Slip under the covers with Ebony Leigh, an insatiable sex writer who's done the leg work. Delving in to all things erotic and taboo, she's Yahoo's answer to Carrie Bradshaw, if she was a Samantha.
I will be the first to admit that everything I once thought I knew about orgasms turned out to be absolutely untrue.
From their ease and attainability to their frequency and velocity. Despite what porn would have us believe, they aren’t that straightforward for everyone.
While I did eventually find out what works for me, and how to get what I need, what I learned the most is that they’re not that difficult to fake. Because when it comes down to it, we’re not always having our socks blown off.
But for some women, orgasms are so elusive that they assume even movies are a mock-up.
“I just thought that was all dramatised,” my best friend Chloe told me.
“In my twenties, my friends and I never spoke about sex. They were more reserved, some of them were religious and some were more family orientated, while I was in a seven-year relationship.
“I didn’t know any better.”
For Chloe, sex was just another part of life. You had a partner and you slept together. She didn’t expect fireworks. To her, intercourse became almost robotic.
“I still enjoyed sex, I’ve always had a high sex drive, but I don’t think I realised that there was a climax thing," she said.
“I mean, I knew of it, but I didn't think I was that concerned about it until a few years ago.”
By that point, Chloe was in her early 30s and living her best single life in New York with friends that were much more sexually active. And who liked, no, loved, to talk about it.
Without any constraints, Chloe and I soon began to broaden our sexual horizons, independently but together. From sex shops to sex parties, it was one adventure after the other as we explored our wild sides and acquired tastes.
But still, Chloe knew something was missing. She knew she wasn’t getting the “full experience". Because Chloe has never had an orgasm. And figures show she’s not alone.
More than one in 10 women have never had an orgasm
“Research generally says that 10 to 15 per cent of women have never orgasmed before,” Selina Nguyen, a Relationship Therapist and Sexologist at the Good Vibes Clinic, told me.
“That is roughly one in 10, however, it could be even more due to women potentially feeling shame around reporting this.”
Selina points me towards some pretty unmistakable statistics. Among them, are the results of a major US study which found that 91 per cent of men had orgasmed during their most recent sexual encounter, compared to just 64 per cent of women.
On top of that, figures revealed that 59 per cent of women have faked an orgasm. Which begs the question, why do we do it?
I asked Selina about those feelings of “shame” around failure to climax.
“A lot of it comes down to the taboo nature of sex within society,” she explained.
“There's competing messages we receive through porn, media or even our social groups that 'sex is natural and you should just know how to orgasm' and 'women who enjoy sex are looked down upon'.
“Neither set up the space for productive conversations around sex or sexual difficulties. There can also be a lot of shame or anxiety around not being able to orgasm, so of course it deters us from talking about it let alone reporting it to a scientific study.”
When it comes to Chloe, she doesn’t hold back on admitting to sexual partners that they didn’t get her there. Or that she’s never had an orgasm.
“About half of those I’ve slept with have brought it up, and half of those expected it to happen just like that, as soon as they came,” she said.
“It’s like, mate, you were only in me for 10 minutes.
“And then other times, some of them, maybe about 20 to 30 per cent, seemed a bit more concerned and genuine, and actually tried to get me there the next time. But guys just don’t tend to last that long, so in the end it is still about satisfying them.”
Porn and poor sex education are partly to blame
Beyond potentially physical causes, such as chronic pain conditions like endometriosis or vaginismus, Selina said there’s usually not a sole reason why some women struggle to orgasm.
Rather, she explained that there are often a number of factors that compound each other and create a kind of cycle.
“A big part of why women struggle to orgasm is because they get in their heads and struggle to relax,” she said.
“It’s hard to be in the mood for sex or to orgasm when you’re concerned about how your body looks or your to-do list, and that can start a spiral of being stressed about the stress which can be hard to step out of.”
She said another common reason is our beliefs around orgasms, for example, how long they should take, how they should happen or what they should feel like.
“Add on the impact of porn that tells women they should orgasm in 30 seconds through penetrative sex, a collectively poor sex education, and a society where women have been shamed for their sexuality.
“With such conflicting messaging it’s not surprising that women are finding orgasms difficult to navigate.”
Being unsure of what you enjoy sexually, or how to communicate this to a partner, can also prevent women from reaching climax.
“For one, there can be a lot of learned shame involved with exploring your sexuality, so a lot of women are just flying blind,” Selina said.
“On the flip side of that, if women know what they enjoy, they can still find it difficult to assert themselves because they don’t want to hurt their partner’s feelings or to come off as ‘too much’ which is not at all the case.”
Why the Big O shouldn’t be the big deal
While Chloe doesn’t understand what is stopping her from reaching an orgasm, she still loves sex.
“I am horny half the time and I get sexually frustrated,” she told me.
“But at the same time, I get over it by focusing on the whole lead-up.”
Because for Chloe, an orgasm isn’t the be-all and end-all. Instead, she lives for the entire encounter. The flirting, the foreplay, the intimacy. And honestly, hearing what she loves about sexual relationships is like a breath of fresh air.
“Since I don’t get that final result, I really need that lead-up,” she explained.
“And the surprises, like a sudden change of position, or the guy taking control where I don't have to think.”
For people with partners that can’t come, and even those who can, Chloe said the attention should be on the total event.
“Make sure the foreplay, as well as the sex, is a whole experience,” she said.
“And make it special. Do more things and make those parts more exciting than just getting to the endpoint.
“And stay intimate afterwards – don’t just roll over and sleep.”
She also recommended experimenting with different moves.
“Help them by asking what they would like, but don’t put any pressure on. Say, ‘what if I tickle
you here, or I touch you here, or I stroke your hair or kiss you in that spot.’
“Try different things and watch their reaction.”
It’s advice Selina agrees with.
“Focusing more on pleasure opens up the experience, whereas when we focus on orgasms, it becomes the binary of success versus failure, and the concept of failure is such a big turn-off,” she said.
“Whether with solo sex or partnered sex, it’s important to shift the focus from orgasm to pleasure, and it’s often when we take the pressure off ourselves to ‘reach the finish line’, that’s when it’s easiest to do so.”
For Chloe, that’s exactly what it is all about.
“Some people need that end goal, but it should be about the whole event,” she reminded me.
“It’s everything that goes around it. Especially all that flirting and sexual tension.
“You really forget how exciting that can be.”
And from someone who’s been too busy keeping score on orgasms, or faking it when she can’t, I think it’s advice we could all really use.
Tips to reach an orgasm from Selina Nguyeen
● Limit stress by clearing your to-do list, turning your phone off, putting on a good playlist and practising breathing exercises
● Try slowing down and figuring out ways for you to tune into your body regularly to help you get out of your head
● Explore and learn what you enjoy sexually by yourself, such as clitoral stimulation and other kinds of stimuli and touch as well as pace and intensity
● Masturbation can provide a safe space for you to get familiar with the experience and the sensations so it doesn’t feel as overwhelming with a partner
● Women can go their whole lives without having an orgasm and be totally fine with it and that’s OK, however, if it’s causing you distress or concern, or you want more for your sex life, seek professional help
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