Female Orgasm – HealthyWomen

Emily Jamea, Ph.D., is a sex therapist, author and podcast host. You can find her here each month to share her latest thoughts about sex.

The female orgasm has long been a topic of intrigue and — unfortunately — confusion. Despite being a pleasurable experience, many women or people with female genitals find it elusive, especially during partnered sex. This complexity stems from many factors, including physiological differences, societal expectations and interpersonal influences. However, with understanding and exploration, women can learn to embrace and enhance their orgasmic experiences.

What happens during female orgasm?

While some women can have a nipple orgasm, anal orgasm or vaginal orgasm, the absolute most reliable way women climax is through external clitoral stimulation. Why? Because the clitoris is like a mini penis (or maybe the penis is a large clitoris) and most of the sensation is in the glans at the top. Just as people with a penis are less likely to climax if only the base of their penis is stroked, most people with a clitoris need adequate stimulation of the glans of the clitoris.

Let me explain. When a fetus is in utero, the genitals are undifferentiated until 8-10 weeks. At that point, tissue either develops into a penis or a clitoris. (In rare instances, the genitals remain ambiguous.) Additionally, there is other tissue that either becomes the labia majora or the scrotum. As sex educator and author Emily Nagoski says, “We all have the same parts, just organized in different ways.” Unfortunately, in heterosexual couples, the focus is often on penile-vaginal penetration, which is a great way for biological males to climax, but not so much for biological females. This is in part why women’s orgasms have been left behind during heterosexual erotic encounters.

The other difference between biological male and biological female orgasms is that people with penises ejaculate, a process that is required for procreation. Women, on the other hand, do not have to have an orgasm in order to get pregnant. Unfortunately, nature gave people with penises the upper hand here. While there is some debate, most agree that aside from sexual pleasure, there is no physiological or evolutionary need for the female orgasm. This means that women, compared to men, usually have to learn how to have orgasms.

Read: The Science Behind Orgasms: What’s Going on When You’re Getting It On >>

Society and culture

Society doesn’t have the best track record of being a champion of female sexual pleasure. Culture plays a profound role in shaping attitudes, beliefs and behaviors surrounding female sexuality and, as a result, the experience of orgasm.

Cultural taboos and negative religious influences have contributed to stigma surrounding female sexual pleasure. Many religious traditions have specific teachings and norms regarding sexuality, often promoting modesty, abstinence before marriage and traditional gender roles. These teachings can instill feelings of shame or guilt surrounding sexual pleasure, making it difficult for women to embrace their desires and enjoy orgasm. Virginity pledges that exist as part of purity culture are largely focused on women. This leads to feelings of sexuality being a commodity that can be used up, leading to feelings of shame and guilt.

Read: Why Some Women Don’t Have Orgasms >>

Double standards surrounding male and female sexuality are deep and pervasive. Women who are “too” sexual are shamed compared to men who are praised for the exact same behavior. This discrepancy can create pressure on women to conform to restrictive sexual norms and inhibit their exploration of pleasure. Throughout history, women have received messages that men only want them for sexual pleasure or that sex is “for” a man, which completely diminishes the fact that women have an interest in sexual pleasure too.

Finally, the media further perpetuates unrealistic stereotypes, reinforcing misconceptions about women’s bodies and sexual desires. The typical Hollywood sex scene depicts women reaching climax (usually at the same time as their partner) within a matter of seconds, a reality that exists only on the silver screen. This can contribute to feelings of inadequacy or insecurity and hinder a woman’s ability to experience orgasm.

Personal and relationship issues

Unfortunately, sex ed is still lacking here in the U.S. and in many parts of the world. Many women cannot even accurately identify the parts of their genitals. Many feel uncomfortable looking at their genitals in the mirror or touching themselves with their hands. This inhibition about one’s body blocks the confidence and surrender necessary for pleasure.

When women don’t feel comfortable with their own bodies or the appearance or function of their genitals, it’s unrealistic to expect them to feel comfortable with their partners. Unfortunately, many men (due to the very issues I’ve outlined above) struggle to bring women to climax. Either they think women should be able to orgasm from penetration alone or they lack the skills to touch women in a way that builds arousal and pleasure.

But, there is hope!

Here are 5 tips to increase your chances of having an orgasm alone or with a partner.

1. Minimize stress and practice mindfulness. Since orgasms don’t happen as easily for women or biological females, people with a clitoris have to focus more intently in order to get there. Create an environment that makes it easy to relax. When intrusive thoughts try to work their way in, bring your attention back to the pleasurable sensations in your body.

Read: Good Sex with Emily Jamea: How Can Mindfulness Improve Sex? >>

2. Self-exploration. Experiment with different kinds of touch. Begin by massaging your whole vulva with your palm. It can feel uncomfortable to put too much direct stimulation on the tip of the clitoris before arousal has adequately built. Experiment with touching yourself both internally and externally to see whether G-spot stimulation adds anything to your sexual arousal. Finally, experiment with different vibrators and toys until you find one that works for you. Variations in weight, material and frequency can vary greatly.

3. Fantasize. While sensual touch goes a long way, don’t underestimate the power of the mind. Fantasies are always accessible, safe and free! If you struggle to identify a fantasy you like, try reading erotica or watching ethical porn (there are many sites now that are designed for women by women). Erotica (both internal and external) goes a long way in enhancing arousal, which makes it easier to reach orgasm.

4. Communicate with your partner. As my colleague Logan Levkoff says, “There are no bad lovers, just bad communicators.” Women need to learn how to explicitly explain (and ideally demonstrate) how they like to be touched. Women are more likely to reach orgasm when they spend more time kissing, after full body massage and through oral sex.

5. Experiment. Try different positions that allow easier access to the clitoris (either for you to touch or for your partner to touch). While stepping too far outside your comfort zone can inhibit arousal, the right amount of novelty can drastically enhance it. Collaborate with your partner to come up with new things that are likely to heighten arousal. The added benefit of novelty is that it enhances focus. When we’re faced with something new, we are more likely to concentrate on it.

The female orgasm is a complex and multifaceted experience influenced by physiological, psychological and societal factors. While it may be elusive for some women, understanding your body, exploring desires and cultivating open dialogue with partners can enhance sexual pleasure and make orgasms more attainable. Ultimately, every woman deserves to experience the joy of sexual pleasure and orgasm.

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