So you’re in the middle of a crazy pleasurable bedroom session, and your partner is doing that amazing mouth move that’s bringing you closer to orgasm. But just when you think you’re almost there, something happens—thoughts about work hijack your brain, or you start worrying about how your butt looks. You try to get back to the brink, but your odds of an O fizzle out.
It’s not just you—almost every woman knows what it’s like to lose an orgasm during sex. A long list of things can cause it: anxiety, body image issues, too-high expectations, stress, and pressure you might be putting on yourself to climax within a certain time frame or via penetration alone, which most women don’t do anyway.
“Porn, and even mainstream films, make it seem like women are having orgasms left and right from penetration,” says Jessica Graham, a sex and meditation expert and author of Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out. “In reality, only 25% of women climax from penetration alone, but that doesn’t keep women from feeling like a failure if they can’t come in that way.”
When you feel like there’s something wrong with the way you do (or don’t) orgasm, that’s going to hit your internal panic button. “This type of worry can inhibit or prevent orgasm because having an orgasm requires turning off one’s thinking brain and simply feeling,” says Laurie Mintz, PhD, author of Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters.
You might also be comparing your ability to hit that high note to the way your partner always climaxes. There’s a significant orgasm gap between men and women, which you’re probably aware of. While 95% of heterosexual men report usually or always having an O during a sexual encounter, only 65% of heterosexual women say the same, reported a recent study in Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Ignoring these factors and simply feeling is a lot easier said than done, though, especially when you’re naked and vulnerable in front of another human. These expert tips from sex educators, doctors, and psychologists will make it a lot easier to cross that finish line every time.
Get comfortable before you get naked
If you don’t feel safe and relaxed before rocking the sheets, it’ll be harder to get off. “Orgasms are about release, letting go, vulnerability,” says Marisol G. Westberg, PhD, a board-certified sexologist and sex educator in Portland, Oregon. So prior to taking off your clothes and starting the action, make sure you’re in the right mindset. “Create a safe space and don’t push yourself to be vulnerable,” says Westberg.
Maybe you want the lights on or off; perhaps you need to relax in a bubble bath first, or slow jams and candlelight are must-haves to get into that space. Before things really get going, “take a few minutes to relax your body and connect with yourself,” says Graham. “Set an intention to stay with your body during sex, and let go of the myth that there is a ‘right way’ to have sex or experience pleasure.”
Don’t make an orgasm your goal
It sounds counterintuitive, but focus on what’s actually happening in your body versus the outcome, advises Westberg. “Every time a thought comes to you during sex, find a feeling of pleasure in your body to focus on,” she suggests. “It can be as small as your heart beating faster, a warm feeling in your heart, or your thigh muscles relaxing.”
By doing that, you’ll get out of a mental space and tuned into a physical one. The more caught up you are in sexy physical feelings, the more relaxed you’ll be…and you’ll set the stage for an orgasm.
Accept any anxious thoughts
If panicky thoughts pop up in your head while your physical pleasure is building, don’t try to squash or ignore them. Instead, accept those thoughts without judging yourself, says Mintz, which will help them float out of your brain so you can get back to the bumping and grinding.
It’s all about practicing mindfulness. “An essential aspect of mindfulness is noticing anxious and distracting thoughts as they occur and then letting them go without judgment or further worry and simply bringing yourself back to your body again,” she says. Again, the more in the moment you can be, the more likely you are to see stars.
Make sure your partner isn’t pressuring you
Lost orgasms often happen when you have unrealistic expectations—particularly the belief that your partner expects you to climax in a specific way or within a certain time. “There are some partners who think it’s their fault you aren’t having an orgasm,” says Westberg. They might view your O as an accomplishment or a reflection on their skills, but that’s really not what it’s about.
Most people get this, but not all. “Talk to your partner; the more they can let go of those expectations and any insecurity, the less anxious you will feel and the more able you will be to tune into your body.” If they do have expectations and continue to see your orgasm as a sign of their bedroom skills, and this is putting pressure on you, you might want to consider getting a new partner.
Focus on your breathing
No need to get all tantric in the bedroom. But your breath is one of the most powerful tools you have to relax your body and increase sensation and arousal, says Xanet Pailet, a sex educator and author of Living an Orgasmic Life. “Deep breaths into the belly and pelvis activate the vagus nerve, which is connected to all of our organs, including the skin,” she explains.
When you’re anxious, you tense up and tend to hold your breath—not exactly a conducive state for letting go. (And remember, having an orgasm is all about getting to a place where you can be vulnerable enough to let go in front of your partner.) “The saying ‘the more you breathe, the more you feel’ is so true,” Pailet adds.
Bringing yourself to orgasm and being aware of your body during your solo sessions can help you learn exactly which strokes and touches you need to get there. “Try mindful masturbation: The goal is not to have an orgasm, though it’s okay if you do, but to really get in touch with your body and pleasure,” says Graham.
Here’s how to do it: “You just set a timer for 15 minutes, sit or lie down in a cozy and comfortable position, and start to touch your body. Don’t go straight to the genitals, and put aside porn, toys, and any other props you normally use. Touch your face, breasts, arms, stomach, and legs. Try different pressures and strokes. Notice what your body responds to. Get curious about your pleasure. This is a great practice for learning to focus on the body, instead of the mind, during sex.” Once you’ve nailed it, share with your partner.
Slow things down
There’s nothing wrong with a quickie, but how fast women reach orgasm in porn and even in Hollywood movies (cough, every Fifty Shades installment) is hella misleading. “Most women need more of a warm up and much more external stimulation,” says Mintz. “Some sex therapists talk about a 20 minute rule—that is, you should fool around about 20 minutes before even touching one another’s genitals. And even after that, women need at least 20 minutes of clitoral stimulation to orgasm with a partner.”
Those are just averages; everyone is different, and a lot depends on when your last orgasm was. But give it a try: Take your time, and don’t rush all the little touches and sensations that can help you build up to that pleasure peak.
Get loud and active
No, you don’t have to pretend you’re auditioning for porn. But making some noise and moving around between the sheets can actually make you more likely to arrive at orgasmville. “Sound and movement, especially of the hips and pelvis, also helps to move sexual energy around the body so that your orgasmic energy isn’t just stuck in the genitals but has a place to go,” says Pailet.
That might sound a little crazy, but think about it: The more comfortable you are with someone, the more relaxed you are. And if you’re comfortable enough with your partner to moan, cry out, talk dirty, and even laugh, than your O is right there on the horizon.
If it doesn’t happen, don’t worry
Sex is supposed to be fun. Even if you don’t orgasm, the whole experience should feel good and bring you closer to your partner. So you didn’t climax? Okay, maybe it’ll happen next time. But don’t obsess over it. “This will only exacerbate your anxiety and make you feel worse—and diminish the fact that the sexual encounter may have been exciting and made you two feel super connected, even without an orgasm, says Mintz.