7 Factors Affecting Orgasm in Women

sex and marriageAccording to a PsychologyToday blog by Lisa Thomas approximately 25% of women have difficulty achieving orgasm or have never experienced one, and even for women who are orgasmic, the frequency is only around 50-70% of the time.  Other researchers found that most women do not routinely (and some never) experience orgasm during sexual intercourse.

There are a number of physiological factors that can inhibit a woman’s sexual desire and her ability to reach climax: hormone imbalance, low testosterone, medications such as anti-depressants, her anatomy (the distance between the clitoris and the vagina), and, of course, partner issues. These can include the partner’s lack of appeal or insensitivity, and, in relation to a male partner, insufficient knowledge of the female body and premature ejaculation. To make matters worse, focusing on having a climax creates pressure in a woman that runs counter to sexual arousal; telling herself to “relax” simply doesn’t work.

Many developmental issues also affect women’s sexuality: Parents’ intrusiveness, emotional hunger, withholding of affection, indifference, hostility and intolerance of being loved leave lasting scars on their offspring. Women react to the resultant emotional pain by developing a poor self-concept or body image, distrust of their partner and other protective and pseudo-independent defenses that, in turn, predispose alienation in their relationships. Basically insecure (anxious or avoidant) attachment patterns they developed in childhood persist into adult life and strongly influence numerous aspects of sexual relating.

In this blog, we focus on seven psychological factors that tend to negatively impact a woman’s sexual desire, arousal and orgasmic capacity.  The list is not meant to exhaust all possible psychological issues; however, in our clinical experience, we have found these to be fundamental and understanding them to be useful in helping women achieve richer, more satisfying sexual lives.

1. Critical thoughts toward one’s body: Many women experience intrusive thoughts or critical inner voices about their body that interrupt the smooth progression of sexual excitement that typifies the arousal cycle of approaching orgasm.  They can have self-conscious thoughts about their breasts: Your breasts are small. They’re not like other women’s breasts. Your breasts are misshapen. Or they may have negative thoughts about their genitals. Your vagina is too large. You’re too dry. You’re not clean, so don’t have oral sex.

Many women have internalized their parents’ negative attitudes toward bodily functions during toilet training, thereby developing images of their bodies and sexuality as dirty. In particular, the genital area becomes imbued with an anal connotation and is confused with excretory functions. Women’s shameful feelings about this area are extended to anything below the waist, (including menstruation) and they end up feeling dirty or contaminated in a manner that can interfere with their becoming aroused or achieving orgasm. When women have negative thoughts about different parts of their bodies they find it difficult to take pleasure in being touched in those specific areas. If they feel critical about their body image in general, it is more difficult for them to fully enjoy sex.

2. Perceiving sex as immoral or bad: Many women have acquired distorted views about sex early in life during the process of socialization. In general, parents’ negative attitudes toward nudity, masturbation and sex play have a powerful influence on both male and female children’s feelings about sexuality and the sex act. As a result, people typically grow up viewing some sex acts as acceptable and clean, and others as dirty and bad. In addition, some religions, especially rigid belief systems, perceive sex as an expression of the baser or sinful nature of human beings. When women take on these attitudes, they tend to see sex as forbidden, shameful and bad. They feel guilty about wanting, seeking or experiencing pleasure in lovemaking, and expect negative consequences or actual punishment.

3. Guilt about breaking the mother-daughter bond with a mother who is sexually repressed: As explained in Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships“Girls learn by observation and imitation to be like the mother and feel strange or uncomfortable when they are different from their role model.” Therefore, when a mother is held back sexually, it is very difficult for her daughter to go beyond her in terms of enjoying sexual fulfillment in her adult relationship. A woman’s guilt and fear in relation to surpassing her mother in this area are often transferred to other women in her life. Because of these feelings, women are often afraid of standing out from their peers as mature, sexual women.

4. Fear of arousing repressed sadness: For many women, feelings of sadness related to emotional pain in childhood surface during a sexual experience, especially when sexuality is combined with emotional intimacy. For women who were mistreated or rejected early in life and feel unlovable, the contrast of being loved, pleasured, and sexually fulfilled brings out deep and painful emotional responses.  When women try to hold back their sad feelings, they become cut off from themselves, both emotionally and physically, and removed from the sexual interaction.

In Beyond Death AnxietyI noted that “a close sexual experience can also cause individuals to become acutely conscious of their existence. They experience a heightened awareness of themselves and the value of their lives. Paradoxically, these uniquely positive feelings come with a price–the special appreciation of life makes them aware of deep and painful sadness that their lives are terminal.” For this reason, many women pull back after an especially intimate encounter.

5. Fear of being vulnerable:In my latest book, The Self Under Siege,I write, “Accepting love leads to a feeling of increased vulnerability and challenges aspects of the negative identity formed in the family of origin.”  A woman may enjoy casual sexual encounters, but “as a relationship becomes more meaningful and intimate, being loved and positively acknowledged can threaten to disrupt one’s psychological equilibrium by piercing core defenses.” Depending on another person to satisfy one’s wants and needs breaks into the defensive posture of being self-sufficient and pseudo-independent. Being open and receptive to another person threatens an inward, isolated, self-soothing way of protecting one’s self from emotional hurt. Combining sex and love leads to a sense of vulnerability and is anxiety provoking because many women and men are afraid of being completely committed to a significant other, especially if they have been previously hurt emotionally.

6. Fear of arousing repressed memories of abuse and trauma:Being close sexually to a partner and freely experiencing orgasm tend to trigger unwanted memories in women whose histories include sexual abuse or molestation.  Estimates are that one out of three to four women were abused sexually or experienced some type of inappropriate sexual contact with a relative or stranger before they were 18. In these cases, being sexual can be unconsciously associated with the abuser, particularly when the abuser is a family member, and sex becomes guilt provoking, tinged with emotional pain, and unacceptable in the woman’s mind. Any similarity between her partner and the family member increases the probability that these memories will emerge.

7. Fear of loss of control: Women who rely heavily upon maintaining control as a self-protective defense mechanism are prone to be resistive to a freely expressive sexual encounter. This can show up in an overall fear of losing control or in more specific fears, such as fears of making noise or moving, or even fears of urinating or defecating when letting go. Control is related to existential issues of life and death. Faced with issues of death anxiety, people tend to detach themselves from their animal nature and disconnect from a body that they know is mortal. This dissociation can inhibit feeling pleasurable responses in the here and now interaction during sex.


In the final chapter of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships, I wrote, “It is valuable for men and women to develop a compassionate understanding of themselves and how they function in an intimate relationship. It also is important that they come to realize that their problems in relating sexually and being close emotionally are not unusual in our culture.” My associates and I have found that many women have been able to overcome their fears and sexual inhibitions by becoming familiar with and working through the 7 factors noted in this article.

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About the Author

Robert Firestone, Ph.D Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, theorist and artist. He is the Consulting Theorist for The Glendon Association. He is author of numerous books including Voice Therapy, Challenging the Fantasy Bond, Compassionate Child-Rearing, Fear of Intimacy, Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, Beyond Death Anxiety The Ethics of Interpersonal RelationshipsSelf Under Siege, and recently his collection of stories Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice.  His studies on negative thought processes and their associated affect have led to the development of Voice Therapy, an advanced therapeutic methodology to uncover and contend with aspects of self-destructive and self-limiting behaviors. Firestone has applied his concepts to empirical research and to developing the Firestone Assessment of Self-destructive Thoughts (FAST), a scale that assesses suicide potential. This work led to the publication of Suicide and the Inner Voice: Risk Assessment, Treatment and Case Management. He has published more than 30 professional articles and chapters for edited volumes, and produced 35 video documentaries. His art can be viewed on www.theartofrwfirestone.com. You can learn more about Dr. Firestone by visiting www.drrobertwfirestone.com.

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This is bull. Stop painting women as afraid of everything. Most women who struggle with orgasms are struggling for physical reasons: a medical condition, not knowing what feels good to her (lack of experience in self-play), inexperienced partners, and/or being unable to communicate her needs to her partner.

This article would be acceptable if it was titled “Psychological Roadblocks to Female Sexuality” or something like that.

mar peters

Agreed! Also, major cause: women don’t climax because men climax too fast and we are like the little rabbit trying to catch a penis that’s going soft. Men don’t know/care that it takes us twice as much to warm up the engines. They can’t wait because they have never been taught to control themselves in any area, much less in sex. Even if we find a compassionate/educated men who is being “patient with us”, we still are nervous for fear of not achieving orgasm, and this is when we fake. Men fake foreplay.


Just because some of these points don’t apply to you doesn’t mean they are bull. There are many people in this world with varying experiences. Maybe some women are afraid of the things mentioned in this article. Other women are not. Men are afraid of things too but this article isn’t about that.

I hope you learn to stop pushing your own negative agenda. In the process you are neglecting and disregarding the feelings and realities of many other people.

Helen Bush

That assumes that men rush foreplay in an attempt to get down to business. Men, however, can find pleasure in foreplay just as easily as women. The very proposition assumes a sexist interpretation of male empathy bordering on the stereotypical. Such radical feminist tropes deny the complexity of male enjoyment i.e. foreplay is a two way street.

Your suggestion arises from an expectation that males assume a hegenomic positioning whether they like it or not. You seem to be caught up in pre sexual liberation ideologies that constantly view woman as victim, negating sexual equality.


This is not the bull for me. I can’t speak for anyone other than myself but several of these concepts hit home for me. I would have thought the ‘death anxiety’ a joke not a year ago until an unpleasant trip brought me face to face with my terror. Control is a huge thing I struggle with, to the point of feeling like I’ll die if I let go of it, at the very core. I had ano intimateless parental model and grew up in a religious background. These are real personal and societal constructs many women deal with. Consider the divorce rate and the amount of people who are born into an oppressive religion toward women. The amount of sexual abuse in the world. I dont think this article is an assault on women. It’s an acknowledgement and attempt to understand transgenerational wounds that might help resolve some base problems in our society’s sexuality. Just felt this needed to be said.

Amy C.

In regards to the other comments saying this article is “bull”… The author clearly states “The list is not meant to exhaust all possible psychological issues; however, in our clinical experience, we have found these to be fundamental and understanding them to be useful in helping women achieve richer, more satisfying sexual lives”. Everyone (especially women) know that there are many physical, mental, and health related issues that affect a woman’s orgasm or ability to experience sexual or intimate pleasure. This is just a list of 7 from a psychological standpoint. Many times it’s just as simple as a woman not knowing her own body. Although none of this relates to me or my personal experiences, as a mother and daughter and friend- I think it’s important to be educated on all different levels concerning this type of issue so I appreciate the article!


Not always true. Ive never had an issue with orgasms, no matter how they came, oral sex, masterbation, or intercourse and usually fairly quickly. However in the last 2 months, I can almost never have an orgasm unless it’s from intercourse. no idea why. I’ve had tons of tests and blood work and nothing “medical found” at this time. My guess is it has more to do with stress, and recent weight loss…I wasn’t trying to loose weight, also the fact that I had a lump removed from my breast and have had every doctor that has seen in since say what butcher did that… I think its a combination of body issues, and stress.


Allie. The mind is more complex than we have control over. Even the strongest women are living from the inner being. It’s nothing to do with fear. Everyone is afraid. It’s to do with the connection between your subconscious and letting go. I agree with most of these many I can relate to. Maybe understanding the deeper mind will help you be more open to things we live with without really knowing. Maybe open your mind to the one you care about. You don’t know what’s going on. It’s not all physical. If it were me and it was my partner I want to be open to helping him not gaining anything. And I would never call looking deeper into someone weak. The mind is not weak. We are just afraid and ashamed of it. I will say this with certainty everyone have mental health problems. But I will call them a new name. I will call them survival and healthy. For instance ptsd is just your bodies way of serving and adapting to threat and situations it’s faced. Most health problems are due to deficiencies and inner and outer balance. Everyone has mental problems. Not all of it is physical.

mar peters

I admit that I have never have sex with my husband of 35 years because I remember the sounds of my mother while my father raped her, in my childhood. The mind and the body.

Dan M

My wife was raped when she was ten, and through 11 years together, and countless wonderful, beautiful sessions of lovemaking, i can think of only 3 times when she didn’t stop me from doing whatever I was doing at the point when she would orgasm. I’m not saying there IS a connection, I’m here to ask if it could be a connection. And if so, is there a way to help her?


This is amazing to me because my orgasm rate (since I was probably 23 – so over ten years) is 100%. It’s hard for me to believe that so many women have not experienced it (or rarely experienced) primarily because of 7 emotional-related issues. I’d suggest there are two major factors missing from the list:

1. Women not knowing their own body (which could be a related to self-esteem, or perceiving self-pleasure/exploration as bad). It takes time and exploration to recognize your body’s signals and how to respond accordingly. It’s no different from learning to recognize other body functions (i.e., urination, location of an itch, etc), but most women likely don’t perceive this is as a mindful skill; It’s perceived as something we have no control over.

2. The other reason might be focusing on the partner (vs the self) or expecting the partner to make it happen. I would be very interested to know how many women think it’s their partner’s who gives them an orgasm (versus something that happens within themselves). The other factor might be women who focus
primarily on the needs of their partner (versus their own). For women who are so often thinking of the needs of everyone else around them, it would not surprise me if this mindset enters the bedroom, as well.


It can be related to those two reasons, but if a woman knows her body, can orgasm on her own, can show her partner how to help, and still somehow holds back… it’s psychological.

Orgasm with a partner can be difficult to achieve for purely emotional reasons.


I think one sexual position favors me…. And since I realized it…. I always want that…. Its food for a woman to know which position and activities favors her

Amber Osborn

Obviously you havent been a victim of sexual abuse. Ove been married for 25 years and a couple of nights ago is the 1st time I let go. K was ashamed, disgusted by myself, embarrassed. Amd it was a clmplete mind f$×k. So before you go shooting your mouth off, sexual trauma is real and if not one of the many, shut you mouth.

Eileen Daulerio

Please answer this for me. My husband of 20 yrs is Narcissistic. He had an affair in 2007 and it continued. He told me it was because I could not orgasm. But he also said to me, I started to push you away 5yrs prior. This is true, every time I would try to be intimate with him he push me away and then I just gave up. So since 2002 my husband has not touched me at all. Christ he cannot even hold my hand. Can you tell me what’s going on? Please?
Thanks Eileen


Did you have a child about the time he started to push you away?

To be honest this sounds like it’s his problem not yours


Eileen, If your husband really is narcissistic, he likely perceives your lack of satisfaction as a threat that he is not perfect and, therefore, is not able to try or be close (or looks elsewhere). But his perfectionism is HIS issue. Everyone is different and, between the two of you, should be able to figure out what works.

If he pushed you away in 2002 and had an affair in 2007, it sounds like he put your through the discard portion of the narcissistic treadmill. There is a strange thing that happens with N’s—idealization until they see something about their partner that is not perfect…then they freak out and move toward the discard phase. There are some great books and websites where I hope you can get more help…Narcissistic Lovers http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1505718.Narcissistic_Lovers

Also The Narcissist You Know by Dr. Burgo

After years of thinking I was dealing with a Narcissist, I have moved my attention to attachment styles, especially anxious/avoidant types…maybe check that out too and see which fits best.

Websites: Esteemology http://esteemology.com/

Good luck!

kathy stanley

I have been married for thirty years for about the last six months I have had no interest in sex at all when my husband does get me interested u cannot have an organisms I have tried I have used jel I have concentrated on it , it just will not do it I tried reading those dirty books, watch movies on TV on Cinemax nothing at all I even tried myself when I was alone is there something wrong with me I never ever had trouble in the past

Janette Gosnal

Im in much the same place as you Kathy. Married 30 yers too I turned 50 this yr but I also take meds as I have medical issues and recently starting anti anxiety meds. I feel like a failure as I could always orgasm but now I feel pretty much ‘numb ‘ from the waist down! Nothing works anymore. In the end I feel crap for my poor hubby trying all manner of foreplay for ages and getting no where.


SSRI medications that are commonly used for anxiety and depression treatment have known, documented negative effects on both libido AND genital sensitivity. If you are experiencing a drop in desire, and difficulty reaching orgasm after starting one of those medications, and this is affecting your relationship or general quality of life, please talk to your therapist or doctor that gave you the prescription about trying a different medication that may not affect you in the same way. There are many medications out there, and their side effects vary a great deal.

Kan Havac

I quote here my personal experience with various women:
I have experience of interacting with more than 35 women young, mature, immature and even older and above 70 they are all happy with me and enjoy maximum pleasure which they state as “unforgettable”. 3 of them are widow who were afraid of encounter and I invited them, they agreed and they all said that “if this is sex, it is more pleasurable, most satisfying and demanding”.

It means that there is a fault in man not in woman. Man do not act as the woman desire and man do not read the woman desire and fulfill it.


women are not the problem for not having an orgasm!!! it’s the man!!! he cannot suck right, touch right, watch you and talk to you right…he himself comes too fast, like 20 seconds!!! wtf who could keep up with dat??? and he paints you as still into your ex and want him to do things like your ex…hello…no!!! i want you to do things the way i like that will make me orgasm-my ex was good at it…dont try to shoot him down for that, he actually loved me enough to learn my body and want me to come before he does-all the time…with a partner like that no wonder a woman is programmed to know what is real true love and love making…instead what men need to do is try to fix the problem than play the blame game…make her come damn it

Tasha trimble

My man climax in less than one minute, I’m not able to climax because of it, don’t get me wrong the sex is good he makes me wet but I can’t climax because he climax in like 15 seconds ???? gets up and go to sleep omg it really makes me angry i have to Finnish myself off


Okay so I came here looking for the answer to why I stopped when I feel pleasure. It like I can keep going it’s not my. Even when a guys is doing it I “feel to good and pull away this can’t just be me. Help.

Amy C.

Sara, I am not a medical professional but just speaking from my own experience as a woman, maybe you should try overcoming this issue alone (with the help of some toys and/or some images or videos that turn you on) and get to know your body better and discover what you like and don’t like and what feels good and what doesn’t. Once you find your happy place, it will be so much easier to open yourself up in that way with your significant other.


I’m having this same problem I can’t ever reach a organism during sex no matter what I don’t know if something is wrong with me. I was sexually abused when I was early 20’s I was almost raped I don’t know if that’s causing it. When ever I have intercourse it hurts me really bad!

Julee Kay

Try clitoral stimulation. Please. The vast majority of women can easily come to orgasm with direct clitoral stimulation. Intercourse is not the way for most women!


P Antred

you didnt mention that a woman can hide being overly cheating sexually all her life and afraid that one day the cheating side of her can be discovered


This article is COMPLETE nonsense especially the bit about the mother. As IF mothers sit and talk about their sex life with their daughters, rarely! So every would be in the same boat not knowing about their mother’s sexuality and some have orgasms and some don’t. What on earth wrote this article? Definitely not anyone who knows a single thing about women or psychology either!


I need to add another powerful reason , which is distortion. If a woman has something making her mind busy or make her sad in the background while she indulges in sex out of duty, the expected result is that she will be less responsive and needless to say, unable or refusing to achieve orgasm.


I think the author had some deep mommy issues as well as not understanding women pretty much at all. For one, IVE NEVER THOUGHT TO MYSELF DURING SEX OF ANYTHING EVEN RELATED TO MY MOTHER OR CHILDHOOD! ESPECIALLY NOT IF IM DO8NG A BETTER JOB AT PLEASING MY SIGNIFICANT OTHER! Like what kind of sick s$%t is that to say. I mean from what I read I feel like this man thinks we have taken a lesson or two by real life demonstration as if we where in the room more times than a few watching our mothers and fathers/partners in the act!! I didn’t even read past that because Jesus christ. Dude needs to stop writing about anything related to why women can’t climax or have a hard time doing so because I’ll tell you as far as I know most women are not thinking about their mothers, fathers, brothers, just any family member really, during sex or their childhood. The only way that this would happen in my unprofessional opinion is if there was some sort of molestation in their past. Like I have no idea where use got his info but I mean my mind is just blown and not in a good way at all.


I am over 50, married since 30 and had 24 other women before marrying my wife. Not once has a woman disclosed what excites her, either psychologically (fantasies) or physically (mechanics). So forgive me if I find it frustrating that way too many posters here insist that their inability to find pleasure in sex is somehow the man’s fault. No woman opens up, ever… In fact part of the scientific evidence somewhat explains female dislike of heterosexual partners sex: a whopping 70% of women cannot orgasm from coitus and so can only hope to get an orgasm if she masturbates during sex (or somehow conveys to her partner how he should do it for her). That inevitably means women get no pleasure whatsoever from a penis – so no wonder it does not appeal to them… on top of that, women declare zero excitment derived from the visual part of sex (the exact opposite of men), so it actually surprises me that any woman agrees to have partnered sex at all. Given the limitations discussed, I would very likely have no interest in sex if I was a woman. Think of it: other than being a witness, why would they need a man?

Another man

Dear ‘man’
My experience is identical to yours. Trying to find the way to the right location with no feedback, no guidance. How can a man navigate when his partner refuses to say anything, or to tell him he’s on the right road, or when he’s arrived? And yet it’s the man’s fault. Eventually it’s hardly worth bothering.


I am desperate for help. I am hypersensitive & have been 1 of the small groups of women I don’t have any struggle. I can have an orgasm without clitoral stimulation, penetration alone, whatever. I have never struggled always been multi orgasmic. About 5 years ago my moves became horrible like I was unrecognizable and I can only sleep 4 to 5 hours at a time without waking up and sleep was never an issue for me I always enjoyed it too much of anything well that went on for a while and then about two years ago all of a sudden the sleep drop down to two hours per night well at that time I also lost the ability to climax. So I went into my doctor and I finally said that’s enough I need the pet hormone therapy so she starts me on estrogen and within a week I was able to sleep four or five hours a night again. I can’t climax for any reason. Whatever hormone changes are occurring? it has made it impossible for me and I am ready to go to Switzerland. I’m not willing to live like this and there’s nobody that will even Take me seriously. My OB/GYN and her assistant acted like I was crazy and making a big deal out of nothing. She started me on the patch and said other than that there’s nothing I can do for you this isn’t that big of a deal. Sothe doctors that I have seen are insulting to say the least ! I need help and nobody knows what they’re talking about.

Julee Kay

How about the truth: Women who have problems reaching orgasm are not receiving proper clitoral stimulation.


Would men have orgasms if only their testicles were rubbed?

julee kay

I haven’t read all comments but I have yet to see the word “clitoris” except in my own comments.

It’s about the clitoris.

I feel so bad for all the women out there who don’t know where their’s is or what it does. Look at a diagram. Find it. Stimulate it. You will have an orgasm. Then teach your partner how or just let him/her/them watch.

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