Why Focusing On Orgasm Too Much Can Actually Be Bad For Your Sex Life

Ashley Batz/Bustle

Each year, July 31 marks what is possibly the sexiest holiday of the year: National Orgasm Day. But, while orgasms are certainly a wonderful thing worth celebrating any day of the year, it can actually be harmful if we as a society put too much emphasis on orgasm. Treating climax as the end-all-be-all goal of sex completely diminishes the value and power of pleasure and intimacy as a whole — not to mention it alienates anyone who struggles to reach orgasm, or can't orgasm at all. The truth? You don't need to climax in order to have an amazing sex life.

"Great sex involves presence, exploration, discovery, and communication — [and] orgasm doesn’t require any of those things," intimacy expert Miyoko Rifkin tells Bustle. "Being focused on orgasm can cause large holes in our intimacy, create distance between us, and leave one or both of us not fully satisfied. While we will still reap the benefits of orgasm on a[n] anatomical level, we might be doing more harm than good to our long-term relationships."

Having an orgasm can be a fun, pleasurable side effect of a great sexual experience — and there's no shame in striving to have lots of orgasms in your own sex life — but if you think of orgasm-less sex as inherently disappointing (or even worse, as a waste of time) that can be very detrimental to your sex life. According to Rifkin, if you're aiming to have great sex, your focus should be on pleasure, not just climax.

"How often do you touch your partner for the sake of pleasure, versus orgasm?" Rifkin asks. "How many minutes of your intimate time is dedicated solely to touch and sensation rather than friction? How often do you engage in play that is only for the benefit of one of your sensory pleasures? True intimacy comes when your partner trusts you with not only their bodies, but their pleasure. Touching them for the sake of their pleasure instead of yours speaks volumes."

How Sex Is Different When Climax Isn't The Only Focus

Ashley Batz/Bustle

So how does sex change when pleasure — not orgasm — is the goal? Even if you're *technically* having sex in exactly the same way, the experience can still feel totally different if you decide to make orgasms an after-thought.

"Sex is more carefree and truly enjoyable when you don't put pressure on either party to have to 'achieve' an orgasm," Bethany Ricciardi, sex educator and relationship expert with Too Timid "The Romance Company," tells Bustle. "If you've experienced the pressure before you'll understand how it takes all the fun away from having sex with someone. If someone is saying [things like] 'how can I make you come?' 'are you going to come?' 'have you come yet?,' not only does it ruin the moment, but then all you're thinking about is, 'am I?' or 'how can I faster?' when really you should be enjoying the visual stimulation in front of you and the sexy intercourse."

Of course, it's totally natural to want your partner to experience the wonders of an orgasm, but if either partner feels too much pressure to perform sexually and reach that "end goal," it can be a serious mood-killer. When you decide to focus on your partner's (and your own) pleasure as a whole instead of thinking of each touch or kiss as a means to an end, sex can actually get hotter — because too much pressure to orgasm can make it difficult to experience pleasure and savor each moment.

Why You Should Stop Stressing About Having — Or Not Having — An Orgasm

Ashley Batz/Bustle

For many folks — and particularly for many women — reaching orgasm isn't easy, or even possible. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, women only orgasm around 63 percent of the time with a familiar partner, and finish even less frequently (40 percent of the time) during casual sex. On the flip side, a recent study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 95 percent of heterosexual men orgasm "usually-to-always" when with a partner. Though it's important to note that there are many men who struggle with arousal and orgasm, it's nonetheless clear that the orgasm gap is very real: straight men are getting off more than straight women.

But even though closing the orgasm gap is important, encouraging women to "demand" an orgasm during sex as a means of empowerment can actually do the opposite — it can create even more pressure to finish, when we should really just be focusing on pleasure.

There are so many reasons someone might have a difficult time reaching orgasm, and each is as valid as the next. But especially for those who struggle with arousal and orgasm, it can be beneficial to change your mindset surrounding sex and pleasure. Talia*, 29, tells Bustle that she's struggled with orgasm since experiencing a sexual assault — and that she has now adopted a new perspective surrounding sex and pleasure.

"I found myself trying to force my brain to be turned on and getting mad at my body for not responding with arousal," Talia tells Bustle. "It put a lot of pressure on sex and I found myself avoiding it. Since seeing a therapist, I’ve had to change my thought processes during intimacy to focus on my needs in the moment — reminding myself I’m safe, reaffirming that the actions I’m taking are my own choices, [and] actively reminding myself to think 'do I like this? I can stop if I want to.'"

But just because someone has difficulty climaxing does not mean they can't still have a hot, fulfilling sex life. Ultimately, sex is whatever you make of it, and if you have a sex session that's fun and pleasurable, regardless of whether or not you orgasm, that's just as valid and "successful" as sex that includes climax.

"A 'good' sex session means I was able to stay in the moment with my partner: when I manage to just enjoy the fun, stay in the heat of the moment, and not experience pain," Talia says. "When I’m able to have a positive and fun experience in which I feel totally safe, I’m still left with that fulfilling oxytocin feeling despite a lack of orgasm."

How To Have Great Sex That Doesn't Revolve Around The Orgasm

Ashley Batz/Bustle

Whether you struggle with arousal and orgasm or not, though, you can still benefit from adopting a new outlook on the role of orgasms during sex. Shifting your focus to pleasure as a whole and thinking of an orgasm as an added bonus can mean more passionate, intimate, and erotic sex — which is never a bad thing, honestly.

"Touch each other's body, embrace the kissing, massaging and undressing," Ricciardi says. "Listen to your partner's breathing and feel their soft skin, take the time to enjoy this sensual moment. Ignore traditional advice that proclaims you have a bad sex life if you aren't hitting the big O every time! And definitely don't try and live up to the porn orgasms you've come across."

Even though a quickie with a big finish can be amazing every now and then, not all sex has to be fast and furious. If you take your time and make your partner's pleasure your mission without worrying about the "outcome," you can have hotter, more fulfilling sex — and get to know each other's likes, dislikes, kinks, and more along the way.

"However you get aroused is how you're going to enjoy playtime the most, so be sure to focus on just that," Ricciardi says. "Also be sure to focus on your partner and their pleasure. Take note of each other's sexual preferences and even if you aren't achieving an orgasm, learn the diverse ways you both get aroused and ignore the pressure to have a big finish. Enjoy the journey, don't worry about the destination — right? Be gentle, affectionate and heat things up, but enjoy a slower and more relaxed experience with no anxiety or pressure for either of you to achieve climax!"

So on this National Orgasm Day, celebrate sex not just for the climax, but for its ability to bring us pleasure in so many ways, and its ability to bring us closer to our partners in the process. If you happen to have an orgasm, more power to you — otherwise, sit back and enjoy the slow, sensual ride.

* Name has been changed.