Illustration: D’Ara Nazaryan

The Pleasure Principle

5 Reasons You’re Not Reaching Orgasm — and What to Do About It

Experts weigh in on why some women are having difficulty doing it

Published in
6 min readAug 13, 2020


This article is part of The Pleasure Principle, ZORA’s ultimate guide to solo sex, self-pleasure, and self-love. Take our Sex Survey to share your experiences.

First things first: You are not alone, and you’re not broken.

If you’re one of the many women who aren’t able to reach an orgasm through masturbation or sexual intercourse, it can feel like you must be doing something wrong or, worse, that something is wrong with you. But there may be a solution in your search for sexual satisfaction.

“For many women and nonbinary individuals, reaching orgasm can be a struggle,” says Zita Nickeson, a mental health counselor in Spokane, Washington, who is pursuing a doctorate in the psychology of human sexuality. “This may be due to a variety of reasons; however, most often, it is due to variables that can pull the individual out of their arousal cycle.”

While orgasm isn’t necessarily the be-all and end-all of every sexual encounter, it can be frustrating when you don’t understand why your body isn’t reacting a certain way. And learning to manage sexual pain can help increase our pleasure and improve our self-image. If you’re curious about what could be going on, here are five things that might make it difficult to reach an orgasm and what experts say might be able to help.

Enjoy the journey of sexual exploration as opposed to getting hung up on one specific outcome.

Pain down there

In some cases, masturbation and sex can be physically painful, taking orgasm completely off the table. The technical term for painful sex is dyspareunia, and Harvard Medical School says it can happen to folks at any age but is a little more common after menopause.

Sexual pain can vary in severity, and the physical sites of this pain can include the vulva, vagina, or pelvis. There are so many potential causes for this type of pain, ranging from physical problems like scarring or growths to estrogen loss, skin…