The female orgasm is often this elusive, mysterious event for many women. Even if you can usually orgasm during sex with the right amount of foreplay/turn on, there’s usually still times when it just doesn’t happen for whatever reason.

Then, there are women who really struggle to get there. And some who never have. For these women, it can be a really disheartening experience and one that leaves them frustrated and confused.

I spent many of my formative years not even knowing exactly what an orgasm was – it’s not like they go into detail in school sex ed, right? I eventually Googled the clinical explanation and realised I’d been having them without even knowing, because I’d gotten all hung up on the idea of “seeing stars” and an “out of body experience”.

I chatted to sex and relationships therapist Isiah McKimmie for the 411 on a) what a female orgasm feels like and b) what you can do if you struggle to achieve them.

WHAT ACTUALLY IS AN ORGASM LIKE?

Forget the seeing stars/my body imploded bullshit. Sure, orgasms can be an intense experience but they’re fundamentally about a physical reaction to being turned on.

“Orgasms are categorised by involuntary rhythmic contractions of the pelvic floor muscles including the anus,” explains Isiah. “It feels like fast pulsing and is often accompanied by a warm or tingling feeling.”

They’re also different for everyone, so don’t assume you’ll feel it the same way your best mate does.

“It is sometimes hard to tell if you’ve had an orgasm because some orgasms are different to others.  Some are big and go through your whole body like amazing rolling waves and others are smaller – like a little burst of pleasure that lasts for just a few seconds.”

HOW CAN I MAKE ONE HAPPEN DURING SEX?

You can’t guarantee an orgasm – even if your body is wired to get there most of the time, like I said – for most of us there’ll be times, for whatever reason, that we don’t manage to orgasm. But there are things you can do that’ll help you out, explains Isiah.

“Build anticipation with your partner throughout the day – maybe send your partner suggestive text messages or wear your sexiest lingerie, for example. Both of these have been proven to increase your chance of reaching orgasm in the evening.”

She’s also a fan of re-thinking your foreplay – Isiah suggests spending at least 15-20 minutes on pre-sex stuff that turns you on, rather than just jumping into things.

If you’re in a committed relationship, working on your shit is a big one.

“Higher relationship satisfaction is linked to higher sexual satisfaction and higher rates of orgasm. That’s a really good reason to work on your relationship and intimate connection.”

A more obvious one but nonetheless just as important is speaking up for what you want during sex.

“Good sexual communication has been proven to increases our chance of reaching orgasm. Learn to ask for what you want during sex.”

Finally, Isiah swears by clitoral stimulation.

“Many women need – or find it easier to reach orgasm – with direct clitorial stimulation during penetration. Use your fingers or a toy to stimulate the clitoris to help you along.”

WHAT CAN STAND IN THE WAY OF AN ORGASM?

There’s loads of reasons a woman may not orgasm, but here’s a list Isiah sent me to sum it up.

–  Not enough time in foreplay.

– Not knowing what you enjoy sexually.

–  Not being able to tell your partner what you like.

–  The effects of prescribed medications (such as antidepressants particularly SRRIs) or substance use like alcohol.

–  Performance anxiety and trying really hard to have an orgasm.

–  Not being able to stop thinking during sex.

–  Lack of intimacy in a relationship.

–  Feeling tired or stressed.

–  Hormonal changes.

–  Genetics.

–  Illness, injuries or other pelvic conditions.

–  Negative beliefs about sex often passed to us by family, religion or culture.

–  Not having the right information about the way we function sexually.

–  Not enough of the right kind of sexual stimulation.

–  Feeling anxious.

Some of this stuff is easily fixed – obviously, if you are on medication that kills your sex drive, chatting to your doctor about potential alternatives is something you can do. Ditto for ramping up your foreplay or working with your partner or with yourself to discover what turns you on.

Some things take more time – and that’s where seeing a professional comes in.

WHEN DO I SEE SOMEONE ABOUT THIS?

Really, this is up to you – if you don’t care about orgasms, that’s fine! But if it’s something that bothers you and you identify with any of the reasons above that may be tied to past experiences, deeper emotional or mental health issues, or problems that are just bigger than what can be handled with a quick fix – it might be time to see a professional.

“The most up to date scientific research shows us that there are two things that are most effective when learning to orgasm: seeing a therapist and learning practical skills,” says Isiah.

“When I work with women 1:1, we spend the entire first session understanding your history, current situation and relationship so I can make a plan specific to you. There are a number of techniques and stages that are helpful for almost every woman – exploring your sexual history, the way your family talked about sex and messages that you received through your religion, giving you the kind of sex education that we all should have had, but probably didn’t get, and sharing vital knowledge like where the G-Spot is and why the clitoris is so important.”

Ultimately Isiah stresses that seeing someone about orgasms isn’t as awkward as you’d expect.

“A sexologist and sex therapist can help you work out what might be going on for you and help give you practical suggestions. It less embarrassing than you might think.”

Image: Amelie