Columns / Discourse / May 15, 2019

Pillowtalk: “I don’t think I’ve ever had an orgasm”

Hi Pillowtalk,

So full disclosure: I don’t think I’ve ever had an orgasm. I’ve always just assumed it was something that would happen eventually, but now I don’t know. I’ve had a variety of partners who definitely knew what they were doing, and I really like sex (and masturbating), but I just can’t seem to get there. Is there something wrong with my anatomy? What even is an orgasm?

-Frustrated and Confused


Orgasm is one of those bodily phenomena that’s more personal than it is anatomical. There are as many different ways to orgasm as there are people having sex. For most, the easiest way to orgasm is stimulation of the penis or clitoris (which are developmentally related structures ­— they start out the same in the womb). During orgasm, muscles around the pelvis and anal sphincter rapidly contract. Most likely, the biological precedent for all orgasm (including bodies without penises, and most animals) exists to propel semen out of the penis. When someone doesn’t have semen, it usually just exists as rapid contractions that trigger hormone release. In the brain, orgasm works the same for everyone: the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (which monitors reason and self-control) is turned off, and the brain is flooded with feel-good chemicals like dopamine.

This means that ejaculation is not what makes an orgasm! Stimulation to the point of muscle spasm does. Because these contractions are pelvis-wide, they can manifest in a lot of different ways: for some without penises, ejaculation (of urine) can occur with or without orgasm due to the close proximity of the bladder and urethra; for some, vaginal, anal, nipple, or no stimulation can mount to orgasm; for some, there’s no clear path to orgasm.

Because orgasm is so unique to every person, the best advice I can provide is to get to know your body, to be patient and not to go in with any expectations. See what it can do, what it likes, what it doesn’t and keep trying if you enjoy it. Orgasm should not be the end goal of sex. Pleasure is a much more reasonable, holistic goal that doesn’t add pressure to an experience that should be positive.

So, there’s nothing wrong with you. Some people can’t wiggle their ears, or burp on command, or orgasm from anal sex. It’s not much of a stretch to say that you might not be able to orgasm from most, if not all, stimulation. Plus, if you still enjoy sex and masturbation, keep doing it! The internal pressure to achieve orgasm may not be helping in your attempts.


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Elleri Scriver

Tags:  orgasm Pillowtalk sex ed

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