Anorgasmia: is it genetic?
January 26, 2004 3:35 AM   Subscribe

A question on Anorgasmia. [More inside][TMI?][NSFW?]

Four years after losing her virginity, my wife still hasn't reached orgasm. This triggered all the predictable thoughts that something was wrong or that we were just crap in bed.

But a month ago a drunken conv with her sister made me realise that she'd never had an orgasm either. Nor her mother. Inappropriate comments might imply that her aunt is in the same boat.

The problem is called Primary Anorgasmia, and I can find lots of information about getting therapy to treat it, but this looks like it's genetic to me. I can't find anything about genetic anorgasmia on the net and the NHS just pointed me towards a collection of web resources I'd already seen, so I'm turning to you guys to ask for suggestions.

Has anyone met this problem before? What's the 'cure'? I really want to find out how to solve this. I just hope to god it's not new and gets named twine42's syndrome. ;)
posted by twine42 to Health & Fitness (23 answers total)

Have you ever read this book? It contains a very convincing, if somewhat soul-destroying, explanation of what the female orgasm/non-orgasm is all about.
posted by dydecker at 5:07 AM on January 26, 2004

Ok. Sexfilter, I guess. Does she reach orgasm on her own?
posted by filmgeek at 5:35 AM on January 26, 2004

Response by poster: For all three, the phrase is never. Under any circumstances.

And yes, Sexfilter... But having tried several other routes I thought that good old MeFi would be best. ;)
posted by twine42 at 6:11 AM on January 26, 2004

This sounds like something that should be discussed with a doctor, hard as that is for some of us.

Home remedy: Patience always and relaxation first, because pressure to "solve this" is going to be huge obstacle-- if the situation has palpable urgency, you will never get the desired outcome. That means that you don't discuss the problem (or even allude to it) unless she brings it up. I can't stress this enough.

Also, you'll need the proper tool for the job. Get one of these and don't worry about the fancy aftermarket attachments-- focus on the external (you know what I'm saying). Introduce it in the context of fun, not "Here's the heavy artillery, baby!" Wait until you have plenty of time and you're sure that you won't be interrupted. Make sure that you exude a sense of enjoying the time instead of working on a project.

But really, she should see a doctor.

disclaimer: Taking sex advice from an episcopalian is not recommended. Use at your own risk of disappointment.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:14 AM on January 26, 2004

twine, if the other physical signs of arousal are present, then my guess is that it's probably not a physical problem in the sense of hormonal imbalance, etc. It could simply be genetic in so far as some people are just more mentally wound-up than others, and this is a characteristic that can be shared by family members. Here's a very long, very clinical article that addresses some of these "subjective factors".

I am assuming that you have ruled out most standard physiological causes, via a good, thorough physical check-up (better, of course, if the problem is mentioned to the physician). After this, it's gets tricky, because if the problem is "worry-centered", then a lot of worrying about how not to worry doesn't get you too far. If you don't feel like (or can't afford to) see a specialized therapist, my advice is to try out different approaches focusing on relaxing the entire experience, either together, or (to begin with) for your wife on her own. If this is actually the problem, the good news is (at least from my own experience), once she manages to get over the "hump" (sorry! involuntary pun!), the learning curve is very, very short - once she's managed to achieve orgasm on her own, it won't be such a struggle to do it again, and once it happens with you, likewise...
posted by taz at 6:23 AM on January 26, 2004

By the way, from an evolutionary standpoint, it may be that there are good reasons for women to have orgasms, and good reasons why it is notoriously difficult for women to have orgasms. Some researchers believe that the muscle contractions that occur with female orgasms assist the sperm to their appointed destination, resulting in more successful mating. But of course, if conditions are not good for reproducing because there is not enough food, or the situation is otherwise unstable, then a lack of orgasm will limit the female enthusiasm for sex generally, and will fail to extend that small helping hand to the little swimmers. These days, for most of us, worry over much more mundane matters may take the place of worry over warring tribes or lack of food, but it's still distracting, and does the same good job of cooling things down.
posted by taz at 6:47 AM on January 26, 2004

Sounds like there's something more than just the mind at work here, what with the family nature of it. Regardless, it's probably a delicate situation on the emotional side as well. I imagine you've already covered all this ground, but just in case:

Have you already explained to her that your feelings for her are not contingent on the elusive orgasm?

What are her feelings on the subject? Does she feel like it's a problem (may seem like a silly question, but probably worth asking if it you haven't already)? Does she ever feel badly because she doesn't reach the big O?

Have you asked her how, in the mean time, you can make your sex life the best you can for her?

Finally, have you ask her if you two can work together 'solve' this?

Speaking as a 'wanting to solve problems' kind of person, I find that if I try to solve somebody else's problem (especially my wife's :-) ) it can be pretty off-putting to them.

After you get all that out the way, consider viagra (for her), possibly in conjunction with the wahl. And see that Dr.
posted by daver at 8:05 AM on January 26, 2004

I agree with the advice to see an MD, but be sure to find one who is experienced in female sexuality (probably either a gynecologist or urologist). Viagra is a good suggestion; it improves blood flow to the genitals and (in theory) sexual response. Since it is a prescription drug, the visit to the doc would be the place to get some.
posted by TedW at 8:45 AM on January 26, 2004

Also, if any of these women are on certain medications, that can effectively kill a sex life dead in its tracks. Example: SSRI antidepressants.

Hie thee to a doc.
posted by konolia at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2004

Twine42 - has she ever tried sex while on drugs? This may or may not be suitable depending on her outlook, but some people who have never reached orgasm find that they can after taking ecstasy for the first time - or sometimes cannabis or LSD.

It is NOT, repeat NOT by any means a cure or even a wise solution; doing so can create sexual problems of its own. But sometimes a drug like ecstasy can help people mentally work through the issues which prevent them from coming.

Finally I second those recommendations for her to seek help, but I would advise against her or you perceiving this as some sort of medical problem. Many, many women (perhaps even the majority) find it difficult to orgasm. She's not the odd one out.
posted by skylar at 10:02 AM on January 26, 2004

paging Dr. Drew
posted by thomcatspike at 10:07 AM on January 26, 2004

Without having all the info - trying to cover most of the bases. This is all from my experience anyway, IANAD, only the Dr Ruth clone for most of my friends. ;P
Before reaching a conclusion of anorgasmia, please consider:

*Women generally need more time and stimulation (foreplay) to reach orgasm. Once intercourse becomes a regular feature in your sex life, it's a lot easier to jump right to that and skip the working-up-to-it period.
*Most women do not orgasm through intercourse alone, no matter what.
*Many women will orgasm through oral or manual stimulation, but more often than you think, both method and response have to be learned and practiced with each new partner.
*For some women hand or tongue is not sufficient - not intense enough.
*The female orgasmic peak is around 40. Younger women may not have as sensitive an orgasmic response.

There are two hurdles in learning to reach orgasm: finding the right physical triggers, and having a receptive mental state (mind controls can be a real bitch). She needs to experiment with these on her own - in bed with you creates too much pressure to perform and probably too much self-consciousness to relax. Alone, maybe a glass or two of wine, a warm bath, a sexy book, the right music, a hot movie, a vibrator.... whatever turns her on and makes her comforable.

If masturbation (hand) doesn't do it for her, try different appliances. If obvious sex toys are too uncomfortable, she can try a massager, water-pik, electric toothbrush, anything small that's buzzy. More intense touch combined with a relaxed, exploratory mood - and again, by herself as she experiments with it, not with you - will probably work, but it may take some doing to hit on the situation that works, so don't expect instant results.

Continue to try new things in bed together and don't make her learning to orgasm the focus of your sex life. More important is to ask her if she is enjoying herself in bed and what she would like to try with you rather than if you're doing what it takes to get her off - the thought that she can't do something you want her to be able to do is bad pressure. Maybe she needs to explore new fantasies to help trigger a more powerful response and you can help her do that, if she wants.

Take a week or two and don't have sex. Make out every night. Make out a lot. Get hot and heavy and fool around. But no intercourse. Without the easy conclusion of sex, she'll have a longer time to get worked up, no pressure to get to the end of things to satisfy you, and an open environment to perhaps hit on something she really digs.

Look at any medications or vitamins she's taking, any mental blocks she might have (bad past experiences, uncomfortable with current birth control method, feeling unhappy with her body, outside stress, etc.). The whole "my sister can't, my mom can't, my aunt can't" line of thought could be defeating her before she starts.

Then.... after a while (months!) if none of that is working for her, see a doctor. Good luck.
posted by Melinika at 10:33 AM on January 26, 2004

If your wife truly wants to get to the bottom of the issue, my advice would be this: first go to a doctor and make sure there's nothing physiological preventing her from a full body release. Then go to a therapist, preferably a woman, so that your wife can explore her feelings about sexuality in a safe environment. That would probably mean without you, simply because your presence would add some pressure for her to 'figure it out'.

This is very much an armchair diagnosis, but if all the women in your wife's family are affected, I would suspect some form of psychological block. It could be caused by anything from actual abuse to just strong judgement/repression of anything sexual.

Not knowing how comfortable your wife is with her body, I'd probably suggest that she find ways of stimulating herself that make her feel good. Orgasms will come when sexuality is comfortable.

twine42, it is always difficult not to take something like this upon yourself as the partner. Try not to, because this is about her and her body. If she had orgasms on her own and not with you, that might be another story. So - be as supportive as you can, and try to make comfort with sexuality the goal, and not the big O. Orgasms are great, but there are many fun and wonderful stages before that can be explored and lingered in. Lots of love plus creation of a safe place for her to explore are key.

Good luck!
posted by widdershins at 10:44 AM on January 26, 2004

Response by poster: The whole "my sister can't, my mom can't, my aunt can't" line of thought could be defeating her before she starts.

True, but I only discovered this recently. And it was me who discovered it. Alcohol is a wonderful invention.

right... in no particular order:
* Physical sensation is there. As is obvious signs of arrousal (skin colour, lubrication, etc...) [with my wife]
* Body image across the three women varies from good to poor with no obvious effect.
* Pressure to orgasm - I guess I did at one point, but no longer.
* Drugs - she's never taken non prescription stuff, and no prescription drugs for about 3 years. Cannabis or Viagra might be an idea.
* 'Solo' is no better because of a limited clitoral sensation [all three I think]

Thank you guys. Thank you for your suggestions and for your restraint from taking the piss. ;)
posted by twine42 at 12:37 PM on January 26, 2004

Amitriptyline has been prescribed for this with success in some patients. Of course, that's something you'd have to talk to your doctor about.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:46 PM on January 26, 2004 [1 favorite]

'Solo' is no better because of a limited clitoral sensation

Well, just remember that there are many ways to stimulate excitement without direct contact. Many women don't like too much pressure on the clitoris and there are a few methods of masturbation that don't involve fingers or toys or other 'hands-on' methods. Again, if she feels safe to explore on her own, she at least will get a better idea of what her likes and dislikes are.
posted by widdershins at 2:34 PM on January 26, 2004

two devices marketed to women who have trouble.
posted by stbalbach at 5:44 PM on January 26, 2004

The best advice I can offer, having been with someone who had similarly been entirely nonorgasmic, is to stop thinking of it as a problem to be solved. That can lead down a path of performance anxiety that will certainly make it even more difficult.

Once the doctors have cleared her of physical issues -- let's be optimistic, shall we? -- put it out of your mind. If it's something she wants to work on, be supportive and highly nonjudgemental of her approach, whatever it turns out to be. They're her orgasms, not yours.

If you can play freely together, without concern for who contracts what muscles but simply giving both of yourselves to the moment, you may very well find what stimulates her to orgasm through exploration and creative play. With the particular woman of my experience, it turned out that very firm stimulation of the Grafenberg area at the right time and under the right circumstances did the trick, but any sort of clitoral stimulation was nearly always too direct and uncomfortable. With further experimentation we found techniques for both intercourse and manual stimulation that often brought her to orgasm. What feels good, and what feels really good, varies from person to person, though.

If she's got no physical barriers to orgasm, and is otherwise open to exploration, take your time and you may very well find yourselves pleasantly surprised one day.

If, on the other hand, she's not a particularly sexual person, or sexually conservative, that suggests to me that the main point concerning her lack of orgasmic response is chiefly emotional or mental. She may benefit from having a professional to talk to about it, or she may simply need gentle guidance into a more open attitude about sex. I can't stress the point enough: LET HER JUDGEMENT GUIDE YOU.
posted by majick at 6:34 PM on January 26, 2004

Also: If she's only been sexually active for four years, it's really not at all unreasonable to have had no orgasms. It's something that some women simply have to learn, rather than being the purely physiological response that some people assume it to be. In only four years, she may not have had an opportunity for much in the way of experiment at all -- now that you're on the scene, maybe you can help out. Good luck!
posted by majick at 7:20 PM on January 26, 2004

I had a long relationship with someone in this situation some years ago. She did eventually (after almost 2 years) begin to have orgasms, though very infrequently.

My analysis of that situation is as follows: she had had a poor introduction to sex, and learned to basically lie back and wait for it to end. She was also not completely comfortable in her body, and perhaps not comfortable in our relationship for some time. Her orgasms were in there all along, and for that first year we'd get agonizingly close, only to give up after 15 minutes of fevered attempt. I believe that eventually a mental block simply fell over and she opened up to the lack of control that orgasms can represent.

Just as some people are hesitant to take drugs, because they're not sure what will happen to them, I think many people have bottled up their sex drive and/or orgasm response, because they fear (on a body-level) being taken over by it.

I would say that the most important things to take care of are:

1) Make sure no one feels "broken." I'm not sure what the medical options are, and perhaps they're worthwile, but it's also possible that introducing doctors into the equation is going to make her feel ill, problematic, busted in some way, and this can create tension and shame you don't need.

2) Enjoy your sex life, as it is, as much as possible. If she is enjoying herself, sexually, just go with whatever works best. I think that a very healthy diet of pleasure can make someone more comfortable with their body and with orgasms.

3) Perhaps a restatement of the other two things, but don't fixate on this. In a sense, you are hunting for a small animal in a woodpile. The more noise you make, the deeper it will burrow. Quiet down, relax, and coax it out with treats.

Without lots more information, I don't know what else to tell you. Perhaps it is genetic, or perhaps what's genetic is some other condition which is affecting it, like a circulatory condition or something. Perhaps they were all subject to the same psychological influences. Or perhaps this condition is much more widespread than you think, and they are just drops in the bucket.

AllI can say is good luck, keep trying, keep your mind open. And if you do ultimately score 2 points, just imagine how exciting that will be!
posted by scarabic at 7:39 PM on January 26, 2004

for what it's worth, my wife never experienced orgasm until we were in our forties, when suddenly it seemed as if something had lit a fuse under libido. i've been told this is not so unusual.
posted by quonsar at 8:11 PM on January 26, 2004

"It said studies showed between a third and a half of women never experience orgasms."

That comes from a June 6, 1998 story in the London Sunday Times. I have the full text in 5.5 year old email (seriously!), but I haven't located the full text on the web. It's rah rah for PfizerTM ViagraTM, but that statistic really stuck with me. Frankly, that stat represents an alien prospect for me, but it does seem just possible.

I've got nothing but good wishes for you two, and I hope your intimacy grows beyond anything you can imagine now. Good luck.
posted by NortonDC at 9:16 PM on January 26, 2004

This is not a topic I would address here--but, on the other hand, it's not unlike spilling your guts, including life story, to a sympathetic stranger on a plane. Which we all have done in form or another.

And the strangers here have been uniformly kind and generous and made many thoughtful suggestions, which I find very touching. In a nonsexual way.
posted by y2karl at 4:20 AM on January 27, 2004

« Older Blogging application that includes line-numbering?...   |   Is this how they made the Godzilla roar? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.