Once upon a time, the topic of orgasm was fairly run-of-the-mill. Basically, you do the sex, and you climax (fingers crossed!). But these days, orgasms are anything but ordinary and basic, with options ranging from forced to clitoral to skin orgasms. Also on the list? A ruined orgasm. That might sound confusing, but sex experts say it's the *lack* of orgasm that is exactly the goal.
"A ruined orgasm generally refers to an orgasm that is not particularly pleasurable," says Jess O’Reilly, PhD, sexologist and ambassador for sexual wellness and sex toy brands We-Vibe, Womanizer, and Arcwave. But, she adds, that doesn't mean a ruined orgasm can't be eroticized. For example, a ruined orgasm might allow participants to play with power dynamics and (loss of) control. This ties into the eroticization of emotions like humiliation, which can be an element of BDSM and other sexual roleplay, O'Reilly says.
Or, even if you're not into BDSM, this might be of interest to anyone who likes to engage in role-playing or themes including submission and domination, says Janet Brito, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sexologist in Honolulu.
Another potentially appealing aspect of the ruined orgasm? It does away with the socially dominant norm or expectation that you’re supposed to orgasm in one particular way, O'Reilly points out.
Ahead, sex experts breakdown everything you need to know about ruined orgasms, including why it's different than edging and how to achieve one yourself.
Meet the experts:
Jess O’Reilly, PhD, is a sexologist and ambassador for sexual wellness and sex toy brands We-Vibe, Womanizer, and Arcwave.
Janet Brito, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and sexologist in Honolulu.
Donna Oriowo, PhD, LICSW, CST, is the owner and lead therapist of AnnodRight, a therapy practice by and for Black womxn in Lanham, Maryland.
Kate Balestrieri, PhD is a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, certified sex addiction therapist, PACT therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy, a group therapy practice in Los Angeles, Miami, NYC, Denver and Chicago.
So, what exactly is a ruined orgasm?
A ruined orgasm is one that can lean on stop-and-start stimulation and teasing, and, in the case of BDSM practice, may involve a sexual act where the dominant partner provides enough stimulation to get the submissive partner to orgasm, but then stops, Brito says. A ruined orgasm may also include an interrupted orgasm.
O'Reilly agrees, offering the following scenario: "For example, if you usually stroke yourself right before or during orgasm to intensify pleasure, you may stop (or be told to stop) a few seconds early, so that you experience the muscular contractions (and perhaps ejaculation) that tend to accompany orgasm, but not the climactic pleasure."
Brito emphasizes that a ruined orgasm, or any power sex play, requires consent and for both partners to create guidelines, establish boundaries, and negotiate specifics before they begin to experiment.
Why do people like ruined orgasms?
The name of the act itself doesn't sound pleasurable, but it can be for many reasons, explains Dr. Donna Oriowo, PhD, LICSW, CST, the owner and lead therapist of AnnodRight, a practice by and for Black womxn in Lanham, Maryland. For some, it's about being in the moment and removing orgasm as the end goal. For others, it plays into the power dynamics between dominant and submissive while giving up control of your pleasure to someone else.
In the context of BDSM, a submissive can also experience pleasure from being denied— deprived by the ruined orgasm, adds Dr. Kate Balestrieri, PhD, a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy, a group therapy practice with multiple locations across the country.
What does a ruined orgasm feel like?
With ruined orgasms, timing is everything, and it plays a big role in how it feels. Maybe you're thinking to yourself, "How will I know if I had a ruined orgasm?" Well, there's a slight chance you've already experienced something similar.
"If you’ve ever been close to an orgasm, and your vibrator dies just as you were about to surrender, only to have your orgasm peter out pathetically, that is a ruined orgasm," explains Balestrieri. Sound familiar?
Is a ruined orgasm similar to edging?
Kind of, but there's a key difference. Edging involves being *this close* to getting the thing you want (in this case, orgasm) and having it repeatedly taken away juuuust as you are about to climax until, eventually, you do orgasm. The reason for it, experts say, is the resulting orgasm packs much more ka-pow as a result of the back-and-forth teasing. But that's not a ruined orgasm, O'Reilly says.
"Edging generally refers to building to pleasure via pleasure peaks and valleys," she notes. "It’s often part of building an undulating crescendo to a more powerfully pleasurable orgasm, so it’s quite different from detracting from the pleasure of orgasm as you might with a ruined orgasm."
Brito agrees, breaking it down into a simple comparison: Both ruined orgasms and edging involve the use of the start-stop method, but in the case of a ruined orgasm, the technique is meant to slow down orgasm and reduce build-up, whereas edging is all about elevating pleasure by prolonging it.
How does it compare to a forced orgasm?
Like edging, a forced orgasm—when a person does not want to orgasm, but their partner stimulates them enough to orgasm—does not involve a pleasure limit, as in the case of a ruined orgasm. With forced orgasms, you still lack control (as in your partner might tie you up and stimulate you when you say you don't want it—after you've consented to this type of sex, of course), but forced orgasms actually end in orgasm whereas ruined ones typically don't.
A forced orgasm may involve a dominant and submissive relationship, Brito says, where a submissive does not "want" to orgasm, but the dominant partner continues to provide stimulation until they do. "It's a role play involving power dynamics," she notes.
So, no orgasm at all?
Well, that depends on how you define orgasm, which, as O'Reilly pointed out earlier, has been stereotyped as that one big "O" that makes your toes curl. But there is no universal terminology for what a ruined orgasm entails, she says.
"I have heard people talk about ruined orgasms as orgasms that don’t happen, but even the experience of orgasm is subjective," O'Reilly notes. "If we define orgasm by a pleasurable release of tension that is often accompanied by muscular contractions, you might say that a ruined orgasm is not an orgasm, as you’re not experiencing a pleasurable release." But on the flip side, you might have muscular contractions (or ejaculation if you have a penis) and not experience pleasure, she says, countering, "So, does it count? Perhaps not!"
Give me the scoop—how do I have a ruined orgasm?
Some of the basics have already been covered, but if you're on board to try out a ruined orgasm, let's review.
1. Start with a consent convo.
If you're going for the ruined orgasm with a partner, "make sure it is consensual, discuss your terms ahead of time, and consider sexual aids, like vibrators," says Brito. Oriowo also recommends choosing a safe word so you can easily communicate if/when you need to stop.
Once you've covered consent, talk to your partner about what excites you and figure out how you want to approach it, says Balestrieri. (More on that in a sec...)
2. Try the stop-start technique.
Whether it's in the hands of a partner or your own, initiating stimulation and then stopping stimulation is one common approach to creating a ruined orgasm. "Do not continue to provide stimulation, which will result in no orgasm," Brito says. "[You can also] provide interrupted stimulation, which could result in a 'meh' orgasm."
3. Consider incorporating BDSM elements.
Beyond the start-stop method, O'Reilly says you can also tie in the physical and emotional components of BDSM (e.g. you might experience or play with feelings of humiliation, frustration, loss of control, anger, or embarrassment) to "ruin" the orgasm. "For example, your partner might continue with the physical stimulation that brings you to orgasm, but then say something that makes you feel humiliated or embarrassed to create a dissonance that ruins the orgasm," she says.
"You might also have a ruined orgasm inadvertently due to distraction or intrusive thoughts," O'Reilly continues. "Perhaps someone walks in on you just as you’re about to orgasm and your body continues to respond, but you no longer experience the sensations or response as pleasurable."
4. Notice how your body responds.
No partner? No worries! Oriowo says that taking some solo time to explore ruined orgasms can be a great opportunity to learn more about your body. "You have to know what takes you toward the stages of orgasm, but also know what is the point of no return for you," she says.
5. Don't just O and GTFO.
Sex doesn't automatically end after orgasm, so the same goes for ruined orgasm. "Spend some time debriefing and attending to aftercare, especially if the ruined orgasm is going to be part of a BDSM scene, to avoid sub drop," says Balestrieri. (ICYDK, sub drop is the exhaustion or refractory phase after an intense BDSM scene, when the endorphins and adrenaline have settled back down.)
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is a writer and mental health advocate based in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to Women's Health, her work has appeared in several print and online publications, including The Cut, Tonic, Narratively, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and DAME. She is currently writing a collection of essays.
Sabrina is an editorial assistant for Women’s Health. When she’s not writing, you can find her running, training in mixed martial arts, or reading.