Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
There are so many myths about orgasms. Orgasms feel different to everyone and are different each time. No two orgasms are the same. For cisgendered women, what you experience in orgasm depends on the context you’re in.
Context includes the following: the method of stimulation, whether you have a partner present, the state of your relationship, where you are in your menstrual cycle, your mood, your age, your health status, your stress levels and a whole range of other factors. Female orgasm is far more complicated than male orgasm.
The main thing most cisgender women describe about an orgasm is a “sense of completion”, a sense that you’ve crossed a threshold, that something has ended.
Orgasms are the sudden release of sexual tension. The context you’re in totally impacts how that release feels. Other things which contribute to context are: your relationship with your body, your internal states, your relationship with your partner(s), your social, religious and cultural environments. That’s why some orgasms feel amazing and others don’t. It’s mostly about whether you liked it or wanted it. This has nothing to do with the myths about orgasms that many of us believe.
There’s wanting, liking and learning
This is important to know because stimulation of your genital area may produce an orgasm even if you don’t like the person or the context. For example, people who have been sexually abused or raped often feel confusion, shame and guilt about having experienced orgasm – despite not having pleasure, desire or wanting the sexual touch.
The scientific name for this split between what your body does and how you feel about it is “arousal nonconcordance”. Watch Dr. Emily Nagoski’s TED talk about this very important subject. Her book “Come As You Are” is an excellent sex education resource for women and their partners. It teaches you about female anatomy, arousal, pleasure, eroticism and orgasm. She explains the importance of good emotional connection and good communication as necessary skills for a satisfying sexual relationship.
Many people fake orgasms
Pretending orgasm is common, and is reported by both women and men. Recent research shows that 76% of women and 41% of men admitted to faking orgasms at least once. And men often believe they can tell when a female partner is having a real orgasm. They are often wrong. Watch this famous funny scene from the movie “When Harry Met Sally” where Sally shows how realistically women can fake an orgasm.
Why is there so much faking between sexual partners? What underlying issues could be addressed with the help of accurate education about human sexuality? What’s going on here?
The fact is that people lie about sex – a lot. Lying about sex happens because there is a huge lack of accurate sex education and knowledge. This leads to many myths about orgasms, myths about sex, and myths about porn. Most porn is great entertainment, but it’s definitely not sex education.
Over 80% of women don’t orgasm from penetration alone
Due to lack of accurate sex education, many people, especially those under 30 whose sex education comes mostly from porn, don’t know that over 80% of women don’t orgasm from penetration alone.
Did you read that correctly? Most women, over 80% of us, don’t orgasm from penetration alone. Women need some kind of clitoral stimulation. One reason why some women can orgasm with penetration is a shorter distance between the clitoris and the vagina. The closer the clitoris is to the vagina, the likelier it is to be stimulated on vaginal penetration.
Orgasm from penetration is really about anatomical structure. Even though all women have the same basic anatomical parts, they’re arranged in different ways. Women’s genitals are as different as our faces. No two vulvas (the correct name for women’s genitals) look alike.
It’s normal not to orgasm during intercourse
It’s perfectly normal for women not to have orgasms during intercourse. Most women need direct clitoral stimulation to experience orgasm. You don’t get direct clitoral stimulation during intercourse because the clitoris is located outside the vagina and several centimetres above it, under the top join of the vaginal lips. The anatomical name for lips is labia (singular) and labium (plural). Penetration simply doesn’t give enough direct clitoral stimulation to allow most women to become aroused enough to have orgasms.
Sadly, many people believe that there’s something wrong with a woman if she doesn’t experience orgasm when she has penetrative sex. What porn shows you is acting and fantasy, not the reality of women’s pleasure. The key to most women’s erotic pleasure comes not from the penis and intercourse, but from direct clitoral stimulation, using the fingers, palm, tongue, or sex toys.
The clitoris is anatomically like the penis
The most important centre for sexual pleasure in women is the clitoris, not the vagina. Many of the parts of the clitoris are similar to that of the penis, yet they’re slightly different in shape and size. This image shows the similarities between the clitoris and the penis. Only the tip or glans of the clitoris is outside the body. The rest of the clitoris is inside the body and includes two shafts (crura) which are actually about 10cm long.
Females and males are anatomically similar, just different in size. The clitoris is the anatomical equivalent of a penis. If a penis is not directly stimulated in some way, orgasms are unlikely to happen. The same goes for women. If the clitoris is not directly stimulated in some way, orgasms are unlikely to happen. For any men reading this, can you imagine having a satisfying sexual experience without your penis being adequately stimulated?
The pleasure gap
Dr. Laurie Mintz is another excellent resource of information about the pleasure gap between women and men. This pleasure gap is taught to us by mainstream media, movies, and porn. Due to this misinformation, we’ve been thinking about sex all wrong. Apart from masturbation, vaginal penetration is how men most reliably achieve orgasm. But women don’t orgasm this way.
She says we’ve separated our most reliable route to orgasm—clitoral stimulation—from how we feel we should orgasm—penetration. Her book “Becoming Cliterate” argues why orgasm equality matters. And she teaches you how to get orgasm equality. There’s a chapter in her book called “Cliteracy for Him” to educate people without a clitoris.
Only 2% of women pleasure themselves only by putting something in their vaginas. 12% focus externally while sometimes or always putting something in their vaginas while they masturbate. As Dr. Laurie Mintz quotes Elisabeth Lloyd: “The most striking thing about female masturbation is how likely it is to produce orgasm and how little it resembles, mechanically, the stimulation provided by intercourse”.
How to unlearn myths about orgasms
- If you’re a cisgender woman, grab a mirror and look at your vulva. Understand how you are put together. Learn to accept and value your unique look. Everyone’s sex parts and bodies are different, they’re not symmetrical, and that’s normal. There is infinite variation, no two genitals are alike – just like our faces.
- Learn how to self-pleasure. Achieving orgasm through masturbation is the most reliable way to learn what is pleasurable for you. It’s often easier to reach orgasm from self-stimulation, and it can be a sexy addition while being intimate with a partner.
- Women take on average 25-30 minutes of direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm. A vibrator cuts that time in half. Because on average, people with a penis take between 3-5 minutes of penile stimulation to orgasm, there is a mistaken idea that clitoral stimulation is not necessary or that 5 minutes is long enough.
- Learn to be mindfully present to your body and its sensations. That means not focusing on how you look or smell or sound to your partner. Focus on what feels good for you. Get out of your head and into your body. Take your time. You have the rest of your life to experiment with orgasms.
- Your orgasm is your responsibility, not your partner’s. You can decide to have or not have an orgasm. If you decide to have one, be prepared to make that happen for yourself or in collaboration with your partner. This prevents anxiety, performance pressure, and disappointment. Assuming control over someone else’s sexual response or assigning control of your sexual response to someone else is bound to create complications, says sex therapist and educator Martha Kauppi.
- Make sure that you get the same type of stimulation during self- and partner-sex.
- Learn to communicate and tell your partner what you’d like. Learn assertive communication skills, like being clear and direct about what feels good and what doesn’t. This is difficult for many people and takes practice and time.
- Watch this free video on The Ultimate Guide to the Clitoris by sex educator Paul Joannides.
- Go to a sex toy shop, in person or online, and investigate how to choose a vibrator. Explore toys, lingerie, or erotic literature.
- During sexual activity focus on connection, pleasure and having fun rather than on outcomes like orgasm, or penetration. This leads not only to better sex, but a stronger relationship with your body and your partner.
- Seek help from an adequately trained sex therapist. Make sure your therapist is sex positive, has learnt about healthy sexuality and is familiar with common sexual practices.
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