It’s been quite a while since we had a guest post, hasn’t it? I’m happy to be welcoming Alessandra Fraissinet (they/she), a queer, sex-positive relationship, sex and health educator (RSH), talking about anorgasmia, the orgasm gap, and orgasm difficulties. This has come at a pretty perfect time, especially given that I wrote recently about my own struggles with orgasm and vow to never “fake it” again.
The Pursuit of Pleasure by Alessandra Fraissinet
TW: mention of depression and sexual violence
Part of my job as a sex educator is to encourage people of all genders and sexualities to follow their pleasure. To have sex because it feels good, to release expectations, to be playful, and to move away from the idea of sex as a performance. Under heteronormativity, in particular, sex can be viewed as something you do with a particular aim and, specifically, something that must lead to orgasm.
Now, there are a few things to know about orgasms:
First, orgasms are an involuntary response to a mechanical stimulus, pretty much like a sneeze. That means you or your partner(s) can facilitate the reaction by creating a set of ideal circumstances (trust, relaxation, appropriate stimulation), but that technically no one can make you orgasm except for your own body.
And just as there are a few things you can do to facilitate orgasm, some things can also make it hard to reach. Relaxation, adequate stimulation, good pelvic floor health, safety and trust all contribute to creating an ideal environment for orgasms. On the other hand, physical and psychological factors like depression, anxiety, certain medications, stress, and sexual trauma can prevent you from having orgasms either occasionally or all the time.
People with vulvas, especially cis women who have sex with cishet men, are known to have it harder: this is a well-documented phenomenon known as the orgasm gap. When discussing the orgasm gap, people most often place emphasis on poor communication between partners, male selfishness, and a lack of appropriate pleasure education.
Regardless of sex, gender or sexual orientation, orgasms can be difficult to achieve. This can result in significant pressure during partnered sex especially. Unlearning the idea of sex as a performance, and embracing it as an experience, requires us to release our expectations of a specific outcome and allow pleasure to take whatever form comes naturally in a given moment. This is challenging, especially if – like me – you live with anorgasmia: the extreme difficulty or inability to orgasm.
Anorgasmia can be primary (when you have never had an orgasm) or secondary (when you used to be able to orgasm). It can depend on a variety of different factors: excessive worrying around sexual “performance”, depression and other mood disorders, chronic pain, sexual trauma, hormonal changes, gynaecological surgery, and other health conditions can all cause anorgasmia.
Being a Sex Educator with Anorgasmia
So here I am, embodying the contradiction of being a sex educator who is not only unable to orgasm, but is also consistently failing to address what is “wrong” with their body. Here I am telling people they need to stop obsessing over orgasms and start enjoying sex for pleasure and connection… when I can rarely practice what I preach.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t enjoy sex for the sake of pleasure and connection because I do. Because I don’t cum, pleasure and connection pretty much constitute the whole deal to me. But to be completely honest, most of the time, I am immensely frustrated with my body. I feel betrayed. And I feel like my body has failed me.
I can’t seem to recall my first orgasms – or even whether I have ever actually experienced one. My first experiences with sex were turbulent, to put it mildly. But even now, when I am having super hot sex, when I am really turned on, and when I am having sex with someone who I trust and who cares about me, I cannot ever bring myself to climax. No matter the amount of adequate stimulation I am receiving. No matter how many sex toys I’m aiding myself with.
I always come super close to it, and then… I wish I could say it’s like a deer in headlights that simply stops and goes away, never to be seen again. But the reality is that the pleasure becomes unbearable at this point, and I ask my partner to stop (or I stop if I am masturbating).
Reactions are mixed. Some people (you guessed it, mostly cis men) don’t say a word, and I am not even sure they notice. Some seem puzzled and thrown off or ask me questions. I then explain what happens to my body. While there is a general understanding, most people seem very surprised by it.
Talking About It
Telling partners about my anorgasmia can be even more frustrating than having the condition itself. Attempting to articulate what happens to my body while I’m experiencing intense pleasure without ever being able to follow through puts me right in front of the issue I’ve consistently been trying to avoid (which is another perfect example of “do as I say, not as I do”). And the reason why I avoid the issue is that actively trying to overcome it seems way too overwhelming.
There’s something terrifying about realising that you are indeed in charge of your own pleasure. Your partners can aid and facilitate it but cannot create it from scratch and give it to you. If you want to experience it, you must show up for yourself. That can mean a few different things: communicating with your partner openly and honestly and asking for what you want, making time and being intentional about solo sex, or going to therapy and facing uncomfortable truths. Sometimes all three, and more, together.
For years, I’ve refused to address my anorgasmia in the name of pleasure. Because sex feels good no matter what. Because I can still feel close to my partner. And because I firmly reject all sorts of expectations around sex. Wanting more doesn’t make me a hypocrite, though. If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this: you can embrace orgasm-less pleasure while being curious and trying to overcome your limitations. I deserve powerful, earth-shattering orgasms, and so do you.
“You deserve pleasure” has become a popular catchphrase in sex-positive communities, and rightfully so. But to internalise this message is difficult. And if you’ve been struggling with depression, low self-esteem or sexual trauma, taking charge of your own pleasure can feel overwhelming and out of
reach. There’s no quick fix and no magic wand, but there is important work to do.