Understanding the Female Orgasm
There are significant differences between a male and female orgasm. Most men find it easy to climax with a number of forms of sexual activity—performing vaginal or anal penetrative sex, receiving oral sex, manual stimulation by a partner or solo and utilizing strokers, fleshlights or other toys. Men, both gay and heterosexual, orgasm during 85 percent of sexual encounters, according to a 2011 study involving singles in America.
For women, achieving orgasm isn’t as straightforward or as easy to achieve. Only 75 percent of lesbians and 63 percent of heterosexual women orgasm every time they have sex, according to Kinsey Institute research. The clitoris, the pleasure center of the female genitalia, is found just beneath where the inner labia meet and is often an integral part of climaxing. According to a 2017 Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy study, only 18.4% of women reported that intercourse alone was sufficient for orgasm because the activity doesn’t provide enough stimulation to the clitoris.
The clitoris is about 3-5 inches in length, extending internally around the urethra and making a v-shape to extend on either side of the vaginal orifice. Scientists believe, because of this, some women can achieve orgasm through vaginal or anal penetration stimulating the internal parts of the anatomy. This includes the G-spot and the A-spot, two areas of the internal clitoris that receive stimulation through the vaginal and anal walls, respectively. Scientists remain in disagreement about the existence of these areas, but regardless, vaginal and anal stimulation does lead to orgasm in some women. Still, the clitoris plays an essential or at least very important role in orgasm for a majority—73%—of women.
Stages of orgasm
Orgasms are an element of the sexual response cycle, the sequence of physical and emotional reactions men and women experience during sexual arousal and sexual activity.
Phase 1 is the excitement phase, when both men and women become aroused, exhibiting physical symptoms such as accelerated heart rate and respiration, flushed skin, increased blood flow to the genitals and erect nipples. In women, vaginal lubrication begins, and breasts and vaginal walls swell.
In phase 2, the plateau phase, effects from Phase 1 intensify, extending until just before climax. Breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension increase, and in women, the vagina continues to swell with increased blood flow while the clitoris becomes more sensitive.
Phase 3 is orgasm. The pinnacle of the sexual response cycle, this typically lasts seconds, compared to the minutes or hours of the first two stages. It consists of involuntary muscle contractions, an intense release of sexual tension, flushing of the skin, rapid intake of oxygen, ejaculation in men and rhythmic contractions of the vagina in women.
After orgasm comes resolution, the fourth stage of the cycle when the body vitals return to normal levels. This phase is also associated with a sense of calm and contentment, enhanced bonding and intimacy and fatigue. For men, a refractory period is required before orgasm is again possible, while some women are able to quickly return to the orgasm phase.
Health benefits of orgasms
Orgasms don’t just feel good—they provide myriad benefits to physical and mental health. People who orgasm frequently may experience reduced anxiety and stress, as well as better sleep. Orgasms trigger an increase in the release of hormones oxytocin, serotonin and prolactin, responsible for the sense of calm and sleepiness after sex. Studies suggest frequent orgasms can impact long-term mental health and increase happiness.
A bump in dopamine and endorphins causes the feel-good sensation, and combined with oxytocin, may help relieve or block pain, including menstrual cramps, arthritic and chronic pain and headaches. They also reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone linked to a number of health issues, including heart disease and immune suppression. Several studies have indicated sex can even lower blood pressure, and by elevating estrogen levels, decrease risk of osteoporosis and heart disease. Research suggests sexually active people take fewer sick days and have healthier immune systems. After climax, blood flow increases throughout the entire brain, offering potential cognitive benefits, such as improvement in memory and brain function.
Better sleep and decreased stress additionally contribute to glowing skin, decreased acne and a stronger immune system. Human growth hormone (HGH) released during an orgasm stimulates collagen production, and the rise in circulation and estrogen further boosts collagen levels. Collagen is a protein touted for its benefits in maintaining skin tightness and firmness and reducing the appearance of wrinkles. Estrogen also locks in moisture in the skin and helps prevent wrinkles.
Orgasm itself causes rapid contraction and release of pelvic floor muscles. Over time, toning improves bladder control and reduces risk of incontinence, a common and frustrating condition that affects about 30 percent of women throughout their lives, especially as they age. Strengthening pelvic muscles can also make for better sex and more intense orgasms. Some research indicates regular orgasms (once a week or more) may help regulate menstrual cycles.
Orgasms have an important function between partners, increasing intimacy and strengthening bonds, particularly true when partners are able to climax together. Oxytocin and prolactin release after orgasm increase sensations of satisfaction and companionship. Frequent orgasms increase blood flow throughout the pelvis, as well as vaginal lubrication and elasticity, making sex (or solo sessions) more comfortable and enjoyable and making it more likely you’ll be in the mood for it.
Female orgasmic disorders
Taking a long time to reach climax, climaxing infrequently or not at all are orgasmic disorders. Based on findings from a 2011 Advances in Psychosomatic Medicine study, female orgasmic disorders (FODs) may affect anywhere from 11-41 percent of American women.
Primary anorgasmia describes the condition of an individual who has never had an orgasm. Secondary anorgasmia involves difficulty reaching orgasm despite having previously had one. The most common type of female orgasmic disorder, situational anorgasmia, is the difficulty of reaching orgasm during certain situations, such as when receiving oral sex. General anorgasmia refers to the absolute inability to achieve orgasm, regardless of the circumstances and despite being highly aroused and sufficiently stimulated.
FODs can be caused by psychological factors, such as a history of trauma or sexual abuse, poor self-esteem, depression or anxiety, relationship issues, lack of trust, shyness, stress, fear of losing control or letting go and cultural or religious barriers, including guilt connected to the enjoyment of sexual activity. Physical causes include being older, medical conditions such as diabetes, history of gynecological surgeries and taking certain medications including SSRIs for depression. Situational factors can also play a role: little or no foreplay, sex that ends quickly or that includes insufficient or no clitoral stimulation.
Tips for better orgasms
For women struggling with orgasmic disorder, a primary care doctor or gynecologist can perform a physical exam to determine whether any medical conditions are contributing. Treatment includes addressing underlying medical conditions, switching problematic medications and working with a sex therapist or engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Addressing any underlying relationship problems is also very important. Increasing clitoral stimulation, upping foreplay time to increase arousal and trying new positions and other forms of stimulation can boost chances of climax. Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles can make it easier to come and eventually lead to more intense orgasms. Arousal oils or lubricants that increase clitoral stimulation can help. In certain cases, estrogen hormone therapy may be prescribed to increase physical arousal and libido.
There are additional ways you can boost the frequency and intensity of orgasms on your own. Experimenting with different positions makes orgasm easier: being on top and the coital alignment technique (CAT) position, as well as ones that enable the woman or her partner to manually stimulate her clitoris. Try building up anticipation throughout the day, giving yourself ample time to become aroused. Be open with your partner about what’s going on, before sex and during. If they know what’s working for you and what’s not, they’ll be better able to help you get there. Consider incorporating oral sex and sex toys, including a clitoral or bullet vibrator. Focus on breathing and enjoying sex, and try not to let anxieties or insecurities creep in. Getting to know your body better through masturbation can teach you tricks to improve orgasm odds.
There are countless ways to explore sexual intimacy, whether you’re alone or with a partner. Orgasm doesn’t always have to be a part of it, but it’s great when it is. If you’re having any problems, there are a host of options, and the outcome is worth the extra effort.