Originally Published in Psychology Today
How does the pressure to orgasm affect sex and what can couples do?
Orgasms are ________.
Go for it. Insert whatever descriptors you like in the blank. If you said blissful, powerful, pleasurable, or mind-blowing, you’re not alone. Then again, if you said fleeting, confusing, unpredictable, or I wish I knew! you’re in good company there too. As a 2017 study revealed, 5 percent of heterosexual men, roughly 12 percent of gay and bisexual men, 14 percent of lesbian women, and approximately 35 percent of heterosexual and bisexual women do not frequently experience an orgasm.
Does this mean that you must be defective in some way if you don’t climax regularly, find it troublesome to get there, or have never experienced one? Of course not, but as the saying goes, perception is reality. All we humans have to do is buy into the notion that we’re broken in some way, and the self-doubt piles on.
People can place enormous pressure on themselves when it comes to sex and orgasms. It’s easy for the Big O to become a Big Pain when climaxing turns into a must-have goal…or else.
Or else what?
Well, that depends. For some folks, an orgasm is a sign they’re functioning normally. The implication is that if it doesn’t happen, then something must be amiss with them. Others view climaxing as a reassuring message to their partner, such as “You’re a talented lover who’s turning me on!” Still, others treat an orgasm as an indication that they’ve done their part as a lover; if their partner didn’t climax, they assume it means they’ve failed. And when we treat orgasms as a way of showing that we’re normal, as a means to safeguard our partner’s feelings, or as a marker of our own sexual skill, we raise the stakes of an orgasm tremendously.
What is a person to do if an orgasm isn’t happening? For many folks, their answer is to fake it. According to a 2010 study, 25 percent of men and 50 percent of women have faked orgasms. Why did they do it? Popular reasons include:
- To protect their partner’s feelings
- To make their partner feel good
- To stop having sex
Although faking an orgasm may seem like the smoothest way forward in an uneasy situation, the downside is that this strategy takes away discomfort in the moment without fostering honest communication or enhancing sex for a couple in the long run. So what can you do if, along with many others, you feel the weight of orgasmic expectations?
- Take the pressure off of yourself and your partner to have an orgasm. Even better, change your aim from orgasms to relishing sex-play with your partner in the moment. See what happens if you focus less on the outcome and more on enjoying the journey. If you mindfully tune in to what your body is feeling and to your experience with partner, you may notice a boost in the bedroom. People who are more mindful are happier with their sex life.
- Consider taking a chance and genuinely talking with your partner. Although authentic communication about sex is linked to more sexual satisfaction, a happier relationship, and greater passion, that doesn’t mean it feels easy or risk-free. Open dialogue can be challenging, as it involves a certain level of vulnerability. If you share what you like, what turns you on, or your hopes and fears, what if your lover were to judge you, to feel hurt, or dismiss or reject you? Even as these questions and the unease that accompanies them are entirely understandable, try to remember that those fears may not reflect reality. Just imagine: What if your lover reacted to you with acceptance, appreciation, responsiveness, love, and passion? If you make the leap and allow yourself to talk about sex with your partner, think of it as a worthy investment in the two of you. Besides, you just might make it easier for your partner to reveal more to you. Research shows that when we allow others to see more of us, they allow us to see more of them too. So why not open the door to deeper sexual communication yourself? Someone has to make the first move.