The female orgasm: things you didn't know that are fact-checked by science!
Updated: Apr 23, 2022
Pleasure and sexual desire are still quite a taboo topic in many countries and cultures, especially when it comes to the feminine side of it. Luckily, now we know that there is nothing shameful or bad in enjoying your sexuality as long as it doesn’t hurt others, no matter your gender or sexual orientation. The first step to enjoy yourself is to stay well informed and know what are true facts and what are just myths promoted by outdated old-school beliefs.
To nobody’s surprise, the pleasure of women (that were assigned female at birth) has been poorly managed throughout human history. Back in the middle ages, they gave a lot of attention to it for the wrong reasons: they believed that the only way a woman could get pregnant was if she had an orgasm, so husbands were quite devoted to their ladies’ enjoyment. Later, doctors started considering women’s “excessive” desire as a medical condition (hysteria) that required treatment (accidentally creating the sex toy industry).
The world didn’t have true scientific research about the pleasure of HALF of the population until 65 years ago. “Masters of sex” Virginia Johnson and William Masters pioneered in the field of female sexuality back in 1957, when they started to measure physiological changes (like blood pressure), in the bodies of people engaging in sexual intercourse and self-stimulation practices. Not only they became inspiring material for books and TV shows (“Masters of sex” on Amazon Prime was based on the book by Thomas Maie with the same title), they also paved the way for all the research to come: nowadays, an online search of the keywords “female orgasm” leads to more than 4000 scientific articles on the topic.
We have come a long way, so keep reading to find out all the facts that scientists have debunked or proven to be right about how women experience pleasure.
Different types of orgasm: is the G-spot even real?
In their classic EPOR model (Excitement-Plateau-Orgasm-Resolution) of human sexual response from 1966, Masters and Johnson described three main sexual response styles in women depending on
duration and frequency
which body parts are stimulated
Other factors that can impact the “style” of orgasm is how comfortable a woman is with her own body and her sexual partner(s), how much understanding she has of her own sexuality, and even the context of the activity (masturbation vs. partnered, routine vs. aroused, casual hookup vs. stable relationship).
We all probably have heard of the “vaginal” vs. “clitoral” orgasms. In theory, external stimulation of the female genitals (clitoris) gives different type of pleasure than the one experienced during penetration (vagina). Thanks to scientific studies, now we know that even the “vaginal” orgasm is usually just another part of the clitoris, however internal, being stimulated indirectly.
The majority of the clitoris is an internal structure, with the "glans" and its hood being the only parts that can be seen and stimulated from the outside. The internal parts of the clitoris are big and surround the vaginal canal and the urethra.
When properly aroused, the clitoral or vestibular bulbs, that are internal and quite big, receive much more blood and get bigger, just like the penis in men. During penetration, the vaginal wall can get in contact with these bulbs because they are swollen, therefore giving clitoral stimulation from the inside and the possibility of “vaginal” orgasms. Yes, we are talking about the famous Gräfenberg (G) spot, which is not a specific structure of the female body but a sexologic reality for many women.
Orgasm types that a woman can experience are much more complex than just the part of the clitoris that receives stimulation. Basically, it depends on what each woman considers to be a “whole” orgasm. Orgasms don’t have to have to come from only one body part, and can include (or only depend on) extra-genital parts like lips, nipples, neck, or toes. The type of orgasm can change for the same woman throughout her life, depending on her experience with different types of stimulation, partners, and contexts. Some women experience orgasms from penetration, some can only reach climax if there is external stimulation of the clitoris. Some (very lucky) women can have orgasms even without any physical stimulation!! Also, external circumstances such as stress levels and body image can negatively impact a woman’s ability to orgasm. So if you are not able to reach an orgasm every time, don’t panic: maybe you are just too stressed out, be kind to yourself and don’t force it.
Our conclusion is: there are as many types of orgasms as women’s experiences, and all of them are great as long as they give pleasure!
Why did evolution give women the ability to have orgasms?
After discarding the medieval idea that orgasm was necessary for women to get pregnant, the function of female orgasm has puzzled scientists for decades. Generally, evolution can promote some traits (like the physiological ability of your body to orgasm) if they are beneficial for either reproduction or survival. For example, orgasm-induced ejaculation in men is necessary for reproduction. Sometimes, however, a function develops as a by-product of something else, and it doesn’t really give any particular evolutionary advantage. The debate about female orgasm in one group or the other is still ongoing and several hypotheses have tried to explain its evolutionary purpose. You might have heard about some of them, such as having or not an orgasm determining whether the baby will be a boy or a girl, or the sperm-sucking role of uterine contractions induced by orgasms. The latter is actually widely accepted even though there is no convincing experimental evidence that supports it. In summary, the evolutionary origin of the female orgasm is still unknown, but we have discarded a few ideas on the way.
So what myths have been debunked by science?
Female orgasm is not an “unnecessary” version of the male orgasm
It is impossible that evolution first created the male orgasm for reproductive reasons and then, that the female orgasm was a happy coincidence. During pregnancy, the fetus is, by default, always a female, and just after a wave of certain hormones it becomes a male. The gonads, genitals, and brain parts responsible for orgasms are already there (in their premature form) by the time the fetus becomes a “male”. If their orgasm has a function, ours probably has one too, but we don't know it yet.
The uterus does not "suck up" the sperm
A widely extended theory to explain why female orgasms were "selected" during evolution is that the orgasm-induced contractions create a suction of the sperm and facilitate the fertilization of the egg. However, the science behind it was pretty bad. The experiments were performed on sexually unaroused women that were not experiencing orgasms, but they were injected with oxytocin (the brain hormone that induces the contractions both during the orgasm and during delivery of a baby). This is not the same as experiencing the whole physiological response of an orgasm, so the conclusions they extracted were not based on good information. Also, women can have orgasms before, during, after, or in absence of male ejaculation, and evolution rarely selects a function with so little chances to work.
Your orgasm does not help you keep the sperm of your prefferred partner
Another popular theory in the 90’s was that the orgasm-induced contractions were supposed to retain inside the sperm of the man that induced such an orgasm. This would increase the “bonding” with that partner and not other male partners that were not able to induce orgasms, and therefore selecting the winner for having children with him. Those studies didn’t have the proper control groups and their statistical analysis was terrible, so once again, the science that backed this up was bad science.
In general, and as far as we know, the female body didn’t evolve to have orgasms for reproductive purposes, but it makes women very happy! One big hypothesis that is being currently studied is whether having orgasms just improves overall health in women, which could explain why evolution selected it.
Ejaculation is also possible for women!
The porn industry has made the term “squirting” quite a familiar one for a lot of us. It refers to the ability of some women to release a lot of transparent liquid during or after experiencing an orgasm, which obviously is usually compared to men’s ejaculation of sperm (although definitely not the same, because squirt comes from the bladder). Some women can ejaculate, though, a very similar liquid to semen that comes from the Skene glands, it just doesn't have sperm cells! Science is absolutely clueless of what these different fluids are for, but we know for sure that the classic "squirting = semen" is not true.
Is there something wrong with you if you don’t reach an orgasm?
The short answer is NO, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you just because you can’t reach an orgasm every time you engage in sexual activity. Of course, if you experience pain or any other unpleasant sensation, you should consult it with your doctor. Once health issues are discarded, you can look at other factors such as your stress levels and workload, your body image, and your overall mental health.
First of all, even though orgasms are fun, your body can experience pleasure without reaching that climax. Sexual activities can be pleasant without having orgasms and focusing on reaching it can distract you from actually enjoying yourself through the whole thing. But we should also remember that hormones and other changing things, like the quality of your sleep, also have an impact on the way you experience pleasure, so you shouldn’t expect your body to react the exact same way every time. For example, sexual satisfaction is linked to a woman’s perception of her own body: concerns about body weight, physical condition, a negative self-perception of sexual attractiveness and thoughts about how her body looks during sex can make it much more difficult to reach an orgasm or consider a sexual activity as “satisfactory”.
Several studies have shown that high levels of stress, especially when they are sustained for long periods of time, have a negative impact on the ability of a woman to feel aroused and experience an orgasm. If you are going through something like this, looking into the source of that stress might be the best solution!
Finally, the best predictor of women’s ability to reach orgasms is their knowledge about themselves. It is important to know what feels good and what doesn’t, not only for self-stimulation but also to communicate with your sexual partner. The best advice science can give you is: explore yourself, try different angles, toys, postures, stimulation types (external vs. internal, alone vs. in company, visual or auditory extra stimulation, etc.), be patient, and focus on enjoying! #getready
Levin, R. J. (2011). Can the controversy about the putative role of the human female orgasm in sperm transport be settled with our current physiological knowledge of coitus? The Journal of Sexual Medicine,8:1566–1578. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.02162.x
Pfaus, J. G., Quintana, G. R., Mac Cionnaith, C., & Parada, M. (2016). The whole versus the sum of some of the parts: toward resolving the apparent controversy of clitoral versus vaginal orgasms. Socioaffective neuroscience & psychology, 6, 32578. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v6.32578
Salama S, Boitrelle F, Gauquelin A, Malagrida L, Thiounn N, Desvaux P. (2015) Nature and origin of "squirting" in female sexuality. *The Journal of Sexual Medicine,*12(3):661-6. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsm.12799.
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