Female Orgasms 101
Author: Sunny Rodgers, ACS
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARI SAPERSTEIN
Having Multiple Orgasms, Stop Faking Orgasms, and Solutions for Difficulty with Orgasming
In the early 19th century “hysteria” was a catch-all medical diagnosis for women that included various sexual urges. The foremost medical treatment was hysterical paroxysm – which is called an orgasm today.
What are orgasms?
Orgasms are a series of muscle contractions in the genital region accompanied by the sudden release of endorphins that produce oxytocin, which works as a natural pain reliever and can help reduce headaches and muscle aches. Oxytocin, released from the brain’s pituitary gland during orgasm, also creates intimacy and induces the feeling of love. Dopamine, a hormone produced by the hypothalamus and released in large quantities during sex and specifically orgasms, amplifies sensations of pleasure.
Orgasms can feel like uncontrollable, undulating waves of sexual pleasure that leave one feeling extremely physically relaxed. Orgasms can be both long and short, intense and discreet and as individual as the person experiencing them.
What are some of the benefits of orgasms?
Orgasms may be the Fountain of Youth. Having regular orgasms can increase your lifespan - Every time you reach orgasm your body releases DHEA. DHEA is a hormone known to boost your immune system, improve cognition, keep skin healthy and help you look younger, longer. The glow of good sex is real. Orgasms also increase estrogen in women –essential for healthy, smooth skin. Men’s orgasms release testosterone, which is the primary sex hormone in men and helps regulate healthy body functions such as sperm production, muscle strength, and sex drive.
Orgasms strengthen muscle tone in the genital and pelvic floor area, which can lead to better sex and stronger orgasms.
The Wild World of Female Orgasms
Although there has been limited research exploring female orgasms, mid-20th-century sex researchers Masters and Johnson’s work focused on the biology of sex and how bodies respond to sexual activity. Their books, Human Sexual Response (published in 1966) and Human Sexual Inadequacy (published in 1970), brought public attention to female sexuality. Via their clinical studies and direct observation of female sexual responses, Masters and Johnson proved that some women can have multiple orgasms.
In 2005, Elisabeth Lloyd, an Affiliated Faculty Scholar at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, analyzed 33 separate studies focusing on orgasms which had been done over an 80-year period and determined that 75% of women do not consistently orgasm during intercourse. This percentage lessens when hands and/or sex toys are added.
A 2015 study shared that over 36% of women require clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm, and an additional 36% stated orgasms felt better when they were accompanied by clitoral stimulation.
The Orgasm Gap (2017) was a study conducted by Durex in the Netherlands. Their research showed that only 28% of men do not always climax during sex. Women are not as simple when it comes to experiencing an orgasm during intercourse. The research described in Elisabeth Lloyd and Kim Wallens’ Female Sexual Arousal: Genital Anatomy and Orgasm in Intercourse found that the further away the clitoris is from a woman’s vaginal opening, the less likely it is for her to have an orgasm during penetrative intercourse. This is referred to as C-V distance.
Princess Marie Bonaparte, great-grandniece of Napoleon Bonaparte, suffered from frigidity and spent many years researching C-V distance. She published her results in 1924 under the pseudonym A. E. Narjani in the medical journal Revue Medicale de Bruxelles. Her findings persuaded her to have two surgeries to relocate her clitoris and move it closer to her vagina in an attempt to cure her lack of response to sexual arousal. While the surgeries did not bode well for her sexual response, her studies found that 1” is the optimal C-V distance for experiencing the most orgasms during penetrative sex.
Is the clitoris intertwined with orgasms?
The clitoris is the female sexual organ that is often called the female “penis”. Like its male counterpart, the clitoris has erectile tissues that respond during periods of arousal, filling with blood and becoming sensitive to touch. Much like an iceberg, only the tip of the clitoris extends outside of the female body, while most of its mass extends inside the body and can measure three to five inches in total length.
The clitoris continues to grow throughout your life–it has the potential to be twice as large when you enter menopause then it was when you reached puberty.
The primary purpose of the clitoris is to provide sexual pleasure. For many women, clitoral stimulation is the only way to experience an orgasm.
A Healthy Clitoris is a Happy Clitoris
A clitoris can fuse its’ hood closed, withdraw up into the body or become less sensitive when it hasn’t been used for an extended period. The medical term for this is clitoral atrophy or clitoral hood fusion. If not properly stimulated to keep blood flowing, clitoral function can be impacted. Being sexually active, solo or with partners, naturally keeps the clitoris healthy and functioning properly. The best prevention is manual stimulation of the clitoris at least every other month to increase blood flow to the spongy erectile tissue for optimum sexual health.
The clitoral hood can also become crusted with non-use. To deter this from happening gently wash genitalia well twice each week with mild soap and warm water, remembering to rinse well to avoid possible soap irritation. My own dermatologist has recommended I use the same gentle facial soap for both my face and my genitals.
Medical practitioners didn’t include the clitoris in the 1948 edition of Gray’s Anatomy, a classic medical textbook, because they didn’t know what it was or its’ function! The clitoris was added back into Gray’s Anatomy in the 28th Edition in 1966.
There has been little in-depth research given to the clitoris, even though it is the most sensitive area of the vulva with over 8,000 sensory nerve endings. In January 2008 when Odile Buisson MD, Pierre Foldes MD, and Bernard-Jean Paniel MHD published their results of Sonography of the Clitoris it was the first time a 3D image of the entire clitoris was seen.
What is clitourethrovaginal and how may it affect orgasms?
While many feel clitoral stimulation is at the heart of orgasms, some studies are now linking orgasms to anatomical interactions between the clitoris, urethra, and anterior vaginal wall, hence clitourethrovaginal. This theory was discovered during research of the Gräfenberg spot
(G-spot) and states that it is the synergy between all the anatomical areas that allow for an orgasm to happen. The Department of Systems Medicine at the University of Rome, the Center for Multidisciplinary Ultrasound: Gynecology in France, and the University Center for Health Science at the University of Guadalajara theorized that the vagina is not a passive organ but a highly dynamic structure with an active role in overall sexual arousal leading to orgasm.
What does an orgasm feel like?
Every woman’s orgasm explanation will differ. Sometimes orgasms are short and intense, like an electrical charge. Other times orgasms are lengthy and rolling, like waves of pulsation and pleasure crashing between your legs. Orgasms can be centralized to intimate regions or extend to your fingertips and toes. Some women can feel their vaginal canals contract over and over during their orgasms. Other women have a head rush as their orgasm climaxes.
What if you can’t tell if you’ve had an orgasm?
Some women I’ve talked to have asked for my help in determining whether or not they’ve ever experienced an orgasm. Stories are shared with exaggeration about orgasms or women see orgasms acted out in films and suspect that the over-the-top feelings that they’re hearing about or witnessing cannot possibly be what they’ve experienced.
Is it possible to not know if you’ve experienced an orgasm? Absolutely.
I advocate learning about your sexual anatomy and ways to masturbate. With my clients, I always start with a good session of conversational sharing to find out what exactly they’re experiencing in their lives. Once the physical attributes of an orgasm are explained, it’s sometimes easier to determine if a woman has experienced one, or not.
Physical Attributes of an Orgasmic Response:
- Increase in Heart Rate and Blood Flow
- Increase in Muscle Tension
- Skin Flushes
- The Intense Feeling of Release
- Followed by Relaxation
- *Yes, it will feel really GOOD
In French, “orgasm” translates as “la petite mort” or “the little death” due to the brief loss of consciousness that can accompany an orgasm.
Some women’s telltale signs are more subtle and it could take a few orgasmic experiences before she figures out that those are sexual climaxes she’s experiencing.
Women Fake Orgasms
For many women faking orgasms is a little white lie. Sure, you tell your partner you enjoy salsa dancing, big dinners, and that you orgasm every time during sexual activities. This deceit is coming from a good place. As many women have been conditioned by society to people-please, they often don’t want their partners to feel like they can’t provide them with an orgasm. A couple of moans later and they feel they’ve helped create a bond with their partners and have also allowed their partners to feel better about their sexual prowess.
When faking an orgasm becomes common practice true sexual satisfaction with a partner can be difficult. It’s not an easy conversation to come clean about faking but it is one that can make sex better.
Communication is key. I do not recommend approaching this conversation with the intent of stating your partner has been doing something wrong this entire time. Come from a place of wanting their help to make things better between you sexually. Often, they’re shocked to learn their partners already know they’ve been faking it but weren’t sure what to do. You’ll be surprised at how much fun sex play can be once you’re both on the same page about reaching orgasms and sexual goals together.
I have encountered women who thought that because they couldn’t reach orgasm during intercourse that there was something wrong with them. Just knowing that 2/3rd’s of women don’t orgasm during intercourse should take some of the pressure off.
To reach orgasm, everyone always says – clitoral stimulation, clitoral stimulation, clitoral stimulation. That may be true but there are a couple of additional ways to help women orgasm easier and make their climaxes even stronger.
To increase the intensity of a woman’s orgasm I suggest squeezing their pelvic floor muscles during their preferred type of masturbation. Also referred to as Kegel muscles, pelvic floor muscles are the layer of muscles that support pelvic organs, such as the bladder, bowel, and uterus in women. To exercise these muscles, squeeze these muscles, hold for a few seconds, and release. Repeat ten times in a row for maximum results and incorporate these exercises into your daily routine. Hint: If you squeeze your pelvic muscles to stop your urine mid-stream, you’ve isolated your pelvic floor muscles.
Squeezing pelvic floor muscles during solo sex will draw more blood to the clitoris and vagina, making this area more sensitive during masturbation – allowing for more intense orgasms. Flexing and releasing Kegel muscles during partner sex play will improve circulation, pleasurable friction and sensation in this intimate area as well, which can help women achieve orgasms during penetrative sex.
You could also try “rocking,” or repeatedly lift your pelvis over and over during a masturbation session while laying on your back. This action mimics the thrusting motion of intercourse and can help you have a stronger orgasm.
I always recommend using plenty of lubricant during sex play and solo stimulation. Many women only use lubrication during sex and don’t use it during masturbation. Applying lubrication will make fingers or pleasure products glide more smoothly and fingers will be able to move faster as well.
One last word of advice – Take Your Time! According to Masters and Johnson’s extensive research into the four phases of human sexual response, it was shown that it can take approximately 20 minutes for the female body respond to sexual pleasure – so give yourself plenty of time and don’t be discouraged. Just like anything in life, practice makes perfect. Be consciously present in your sexual experiences and know that your orgasm will be worth the wait.
Most men I speak with share how jealous they are of women’s orgasms because of how much they vary and that some women can experience multiple orgasms.
While it does take women an average of 20 minutes of foreplay for their bodies to become ready for sexual penetration, once a woman's body is in the mood, incredible things can happen. After experiencing an orgasm, women’s bodies are perfectly capable of having a second orgasm within a minute or two of the first one. Most often the easiest way to enjoy a second, third or fourth orgasm simultaneously is to use a different type of stimulation from the first orgasm. So, if the first orgasm is via oral sex, anal sex or vaginal penetration, using hands or a sex toy to stimulate to the next orgasm(s) will allow the body to respond quickly.
Difficulty Reaching Orgasm
Anorgasmia is the medical term for regular difficulty reaching orgasm after ample sexual stimulation. Female sexual dysfunction is the inability for a woman to become physically aroused during sexual activity. Female sexual arousal disorder (FSAD) is the inability to attain or maintain sexual arousal until the completion of sexual activity.
What can be done?
I find that when I assign women self-love exercises to enhance self-esteem, reaching orgasm can become easier. Sometimes orgasms truly are about self-love and acceptance.
Many women will experience some type of concern regarding sex over their lifetime. Women’s sexual responses are both delicate and complex, and can be affected by medical conditions, hormone levels, psychological issues and even social influences. There are physicians, therapists, coaches, and medical providers that specialize in a wide array of sexual health areas that can assist. Planned Parenthood offers a free, anonymous Sexual Health Counseling & Referral Hotline staffed by trained health center staff. There are other global sources that provide sexual health help, such as Sexual Health Scotland and Australia’s Sexual Health Quarters.
Most Common Sexual Issues
Low sexual desire is the most common sexual problem, and one that is often stress-related, which is an upcoming topic I'll be covering.
Inadequate vaginal lubrication is the second most common sexual problem. This is due to a woman’s body not actively responding to sexual arousal and stimuli. A woman’s body responds to arousal with increased blood flow to the genitals, which leads to swelling and natural lubrication. If this doesn’t happen, sex play can be painful. I recommend using a good lubricant and lots of it. I suggest incorporating lubricant into foreplay as well and stopping during sex play to reapply often.
As women age, the vaginal canal develops less natural lubrication and vaginal walls can thin. There are vaginal hormone creams that can help ease these symptoms.
Recently CBD and cannabis-infused products are gaining traction as confident cures for sexual pain relief – another upcoming topic I'll be writing about.
Sometimes, there may be psychological circumstances holding someone back from achieving orgasm. This can be past trauma, religious upbringing, or a negative self-image. In these occurrences try reaching out to your physician, a therapist or an online resource like those mentioned above for guidance.
I tried Female Viagra hoping for a Better Orgasm
If it’s sexually-related, I feel obliged to try it so I can be better prepared to help others that may be seeking advice. So, of course, when Female Viagra, Flibanserin, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), I jumped on the chance to see what effect it would have on me since I had been informed that it could cause very intense orgasms.
Flibanserin is supposed to provide women with satisfying sexual events and reduce distress related to sexual desire. It gave me an intense headache. Walter E. Brackelmanns, MD, President and co-founder of AACAST (American Association of Couples and Sex Therapists) and Director of the Sex Therapy Training Program at UCLA, explained to me that Female Viagra had in fact, worked for me because headaches are the most common side effect with any type of Viagra as the medication increases blood flow and with it, the nitric oxide that causes headaches.
I'M A MAN AND HAVE TROUBLE ORGASMING. WHAT CAN I DO?
There’s a lot of pressure and stress in life today that can affect sexual pleasure. Try to relax and be consciously in the moment. This will help you to step away from negativity or overwhelming elements that could be hindering your performance.
Next, be sure to engage your largest sexual organ, your brain. This is where your sex drive stems from and visual or auditory stimulation will excite the mind like no other source of stimulant.
There are medications that could also be a cause. Try speaking to your doctor about your symptoms.
Non-ejaculation, or difficulty with ejaculation and orgasm, can develop in males at any age and may be what you’re experiencing. A consultation with your physician should be able to help guide you through this.
I CAN ONLY ORGASM USING A VIBRATOR WHICH IS CAUSING PROBLEMS WITH MY PARTNER.
Using a vibrator is an extension of personal, manual stimulation. Please share with your partner that according to a 2017 study, only 18% of women reported that intercourse alone was sufficient for orgasm. In addition, a study by several medical academics found that vibrator use among women was for to be associated with health-promoting behaviors and positive sexual function.
A study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy concluded that women need hands-on touching to reach climax. Perhaps spending time with your partner learning more about each other’s bodies and arousal responses would be a great bonding practice and help strengthen the sexual bond between you. Also, using a vibrator as a foreplay tool could be a good compromise to discuss.
HOW DO I GET PAST ONLY HAVING CLITORAL ORGASMS?
I advocate learning more about your anatomy and to explore your body to determine your undiscovered erogenous zones. In my next The Sex Ed essay I’ll be sharing different types of orgasms and how to achieve them. I hope that you will be inspired.
Every body is unique. For penetrative sex, being on top so you can grind your clitoris against your partner is good for providing additional direct stimulation that will help bring about an orgasm. For masturbation, lying on your back with your legs bent (knees in the air) allows for easy rocking motions that have been associated with aiding in orgasms.
IS THERE AN OPTIMAL POSITION TO HELP ME ACHIEVE ORGASM? I’VE HEARD OF “SEX PILLOWS” BUT AM NOT SURE WHAT THEIR FUNCTION IS.
Liberator makes a variety of sex furniture. While I cannot speak to the shapes of furniture and pillows aiding in orgasm, I can attest to them allowing for greater penetration and multiple angles of sexual positions that can lead to enhanced pleasure.
IF I'VE NEVER HAD MULTIPLE ORGASMS, CAN I LEARN HOW TO?
After experiencing an orgasm, women’s bodies are perfectly capable of having a second orgasm within a minute or two of the first one. Most often the easiest way to enjoy a second, third or fourth orgasm simultaneously is to use a different type of stimulation from the first orgasm. So, if the first orgasm is via oral sex, anal sex or vaginal penetration, using hands or a sex toy to stimulate to the next orgasm(s) will allow the body to respond quickly.
Start slowly after each orgasm and build up the intensity of the stimulation all over again. If you can edge off or delay your orgasm it will be easier to follow up with another orgasm because of the sexual tension you build up.
HOW MANY KINDS OF ORGASMS ARE THERE?
I’ll be covering 14 types of orgasms - You’ll want to try them all!