I’m a 29 year-old woman and I don’t know if I’ve ever had an orgasm. I’ve been having sex for about seven years and there were times sex felt really good, but I’m not sure what an orgasm is supposed to feel like. I don’t relate to how my friends describe their orgasms. How will I know for sure when it happens? Is it possible that my body just won’t do it?

There are so many answers to this question and a lot of them are pretty normal and relatable for many people with vaginas. First off, there isn’t actually one way to experience orgasm, so the idea of climax is actually a pretty large concept vs. a single, specific thing that points to ORGASM. There are a few ways that someone could experience orgasm, including but not limited to: increase in heart rate and blood pressure; increase in muscle tension (in the genitals, but also throughout the body); the skin going flush; a release of tension, followed by a feeling of deep relaxation. There have also been neurological studies that have mapped out parts of the brain that light up during orgasm, but not many of us have casual access to an MRI machine to match our personal brain chemistry to a small but growing database of horny brains.

I personally really hate the flippant response that I sometimes hear to this question, which goes something along the lines of “if you don’t know for sure, it means it hasn’t happened” because so many of us who aren’t cis heterosexual men have been taught to doubt our desires and our pleasure. Once that seed is planted, it is really hard to just trust that what we are experiencing actually is the Big O, especially if it doesn’t look or sound like the representations of orgasm seen in media or even described to us by friends.

Occasionally, you have to be patient while your body catches up to your desires.

All of this to say: there are a lot of various ways to achieve orgasm and a lot of various ways to experience orgasm. I have talked to many people who claim that they can differentiate between a clitoral orgasm and a vaginal orgasm, even between an a-spot orgasm vs. a g-spot orgasm (both of these are specific spots inside the vaginal canal). Some people have studied Tantra and breath work and have energetic orgasms or mental orgasms without any physical contact whatsoever. There is not a hierarchy of pleasure in all of these, but rather, a vast field of pleasure to explore if you so choose.

But back to the sex at hand, there are a few things you can do to practice having orgasms. The first thing I suggest is to add some variables; change up your routine. If you usually have sex with another person, try focusing on masturbation. If you mostly use your hand to masturbate, try using a vibrator. If you usually lie on your back during sex, try being on top. Mix and match these variables to see how they change the way you experience sex. Sometimes we think life is pretty good until we stumble onto a different way of doing things and realize that this was the missing piece all along.

Sometimes it will take a few tries to get comfortable with allowing yourself to get to the point of climax. It can be a little uncomfortable the first few times you get close, especially if you are someone who has a hard time letting go of control or doesn’t really like feeling overwhelmed. Or maybe you are someone who needs a bit of warm-up to even get near the peak. In both of these cases I recommend finding some time to yourself where you will not be interrupted. Find some porn or erotica to get your mental fantasies moving while physically focusing on a slow and steady flow of blood to the genitals. Occasionally, you have to be patient while your body catches up to your desires. Using a vibrator with many settings so you can start at a low setting and work your way up to something faster can be a great help when trying to allow for a slow build.

I’d like to throw some more statistics in here, but honestly there is not much research on the pleasure and function of sex for people that are not cis heterosexual men. For instance, depending on the study, somewhere between 35 to 70% of people with vaginas need clitoral stimulation to orgasm. This is a pretty big gap; but even so, that means that even on the low end of things, a sizable portion of the population needs clitoral stimulation to orgasm. So don’t feel bad about using a vibrator during penetrative sex or asking your partner to focus all their attention on that small but mighty little organ. And even if clitoral stimulation isn’t the thing that sets you over the edge, sex is more about the journey than the destination. Instead of an orgasm being the goal, make the sex about the exploration and time spent making yourself and your partner feel good. Your body is perfect just the way it is. Let go of expectations of “relatable” sexual experiences and focus on communicating with yourself and partners about what is happening for you during sex. When you stop fixating on a specific point, who knows what you’ll be able to see when you step back.

Do fancy lubes really do anything? Or is it more of a gimmick/placebo effect type thing?

In addition to lubricants whose simple job it is to make any area it’s applied to more wet and slippery, there are lubricants that have smells and flavors to them, and there are lubricants that warm or cool the area they’re applied to. There are also stimulating gels and oils which are not designed to be used as lubes, but rather are meant to be applied to small portions of the skin to create a warm or tingly sensation.

The first thing you want to look out for is if the lubricant is compatible with the barrier(s) and toys you are using. If you are using latex condoms, dental dams, or gloves, stay away from oil-based lubricants or stimulating gels, because the oil breaks down the latex, rendering it useless for protection. If you are using a silicone toy, generally avoid silicone-based lubricants. Silicone wants to bond to itself, so that means silicone in a liquid state will try to cling to silicone in a solid state and mess with the texture of your toy. Water-based lubricants are super common and compatible with humans, toys, and barriers, but they come in a whole range of textures and thicknesses, so put some on your finger and move it around a bit to make sure that those elements work for you.

Next, you should check the ingredients to make sure that you don’t have any allergies or sensitivities to anything in the lubricant. If you look at the list of ingredients and aren’t sure if you would react to any of the items you see listed, put a dab behind your ear and leave it for one to five minutes. If it gets red and itchy in that span of time, put the lubricant down and be thankful you didn’t test it on your junk. In addition to allergens, watch out for sugar, glycerine, honey, acetate, or propylene glycol. Any of these ingredients can dry out internal tissue or cause yeast infections.

We can be very sensitive to taste and smell; and although there are flavor factories in New Jersey that work tirelessly to replicate the aroma of bacon, it doesn’t mean that the end product will match the specific notes you equate with bacon, or that it will taste good when mixed with your lovers’ unique body taste. Finding a flavored lube that you like can be as involved as finding just the right cologne that works with your specific chemistry.

Lastly, try a little bit before you dump out a whole bunch and understand that the marketing might not always match the feeling. I have definitely used “warming” lubes that featured peppermint as a main ingredient, meaning that it actually cooled the area it was applied to, and “flavored” lubes which didn’t actually taste like anything, but made my lover smell like cinnamon.

Just because something is a novelty doesn’t mean that it can’t be useful and good for you. Spend some time at your local sex shop perusing the options and finding a fun lube option to keep on your bedside table for when you want to change things up.

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