Guide to the Female Orgasm
People…I like to orgasm. I like to bring others to orgasm. I like being a purveyor of products that provide orgasms. I’m very orgasm focused. But until I started writing this, I have to admit I didn’t know exactly what an orgasm was. I didn’t know what happened when I had one. And even though I knew how to make them happen, I didn’t know what caused them. It turns out, I wasn’t alone. The female orgasm is an elusive and tricky mistress that we don’t actually know a whole lot about. But today I thought we could look at what we do know.
WHY DO WOMEN ORGASM
The latest theory (at the time of writing) about the female orgasm is that it’s an evolutionary relic from a time when human females would have induced ovulation. Basically a whole heap of animals need a specific trigger to set off the ovulation cycle, so that their bodies aren’t wasting time and energy on ovulating for no reason. The new theory suggests that the female orgasm was a way to trigger that process. This makes sense given that the clitoris used to be much closer to the vaginal opening and therefore penetrative sex was much more likely to induce orgasm. They also found that we release the same chemicals from orgasm as other animals do during induced ovulation. Before we evolved into the upstanding citizens we are now, our bodies were designed to release an egg every time a male partner triggered an orgasm in us, to allow us to procreate. Female orgasms, so the theory goes, are a relic from that era.
WHAT IS AN ORGASM?
So what actually is an orgasm? The magnificent Masters and Johnson put forward a theory of “The Human Sexual Response Cycle” in 1966 that remains largely intact. It more or less contends that there’s 4 stages to sexual stimulation.
They narrowed the orgasm phase down to a series of muscular contractions, noting that they occur at intervals of every 0.8 seconds in both sexes, with men experiencing 3 to 4, but women enjoying between 5 to 12. The contractions are localised to the lower pelvis and anus in men, but in women include the urethra and vagina. The entire orgasm response is involuntary, which is why we make such stupid noises when it’s happening.
Furthering the research of Masters and Johnson, Barry Komisaruk at Rutgers University in New Jersey decided to see what was happening inside the brains of people orgasming. By conducting fMRI scans on patients achieving orgasm Komisaruk has been able to determine that from a neurological perspective there isn’t a great deal of difference between men and women at the point of climax. Basically, regardless of your junk, when you orgasm your entire brain lights up, but particularly the nucleus accumbens. Interestingly, when you stimulate this brain region in rats, they’ll choose to keep sending electrical pulses there over their desire for food. To the point that they’ll starve to death. I mean, at least they’re literally dying happy though, right?
So, an orgasm is a combination of setting your brain on fire, poking your pleasure centre to the point that you’d choose death rather than stopping, and making almost every muscle between your asshole and navel start convulsing like you’ve accidentally plugged your genitals into a power socket. Sign me the fuck up!
We’ve spoken before about the Vagina Burden, and how simply owning one sets you up for a lifetime of discrimination, expense and pain. But what we haven’t looked at is the Orgasm Gap. This refers to the measurable difference in the number of orgasms had by ciswomen in hetero relationships versus their male counterparts. No matter the sample size, or how you slice the data, there is always a statistically significant discrepancy between the number of orgasms experienced by men and women. Interestingly women who identify as lesbians experience a greater number of orgasms than their straight friends, while men who identify as gay don’t show any significant difference in the number of orgasms. To make it even more interesting, women have way more orgasms when masturbating than they do while with a male partner.
Now, I’m no scientist (although I look great in lab coats), but the easy conclusion to draw here is that as soon as you throw a dick into the mix, orgasms in women drop significantly. There’s a few good reasons as to why this might be the case. The first is the obvious one, that if we look at the situation in a vacuum, a disembodied penis (where we’re not taking into account the person it’s attached to) penetrating a disembodied vagina is highly unlikely to cause orgasm. There are simply not enough nerve endings within the vagina for penetration alone to trigger an orgasm response. Despite this though, women are still marketed sex toys that are penis-clones that vibrate. When using these toys and having sex with a penis doesn’t yield an orgasm many women simply assume they’re anorgasmic, when in reality we’re just not designed to feel much inside our batcave. And this is probably a good thing, since if a vagina was as sensitive as a clitoris, then childbirth would become a whole lot more of an ordeal than it currently is (and it’s currently no fucking picnic).
Another reason though is slightly more complex and has to do with our attitudes towards sexuality, sex and women. From a biological perspective, a male orgasm is necessary but a female orgasm is superfluous. However, even in situations where procreation has been taken off the table (someone’s wearing a condom, or someone is on the pill, etc) we still tend to place a priority on the male experience. “Bullshit” you might be saying “I always try and make the women I’m with orgasm”. Okay, but how often do you have sex with the sole intention of achieving female orgasm, but not male orgasm. How many times will a male partner get his female partner off and then simply stop. Because this is exactly the sexual standard we’re holding women to.
Our social conditioning around female sexuality in the west dictates that she is the one being pursued and is not the aggressor. She should be passive and wait to be wooed. This carries across to the bedroom where, even in liberal enlightened bedrooms, it’s difficult for women to overcome this conditioning and take what they want. Most women are more likely to be subs, or bottoms, in the bedroom because it allows them to give and receive pleasure without having to put themselves in a position where they’re asking for or demanding it. It’s a rare (and awesome) woman who will hook up with a man, and do only what they know will make them climax and then leave without thought for his pleasure. And while we acknowledge that men who do this are shitty in bed, it doesn’t strike us as anywhere near as unusual as if we imagine a woman doing it.
There is also still a stigma for women around being an ‘experienced’ lover, and knowing what they want. Often we feel that this makes us greedy or self-absorbed, or inattentive to a male partner’s needs. This can get to the point that some women don’t feel comfortable communicating their desires and needs until well into a relationship. And this is if they’re literate enough with their own body to actually know what gets them off in the first place.
We’ve spoken before, about how women are expected to be able to get themselves off, but that socially we provide little to no education around how to make this happen. Sex education doesn’t cover ‘pleasure’, just biology. And while we make jokes about boys and their wet dreams and awkward erections, it’s considered perverse to discuss female masturbation and pleasure at similar ages. This means that most girls don’t understand or have access to resources that will help them learn what feels good or even what’s happening to their body when something does feel good. Thankfully there’s now a book out there addressing this. The “Teen Girl’s Guide to Getting Off” should be mandatory reading for every girl going through puberty (and her parents). But for those of us who are already grown women, there is a vast education gap. So let’s try and fill it a little bit now...
There has been a dearth of research around female sexuality and sexual function over the years, with academia focusing exclusively on male experiences and issues, not to mention just the rampant sexism in medicine in general. Men weighing in on issues of the female sexual experience is nothing new; I mean 9 different parts of female genitalia are named after men. Seems a bit on the nose considering I’m pretty sure there were women who knew where their fucking g-spot was before Ernst Grafenburg came along and wrote about it in the 1900s, but hey, that’s how academia works.
The clitoris has appeared on Venus figurines as far back as the ice age. It’s not exactly new. But despite being appearing throughout history, being written about as “the seat of women’s pleasure” and so forth, it didn’t really take off the way you would have expected. The entire clitoris wasn’t properly or completely mapped until 2005, when O'Connell, Sanjeevan & Hutson used MRIs on vaginas of different ages to completely determine its component structures, neurovascular supply, relationship to adjacent structures (the urethra, vagina and vestibular glands, and connective tissue supports), histology and immunohistochemistry. I repeat...2005.
Most women are aware that stimulation of the clitoris not only feels great, but is often the best (if not only) way to achieve orgasm. However, once again men have felt the need to weigh in on this as well. Freud’s educated opinion was that women could achieve orgasm through clitoral stimulation, but that the ‘sexually mature woman’ could do so through penetration alone. Go fuck a cigar Freud, sometimes an orgasm is just an orgasm.
VAGINAL, CERVICAL and G-SPOT ORGASMS
Most people now recognise that a ‘vaginal’ orgasm or ‘internal’ orgasm is actually a g-spot orgasm. But the existence of the g-spot is still hotly debated (because of course it is). In 2008 researches were able to nail down the existence of an area of tissue that was thicker in women who reported being able to have g-spot orgasms than it was in women who reported not being able to. But others argued that it could be tissue connected to the clitoris and not proof of a “g-spot”. This has also been the argument around cervical orgasms (google it, it’s all the rage). Since the cervix contains no nerves, the theory is that in some women the clitoral structure simply reaches that far in. At this point it’s hard not to feel like we’re arguing semantics; does it matter if it’s your technically your clitoris if you’re stimulating the area around your cervix, does it matter whether the spot is actually your clitoris or it’s own separate entity? Obviously semantics are important for the progression of science, but less so for everyday people just looking to get their rocks off.
However, some of the controversy around the existence of the g-spot comes from women who are concerned that declaring its existence will mean that a large percentage of women are made to feel inadequate or inferior if they don’t have one or are unable to orgasm through it.
Currently around 30 - 40% of women claim to have never experienced an orgasm through penetration alone. There are concerns that confirmation of the g-spot would lead to an orgasm hierarchy wherein a vaginal orgasm is seen as more of an achievement than a clitoral one; much like Freud put forward. Because if there’s one thing women are in desperate need of, it’s more reasons to be told that they’re not good enough.
HOW MANY TYPES OF FEMALE ORGASM ARE THERE?
The debate around the g-spot is far from a unique situation though. For instance, currently no one can seem to agree on how many varieties of female orgasms there are. If you google “types of female orgasm” the results will include articles about the 5, 4, 12, 7, 6, 8 and 15 different types.
There are discussions around clitoral orgasms, cervical orgasms, vaginal orgasms, g-spot orgasms and even urethral orgasms. And that’s before they get into skin, nipple, anal and breathing orgasms.
Scientifically speaking though there’s no consensus on whether or not there’s more than one type of female orgasm (clitoral).
For those who are wondering, there has been research done on what a wet vaginal orgasm actually consists of, and the answer is; it depends. There’s two kinds of wet orgasm for vagina owners; female ejaculation and squirting. Both emerge from the urinary tract.
Female ejaculation (or what I’ll now be referring to as vaginal ejaculation) involves the Skene glands, which are little pockets that drain into the urethra. Vaginal ejaculation will be a milky white consistency, similar to penis ejaculate and contains prostatic-specific antigen (PSA). Squirting predominantly consists of urine, but also contains PSA, whereas regular urine does not. There are also situations wherein women can become so aroused during stimulation (particularly fingering or direct g-spot stimulation) that their natural lubrication will pool and be expelled during orgasm, which can often be mistaken for ejaculation.
There is a (thankfully) small movement in some areas at the moment to pressure women into squirting during orgasm. This has largely been influenced by its rising popularity in porn. Many men are seeing the ability to make a woman squirt as proof of their sexual prowess (because of course men manage to make a woman's orgasm about themselves).
This is often done regardless of whether or not a conversation has been had as to whether or not the woman wants to have this experience. Many men will achieve this by simply putting pressure on a woman’s bladder while stimulating her (which is generally not great to do as it can cause health issues). It can also be a distressing experience for some women who simply assume that they’ve wet the bed and feel ashamed or like they’ve lost control of their body. If you’re a guy and you want to make a woman squirt, talk about it with her first and please don't just press down on her bladder.
By contrast there are other partners who will shame those who squirt, telling them that it’s gross, wrong or just inconvenient to have to change the linen. For those in the latter camp, I can’t recommend the Liberator Throe highly enough. It’s a fuzzy blanket with a plastic interior that will soak up any and all lovemaking liquids and can then just be thrown in the washing machine. But regardless of whether men are telling women to squirt more or less, my response is the same; they should learn to fuck off with their biases and simply allow women to orgasm the way they want to. Our orgasms are not about your ego.
Much of our ability to orgasm is about being able to stop overthinking. It can be pretty much impossible to get to O-town if you’re stuck wondering whether your partner is bored of eating you out yet, whether you smell or taste the way you want to, or whether your body is as pretty as you wish it was.
This is why the majority of us find it easier to orgasm through masturbation. Speaking for myself, I don’t give a fuck how I look, sound, or smell when I’m having a wank. This is why masturbation is such a crucial element in learning how to orgasm. You can take your time, there’s no pressure, and if you don’t climax there’s no one to judge you. Orgasms should be seen as kind of like getting your driver’s licence; if you don’t have 120 hours behind your own wheel, then you can’t really be trusted with passengers just yet.
Many vagina owners are also subject to a multitude of psychological factors such as sexual trauma, religious or childhood attitudes towards sex, or body dysmorphia; all of which can contribute to sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction can be triggered from mental health issues, or can be purely physical.
On the physical end of the spectrum, the majority of women will orgasm through clitoral stimulation, Dr Rachel Pauls has recently done studies confirming this. Pauls determined that the size and placement of the clitoris has a significant impact on the ability to orgasm. As women evolve however, our clitoris has been moving further and further away from our vaginal opening, and for many women it has been shrinking in size. This means that for many women, their clitoris is too small or too inconveniently located for them to be able to achieve orgasm. Some women, like yours truly, overcome this by utilising more intense sex toys. However not all women have access to the education around which toys may help them, and might not have the means or opportunity to acquire them once they do know. Given that the majority of sex toy sales for women are still phallic shaped, dildo-esque vibrators that aren’t designed with either the clitoris or the g-spot in mind, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that most women aren’t literate enough with their own anatomy or pleasure to know what toy will solve their problem.
It’s worth noting that according to a 1999 survey, around 43 per cent of women in the US have some sort of problem with their sex lives (Journal of the American Medical Association, vol 281, page 537). Current research indicates that 10% of all cis-women can’t achieve orgasm at all, and that even among those who can, they won’t be able to until later in life (mid 20s to early 30s). Additionally, a study performed in 2005 determined that genes play a significant role in women’s ability to achieve orgasm. In fact it found that 45% of the variation is genetic. In the face of these statistics, many are calling the idea of Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) utter bullshit. Elisabeth Lloyd of Indiana University in Bloomington, author of The Case of the Female Orgasm points out;
“What definition of ‘normal’ could possibly justify labelling a third of women as ‘abnormal’?”
So what now?
If you’re a vagina owner and you’re not literate about your cliterate, it’s not your fault. The odds are stacked against you by social conditioning around sex, by genetics, by the culture of academia and medicine, and by physiology. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on addressing it, we absolutely fucking should. But it’s also important not to place blame or pressure around women who are unable to orgasm.
For some women, orgasms are just not a possibility, and if they’re okay with that we shouldn’t pressure them to feel differently. For those who are yet to experience an orgasm but are still actively seeking them, there is the curative process of masturbation. Masturbate mindfully; focus on nothing but your physical sensations, what feels good and where and for how long. Introduce toys and fantasies and rituals as you feel the urge, but focus primarily on what your body is telling you about your pleasure (see our article on Why Masturbation Matters for more details). It won’t happen overnight though, and the more pressure you put on yourself the more difficult it will become, so think of it as a long, intimate seduction of your vagina.
If you’re a penis owner reading this and you want to make a difference to the lives of vagina owners you sleep with, perhaps it’s time to evaluate the way you treat them in the bedroom. Do you make orgasm the end goal of all sex? Do you exclusively make your orgasm the end goal of sex? Are you putting pressure on her to climax, or to climax in a particular way? And most importantly, have you communicated with your partner about what she enjoys and what she wants? It’s okay if she doesn’t know and wants you to take the lead, but make sure that your first priority is giving her a safe space to talk about her needs and desires.
Together, we can fight the orgasm gap. We can have better conversations around pleasure. We can have better attitudes towards sex. And we can educate ourselves better around vaginal anatomy. So let’s work on this, together. I believe in us.
That is all.
You may go now.