On Tuesday night’s episode of The Bachelor, contestant Raven revealed some major truths before her overnight date with bachelor Nick: She’s only slept with one man, and she’s never had an orgasm. While Nick took the news maturely, he was also pretty shocked. But for many women watching the show, Raven’s confession may not have been so surprising. That’s because 15% of women have difficulty reaching orgasm, and 10% have never had an orgasm during sex, according to a survey from Planned Parenthood. Plus, according to a new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior that surveyed 52,588 adults, just 65% of heterosexual women said they’re always able to achieve orgasm. On the other hand, 95% of straight men said they always reach the big O. That’s a discrepancy some call the orgasm gap.
As common as it may be, women who struggle to climax tend to keep quiet about it. “There’s a lot of shame around it, and not a lot of info about how common it is,” says Emily Morse, sex and relationship expert and host of the podcast Sex with Emily. Many women never seek help to figure out the root cause of the problem, whether it’s emotional or physical, and they wind up racked with anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.
The good news is that the body can learn how to orgasm. Here, sexual health experts outline the steps to take to prep your body for climax.
Take control in the bedroom
One important and empowering thing to realize is that your orgasms are your responsibility, says Morse. Some women believe it’s up to their partner to make them have an orgasm, and it will somehow magically happen when they jump into bed together. “That’s not going to happen,” says Morse. “You have to become an expert of your own body first, by learning how to touch yourself, where to touch yourself, what feels good, and how to bring yourself to your own orgasm.”
Masturbate, masturbate, masturbate
Take some you-time to explore your body, without fixating on having an orgasm, says Morse. “Run your hands all over your body, your nipples, really find your erogenous zones.”
And don’t forget about your clitoris. Lauren Streicher, MD, author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health and Your Best Sex Ever says many of her patients who’ve struggled to climax never realized that orgasm is most likely to be achieved through clitoral stimulation. If you’re still a little unsure what to do down there, Morse recommends starting off by “touching it with light strokes,” then “playing around with different pressures, different speeds, and different motions” until you figure out your sweet spot.
Seek a little assistance
Sex toys may help push you over the orgasm edge. “Many studies show that using a vibrator can increase the likelihood of orgasm,” says Dr. Streicher. She also points out that toys are totally normal, and great tools for enhancing your sex life, both solo and with a partner.
Everyone has a different preference when it comes to toys and vibrators, but Morse recommends trying a bullet vibrator or her new fave, the Gvibe Gring, bot of which you can take literally anywhere (not that we’re suggesting any, ahem, risky business.)
Morse is also a strong advocate of lube. “Women get wet at different rates and different times, depending on their bodies,” says Morse. So add a couple drops of lube, such as SKYN Maximum Performance, to your masturbation routine or during sex to get you going and really enhance the experience. Based on the ladies Emily has worked with, “women who use lube are more likely to orgasm than women who don’t.”
Get out of your head…
Easier said than done, right? Whether your brain is preoccupied with all the errands you need to run post-romp, or you’re straight up stressing that you’ll fail at climaxing (again!), all that mental gymnastics is a surefire way to orgasm-block yourself.
“Mindset is a huge part of sexual pleasure and orgasm, so if you’re distracted or in your mind telling yourself it’s not going to happen, that can keep you from having an orgasm.” says Morse. “The trick is to tackle your tension before you get into the bedroom or before you masturbate, whether that’s through meditation or exercise, just try to unwind.”
…and get in the zone
You’ve heard it time and time again, but it’s absolutely true that your brain is the most important sex organ, and a major part of arousal. So before you get into bed, “Start thinking about things that turn you on—maybe that’s by watching porn or remembering a past sexual experience,” says Morse. “When your brain is on board, it makes it easier for your body to follow.”
But if you’re still having trouble tuning in, try to find a way to bring yourself back into the moment. “Really focus on the sensations you’re feeling in your body, or have a mantra you keep telling yourself like ‘this feels good, I have all night,’” advises Morse. “Or focus on your partner—touch them, hold on to them, and connect with them.” And most importantly, don’t be so hard on yourself or feel like you have to rush to the end. Instead, just try to stay in the moment, “because when you’re truly present, there’s no room in our mind for any thoughts.”
Keep it real
Just like Raven did on The Bachelor, it’s important to be open and honest with your partner. Don’t lie and say you’ve had an orgasm in the past, or worse, pretend like he’s given you one. Faking it is only going to rob yourself of pleasure and send the wrong message about what gets you off, says Morse.
Instead, work with your partner to get you there. If you do know how to achieve orgasm via masturbation, “there’s nothing wrong with doing the exact same thing you do, but with your partner,” says Morse. “So if you rub your clitoris, if you use toys, bring that into the mix. Get on top of your partner and move the way you have to. Or explain what you like by placing his hand on top of yours while you touch yourself.” Morse is also a big advocate of mutual masturbation, which allows both partners to see what the other likes and understand how each other’s bodies work. Morse explains: “It’s a great teachable moment for couples, plus it’s really hot.”
In case it wasn’t clear, communication is crucial for great sex. And while you both may be feeling self-conscious about conquering that untapped orgasm, being open and vocal can certainly help you get there. Just be sure to keep it positive, says Morse. “Say things like ‘I love having sex with you and I’m really excited about having an orgasm with you; here are some fun things I think we should try.’”
You can get vocal in other ways, too. Morse suggests giving in to those visceral moans and deep breaths during a romp. “A lot of women hold their breath during sex, but there’s really a release that happens when you moan when things feel good,” she says. “You’re releasing tension in your body, plus it’ll help turn you on as well as your partner.”
If all else fails, see an expert
If you’ve tried masturbation, lube, toys, and all kinds of mind exercises, but still no O, reach out to a doctor. But if you do, just be sure to seek out an MD like Dr. Streicher, who is a sexual medicine expert, and can help address any medical, physical, or psychological problems that may be at play. Dr. Streicher assures that in her experience, there are very few cases of women who are completely unable to orgasm, even if they’ve yet to experience one. “If you’ve never had an orgasm, you are part of a very large group of women,” says Dr. Streicher. “You are not weird, you are not strange, there’s likely nothing wrong with you, and in all but very exceptional cases, this can be alleviated and you can get there.”