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Life Without Orgasm: 3 Women Share Their Stories

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To define a lack, you have to start by identifying what should fill it; to talk about female anorgasmia, first you have to talk about orgasm. We tend to talk around it, giving it cute nicknames: “the Big O,” “the grand finale.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has no single, universally accepted definition. It’s usually the result of sexual stimulation, but not always. Medical practitioners focus on physiological bodily reactions—blood flow to the genitals, muscle tensing and contraction—as the basis for orgasm, while psychologists look to the emotional and cognitive changes that accompany it, such as the rush of the reward chemical, dopamine, to the brain. When it comes down to it, though, the only way to tell for sure that a woman has had an orgasm is if she tells you herself.

“You’ll know it when it happens,” women who have experienced orgasm knowingly advise those who have not, the way we were advised to wait for our first periods—as if our first orgasms were events that would happen to us, experiences we would receive, like some divinely imparted gift. But, what if orgasm doesn’t come when we want it to—or at all?

Kayla, 25, is in a long-term, committed sexual relationship she calls “considerate and supportive.” She has never climaxed—either alone or with a partner. “Mentally, I have always been very open-minded about sex,” she tells us. “I've always been curious about it and eager to try it, and I masturbated from an early age, so no repression there…I refuse to believe there is anything wrong with me solely mentally or physically—I prefer to believe it's a winning combination of both.”

Kayla’s one of the estimated 10 to 15 percent of women with anorgasmia, or the inability to reach orgasm after “adequate” sexual stimulation—not that we have one definition of “adequate,” either, or even a clear understanding of what causes anorgasmia. (We're not even sure of the degree of accuracy of that much-cited 10 to 15 percent figure.) “We really don’t know if there are medical causes for anorgasmia,” San-Francisco-based sex therapist Vanessa Marin explains. “I would say probably for 90 to 95 percent of women who are experiencing it, it’s because they have misinformation or a lack of information, sexual shame, they haven’t really tried that much, or there’s anxiety—that’s a huge one.” [For the full story, head to Refinery29!]

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