Welcome to The V, our weeklong series devoted to all things sex and reproductive health. This is a safe space free from "taboos," because there's no reason anyone should feel awkward talking about their bodies. That said, we'll be clearing up any misinformation on the subject, starting with this huge misnomer: The "V" in this case doesn't refer to the vagina, but the vulva, which is the anatomically correct term for external female genitalia (including the opening of the vagina). Stay tuned all week for need-to-know guides on birth control, tips for taking your orgasm to the next level, real-life stories about endometriosis, and everything in between.
Original Illustration by Lauren Johnstone
Even in 2018—and in some ways, especially in 2018—we're living in a culture that works to suppress female empowerment—in the workplace, the bedroom, through government legislation, you name it. All you have to do is turn on the news to hear the message that our bodies are not our own and our sexuality is solely meant for male consumption. Women are oversexualized and exposed to the male gaze every single day, but once the tables are turned, we're chastised and shamed. It's that contradiction that creates the confusion surrounding a woman's understanding of her own sexuality and how to feel pleasure free from judgment. As such, orgasm anxiety is not only common but expected. In order to climax, we generally have to feel open and vulnerable—yet, the way we exist in society has taught us to be anything but. Below, two female experts discuss the causes of orgasm anxiety and how to help when you feel stuck.
What it is
Many people of all genders experience orgasm anxiety. Orgasm anxiety is exactly what it sounds like—an anxiousness that stems from the inability to relax, perform, and have a good time in a sexual space. "This anxiety generally comes through as pesky thoughts popping up when all you want to do is focus on feeling good," explains Jessica Graham, sex and intimacy guide and author of Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out. "Usually, it's fears you're taking too long, insecurities about how you look or sound, and even worries that you're too 'orgasmic.' As if there could be such a thing."
Because female sexuality and pleasure aren't discussed in our culture in an open and accepting way, many women rely on themselves to figure it all out. Women don't always feel empowered to talk about what they want sexually and how they feel while engaging in sex—mostly because we're taught not to. "There's a high percentage of women who experience pain during sex and never even tell their partners," says Graham. "We live in a culture that creates insecurities around physical appearance. Many women feel their bodies aren't quite right.
"They focus more on if there's a fat roll showing rather than if they're getting the most out of sexual pleasure. Plus, in our go-go-go society, there's not much room for slow, goal-less activity—including in the bedroom. There's a ton of emphasis on the destination, in this context, orgasm, and not enough on how pleasurable, fun, and hot sex can be. Orgasm anxiety is incredibly common. It's the number one issue my clients, of all genders, come to me with."
If you had an unresolved argument, unhealed issues, or repressed trauma, they can also occupy the space and show up in your bed as blocks, adds Kim Anami, a sex and relationship coach.
How to help
"The very first step to overcoming orgasm anxiety is to accept that you have it," offers Graham. "The next step is to learn how to get grounded in your body. Your body is where sexual pleasure is happening, after all. This doesn't mean that you should try to turn off your thoughts or 'quiet your mind.' Quite the opposite really. Instead, offer full acceptance to the thoughts you're having as well as any anxious sensations in your body. Acknowledge them with nonjudgmental awareness. Then, refocus your attention on your body. I usually have people start by limiting attention to the genital area. That's where the most obvious sensations occur."
Graham continues, "It can be helpful to start with mindful masturbation before practicing in-bodied sex with a partner. You can simply create a cozy space, set a timer for 15 minutes and begin to explore your own body with your hands. Let go of the goal of orgasm, and do your best to put away any toys or tried-and-true methods for climaxing. Let go of any goal, and instead, keep drawing your attention back to any sensations of pleasure in your body. When you get pulled into thoughts, just come back to the body and any pleasure you're experiencing. Try this on your own or you can begin to try it out with a partner."
What else can I do?
"Meditation helps," says Graham. "An app like Simple Habit can get you on track with a daily practice. Focus on using embodiment, body scan, and any pleasure-based meditations. This will begin to strengthen your ability to stay with the body even when thoughts arise."
And your partner can help. "First, they can help by listening and communicating their own thoughts and anxieties," says Graham. "You may find your partner has similar issues. The more you openly discuss your sex life, the better your sex life and relationship will be. For women who are experiencing anxiety about not orgasming fast enough, there's an exercise I love to offer: During sex, have your partner whisper, 'You can take all the time you want.' Have your partner tell you how much they love doing what they're doing and how much they are enjoying it. This can help use your anxiety to deepen the intimacy."
Anami also offers a 30-day self-study program, combining crystal elixirs with daily sexual and emotional exercises. They're meant to allow you to release the blocks that inhibit you sexually. It includes toys, personalized elixirs, and email assignments to help with healing and letting go.
This story was originally published on November 24, 2017.