Health & Wellness

De-centering Orgasms: Inclusivity and Pleasure In Sex

Think sex is all about orgasms? Think again...
by Serena Red
19 Aug 2022

UPDATED: 16 Sep 2022


Image Source: Photo by Claudia Love on Unsplash

Sex can be awesome, right? We can spend a huge amount of time thinking about it, fantasising about it, and even better – having it. 

However, for many people, all of the varied and delicious joys of sex can be truncated, and ultimately lost when they allow themselves to obsess over one measurement: what the nineties dramatically deemed “the Big O”. This pressurized focus on orgasms ultimately stigmatized any sex that didn’t culminate in some mythological explosion, and drove the narrative of how pop culture has talked about sex for years. 

So, here we are in the now, and the question is: Is the pressure to orgasm stopping people from just enjoying sex in general? Is there a healthy balance to be struck between being aware of your own, and your partners’, orgasms, and focusing on the entirety of your sexual experiences, rather than some perceived finish line?

This article will explore why it might be time to shift your focus during sex from orgasm to enjoyment so you can have fuller, more satisfying sex!

What Even Is Sex?

People can have sex in lots of different ways, and SPOILER ALERT, it does not have to include penetration! A non exhaustive list of some forms of sex can include: sensual massage, role playing, masturbation (alone or with someone else), tantric breathing, connection work, phone sex, watching porn, “sexting”, BDSM, oral sex, forms of penetrative sex such as anal sex, vaginal sex, and much, much more! 

You can have sex whether you’re straight, gay, bisexual or any or all of the inbetween. And remember the most important thing about sex is to engage with consent

Benefits of Sex

Sex can make us feel good, and can give us all sorts of benefits such as:

  • Improved health
  • Better sleep
  • Reduces stress
  • Improved wellbeing

However we have sex, so long as it is safe for our bodies and feels good for our sense of self, it can have  the power to improve our health. It can boost our immune system, improve libidos, reduce pain and improve circulation. Now if that isn’t enough to get you reaching for some lube then hopefully this will…

Sex has also been shown to:

Improve your awareness of pelvic floor muscles 

The pelvic floor muscles are something that everyone has, regardless of genital anatomy. A massive benefit of pelvic floor muscle awareness is the improved ability to recognize and enjoy orgasms when they do arrive. 

There are three states of the pelvic floor – all of which are equally important – contraction, elongation, and relaxation. Try engaging with your pelvic floor muscles a few times a day, even if it’s while you brush your teeth, or while you are engaging in whatever form of sex you are having, with a focus on flexibility rather than strength.

Lower risk of prostate cancer

Doctors have found that people who have prostates who ejaculate regularly lower their risk of prostate cancer by around one fifth. People with a prostate who do not have a penis, or who are unable to ejaculate, can experience health benefits from prostate milking, although no studies have been undertaken to examine the link between prostate milking and reduced risk of cancer.

Lots of us measure our enjoyment of sex by whether or not we’ve orgasmed because of the narratives we have heard through the pop culture grapevine. However, the greatest benefits of sex, including the health benefits listed above as well as our strengthened connections to ourselves and to others, can all be won by increasing our enjoyment in our play. In other words, taking deep breaths, connecting to what turns us on, and releasing into, and seeking, without a pressurised goal, pleasure. 

All of this can be the core of your sexual play, and promises to help us all satisfy our full selves and bodies, and find a more balanced, happy relationship with sex.   

What is an Orgasm? 

Most people think of orgasms as being the central aim for sexual experiences. It is what many people refer to as the ultimate point of pleasure and physical sensation. 

Orgasms are both a physical and physiological response involving muscle contractions and an increase in heart rate and breathing. For people with vulvas this can result in the vaginal muscles contracting, and for people with penises it can generally lead to ejaculation, although it is possible to have orgasms without ejaculation, too. People with vulvas can also be known to ejaculate, and this is known as “squirting”. 

During an orgasm people can feel a rush of pleasure, often throughout their entire body. This is due to a release of endorphins and oxytocin in the brain (those good happy feeling chemicals you also get when you eat chocolate and when you laugh!) which leave the body feeling relaxed, happy and often sleepy. 

Types Of Orgasms

There are MANY different types of orgasms, including, but not limited to:

  • Clitoral orgasm – when the clitoris is stimulated
  • Cervical orgasm – this type of orgasm can also be triggered via the vagus nerve!
  • Vaginal orgasm – (this is actually also clitoral orgasm, it’s just occuring inside of the vagina)
  • Blended orgasm – when the above two are combined
  • Anal orgasm – for people with a prostate,  this is a prostate or p-spot orgasm, and for those with vulvas it’s either internal clitoral or cervical
  • Penile orgasm – when the penis is stimulated

And, contrary to popular belief, people with penises and people with vulvas can experience multiple orgasms in one play session, so while orgasming shouldn’t be the only goal of play, it also doesn’t have to mark the end of play if, and when it does happen.

Stop Obsessing About Orgasm

Yes, orgasms are fantastic, but they are not the be all and end all of sex. Whether or not you feel happy and satisfied about sex should not be tied to whether or not you came, but rather to if you really enjoyed yourself, felt taken care of by yourself and/or others, and whether you feel better from the experience overall. If you struggle to orgasm or worry about bringing a partner to orgasm, feeling worried or stressed about it will only push it further out of reach. More importantly, it will steal away all of the other potential benefits of your full sexual experience, and you will miss out on the relaxation and healing that your body and soul can gain from releasing, focusing on breathing, and whatever makes you feel good. 

Some people even practice pleasure without orgasming, called “edging” whereby they get to the point of almost having an orgasm and then stop. People can then repeat this to lead to a super intense orgasm, or just enjoy the peaks and plateaus of pleasure.

So let’s throw that orgasm pressure out of the window once and for all. Read on to find out why you might not be able to orgasm, and what you can do instead…

So why can some people not orgasm? 

There are a million and one reasons why someone may be unable to orgasm. One of the most common reasons why people with vulvas may struggle to orgasm tends to be in relation to their psychological well-being. Feelings of shame or having a negative body image can lead to difficulties reaching orgasm due to not being able to be “relaxed” enough in the first place.

Editor’s Note: please note that the study linked above uses language that is limited in how it addresses gender beyond the binary. 

However, anorgasmia (a term referring to not being able to orgasm despite sufficient stimulation) affects people of all genders,  and could also be a cause. Physical causes of anorgasmia include diseases, gynaecological issues such as dyspareunia (pain during sex) or dry orgasm (where you orgasm but don’t ejaculate), medications (those pesky SSRI’s can be a big factor), and drugs or alcohol. 

Psychological causes of anorgasmia include things like mental health problems, poor body image, stress, and/or past emotional or sexual abuse. Even arguments and challenges between yourself and your partner/s outside of the bedroom can lead to challenges between the sheets!

What you do or don’t like can also contribute to whether or not you orgasm. Remember – everyone is unique, and what pleasures one person may not be enjoyable to another. For instance, one person may love receiving oral sex, and find it easiest to orgasm from that type of stimulation, but another person may find that receiving oral sex makes them nervous, making it harder for them to orgasm as they get caught up in their worries. 

And yes, you can climax without ejaculating. People with penises can experience what is called a “dry orgasm” ; a scenario whereby they climax but do not experience ejaculation of semen. This is usually due to medical conditions, but can also happen by having too much sex. 

The most important thing to remember is that if you are having difficulty reaching orgasm and it is causing you and/or your partner/s distress or challenges, then you can seek medical advice or see a therapist. If you’re happy not having an orgasm, then don’t worry about it.