One topic that is conspicuously absent in virtually all sex education courses in the United States is the female orgasm. As a result, it is perhaps not surprising that it continues to be somewhat of a mystery to a large segment of the population.
We are expected to learn about the female orgasm almost entirely on our own, but it can be difficult to find reliable sources of information on it. And if you’re using porn as your how-to guide, think again. So what do you really need to know about the female orgasm? Here are five essential scientific facts to get you started.
1. Longer penises don’t necessarily help women reach orgasm.
With respect to penis size, bigger isn’t always better, at least when it comes to women’s ability to reach orgasm. A 2012 study from The Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that a longer than average penis does not increase the likelihood of orgasm for most women. In a different study, when asked to select the ideal penis size for a partner, most women choose a size that was only slightly above average.
There may be a biological reason behind women’s penile preferences: research finds that the average vaginal depth is pretty close to the average penis length.
2. Multiple orgasms are real, and most women can probably have them.
After reaching orgasm, most men experience a refractory period, a length of time during which no additional orgasms are possible, regardless of how much stimulation is provided. This period can last anywhere from several minutes to several hours and makes multiple orgasms a rarity in men (although some research suggests that guys may be able to teach themselves to become multiply orgasmic).
By contrast, most women lack a refractory period and can enter another orgasm without much (or any) delay, as long as sexual stimulation continues. More than half a century ago, Masters and Johnson documented multiple orgasms in women, reporting that many “enjoy a minimum of three of four orgasmic experiences” during sexual activity.
3. Some women ejaculate upon reaching orgasm.
Everyone knows that ejaculation and orgasm usually go together for men (although it is technically possible for men to orgasm without ejaculating and vice versa); however, many women also appear to be capable of ejaculatory orgasms.
Different types of female ejaculation have been documented, with some women experiencing the release of a small amount of a milkier fluid (more comparable in amount and appearance to male ejaculate), with other women experiencing a larger expulsion of a watery fluid (often referred to as “squirting”).
4. Women can reach orgasm in many ways, not just through vaginal penetration.
Many women can reach orgasm solely from penile penetration of the vagina, However, that’s hardly the only form of sexual stimulation linked to female orgasm. A large number of women report having reached orgasm through clitoral stimulation, some through stimulation of the breasts and nipples, and a few through stimulation of the cervix.
What accounts for all of these potential routes to orgasm? A 2011 neuroimaging study from The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that stimulation of the vagina, clitoris, nipple, and cervix all activated a region of the brain known as the genital sensory cortex. In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising that stimulation of so many different body parts can be pleasurable to women.
5. The female orgasm isn’t just about physical stimulation.
There are certain physical acts that can increase the odds of a woman reaching orgasm during a given sexual experience, such as receiving oral sex; However, there’s a big psychological component to the female orgasm as well.
For instance, women who have strong feelings of affection for a casual sex partner are more likely to reach orgasm than women who lack such feelings. Women who report intense physical attraction to a partner are more likely to reach orgasm, too.
Psychological factors such as these can also play a role in men’s orgasms, but men’s orgasms seem to be less dependent upon them. Indeed, most guys report that they almost always reach orgasm during sex, whereas women’s orgasmic experiences are far more variable.
A word of caution: the above facts don’t constitute everything you should know about female sexual pleasure and orgasm, but they’re a good start. To learn more, I highly recommend sex therapist Ian Kerner’s book She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman.