Anorgasmia: Why Women Struggle to Reach Orgasm


The Emjoy Team

May 18, 2022
Anorgasmia: Why Women Struggle to Reach Orgasm
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Do you struggle to reach orgasm? Can you cum sometimes, but only with a toy or in a certain position? Have you never had an orgasm with a partner but can cum through masturbation? If so, you’re not alone. Studies suggest that anorgasmia (persistent difficulties orgasming) affects between 11 to 41% of women worldwide. Both men and women can suffer from anorgasmia, but it tends to affect vulva owners more (more on that later). If you think you could be affected by anorgasmia,then read on. In this article we’ll look at exactly what anorgasmia is, including its different types, common causes and solutions. Yes, it can be solved!

What is Anorgasmia?

Anorgasmia, also known as orgasmic dysfunction or female orgasmic disorder, is defined as experiencing any of these symptoms in a significant way to cause you distress: 

  • Delayed orgasm
  • Absence of orgasm
  • Fewer orgasms, or
  • Less-intense orgasms

It’s important to note that not all women who struggle to reach orgasm suffer anorgasmia. It’s only diagnosed as a disorder if you feel distressed by it. So if you don’t routinely orgasm, but don’t find it a problem, that’s okay too. Sex and pleasure isn’t just about orgasms after all. 

But if you feel it’s having a detrimental effect on your relationships, self-esteem, quality of life or general wellbeing, then it’s time to take action. 

What are the different types of anorgasmia?

Anorgasmia isn’t the same for everyone. There are four main types of anorgasmia which include:

  • Lifelong or primary anorgasmia: You’ve never had an orgasm, whether during masturbation or during sex with a partner. 
  • Acquired or secondary anorgasmia: This is when you used to be able to orgasm easily but over time it became difficult.
  • Situational: You only have problems climaxing in certain situations. Maybe you need a particular type of stimulation or environment. Maybe you can only orgasm with a certain technique or with a particular sex toy. 
  • Generalized: When you have problems orgasming in any situation.
causes of anorgasmia

Common Causes of Anorgasmia

Anorgasmia can have so many causes! That’s what makes it hard to treat. The good news is that once you’ve identified the cause(s), there are plenty of treatment options.. 

Physical factors

  • Smoking: Smoking can limit blood flow to your sexual organs, affecting your ability to orgasm. So aside from being beneficial to your overall health, now you know that cutting out or at least reducing how much you smoke can also improve your sex life! 
  • Chronic health conditions: Many chronic conditions such as diabetes, overactive bladder syndrome or multiple sclerosis can contribute to orgasm disorders. If you have a chronic health condition that you think might be affecting your sex life, don’t hesitate to talk about it with your doctor.
  • Pelvic pain conditions: Dyspareunia (the medical term for painful sex), which can be caused by conditions like vaginismus and vulvodynia, is a common reason women struggle to orgasm. And it makes sense. If you’re experiencing pain when you have sex, you might feel aroused but can’t reach orgasm because of the pain. If you’d like to find out more about pain during sex and how to treat it, check out our blog article about the causes and treatments, or our audio collection Pain During Sex created by sex therapist Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus.
  • Tissue Damage. If you have tissue damage from gynecologic surgeries such as a hysterectomy, cancer surgery or perhaps from childbirth injuries, your ability to have an orgasm may be affected. The same goes if you’re a survivor of female genital mutilation. In these cases, you should really speak with your doctor to see how they can help. 
  • Medications. Several medications can inhibit orgasms, including common drugs like blood pressure medications, antidepressants and even antihistamines! But if you feel like your medication could be affecting your orgasms, don’t just stop taking them! It’s really important to voice your concerns with your doctor and see if you can find a solution together while still treating your other issues. 
  • Changing life stages: Hormonal and other physical changes associated with the postpartum period and menopause can all affect our ability to orgasm. For example, both lactating and menopausal women experience decreased estrogen levels which can cause vaginal dryness. This dryness can understandably make sex less enjoyable and make reaching orgasm more difficult. 

Psychological Causes

  • Sexual or emotional abuse: If you’ve ever experienced sexual or emotional abuse, trauma could prevent you from orgasming. If you’ve experienced trauma and abuse, you may find Emjoy’s audio sessions on Sexual Trauma and Healing from Abuse can help you on your road to recovery.
  • Stress: Whether short-term or chronic, stress makes your body go into fight or flight mode, but to orgasm we need to be relaxed. Stress has many sources, including the perceived need to orgasm every time you have sex. If that’s the case for you, try taking orgasms off the table for a while. Focus on finding what feels good without the end goal of orgasming. You never know, without the pressure to orgasm, you might end up climaxing after all! And if you don’t cum, that’s also fine. At the very least you’ll have enjoyed pleasure or discovered more about your body. 
  • Guilt, shame or embarrassment about orgasming : This could stem from cultural or religious beliefs about sex, or other factors such as poor body image. The fact is that if you feel guilty and embarrassed, it’s going to affect your pleasure. If you suspect such thoughts are holding you back from orgasming, you may find it helpful to check out our collection Overcome Shame which will help you to identify where these damaging beliefs come from and what you can do to move on.

Relationship issues

  • Poor communication of sexual needs and preferences: If you’re unable to clearly voice your wants and needs to a partner, perhaps due to embarrassment or a lack of emotional intimacy, it’s unlikely you’ll have those wants and needs met. Your partner isn’t a mind reader after all. If you’d like to get better at asking for what you want in bed, listen to Emjoy’s wellbeing collection about communicating your needs
  • Unresolved conflicts: Maybe you argued this morning about whose turn it was to do the washing up, or maybe you have a serious ongoing problem that never seems to get resolved. If you have unresolved issues whirring around your head and causing resentment when you’re trying to get it on, it’s going to be much harder to achieve orgasm. 
  • Infidelity or loss of trust: If your partner has broken your trust, it’s going to be difficult to feel trust and intimacy in the bedroom. This can understandably prevent you from orgasming. If you’d like help healing from infidelity, Emjoy has created 77 minutes of audio sessions dedicated to the topic. 
  • Partner's sexual dysfunction: It’s not all about you. If your partner has a sexual dysfunction, for example if a male partner suffers erectile dsyfunction, that can impact your ability to orgasm too. Solving your partner’s issue could be key to your orgasms. 
couple's feet entwined in bed

How to treat anorgasmia

The good news is that only 5% of cases of anorgasmia have a physical cause and anorgasmia is treatable and treatment is effective in 95% of cases! So if you’re affected, don’t give up hope! 

As you’ve seen, there are lots of possible underlying causes of anorgasmia, and they can overlap. That means the treatment for anorgasmia will vary a lot depending on what’s causing it. But as a general rule of thumb, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor if a lack of orgasms is getting you down, as it’s important to determine if there are any serious health issues that could be causing it. Once you’ve identified the cause, you can start on your journey to increased pleasure. 

The orgasm gap and pleasure equality

Finally, we’d like to highlight a really important factor that affects women’s orgasms more than men’s: lack of sexual education about how to experience pleasure and orgasm! Unfortunately, the female orgasm and anatomy have only recently been properly researched. In fact it was only in 1998 that the anatomy of the clitoris was fully mapped out for the first time! Is it any wonder then that both men and women are unsure how to achieve female orgasm? 

A 2018 study found that 95% of heterosexual men reported always or usually coming during sex. Compare this to the 65% of heterosexual women who reported always or usually experiencing orgasm during sex and the orgasm gap is evident. 

What could account for this gaping chasm between male and female orgasm? Could it be that it’s just harder for women to cum? No way! Both men and women have the same ability to experience pleasure, you just have to know how to get there. 

In the same 2018 study, 86% of lesbian women reported orgasming always or usually during sex. On top of that, women on average take just 8 minutes to orgasm when masturbating compared to 14 minutes during partnered sex. So it’s clear that women can orgasm without difficulty given the right stimulation, which for most women is clitoral stimulation. 

woman holding an apple

One of the ways to address this orgasm gap and increase pleasure equality is to get educated. We’re talking about both men and women here. Learn more about female anatomy and how it works. That way you’ll be in a much better position to pleasure yourself or your partner and keep those sweet orgasms coming! 

On that note, another wonderful thing you can do to achieve orgasm is to touch yourself. Take the time to discover what makes you feel good. After all, if you don’t know how to make yourself orgasm, how will your partner know? Once you’ve discovered what techniques bring you to climax, you can direct your partner to do the same. Or why not let them watch you masturbate? It’ll be both educational and a huge turn on! 

If you want some ideas on how to get started with masturbation, get inspired by these 10 masturbation techniques for female orgasm. You can also listen to our masturbation techniques collection packed with different ways to explore your body and enjoy pleasure. 

More resources for women struggling to orgasm

If you’ve never had an orgasm, suffer orgasm anxiety, or would like to know more about orgasms and how to have one, we think you’d get a lot out of Emjoy. Emjoy is a science-backed audio app designed to help women learn more about their bodies and sexuality and improve their sexual wellbeing. To get started we recommend listening to the following collections:

Never had an orgasm? Then this Emjoy collection is for you.
Overcome Orgasm Anxiety
Learn more with All About Orgasms

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