No one is born magically knowing how to orgasm. Some people take years of being sexually active before they can get off with a partner ― or at all.
In one study, only 18.4 percent of people who identified as women said they could orgasm through intercourse alone, and clitoral stimulation was often necessary for a chance at it. Having a penis doesn’t necessarily make things more straightforward either ― although the pressure to climax is certainly there. In a study published in the Journal of Sexual Research, a quarter of people who self-identified as men claimed they’ve faked it.
Curious why you can’t you get off? There could be a huge variety of factors at play, according to Sarah Hunter Murray, a sex researcher and relationship therapist. Below are some of the most common reasons, broken down by physical and mental roadblocks:
Physical Reasons You Can’t Orgasm
If you can’t get off, more than likely you haven’t found the best technique for you. The most common physical reason cisgender women don’t orgasm, for example, “is because of lack of clitoral stimulation,” Murray said. “Most sexual positions ― particularly in heterosexual penetrative sex ― do not adequately stimulate the clitoris.”
People may also feel they are simply just having difficulties reaching orgasm, but it might be because “the most sensitive and erogenous part of their body” needs more stimulation, Murray added.
According to Sunny Rodgers, a clinical sexologist and certified sex coach, you typically need to do a little research or chat with an expert or mental health professional to finally orgasm effectively. Something “as simple as pelvic rocking can make a climax easier to reach during both sex and masturbation,” she explained.
You also have to relax and take your time: It could take 20 minutes of clitoral stimulation (or more) to climax, Rodgers said.
Pain can also prevent you from getting all the way there. Medical conditions like endometriosis or vaginismus, or a partner’s technique that isn’t creating the intended effect, can all keep you from enjoying sex enough to orgasm. The type of birth control you’re on can also mess with your libido and sexual functioning.
Additionally, if cisgender men “experience any issue that would prevent them from being interested in sex, or from having sex ― say a lack of sexual desire, or difficulty obtaining or maintaining an erection ― then of course [they] would have a harder time reaching orgasm,” Murray said.
A whole host of things can cause erectile dysfunction, or ED, alone, from health conditions to tobacco use to certain medications. It’s important to check in with your doctor if you start having issues with desire or your erection.
Mental Reasons You Can’t Orgasm
Murray said mental blocks can prevent you from achieving orgasm. It can be difficult for some to remain mentally present during a sexual encounter and focus on the sensations, she explained.
“This could be for a host of reasons, from feeling emotionally disconnected from their partner, feeling stressed or worried about life demands, feeling insecure about their body, or a history of sexual trauma,” Murray said. Something as simple as a fight with your significant other, which you’re still angry or upset about, could stop you from getting all the way there.
Rodgers said that shame also plays a factor in failing to reach climax. “Even though we seem to be living in a sexually heightened society with sex used in advertisements, movies and social media, these overly sexual themes can have a negative effect on many men and women,” she said.
“Unrealistic expectations” for how you need to look and behave during sex can have a “psychologically debilitating outcome,” which can prevent the big O, Rodgers added.
Rodgers has also worked with clients who live with “a deep-seated fear of orgasming,” which also can prevent them from experiencing pleasure during sex. “They can be afraid of a range of outcomes from experiencing an orgasm, like becoming addicted to sex, or to feeling like they’re cheating if they orgasm solo [during masturbation],” she said. If this is the case, Rodgers recommended reaching out to a therapist who can help you work through it.
There are also mental health conditions that can impact your ability to enjoy sex and reach orgasm, including anxiety and depression. If you’re having trouble orgasming for an unknown reason, it’s worth checking in with a doctor or mental health professional.
How To Finally Get Off
Now on to the good news: There are ways to fix both the physical and mental barriers to orgasming so you can have the most pleasurable experience possible.
If you’re dealing with a lack of emotional connection or you’re still harboring resentment about a fight, experts recommend talking it out with your partner before you hit the sheets the next time. Research shows open communication leads to more sexual satisfaction.
Aside from that, try not focusing on the orgasm itself. It may sound counterintuitive, but anxiety over the lack of climax may also just put it further out of reach, Murray said. Instead, try to savor the other parts of sex, like foreplay.
“While orgasm tends to be treated as the main event of a sexual encounter, putting too much pressure on having an orgasm is often found to be detrimental to sexual enjoyment,” Murray said. “That’s because focusing on orgasm is essentially putting our attention on the outcome versus the journey.”
Stimulation isn’t always solved on the first try either. It may take some attempts to feel results. “Prostate massage can have no physical response for the first two or three times it’s performed, for instance,” Rodgers said. “My best advice is to not put too much pressure on yourself and to be patient. Keep the saying in mind: ‘Good things come to those who wait.’”
And speaking of stimulation, keep in mind that clitoral stimulation is the easiest way to achieve peak for people who have one, Rodgers said ― and that goes for both a solo session or with a partner.
“It will be easier to reach climax using a vibrator,” Rodgers said. “But whether a vibrator or finger is used, be sure to use lubricant. … Lubrication will help make the experience smoother and more enjoyable.”
Then as you’re getting closer, you may also want to try tightening and releasing your Kegel muscles. “Sometimes the body needs to have some help and inspiration” to finally get off, she added.
“Rhythmic rocking or lifting and lowering your pelvic region helps [cisgender] women to activate muscles in the pelvic floor and can aid in reaching orgasm,” Rogers continued.
If you’re with a partner, Murray said you might also want to try being “curious, experimental and open” to new experiences that might allow you to reach climax easier.
“Try experimenting with different sex positions during intercourse to see if some positions offer more or better stimulation,” she said. “Try masturbating on your own to learn how you like to be touched, and figure out how to share that information with your partner. See if a sex toy with vibrations or different stimulation might work too.”
Finally, the biggest fix might lie in your head space outside of the bedroom: Anxiety can definitely inhibit sexual satisfaction, according to research. Attempting to destress (there are a variety of ways to do it!) may help you when you’re in the bedroom.
“Try various relaxation techniques, consider the practice of mindfulness to stay more present and in the moment during sexual stimulation, or consider ways you might connect more romantically and emotionally with your partner before you get busy,” Murray said. “Maybe try something new or exciting that increases your arousal and sexual enjoyment.”
It may be just what you need to finally push you over the edge.