The Elusive Orgasm

A Woman's Guide to Why She Can't and How She Can Orgasm


By Vivienne Cass, PhD

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Are you one of the thirty percent of women who has difficulties with orgasm? Do you want to experience greater sexual satisfaction? In easy to read language, The Elusive Orgasm provides a full overview of women’s sexual pleasure, covering sexual triggers, stages of arousal, the power of mind, and how women differ from men. Longtime clinical psychologist and sex therapist Dr. Vivienne Cass reveals all the causes of women’s orgasm difficulties — and how to remedy them. In The Elusive Orgasm, you’ll learn: What an orgasm is How the clitoris is much more than “a little button” The stages of a woman’s arousal The five types of orgasm difficulties The twenty-five causes of those difficulties Self-awareness via quizzes and questionnaires Sexual and non-sexual changes to help you orgasm Step-by-step plans to help you and your partner An extraordinarily thorough, all-inclusive exploration of every possible reason why women have orgasm challenges, The Elusive Orgasm gives you the tools to discover the source of your own orgasm difficulties, along with straightforward remedies.



to begin with . . .

THERE ARE SOME women who do not orgasm during sex and are quite content with this. Then again, there are some women who are extremely dissatisfied with this situation. Strange, don’t you think, how something that’s acceptable to one woman is seen as a problem by another? Yet, women differ in other areas, so why not in the way they express their sexuality?

This book has been written for any woman who finds it difficult to orgasm and is not content with this situation. So, if you do not orgasm and are quite happy, save yourself the cost of the book—you don’t have a problem (even if someone else tries to tell you otherwise). Of course, you may be interested in learning a little more about women’s orgasm and buy the book for this reason. Hopefully, your curiosity will be met.

Did you know that a little baby girl, just a few months old, can have an orgasm by touching her clitoris or pressing her legs together and rocking gently? It’s true! Of course, the baby has no understanding of what she’s doing or feeling, and we could not call her experience “sexual,” as we would for an adult. But she can experience a physical sensation that appears to be pleasurable and relaxing. And her vagina becomes wet, just as it does for an adult woman who is aroused.

I suppose you’re now wondering,

But if this is so natural for babies, how come adult women—like me—are having problems with orgasm?

Exactly! What has happened to stop us using our natural ability to orgasm? This is the question I want to talk about in The Elusive Orgasm. The truth is, there are many adult women who have lost this ability.

One American survey found that in the twelve months prior to the study being carried out, nearly one-third of the women they investigated (31.6%) had never, rarely, or only sometimes felt an orgasm. And, more than two-thirds of women in the survey (71.4%) did not always orgasm during sex with a partner.1

Australian women are similar to American women with nearly one-third (28.6%) being unable to orgasm for a month or more in the previous twelve months.2 In Europe, however, less women seem to have orgasm difficulties (4 to 10%).3 Don’t ask me why. It’s still a bit of a mystery.

Do you think that having orgasms and being happy always go together? Think again. They don’t! In the American survey, nearly half the women who rarely, never, or sometimes had an orgasm (48.1%) described themselves as very happy. And, of the women who had no orgasm difficulties, about one-third did not describe themselves as “very happy” (36%). Like I say, there’s a lot more to being happy than having orgasms.

So what happened—from the moment you were born—that now stops you from climaxing or having an orgasm as easily as you’d like? I’m sure you’ve asked yourself this same question. But how easy has it been to find the answer? For many, not easy at all. You may not have access to a professional person with the right training. Books (not to mention bookshops) may not be available where you live. Perhaps you’re too embarrassed to talk to anyone. You may have even tried different methods and found they didn’t help.

So, I can understand if you’re feeling a bit impatient or half-hearted.

Well, yes I am. But I’ve had my problem for quite a while now, so I just want to get straight to the point: how do I fix it?

Good question! We’ll get to that soon enough. But first, you need to identify what kind of orgasm difficulty you have and why. This is important if you’re going to choose the right program to overcome it.

You need to first understand your orgasm difficulty before any “fixing” can start to happen. It’s surprising how many areas of information need to be covered to help you develop this understanding of yourself. By the time you’ve read the last word of this book, you’ll have thought about:

          sexual arousal (because most orgasm difficulties are really difficulties in getting highly aroused)

          how to describe and understand an orgasm

          different types of orgasm difficulties (and which type you fit into)

          the causes of these different types of orgasm difficulties (and which fit you)

          how to change your situation so that you can feel orgasms

Are you wondering if you’re ready to take such a close look at yourself? That’s understandable. But why not stay with me for a chapter or two (or three) and see how you feel? You may be surprised at some of the tidbits of information that pop out of the coming pages. And, don’t forget that having read a few chapters, you can always put the book down and come back to it later when you feel ready.

types of orgasm difficulties |

LET’S BEGIN BY finding out which type of orgasm difficulty you experience. Since the causes of each can be quite different, it’s important to know which one you fit into. Let me list these different types for you. Then you can figure out which category seems to fit.

TYPE ONE: ordinary “garden-variety” orgasm difficulty

Did you know that most women have difficulty reaching orgasm at some time? It really doesn’t take much to stop any of us from getting sexually aroused. Stress, tiredness, worry about a child or a parent, or simply not feeling in the mood are examples of some things that can stop us from reaching a sexual climax. So if you occasionally have problems in this area, you’re in good company, because there are thousands of women just like you (and me) to whom exactly the same thing happens.

TYPE TWO: women who never have an orgasm

Perhaps you’ve never had an orgasm; there are plenty of women who haven’t. You may have tried and tried, with no luck. Or, you may have been unaware that women could have such a feeling. Or, you may have never wanted such an experience before now.

TYPE THREE: women who rarely have an orgasm

Perhaps you occasionally orgasm, but only after what seems like a great deal of hard work on your part—and a lot of luck! For some women it takes a glass of wine and a time of being unusually relaxed for this to happen.

TYPE FOUR: women who used to be able to orgasm

You may be one of those women who feels quite frustrated because she used to be able to feel orgasms, but can’t at the moment. Or, you may be finding that your orgasms have become so weak or so quick that you hardly notice them. Perhaps the ease with which you used to have orgasms has gone and you now struggle to make them happen.

TYPE FIVE: women who can orgasm at some times, but not others

Then again, you may be able to climax quite easily except when you’re:

          engaged in a particular kind of sexual practice (such as intercourse), or

          having sex with a partner rather than on your own (don’t you wonder how orgasm can be so hard to reach with someone else around, but so easy during masturbation?), or

          having sex with a particular type of person (e.g., a thin man; a gentle woman; someone who’s been drinking), or

          having sex with a particular partner (your current partner; someone you’ve just met).

Did you realize so many types of orgasm difficulties existed? Or that thousands of women fit each of these descriptions? It’s true. So, just in case you’ve been thinking you were an oddity or abnormal, think again. Many, many women have exactly the same difficulties you have.

And most of us, as I mentioned earlier, have experienced the Type One variety and found orgasm difficult to feel on occasions (but don’t expect it to be a topic of conversation at your next social get-together—we’re a bit shy of talking about these things).

Okay, so I’m not an oddball. But I am one VERY frustrated woman when I have sex. My feelings seem to go so far and stop. . . . It’s like they hit a brick wall.

Yep, that’s frustrating all right. However, just make sure being frustrated doesn’t lead to thinking you’re a second-rate woman. Let me explain what I mean.

feeling negative |

UNFORTUNATELY, SOME WOMEN with orgasm difficulties start to convert their feelings of frustration into negative thoughts about themselves.

          They feel there’s something wrong with them, that they’re different from other women.

          They believe they aren’t good enough because they can’t orgasm.

          They see themselves as not being complete women, that something is missing.

          They worry their partner will leave if they don’t have an orgasm soon.

If you’re thinking like this, my guess is you’re also feeling (check whichever applies):







         fed up

         angry with yourself

         something similar to the above

The kinds of emotions I’ve listed here often pop up whenever we start blaming ourselves for our orgasm difficulty. This is a great pity. In later chapters, when I begin to identify the causes of orgasm problems, you’ll see that there are some very real and logical reasons why women can’t orgasm easily. And none of these reasons relate to being a second-rate person.

What you DO is quite separate from who you ARE.

Please remember this. Just because you want an orgasm and can’t have one (what you do) doesn’t mean to say you aren’t a nice and interesting person (who you are). In other words, you can have difficulties with having orgasms and still be the kind of person I’d like to get to know.

But it’s hard to think positive when I’ve tried and tried and tried to get highly aroused, with no success.

Maybe it is. Still, think about the determination and strength you’ve shown to keep going as much as you have. I hope you’ve got a little of that stamina left to read this book and find out why your past efforts have not brought you the sexual feelings you want.

Stay with me. We’re going to explore the causes of arousal difficulties and help you identify which ones seem to fit your situation. I’ve described twenty-five reasons why women have difficulties with orgasm. I’d be surprised if at least one of these didn’t explain what happens to you when you begin to get aroused. Then, we’ll take a look at what changes can be made so you can get aroused enough to orgasm when you want.

If you’re having sex (either on your own or with a partner) and thoroughly enjoying it, congratulations! This really makes the point that orgasms are only one way of feeling sexual pleasure. And congratulations, too, if you’ve continued with sex despite being very frustrated and negative at the lack of orgasm. There are women who give up expressing their sexuality because an orgasm seems impossible to achieve. Quite understandable, but a great shame. Hopefully this book will give them the confidence to start feeling sexual again.

pressure to have orgasms |

Well, I’m not usually a quitter, but the harder I try to orgasm, the worse things seem to get. It just seems easier not to go through all that hassle.

Ah, you’ve discovered how an orgasm works—or I should say, doesn’t work. If there is a rule about orgasms, it’s this:

The harder you try to have one, the further away it seems to go.

In other words, if you keep pushing yourself to make one happen, you’ll end up feeling less sexual than when you started (and a whole lot more bad tempered).

It’s easy to become so focused on wanting an orgasm that it becomes the only reason for being sexual. Orgasm then becomes the goal of lovemaking or masturbation (expressing sexual pleasure on your own). But what happens when you can’t meet your goal? You feel terrible, a failure, disappointed and so on. You may also feel that you should have an orgasm so as not to disappoint your partner.

Eventually, this pressure becomes too much to bear. Some women cope by pretending to have an orgasm, believing this will please their partner and take the pressure off themselves. Others feel that the only alternative is to switch off from sexual feelings altogether. I suspect neither of these alternatives leaves any woman feeling truly happy.

So let me suggest a truce. You take the pressure off yourself. I’ll try to show you why you can’t orgasm at present, and how you can become aroused enough to do so.

In the meantime, just relax and enjoy the feelings of sexual pleasure you do have.

Assuming you’re now ready to take the pressure off yourself, let’s check if there is anyone else pressuring you. It could be a:






         casual partner


Take a moment to think about it. Sometimes the reactions of sexual partners can be obvious, such as when annoyance or impatience is expressed because you don’t orgasm. Sometimes reactions are more subtle. The following is a true example of one woman’s situation. Her partner thought he was being encouraging when he said:

             Don’t worry, honey, I know you’ll get there. We’ll just keep trying. I’m sure there’s something that will help you.

Did this help? I’m afraid not. All it did was reinforce to “honey” that she needed to find the “right” method (whatever that was). She tried a few things, but began to feel like a circus performer jumping through hoops just so her partner would feel she was trying to “solve the problem.” After doing this for a while, she started to avoid sex and to resent her partner.

Some women find the pressure from another person makes them desperate to try anything that will help them to “be a normal woman.”

Hey, I’d be happy to try anything if I only knew which hoops to jump through. I’d love to find a simple instruction manual, but so far I’ve had no luck.

Well, you’re not alone there. Many women with orgasm difficulties don’t know what to do (or where to go) to improve things. Some believe that going to a sexual therapist or psychologist would be too embarrassing (or expensive). I’ve seen women who thought about getting help for years before taking the plunge into counseling. (And some of them cursed loudly when their difficulties disappeared sooner than expected.)

However, some women feel so resentful towards a partner who has been pressuring them that they don’t want to make the effort, even if it means helping themselves to feel greater sexual pleasure. And resentment also plays a part for women who believe their partner should give them an orgasm and feel annoyed if this doesn’t happen.

Have you noticed how resentment makes it awfully hard to be warm and intimate? How can you begin to relax and enjoy yourself during sex if all you feel inside is pent-up anger? With great difficulty!

Resentment is absolutely the biggest dampener of sexual arousal in women. And without strong sexual feelings, there is no way—I repeat, no way—you’re ever going to have an orgasm.

So far I’ve talked about the pressure you get from yourself and from your partner. But let’s not forget what little gems society has to offer, too. If you have access to magazines on women’s health and sexuality, you’ll have probably read headlines something like this:


What a lot of pressure there is to have an orgasm! You’d be forgiven for believing that every woman you meet is able to have one—except you.

Now, remember what I said: there are hundreds and hundreds of women having difficulties just like yours. Your friends may not chat openly about these things, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t experiencing the same difficulties. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did talk about these things more honestly? Can you imagine the conversation over coffee?

             Oh, girls, what a problem I had last night! I sweated my way through sex for two hours and then that damn orgasm just disappeared into thin air. What am I going to do?

orgasms aren’t everything in sex |

THIS HEADING SHOULD probably be in VERY LARGE print to emphasize how important it is.

What, are you crazy? You write a whole book on how women can have orgasms, and now you say they aren’t important?

No, I’m not crazy (well, not in regard to this point, anyway). And I’m not saying that orgasms aren’t important to us. But most societies have made such a big deal of having them that it’s easy to forget about the enjoyable parts of sex or lovemaking that don’t involve orgasm.

Such as:

          being physically close with a partner

          having fun

          being relaxed

          feeling the pleasure of sexual arousal inside our body

          allowing ourselves to be held and comforted

          feeling intimate

          being raunchy and letting go

          switching off from work

          feeling sensuous

          feeling cared for

And so on . . .

And if you don’t have a partner and like to touch yourself or masturbate, it’s equally enjoyable to arouse and caress yourself, to feel your body get turned on, be able to switch off the rest of the world, and to fantasize being touched.

So let’s put things back into perspective. Yes, orgasms can be very enjoyable, and it’s true women often feel happy being able to express themselves in this way. And, yes, it’s great to have the option to orgasm, to feel we’ve been able to express our peak sexual feelings. However, sex can be great without an orgasm.

Having orgasms is one


On Sale
Mar 3, 2008
Page Count
336 pages

Vivienne Cass, PhD

About the Author

Vivienne Cass, PhD is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist with over thirty years of experience. She has taught courses on sexual therapy and sexuality and is the author of many articles and academic papers. Dr. Cass is a member of The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, The New York Academy of Science, and The International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. She lives in Australia.

Learn more about this author