The pleasurable experience of orgasm is both intense and mysterious all at once. But yet, with the female orgasm come many complexities and misconceptions surrounding it. For instance, some women can have a pretty straightforward orgasm during sex, just like men. Some can even boast of their ability to experience multiple orgasms in one sex session. Well, this is not the typical norm for every woman out there.
The fact is, every orgasm is not the same for all women. Not surprising, since women differ in many areas, why not how they experience sexual pleasure. Even for an individual, one orgasm may be more intense or less pleasurable than another. But what if you never had an orgasm? Or, do you find it difficult to have one even with intense stimulation?
Research has shown that orgasmic dysfunction is the second most reported sexual problem in women. It is prevalent in 11-41% of women globally. Moreover, it has a higher occurrence rate in women than in men because of associated factors like; poor self-image, anxiety, poor perception of sex, religious influence, and biological problems.
What is Anorgasmia?
Anorgasmia is a marked delay, recurrent difficulty, or complete absence of orgasm in most sexual activities following erotic stimulation. It's usually reported among women.
This condition has been known to cause many personal psychological problems for people who have it. For women, it's responsible for low self-esteem, relationship problems, sexual performance anxiety, mental stress, and self-blames. While some women have never had an orgasm in their life (Primary Anorgasmia), the condition is not as frequent as Acquired Anorgasmia. In acquired Anorgasmia, such women had orgasms in the past but presently experience difficulties reaching climax.
Subsequently, anorgasmia can also be classified as either generalised or situational. Generalised Anorgasmia is cases that are not specific to any stimulation; irrespective of whichever part of the body is erotically stimulated, the individual cannot reach an orgasm. In contrast, for Situational Anorgasmia, you may find that certain erotic stimulation will lead you to orgasms and not others.
'While there are some women who never experienced any sort of orgasm in their life, some women can have an orgasm through masturbation but not with penetrative sex,' says Rivinda Vitharana, a Psychosexual specialist and Sexual doctor at the University Hospital Birmingham NHS foundation.
What Causes Anorgasmia?
Unlike other medical conditions, there's no specific cause for diagnosing Anorgasmia. Different types of Anorgasmia have different causes. Yet, there are a few ways your doctor can use to diagnose the underlying cause of the condition. These different causes include physiological, psychological, and biological factors.
As a woman, your body undergoes many normal physiological changes ranging from puberty, adolescence, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, peri-menopause down to menopause. And in each stage, hormonal changes that can directly or indirectly influence your sexual experiences take place.
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are the three main hormones influencing sex drive. The most influential is testosterone which is present in both males and females. With each physiologic change, your hormones fluctuate following what is happening in your body at the time.
During menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels fall gradually until it reaches a steady low. When this happens, you have a lower sex drive and increased vagina dryness. 'Orgasm may change as we age, and this is normal. Sometimes different techniques may need to be adopted, such as being aware that as we age, the skin in the vulva can become more sensitive and extra lubrication may help when seeking orgasmic results' says Ness Cooper, a Clinical Sexologist who works as a Sex and Relationship Coach at www.thesexconsultant.com helping individuals achieve sexual wellbeing for over 10 years.
She explains further, 'Aging and orgasm vary. Some individuals gain more insights into their likes and dislikes as they age, which can help them reach orgasms and pleasurable moments more easily.'
In cases of pregnancy, the reverse is the case. There's a spike in the level of estrogen and progesterone. During such periods, most women have a high libido and reach orgasms easily. However, poor self-image, tiredness, stress, dizziness, and anxiety may cause difficult orgasms.
Again, certain physical changes after childbirth can also stretch the distance between the clitoris and vagina. Studies have also shown that the closer the distance (2.5cm) between the clitoris and vagina, the more likely it is for you to orgasm through penetrative sex alone.
This has to do with your personality and perception of sex. In most cases, your perception of sex is probably influenced by your societal upbringing.
'Stigma from poor sex education that doesn't focus on sexual pleasure and female anatomy may also hinder our experiences to enjoy sexual pleasure. When you don't understand what's happening and that it is okay to feel certain situations, we can get confused and shut off our enjoyment of these perfectly normal things to enjoy when exploring our bodies, ' Ness explains.
Do you believe sex to be bad? Does sex make you feel guilt or shame? Are you distracted during sex? Do religious and societal expectations of sex constantly tie you down and make you unable to enjoy sex? If you find yourself answering 'Yes' to all the above questions, don't be surprised to find out that it significantly impacts your sexual experiences.
'Orgasms and sexual pleasure are heavily influenced by what's going on in our minds. If we're unable to relax into it, it can be really hard for the brain to process intimate and sexual moments as enjoyable' says Ness Cooper.
Furthermore, intimacy is also extremely important, as physical touch can help build up the right kind of momentum during sex, especially with women. As couples, do you and your partner spend quality time on foreplay? How your brain receives and perceives touch from a partner can make a huge difference in priming your body for orgasms. According to results from a study in 2006 on older women between the ages of 57 to 85, the results showed that women had 3 times less chance of an orgasm when little or no sexual touch was involved.
Certain medical conditions may affect your brain, reproductive system, and even sex hormones. These diseases that affect the normal functioning of your body system pose a possible threat. In effect, this leads to difficulty reaching orgasms or, sometimes, a complete absence of orgasm.
Examples are chronic diseases like diabetes, pelvic floor prolapse, and multiple sclerosis. Others are neurologic diseases like pelvic nerve injury, vulvovaginal degeneration, and spinal cord injury. Hysterectomy and cancer surgeries can also cause orgasm dysfunctions.
Subsequently, with certain prescribed SSRI and SNRI antidepressants, there's potential for side effects that results in anorgasmia. Paxil, Zoloft, paroxetine, citalopram, Effexor are some of them. However, this is expected for various reasons, but report to your doctor immediately you notice any change in sexual response.
Can Anorgasmia be Treated?
Dr. Rivinda answers, 'Sex therapy can help improve quality of sex life. It is worth seeking professional help for orgasmic dysfunctions. Sexual counselling, mindfulness, hormone therapy, yoga, sex toys, surgery, laser treatment, and drug therapy can help'.
Well, the treatment for Anorgasmia depends on the underlying cause of the condition; treating the cause first may help your get better. You should seek professional help by reporting to your doctor. The doctor is in the best position to diagnose and recommend necessary treatments that can help you.
Ness agrees that a solution exists for women with primary Anorgasmia. Here is what she has to say, 'I have known some women who have a history of anorgasmia experience orgasms eventually, but the route varies for each individual. That's why it is important to use an integrated approach to human sexuality. A mixture of physical and psychological techniques may be needed for some people’.
Sex is more than just orgasm. There are many misconceptions about enjoying sex without reaching an orgasm; the fact is, it's possible to crave and enjoy pleasurable sex without an orgasm.
Ness says, 'Orgasm isn't the only part of sex that we can enjoy. Even just the connection of touch, some of the feel-good hormones is released and can positively affect our wellbeing’.
It's best if you are not completely orgasm goal-oriented and pressurising yourself about the result during sex. The harder you pressure yourself, the more frustrated you become. Instead, remain calm and enjoy yourself.
Racheal Ede is Health and Wellness writer who doubles as a Medical laboratory scientist. She has extensive experience in simplifying complex health-based information for the public. Find Racheal here