If you're not trying to get pregnant, then reaching climax is typically the end goal of sex for both parties. Which makes sense! But even this mindset, egalitarian as it may seem, comes with its own set of problems. On the one hand, focusing so intently on the, uh, "destination" can often mean forgetting to enjoy the journey. And on the other hand, far too many women have never reached an orgasm with a partner or at all, so what does this orgasm-centric outlook mean for their sex lives?
On the Cosmo Happy Hour podcast, Cosmopolitan.com editor Elisa Benson discusses the sometimes-taboo topic of the female orgasm with features editor—and former sex and relationships editor—Emma Barker. The editors are joined by Lisa, 27, a woman who has never had an orgasm, family medicine physician and clinical sexologist Dr. Rachael Ross, and sex therapist Vanessa Marin.
1. Some women just never orgasm—period.
"We did a big piece on this on Cosmopolitan.com a few years ago, called 'The Orgasm Deficit' that was talking about this issue," Benson says. "One of the additional things we explore in the piece [...] is that women who are with partners, maybe they can get off on their own, but never with their partner." A survey published in the April 2015 issue of Cosmopolitan mirrored these findings: 8 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 29 reported having never had an orgasm, compared to 16 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.
2. There's still a lot we don't know, and the lack of research on the matter could be partly to blame.
"Doctors are like, 'Is it life-threatening?" Barker says. And, since it's not, physicians don't always have the answers women are looking for. And that's why women turn to Cosmo. "This kind of research takes a lot of money and a lot of time," Barker adds — time and money that some doctors might rather use on research that will earn them more widespread recognition and have (what seems to them) a wider impact on the world. The lack of readily available information also contributes to a feeling of isolation, where women are nervous to seek the resources they need. But how about inventing a cream that would make women orgasm every time? "That would save lives," Benson jokes.
3. No, not every woman who can't orgasm feels like it's the end of the world.
"At this point, it's kind of normal. I don't really expect it or think it's going to happen," Lisa says. "I still have sex, I enjoy having sex."
4. A lot of women fake it, for a lot of different reasons.
Sadly, 67 percent of respondents in the April 2015 survey admitted to having faked an orgasm. Of these women, 97 percent did it to spare their partners' feelings, to end sex more quickly, or both. Lisa has never pretended to orgasm, but she does need to stop overzealous men from time to time. "Sometimes, the guys kind of think it's like a challenge," she says. "Then it's, like, two hours, and I'm like, 'OK, it's just not going to happen.'"
5. Sex can still be amazing without an orgasm.
"It's just not something that I really feel is missing in my life," Lisa says. "It's normal, I don't go out of my way to make it happen." She also doesn't feel the need to masturbate, because not being able to orgasm just doesn't feel like a problem to her. Dr. Ross agrees: She often tells patients that "orgasms are overrated." Some women will just never reach the big O — you can still enjoy sex, just like Lisa does.
6. Your orgasm (or lack thereof) can be affected by a lot of different factors.
"Whether it's a mental, emotional, even a physical problem, the point is there isn't anything 'wrong' with you that can't be fixed," Benson says. Not reaching orgasm is an issue for many women and doesn't mean they will never reach an orgasm. One common mistake is to focus so much on having an orgasm that you forget to enjoy the process. This will have the opposite effect and probably prevent you from finishing, according to Dr. Ross and ... well, women everywhere.
7. If you don't already, you should try masturbating, because knowing your body — and your clit — will make you that much more likely to orgasm with a partner.
If clitoral stimulation alone doesn't work, you can also try turning onto your stomach for added arousal, or consider purchasing a vibrator. It's all about trial and error.
8. Communication is key to getting off.
Direct your partner with precise instructions: "Guys actually love to be directed, I mean, if you can tell them what to do, you are winning and you're scoring," Dr. Ross says. "If you can't get your mouth to say it, pull them toward you, move them to where you want them to be," she adds. Misinformation about the female orgasm can also make it a lot more difficult to climax with a partner. "We don't talk about female orgasm very openly in our society," Marin says. "There are a lot of guys out there who are well-intentioned and want to be good partners, and they have a lot of misinformation too. Or you know, they may have had partners in the past who always faked it, so they think that they're doing things right."
9. Medication could be messing with your orgasm.
If you're currently taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety pills, this could be stalling your climax or preventing you from becoming aroused at all. If sex is an important part of your life and you feel frustrated by your lowered sex drive, Dr. Ross recommends turning to an integrative medicine doctor "who can use more of natural substances to help you with your depression and wean you off of the medication." It's all about finding the right method for you.
10. Don't be afraid to consult a sex therapist.
How do you know when it's time to reach out for professional help? Dr. Ross weighs in: "With the orgasm thing, when it comes to the point where it has consumed pretty much all of your sex life, if it's consuming your thoughts, [...] you really need to seek help first of all for reassurance."
11. But you don't have to see a therapist IRL.
There are programs like Marin's Finishing School available online, so you can learn all about reaching your climax without ever setting foot outside. "I can definitely appreciate that going into an office and talking to a total stranger about the most intimate details of your life is pretty intimidating," Marin says. You could also give apps like OMGYES a try. Even Emma Watson is a fan of this "online learning tool," which comes with interactive demos and videos that show you exactly how to get yourself off.
12. You can have control over your orgasm.
Marin cites "a belief that orgasm should just happen by itself" as a common thread among women who have difficulty climaxing. "A lot of women out there think that orgasm is like sneezing — your body just inherently knows how to do it and it just does it without any intervention," Marin says. "Orgasm is like a skill. It's something that you have to learn, you have to practice, you have to figure out how it works. [...] If you're having a hard time orgasming, it's definitely not that anything is wrong with you or that you'll never be able to orgasm, it's just that you have to give yourself the opportunity to learn."
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.