comes up for you. These little exercises may help you get to the root of what’s going on for you in those blocked moments.
You may not be able to come up with a concrete reason why you’re feeling blocked in the moment, and that’s OK! Our bodies don’t always operate in logical ways, so it’s not worth driving yourself crazy trying to “understand.” I know it’s tricky, but try to focus that attention on keeping yourself in the moment. The mantra trick can be really helpful. Keep reminding yourself of what you’d actually like to focus on, experience, or enjoy in the moment. You’ll get through those blockages soon.
Shaeer O, Skakke D, Giraldi A, Shaeer E, Shaeer K. Female Orgasm and Overall Sexual Function and Habits: A Descriptive Study of a Cohort of U.S. Women. J Sex Med. 2020 Jun;17(6):1133-1143. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.01.029. Epub 2020 Mar 20. PMID: 32201145.
Black, M.C., Basile, K.C., Breiding, M.J., Smith, S.G., Walters, M.L., Merrick, M.T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M.R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.