Given that many women have to work pretty hard to achieve orgasm, ‘losing’ it right when you think you’re going to cum can be beyond frustrating. In fact, says sex therapist Petra Zebroff Ph.D., it’s an incredibly common complaint in her office. But ‘not being able to get over the edge to orgasm is not a disease,’ Dr Zebroff explains in Psychology Today.
‘In fact, it is so common that I can say it happens to everyone on occasion.’ From physical ailments to stress, anxiety, or the use of SSRIs, there are many reasons your orgasm could be evading you. But oftentimes, says Dr Zebroff, many cases share the same cause. ‘One of the leading causes of orgasm difficulty—being with a partner.’
Dr Zebroff explains that for those who can achieve orgasm, masturbation tends to result in an orgasm for both men and women within four minutes. ‘Yet, only one-quarter of women reach orgasm during unassisted intercourse (that is, with no external clitoral stimulation) in partnered sex.’
So why do we lose our orgasms when there’s another person in the mix?
1 Not getting the right kind of stimulation
‘Most heterosexual women do not get the right stimulation, which usually means their clitoris does not get enough attention,’ says Dr Zebroff. She adds that this is likely due to the fact that the clitoris is ‘downgraded in priority’ when women are with a male partner.
‘It is not surprising then, that women who focus on the clitoris in partnered sex (e.g. when they have women as lovers) have a significantly higher rate of orgasm.’
2 Being too distracted to orgasm
Our thoughts play a much bigger role in our sexual satisfaction than we realise. ‘Distracting thoughts or interruptions can reduce arousal to a point where orgasm is simply not possible.’
Dr Zebroff explains that having partnered sex can certainly heighten arousal due to emotional connection, variety, and certain sensations we just can’t achieve when we’re on our own, but a partner’s presence can also be a distraction.
‘When we are with a partner, the social parts of our brain kick in. “Are they having a good time? Can the kids hear us? Am I doing this right? This is getting boring.”’
Many women find it easier to achieve orgasm on their own because there is no ‘wrong’ way to do it, and they don’t need to take another person’s enjoyment into account. ‘Emotions can also be distracting. Even the good ones. The more we care about our partner, the more we might get distracted from arousal. Sex is just easier when we have ourselves as a partner.’
So what can we do about our lost orgasm?
The answer, says Dr Zebroff, might just lie in your past.
By looking back on what worked for you when you first started experimenting with pleasure and orgasm could be a cue to what will work for your brain today. ‘What brings us to orgasm is learned. This usually happens early in life with masturbation habits. Arousal patterns are established with our movements, positions, hand motions, etc. that are associated with high arousal, pleasure, and orgasm.’
The good news, she says, is that people (especially women) are adaptive. What helps us achieve orgasm can be re-learned and added to. ‘At any point in our lives, we can enhance our erotic pathways by adding new, positive experiences that can help shape our existing cues.’
Focus on what works for you
In a recent study, Dr. Zebroff asked almost 3000 people what brings them over the edge, and into an orgasm. ‘The results were startling,’ she says.
‘It was not so much the techniques they used which were surprising (and will be published next year), but how precise their answers were. The responses were strikingly concrete. People who orgasm easily tend to have a clear idea of what “brings them over the edge.” They know exactly where to put their attentional focus.’
Like most other things in life, what works for someone else might not work for you. Erotic cues are personal to each individual – with many people having multiple cues that inform the erotic pathway in their brain.
So ask yourself, what does your brain recognise as ‘sexual’?
‘Erotic cues can take the form of a position, a movement, the sight of a particular body part, performing an act, playing a role, visualizing a fantasy, or just a thought of anything your brain recognizes as “this is hot!” It is not surprising that people who orgasm easily, tend to have such a clear idea of what their erotic cue(s) are.’
The key is, then, to understand your own sexual cues better, and to consider sharing them with your partner. ‘If you find a cue that works for you in masturbation, it may be possible to bring that cue or tailor it for a partnered situation,’ Dr. Zebroff adds.
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