We live in a results-driven society. We like to make lots of checklists (pack the kids’ lunches, make dinner) and tend to think that if anything is worth doing in life, it ought to have a goal. Otherwise, what’s the point, right? While there are obvious things that should have goals — like saving for a down payment to buy a house or training to finish a 10k race, for example — having sex, specifically achieving orgasm, shouldn’t be one of them.
Most of us assume that reaching orgasm is like crossing the finish line to sex. You might even wonder if it’s worth doing without at least one climactic moment. And that’s the problem: seeing sex as a means to an end rather than simply enjoying it. “As a society, we are very focused on goals and achievements, which is a product of late-stage capitalism. Among people who view sex as strictly reproductive and not pleasure-focused, orgasm is always necessary,” Kristen Tribby, head of Global Marketing and Education for Fun Factory, tells Scary Mommy. “However, viewing sex as a performance, chore, or test is highly anxiety-inducing. Pair that with America’s lack of vacation, maternity leave, sick time, and family resources, and you can see how we bring lots of stress into bed!”
Throw in the pressure to achieve orgasm — both for ourselves and our partner — and it’s no wonder sex can feel like a chore sometimes. It’s that kind of thinking, says sexologist Rebecca Alvarez Story, CEO and co-founder of Bloomi, that robs intimacy between partners.
“There’s a performance stigma around reaching a climax that limits our understanding of intimacy and puts pressure on individuals or partners during sex,” she tells Scary Mommy. “Think of intimacy as a means of connecting with yourself or others, and sex as one of many types of intimate activities that help you connect through providing and experiencing pleasure. Orgasms don’t always have to be the end goal of a sexual experience — unless you want it to be.”
Why Pleasure Is Necessary
You may be scoffing at the notion of pleasure — “Enjoying something for the sake of enjoyment? What’s that?!” But don’t be so quick to write off pleasure as something vain or unimportant. Alvarez says pleasure is a basic need that we all must experience regularly to be mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy. And while sex is an important mechanism for delivering a specific type of pleasure that’s unique, “not everyone wants or even needs to have sex, but everyone needs pleasure,” she says.
In terms of how beneficial pleasure is when it comes to the act of sex, when you share your satisfaction with someone, it allows for a deeper connection. “A performance mindset can get in the way of pleasure because it provokes self-consciousness and anxiety,” Tribby explains. “Replace thoughts about your performance with thoughts about your enthusiasm for your partner, and your sex life will improve dramatically.”
How to Create More Pleasure
To create more pleasure in sex, it might be helpful to explore what pleasure means to you in your life outside of the bedroom. Tribby suggests creating a pleasure practice, which means dropping into the little moments of pleasure we have daily.
“Maybe it’s a quiet cup of tea, a warm bath, or sitting outside and letting the sun warm your body,” she says. “Life offers these moments to us all the time, but we are often scrolling, multitasking, or too rushed to appreciate them.”
After you work with your mind to be open to daily pleasure, your body might need some help, too. Tribby recommends massaging yourself or rubbing a vibrator all over to wake up the nerves in your body, prepping you to receive pleasure. “Another tip is to engage your pelvic floor by doing Kegels,” she says. “Breathe deeply into your belly and pelvis. Then tilt your pelvis while squeezing your glutes for a pelvic stretch. Do a few of these reps to bring energy flow to your pelvic floor. This will help ready your body for pleasure.”
How to Feel More Pleasure in Sex
According to Alvarez, you don’t need any special tools to focus on pleasure and practice mindfulness during sex. Instead, here is what she recommends:
- Plan the session. “Consider any needs you might have going into sex that might help make it more complicated and put your mind at ease. Turn off your phone and anything else that may disturb you.”
- Reframe your intention. “Shift your expectation from having an orgasm to creating space for intimacy and pleasure. You may decide all you want to do is spend an hour laying down with your partner and exploring consensual touch together rather than expecting to have sex at all.”
- Focus on sensations. “There are so many sensations to take note of during sex other than an orgasm. Notice the feel of your partner’s skin, the sensation of their touch, the temperature of the air on your skin, and any tingling or pulsing. You might find you can tap into a sensation in the erogenous zones, like the nipples, thighs, buttocks, lips, or ears.”
- Pay attention to your breath. “Your breath is always available to you as a tool that can help anchor you to the present. Notice if, at any point, you’re constricting your breathing. Try to take long and deep breaths all the way down to your abdomen. Is your breath changing or restricting during different forms of pleasure?”
- Notice any thoughts. “Instead of telling your thoughts to stop, try to notice them when they occur and then let them go. You don’t need to pass judgment for thinking thoughts during sex; everyone does this at some point. Come back to your intention of staying present in the experience.”
How to Stop Worrying About Orgasms As the “Be-All and End-All” of Sex
So, how do you switch your mind from results-driven “do or die” orgasm-seeking sex to “let’s just enjoy this naked experience we’re having” sex?
Alvarez says, like any good experience in life, you want to focus on the journey, not the destination. “Being too fixated on having or giving an orgasm will make it difficult to enjoy yourself and lead to performance anxiety,” she says. “Instead, focus on your senses and what you are feeling throughout the entire time. The pleasure you experience during sex shouldn’t be reduced to a singular moment.”
Tribby suggests thinking about the best sex of your life. “Take a moment to walk yourself through the details. Did you think about the orgasm? Was there even an orgasm? Most likely, these memories are not about the orgasm but instead about the energy of that moment. Did you feel empowered? Sexy? Did you surrender or take control?”
Next time you start to feel the orgasm goal creep into your headspace, Tribby says to focus on the energy of the moment instead. “It’s like a dance; we never think about what’s next in the song or how it will end,” she says. “We just dance.”