Image Credit - @shrimpteeth on Instagram
What is pre-orgasmic?
For those of you who don’t know what pre-orgasmic means, it is a term often associated with individuals who have not yet experienced an orgasm. A more scientific term is Primary Orgasmic Dysfunction. We don’t look at it as a dysfunction, however, so we prefer the term pre-orgasmic.
This is a tough topic because we are not therapists, nor are we medically trained. But being empathetic humans, we listen. We do so without judgement and for many of our customers, they feel safe in their anonymity and confide freely because they feel a sense of safety that they may not feel in other situations. Our experience is fuelled by our customer’s experience.
Being pre-orgasmic is more common than you think!
Over the years, I have spoken to countless individuals about their experience. Here at Max, being a female-friendly space that celebrates gender diversity, means that we hear pre-orgasmic stories on a weekly basis. The isolating thing is that the individual themselves feels like they are the only one ever to go through this.
If you or someone you love feels that this sounds familiar, please read on and know that you/they are not alone!
The reason that being pre-orgasmic is so isolating is purely down to stigma. The stigma of ’abnormal-normality’ can cause many to go silent when it comes to discussing with friends or partners. Friends mean well, but the first thing people want to do is offer their advice. To tell their friend who ‘can’t’ orgasm how they orgasm. This is actually more damaging than you would expect.
Why the best intentions can sometimes cause more harm than good
Perhaps hearing friends talk about orgasm, or seeing it in film or in porn, gives many an idea of what orgasm should be but not what it is to them. Then when they start worrying about why they don’t have the same experience as others, they start questioning if there is something wrong with themselves, and the seeds of shame are planted.
Shame can be born from many places. Trauma, religious pressure, social ridicule and fear. I’ve had some folks share that their brain doesn’t know what to do with the unfamiliar sensations leading up to orgasm, and therefore processes it as pain. From here, fear can become associated to sex and orgasm. Some go on to develop mental associations that can only be unpacked through therapy.
In our experience, the moment people ask themselves why they can’t reach orgasm, or worry about taking longer than they think they should, it will become near impossible to orgasm.
Fear of social ridicule is often the reason many folks don’t talk about being pre-orgasmic. Imagine for a minute that you are pre-orgasmic, out and about with friends, having some laughs, sharing stories, and orgasm comes up in conversation. Amongst friends, a pre-orgasmic individual may feel safe to finally talk about their experience and explain their situation. We see this interaction frequently in store. Although the feeling of acceptance is what the pre-orgasmic individual is seeking, what inevitably seems to happen in a group like this, is that the friends take it on-board to tell their pre-orgasmic friend what they like, and how they orgasm, often involving a vibrator.
Although this comes from a place of love and can sometimes help inspire, it more often than not will reaffirm fears around everything they feel to be ‘wrong’ or ‘broken’ in a pre-orgasmic individual.
If you have someone you care about express that they have never orgasmed before, simply encourage them to talk about their experience. Please don’t hijack the conversation with your own experience. Let them have a voice. It may be the only time they have attempted to speak about it. Give them permission to speak! Hold space for them! Listen, encourage discussion, and show respect to your friend by being mindful and supportive. It takes courage to talk. They should be celebrated for their openness and rewarded through understanding and empathy.
What is orgasm anyway?
There is also a largely misguided idea that sex is always going to lead to orgasm. But we have found that when people start talking about orgasm in store, the experiences they describe are vastly different.
We know that orgasm is a release of energy through the body, in response to sexual stimuli. We know scientifically that the feeling called “orgasm” is an involuntary physical response controlled by the autonomic nervous system and results in increased heart rate, faster breath, the release of endorphins to the brain and the physical rapid swelling of glands etc.
The reality is that everyone experiences this release differently. I’m sure there is scientific data out there, but from discussion with customers, I can say that orgasm is VERY different for absolutely everyone. Whatever orgasm is to the individual, there is one thing most have in common. Orgasm is rarely the exact same every time, and that is ok because there is no normal!
If you think about it we’re never taught about pleasure, only what we should and shouldn’t do in terms of safe sex etc. Pleasure is taboo! Often our only education is porn which is predominantly performative and not realistic at all. So people will sometimes compare themselves to porn (we hear this a lot), and often don’t spend the time getting to know their own sexual bodies.
Learning what pleasure is and embracing what an individual body needs to experience that pleasure is an extremely rewarding experience. This means, really spending time getting mentally aroused. The body is really built for pleasure, but many people don’t look past the clitoris, the penis, or vaginal penetration.
Trauma, fear, and shame
A lucky few have reached a point of self-acceptance in being pre-orgasmic. They can have rich, successful, and gratifying sex lives where orgasm (in the scientific sense) doesn’t play a part in the overall goal. They have sex for the fun of it, and have learnt to love the journey, not the so-called ‘finale’ of orgasm.
For others, shame around sex, intimacy, and pleasure can be a huge contributing factor in how people connect to their own bodies.
Shame and sex together are pretty toxic, and most of us feel it to some degree, otherwise we would all be freely open perverts who never feared judgement when it came to sex and desire. But that isn’t the case.
We find that for many individuals who discuss being pre-orgasmic with us, share a belief that they aren’t worthy of whatever orgasm is to them. To those people we say: you are worthy! But you have to feel that you are. That journey is somewhere we cannot lead you. Only you can find out how to love yourself.
For others, it is simply a misunderstanding of their own bodies and what pleasure is to them.
A shift in a way of thinking
Sometimes we have accidentally trained ourselves into a particular head space that we didn’t even realise we were in, and therefore have to train ourselves out of it. Sex and orgasm is no different. Sometimes we just need to relearn what we like.
Those who openly discuss being pre-orgasmic with us, often say things like 'I can’t orgasm, what am I doing wrong?' or 'am I broken?'
Asking questions is important, but asking what you’re doing ‘wrong’ implies that you’re not doing anything right. And thinking of yourself as ‘broken’ will make anyone feel hopeless, which doesn’t inspire desire for pleasure. When having these feelings, maybe acknowledge that they are there, but ask yourself what you can do to change how you think about orgasm.
The customers who have returned to the store successful and triumphant are usually those who spend time trying to rewire their brains around orgasm. There is no shame in seeking help to do this. Some turn to partners, some to sex workers, and others to therapists. There is no shame in any of these routes.
Talking about being pre-orgasmic can be hugely beneficial and for many this means needing to look into professional help. This is a huge step for many and takes courage. I believe deeply in the power of talking through pain (emotional and physical), and the rewards can be huge. For others, talking about it to close friends, normalising their experience, and beginning their own individual sexual revolution through exploration is just as rewarding.
Get out of your head and into your body!
A great place to start is to experiment with new physical sensations and see what sticks. Always look at the process as a learning experience. You are simply embarking on a journey of sexual self-discovery. Try not to think about orgasm as the goal.
A colleague often uses a great analogy about cake (who doesn’t love cake related analogies!). You can have the most delicious cake prepared, all the ingredients just right, but it won’t bake if the oven is off. If the mind isn’t aroused, the body won’t follow. So, the moment someone starts thinking about ‘am I going orgasm?’ or ‘is it going to happen?’ it very often just won’t happen.
Instead, try and focus on turning the oven on before you get your ingredients ready. Really learn what turns you on. There are some great erotic podcasts out there - printed erotica, porn, .gif’s online… whatever you are into, don’t be shy, own it! Then you can prepare your ingredients! If the oven is on, all you gotta do is try new flavours and keep tweaking the recipe to bake your favourite cake!
Explore vibrators, internal and external stimulation, a-spots, g-spots, p-spots, ticklish skin, massage, anal play, whips and floggers, breath, roleplay… one at a time, or all at once, get to know what you love about your own sexual being.
Some find it useful to take the focus off the genitalia completely and find tantric sex helpful. tantra is basically the practice of meditative sex. It’s a way of exploring energy in ones own body and learning to be mentally present and connected to the body and internalising that in an arousing way. No physical touch necessary. It’s all mental. Couples can also benefit from practicing tantra because it can build intimacy and create a deeply emotional connection that some have described as almost spiritual.
What to do if your partner is pre-orgasmic
From the other side, it can be a hard path to navigate when you are with someone who is pre-orgasmic and who are struggling with it. All you can do is respond to them with empathy, love, and respect. Listen to them. Encourage them to be open. Touch them often – but in a non-sexual yet intimate way, like stroking the back of their neck, or holding hands more often. Intimacy can be communicated in many ways, but people forget the power of a simple touch. By being present and loving, your partner will feel safe and empowered.
The most damaging thing you could do as a partner is expressing frustration about their ‘lack’ of orgasm. Many people feel like if they can’t make their partner come, then there is something lacking in them, something that they are doing wrong. Again, this is a way of thinking that perpetuates fear and nurtures shame. It’s not helpful for you nor your partner. Instead, try to look at each sexual encounter as exploring each other and learning new things together.
Really, you both have a chance many couples don’t get. An opportunity to explore a deeper richer, more intimate connection, one that can take many couples years to build (some never do). Laugh together when something new feels silly or doesn’t work out like you planned, and just enjoy being together doing something deeply intimate and amazing, together.
Where to start looking for more info
There is incredible information available on the internet, there is also unhelpful information on the internet. But it can be a great place to get people thinking and talking.
scienceofsexpodcast.com - Especially episodes #4 / #8 / #10 and #16
emilynagoski.com - Science based knowledge for those who like TedTalks.
sexwithemily.com - Try searching for the keyword “Orgasm”. Emily has many many topics to take in.
We love our books, and these ones are powerful offerings.
- Come as you are by Emily Nagoski
- The Elusive Orgasm: A Woman’s Guide to Why She Can’t and How She Can Orgasm Book by Vivienne Cass
- Loving Sex by Ellen Nicolas Rathbone
- Planet Orgasm by Dr. Annie Sprinkle
OMG Yes is a fantastic online learning resource for anyone who owns a clitoris and those who like to please them. It is an educational resource that is designed for cisgendered women (those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth), and talks about all the different ways these women enjoy pleasure. Great if what you are used to isn’t working, or if you want to up your game in the pleasure stakes when it comes to pleasing a partner. Sometimes learning how others do things can inspire.
It is not a subscription site, but there is a one off fee to get full access to all the features. There is some useful information available for free too though, so check it out and decide if it’s worth it for yourself.
When it comes to Tantra, there are various workshops around Sydney where people can really learn what Tantra is and ask questions in a safe and controlled environment. No nakedness, no shame, just information that can then be used at home to explore a deeper connection to oneself or to a partner. Workshops are fantastic if in a relationship. Or if you find the practice of Tantra confusing.
If workshops aren’t your thing, a guided meditation for solo play could be a great place to start. Barbara Carrellas, a sex educator, and author of one of our top selling books Urban Tantra, offers a downloadable meditation session for beginners. You do pay to download, but it helps the absolute beginner get used to the idea of meditation, as well as the fundamentals of Tantra. If you’re interested, you can follow this link to give it a go:
or the printable notes here:
Seeking out a professional
Max Black is not affiliated with any particular therapist, or clinic, but if you feel like you need to seek professional guidance around anything sexual, we would recommend looking into a Sexologist local to you. This is someone who specialises in sexual behaviour and function/dysfunction. They are a specialist and would be more experienced in helping those with sexual concerns, than someone who doesn’t specialise. But you need to feel comfortable with them, so call around and see if any would be interested in meeting with you to discuss your specific needs.
Remember you can always come into the store and have a good ol’ chat with us, if you need help or guidance with any pleasure products. We are not therapists and can’t help you as much as a trained professional could, but we can definitely guide you down the path of toy or pleasure products that can help you explore.
Have fun but always play safely and consensually!
See you on the other side!