Feeling anxious about orgasm can impact how you experience pleasure during sex. Here’s what to know and how to cope.
Orgasm is typically considered the height of a sexual experience, but there can be negative feelings associated with it. This is called orgasm anxiety.
- the feeling one gets in relation to sexual performance (e.g., performance anxiety or feeling anxious about needing to orgasm during sex)
- the feeling one may experience as they’re leading up to the moment of orgasm (e.g., scared to orgasm due to a lack of bodily control or intensity of sensation)
Although orgasm anxiety isn’t an official anxiety disorder classified under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), it’s still a common and valid experience that many folks share.
And “it certainly can impact a person’s psyche to cause other sexual disorders and dysfunctions as listed in the DSM,” adds White.
“There’s often a disconnect between the mind and the body, with stressful thoughts clouding the mind and not allowing oneself to truly relax and connect in the moment to fully experience the benefits of orgasm,” White explains.
You may have orgasm anxiety if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- your body tenses up during sex
- your mind wanders from the experience
- you dread the moment leading up to orgasm
- you feel a sense of overwhelming nervousness
- you experience disassociation between your mind and body
We all experience pleasure differently, so causes of orgasm anxiety may vary for each person.
White says the most important thing is to understand that you’re not alone and to reflect and uncover the potential underlying causes (some of which she outlines below).
Some reasons you might experience orgasm anxiety include:
- feelings of fear, stress, or worry
- lack of sex-positive, pleasure-focused sex education
- history of sexual trauma
- sexual shame or shame surrounding pleasure
- self-judgment about sexual performance
- mental health conditions (e.g., generalized anxiety disorder)
- previous negative sexual experiences
- body image issues
- pressure from yourself or a partner on “needing” to orgasm
“Orgasm is incredibly primal and a byproduct of giving into one’s pleasure, and not a ‘controlled’ act,” says White. “Conscious control needs to be given up, especially [for] women, in order to ignite orgasm.”
But she notes that when someone experiences anxiety, there’s an implicit feeling of a lack of control and a need for safety.
“As sensations build in the body to culminate in orgasm, it can be challenging to trust the experience and allow the vulnerability and release which naturally unfolds.”
Try these coping strategies to relieve orgasm anxiety and enjoy sex more fully.
Reflect on the ‘why’
White says the first step to managing orgasm anxiety is to consider the potential causes. “It’s OK to feel this way. Once you understand why, you can use various methods to work on eliminating that anxiety.”
To examine your relationship with orgasm, she suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- What does it mean if I can’t orgasm with my partner?
- Does it mean that I’m less than, or inadequate, or that my partner might look for someone else who is more orgasmically expressive?
- Am I afraid of looking “out of control” when I orgasm?
- What is the meaning that I attribute to orgasm?
“These questions may bring up uncomfortable emotions at first, but vulnerability can serve as an asset to cultivating more safety with your partner,” she adds.
Communicate your feelings
If you experience orgasm anxiety during partnered sex, voicing those feelings can enable your partner to understand your experience and offer support.
“By letting these concerns be heard, you help to untangle them from the shroud of shame which is always experienced in secrecy and silence,” says White.
She adds that “the more your partner understands you, the more they can embody compassion and adapt their behaviors to what will help foster safety and security.”
Explore your body, wants, and needs
A 2015 study on sexual dysfunction among women suggests that lifelong anorgasmia, or difficulty reaching orgasm during prolonged sexual activity, may be due to a lack of body awareness or self-stimulation.
Learning what makes you feel good can lead to more pleasurable, potentially orgasmic sexual experiences.
“Incorporate a solo-masturbation practice in which you can spend the time getting to know your own body — your needs, wants, and desires as it relates to touch,” says White.
She notes that finding a private, relaxing space to explore self-pleasure is key. Pleasure products can help as well.
Find ways to relax and remain present
“Anxiety is principally a result of being mentally focused in the future or the past,” says White. “By taking time to be more present and attuned to touch, it allows couples the opportunity to escape the expectations of what ‘should’ be happening.”
She notes that creating a sexual ambience can help to support sexual response and minimize anxiety. To do this, she recommends:
- lighting candles
- playing sensual music
- playing with soothing aromas
- focusing on pressure, texture, and temperature
“Learning to stay in the moment can take practice and requires a certain amount of vulnerability and curiosity. It requires you to become absorbed in the appreciation of whatever is occurring sensually,” says White.
“While this may be challenging at first, it’ll help you to experience greater sexual satisfaction and experience greater satisfaction of all of the senses.”
Prioritize pleasure instead
“It’s important to remember that orgasm is not required for pleasure to be experienced during sex,” reminds White.
Consider de-centering orgasm as your goal and focus on achieving a general sense of pleasure instead. This may help to relieve orgasm related fears and anxieties.
“Orgasm is like the cherry on top of an ice-cream sundae. It doesn’t encompass the sweetness and the delicious feelings throughout a sensual exchange. So if an orgasm doesn’t occur, it’s OK and may be more primed to happen the next time, especially as you learn to take off the pressure to top your sundae with the perfect cherry.”
Work with a sex educator or therapist
“Taking the time to educate yourself on the different ways you can explore your sexuality and different forms of pleasure can be eye-opening in relieving yourself from some of the shame associated with orgasm,” says White.
Working with a sexuality or mental health professional can help you understand the potential causes and how to overcome orgasm anxiety. Sex educators can also reframe the way you think about pleasure and offer more sex-positive education resources.
“Our mind is incredibly powerful and integrally tied to our physiological responses and emotional reactions,” says White. “A clinician working with someone will take ‘orgasm anxiety’ and anxiety more generally into account when assessing their client and designing a protocol for treatment.”
If you experience orgasm anxiety, know that your experience is common and valid. These feelings can stem from many different sources, like sexual shame, stress, body image issues, or mental health conditions.
There are ways to relieve your orgasm-related anxiety. Some coping strategies include:
- learning about your body
- practicing mindfulness
- prioritizing pleasure instead of orgasm
- working with a sex or mental health therapist
Orgasm anxiety can negatively impact your ability to enjoy sex, but it’s possible to manage this feeling and have more fulfilling, pleasurable experiences going forward.