What is it like living with anorgasmia?
While the female orgasm isn’t something that has been given a lot of attention in medical research and the media until relatively recently, there is no denying that for many women it plays a hugely important part in the pleasure they gain from sex and masturbation. Where previously the male orgasm was perceived to be the desired endpoint of heterosexual sex, now it is widely recognised that both parties achieving orgasm is an equally, or more, desirable outcome. And yet, as more attention has been drawn to the fact that, yes, women would quite like to orgasm during sex actually, the question of orgasm as endpoint has been raised again. Is orgasm really the be all and end all? And what about if you can’t orgasm in any case?
Anorgasmia is a condition whereby someone cannot orgasm, be it for physical or psychological reasons, or a combination of both. It can either be primary (never had an orgasm) or secondary (has orgasmed previously but now cannot). The exact number of women who have anorgasmia is unclear, and unlikely to ever be clear, given the fact that not only is the research around it thin on the ground, but it isn’t a subject people are particularly comfortable discussing. The oft-cited figure for the amount of women affected is 10-15 per cent, although no one seems to know where this came from or how it was estimated.
But what is it like living with anorgasmia when achieving orgasm is widely seen as the main objective of sex? And what effect can anorgasmia have on your sexual and mental health? Megan, a 21-year-old politics graduate from Kent, has primary anorgasmia, meaning she has never had an orgasm in her life. For a while, the condition affected her deeply, and she tried everything from vibrators to sex therapy in a bid to achieve this elusive orgasm. Now, three years since she began to wonder if there was something ‘wrong’ with her, Megan has come to terms with the fact that she might never have an orgasm.
She first realised that everything wasn’t quite right when she was about 18, around the time her and her friends began discussing their sex lives and masturbation. “Before that, no one talked about it, so I just didn’t know,” she says. “I brought it up with my friends and people would say ‘I’m sure it will happen eventually’, so I just stopped talking about it.” When she first realised she was “missing out” on something, she tried by herself to achieve orgasm to no success, and repeatedly got told that once she found a boyfriend it wouldn’t be a problem. But she has been in a relationship for some years now — and still can’t orgasm.
Despite this, Megan’s anorgasmia hasn’t been a big problem for her relationship, and she takes pains to point out that anorgasmia doesn’t in any way have to spell the end of your sex life. “Once I was in a relationship, it didn’t really affect anything,” she says. “The only problems came when I decided I wanted to talk about anorgasmia and my boyfriend received negative comments from friends suggesting that he couldn’t ‘please his woman’ which wasn’t helpful for him. But as an actual couple it’s never affected us.”
There could be any number of reasons behind Megan’s anorgasmia, and she still hasn’t figured out exactly what the cause is. As she suffers from acute vaginismus, she does think that this probably plays a role in preventing her from orgasming. However, she acknowledges it is partly psychological, as she also suffers from anxiety. Psychosexual therapist Dr Pippa Brough regularly treats women who can’t have orgasms because of psychological reasons, and says the cause of anorgasmia is rarely physical. “With psychosexual therapy, which is a psychodynamic psychotherapy, I try and uncover what may be stopping people progressing,” she says. According to her, anorgasmia is usually some sort of block to ‘letting go’. “All sex needs a certain degree of loss of inhibitions,” she adds, “And for some men and women, who can’t let go for whatever reason, this can prevent them from having orgasms.”
Megan herself went to see a sex therapist, and underwent a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with Relate. However, she found it didn’t really work for her because the nature of this kind of therapy is that it demands quite a lot from the person seeking help. “I recommend Relate because they do student rates, so it only cost me £8 per session,” says Megan. “But you have to put in a lot of effort. The therapist talked me through spoken meditation which I didn’t find helpful. The thing I did find helpful, though, is that she went through anatomy and the hormones that get produced when you are aroused, so I learnt a lot about it all.”
For those with anorgasmia who want to try therapy to see if it can help them orgasm, they can either go to their GP for referral, or find a therapist privately. The website for the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine, for example, has a list of sexual therapists across the UK that hold private clinics. One thing that Megan found particularly frustrating when she decided she wanted to try and get help for her anorgasmia was the fact that she was “brushed off” by her GP. “While it doesn’t bother me any more, I do feel that if it was a guy who said that they had this problem, then it would have been taken more seriously,” she says.
As well as getting help from a therapist, Megan has tried using a variety of vibrators in an attempt to orgasm. “Getting a vibrator was the first thing my friends mentioned when I told them about it,” she says. “They’re great, I fully recommend them for someone who has anorgasmia. I had a friend who was in the same situation as me, but then she got a vibrator and that changed everything, so it obviously can work for some people. But for me, while it’s something I definitely enjoy, it doesn’t help.”
According to Dr Pippa, many women do just live with anorgasmia and accept that they may not experience an orgasm. “For those that have anorgasmia there is of course a point where there has to be a bit of acceptance about what your body can and cannot do for you,” she adds. There are also, of course, plenty of possibilities in self-enjoyment and self-pleasure which can help people with anorgasmia get the most out of their sex lives.
For Megan, though, she is completely comfortable with herself and with the fact that she might never have an orgasm. “It would be different if it had happened before, but because I don’t know what I’m missing and I still enjoy my sex life, it doesn’t bother me,” she says. “Writing and talking about it was good for me because so many people messaged me to say they had the same thing. When I wrote my first article about it I was worried about how people would react, but then we just laughed about it, and when you laugh about something it is normalised.”
Anorgasmia is much more common than people think and the best advice Megan says she can give to people is “don’t beat yourself up”. “It might happen,” she says. “And sex isn’t all about that in any case. It doesn’t have to be entirely focused about the orgasm.”