Tilly O' Brien talks about female orgasm anxiety and the pressure on women to cum.
Growing up, I heard so many stories from women telling me that it wasn’t until well into their marriages that they had their first orgasm or that they never orgasm during heterosexual sex. However, I’ve also heard plenty of guys brag about making girls cum and yet also know about the prevalence of the orgasm gap, I mean Lily Allen even made a song about it.
Heterosexual sex is very male-dominated and whether you’re in a loving relationship or not; let’s face it, usually once the man’s finished, sex has finished even if the woman has not yet climaxed. This is known as the orgasm gap. So, I went into my first sexual experiences believing that it was only necessary for men to cum and that I’d probably never orgasm, but this was okay, standard, even. This was until I was 21 and entered a sexual relationship with a Canadian guy I met during my year abroad. We weren’t having penetrative sex, just foreplay, and everything was going so well until I was on the verge of climaxing and burst into a fit of laughter. They weren’t cute flirty giggles, they were panic attack nervous fits of laughter and I had to push his hand away whilst hiding my face in the pillow. How could something feel so good yet so terrifying at the same time? How was I supposed to handle this new and intense feeling? It’s safe to say that I was left feeling embarrassed and confused, but we tried again multiple times after and the same thing happened every time. Why couldn’t I just let go? And then like fate, I stumbled across an article about orgasm anxiety whilst flipping through a women’s mag. Turns out orgasm anxiety is the reason I couldn’t let myself cum.
Orgasm anxiety is an anxiety towards how and if you’ll orgasm and is related to female performance anxiety (FPA). FPA is an anxiety about how well you are performing during sex and can prevent sexual enjoyment because your mind is too occupied on whirring questions: “Is my partner enjoying this?” “What if they don’t cum?” “Do I look good naked?” “What does my cum face look like?” “Am I taking too long to orgasm?” Your mind is too occupied with how you appear to your partner, and this distracts you from your own pleasure and makes you too anxious to climax. Such anxieties prevent us from enjoying the moment and being present in our bodies and can even cause crying and other defence mechanisms- laughing in my case.
For me, I believe that my orgasm anxiety came from a fear of being so vulnerable in front of another person and due to a belief that I didn’t deserve to feel that good. This is common and can happen to women who have been in abusive relationships or experienced sexual violence, but there are more causes of orgasm anxiety:
A lack of sex positive, pleasure-focused sex education
It’s likely that most school’s sex ed classes are like that scene from Mean Girls wherein the teacher warns the students about the dangers of sex and doesn’t explain that sex can be pleasurable. So, it’s only natural that many teenage girls turn to porn to educate themselves about sex. However, porn usually shows the actresses orgasming in a short amount of time which isn’t natural for everyone. This type of education can cause orgasm anxiety as it makes women feel anxious about how long it takes them to cum and then prevent them from orgasming because they are too focused on orgasming and not noticing the pleasure their bodies are feeling.
An internalised belief that your partner is more deserving of pleasure than you
Traditionally, women have been taught to put others, particularly men, first and this is apparent in sex. Thus, women may be hyper focused on helping their partner to reach climax and so forget about their own pleasure.
Previous criticism about how you climax from a sexual partner
Maybe a previous sexual partner criticised your cum face or told you were too loud. This criticism could have a negative effect on your relationship with orgasms and so when future partners get you close to cumming, you may become anxious and not allow yourself to orgasm.
Fear of orgasming
This isn’t essentially a fear of the orgasm itself but more anxieties that may occur about the events surrounding orgasms such as the appearance/ smell of your vagina and how long you take to cum. Hyper focusing on these anxieties can prevent you from allowing yourself to orgasm.
So how can you overcome orgasm anxiety? For me, I started masturbating, something I had previously believed that women didn’t do, and achieved an orgasm alone first so that I’d know what an orgasm felt like the next time a partner got me there. Here are some strategies you can try:
Finding out what gives you pleasure
Incorporate masturbation into your self-care routine and find out what gives you pleasure. Then communicate this to your partner. By knowing what makes you feel good, you’re likely to focus on the pleasure you’re feeling and ignore your anxieties.
By practising mindfulness, you can teach yourself to remain present with the pleasures you’re feeling and enjoy the moment.
Prioritise pleasure over climax
Whilst orgasms are great, you don’t need to always orgasm during sex as sometimes the pleasures of sex are enough. So don’t focus on orgasming and just focus on how your body feels and who knows, this pleasure may lead to an orgasm.
Therefore, if you’ve ever experienced orgasm anxiety, just know that you’re not alone and don’t feel embarrassed. Just take some time to learn what turns you on and communicate this with your partner. You’ll get there one day, and with Valentine's Day round the corner, why not treat yourself with some sexual self-care.