How to have an orgasm

Written by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

I've spent today polishing a booklet about orgasm written by a student.

I'm essentially just adjusting the formatting and checking for typographical errors, but the one weak bit is the section that explains the technical bit about how orgasm works and why they go wrong.

It is incredibly difficult to explain this in 400 words, which is all there is space for.

Let's try it, eh? Okay, go:

Your sexual response system is made of two mechanisms in your central nervous system (brain and spine): a Sexual Excitation System (SES) and a Sexual Inhibition System (SIS).

SES is essentially the "gas pedal" of your sexual responsiveness. It notices sexually relevant information in your environment (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations and thoughts) and sends a signal to your genitals that says, "turn on."

SIS is you sexual "brakes." It notices potential threats and sends a "turn off" signal to your genitals. Threats include physical consequences like STIS or unwanted pregnancy, but also psychological and social consequences, like relationship issues, worry about social reputation, body image difficulties and performance anxiety.

Most often (though not always) orgasm difficulties in college-age women are associated with SIS responding to too many things. If your SIS has learned to put on the brakes in response to worries about body image and performance, these worries can delay or prevent arousal and orgasm.

Through the practice of mindfulness and systematic desensitization, you can train your SIS to ignore body image, worries about performance, and other thoughts that can impede sexual arousal and orgasm.


Each day, spend five to 30 minutes lying still and noticing how your body feels. Your mind will wander, that's normal, and your job is to redirect your thoughts back to the sensations in your body. Over time, your mind will stay more readily focused and your sensory awareness will grow more acute.

Week by week, add erotic stimulation, gradually increasing its intensity. At first, just touch your body in a general way and notice how that feels. After a week or so, add breast stimulation. Maybe another week later, add genital stimulation.

You needn't try to increase your arousal level; just notice how your body responds to various kinds of touch.

Stay aware of the physical changes you notice happening as your body becomes aroused; notice how your breathing changes, how the sensitivity of your skin changes, how the tension in your muscles changes. If you find yourself worrying about whether or not you'll have an orgasm, gently return your attention to the sensations in your body. Just allow your arousal to increase or decrease, however it wants to in response to sensations.

Eventually you can add fantasy to the physical sensations and notice how your arousal changes depending on what you're thinking about.

Haven’t installed it yet?