The female orgasm has been a topic of great mystery and debate among women, men, and medical researchers for… probably ever. From multiple orgasms to squirting to anorgasmia, there is much to learn about female sexual anatomy. In a society that generally over-values sex but under-prioritizes women’s orgasms, it can be confusing when trying to address the long list of concerns and curiosities people have about feeling good during sex.
Keep reading to explore some of the most common questions women have about sex and orgasms, and learn juicy tips for advocating for a more pleasurable life.
What is an Orgasm?
Let’s start with what a woman’s orgasm actually is. According to Dr. Rachel Rubin, urologist and sexual medicine specialist, an orgasm is “an intense reflex; a buildup and release of sexual arousal”. It’s the height of sexual pleasure and an experience widely sought after during sexual play.
Orgasms involve your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, and it’s not simply a biopsychosocial thing as we’re often taught to assume. It’s also, importantly, about biology.
Learn more about orgasm in women on the Fempower Health episode with Dr. Rachel Rubin.
How Do Women Orgasm?
There are many ways women can reach satisfying orgasms, both with a partner and through solo masturbation. Here’s the surprise: only about 18% of women can orgasm from penetration alone. Most women climax through stimulation of the clitoris.
What is the Clitoris?
The clitoris is the female pleasure center, rich in 8,000 nerve endings. It plays a huge role in sexual pleasure and female orgasms. The clitoris, or “clit”, is often joked about as being so small that male sexual partners can’t find it. But that joke is only referencing the small clitoral glans, or the “tip” of the clitoris (think: the female version of the head of a penis).
The clitoris as a whole is a rather large organ with internal and external features. It’s also widely misunderstood. For centuries, it has been improperly taught through sex ed, pornographic content, and basic anatomy. (Watch this video to clear the confusion.) With the right education, it’s easy to find on yourself or a consenting partner.
The clitoris consists of:
The clitoral hood (a fleshy covering of the clitoral glans)
The clitoral glans (the super-sensitive “tip” of the clit)
Vestibular bulbs (internal erectile tissue that engorges during arousal)
Crura of the clitoris (two internal “legs” of erectile tissue; a single one is called a “crus”)
Since it’s common to see women in TV and pornography freely orgasm and easily reach climax while having sex, many women expect it “should be normal” to climax with ease. But in reality, this isn’t always the case.
Why Can’t Some Women Orgasm?
There are some women who can't orgasm or who struggle to orgasm with a partner during sex. There are plenty of valid reasons why this happens, and it’s important to note this doesn’t mean someone is defective. It’s also important to remember that it might not be “just in your head”.
Some of the problems that can prevent orgasm in women include:
Health issues: underlying conditions that affect sexual health
Anatomical issues: tissue damage or vaginal injury
Educational issues: a woman doesn’t know her body or pleasure yet
Nerve or spinal cord issues: clitoral nerve signals don’t register properly throughout the body
Neurological issues: chemical imbalances or complications
Psychosocial issues: shame, fear, or suppression of sex and pleasure
Partner issues: lack of communication or understanding of sexual preferences
These are only some of the most understood limitations in the female climax. If you feel pain, numbness, lack of libido, or dryness when trying to get aroused, see a medical professional so they can reason out any medical concerns.
Need help taking charge of your sexual wellness and sex life? Check out the Sex Ed Episodes from Fempower Health.
“The clitoris isn’t directly near the vaginal opening. You wouldn’t expect someone with a penis to be able to orgasm by rubbing next to their genitals, like on their thigh. So why do people expect those of us with clitorises to orgasm through penetration only?” - Dr. Rachel Rubin
How Can You Learn to Orgasm?
Whether you’ve always struggled to orgasm or you feel like you’ve lost the sexual passion you once enjoyed, there are ways to revive your pleasure. The first step is to know your body and take care of your female anatomy.
If everything is medically and anatomically normal, you can learn to have amazing orgasms. A lot of people with clitorises find it’s more comfortable to explore on their own at first, then incorporate what they’ve learned with their partner (if desired).
These tips can apply to any female of any sexual identity or relationship type.
Learn your anatomy. Learn everything you can about how your body works. Reverse faulty education you may have learned and decide to clear up any bad “programming” you received about sex and the body.
Play with adult toys. Sex toys are extremely helpful during masturbation and partnered sex. Using a toy like a dildo or a vibrator is nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of. Vibrators stimulate the clitoris directly (or through the vagina, if you want) much more than your fingers or a solid phallus. Visit an adult store or shop online and try different toys until you find ones you like.
Pay attention to what gets you in the mood. Different people become aroused by different things. We can’t all be the same. Try not to judge yourself harshly over what excites you sexually. Instead, utilize it to get in the mood. This helps prime you for pleasure which can build up to great orgasms.
Conduct regular mirror checks and medical check-ups. Maintain your vaginal health by doing a mirror check every month.
Get support. Many people have physical and/or psychological setbacks when it comes to sex or pleasure. See your gynecologist as recommended and get checked if you notice anything concerning. Seek a therapist for any recurring sexual anxiety or shame you can’t get rid of on your own.
Stop trying to make orgasm the end goal. Sometimes, the pressure of “I have to climax or else this isn’t worth it” is what gets in the way of letting go and experiencing real pleasure. Try focusing on what feels good instead of on the climax. Relax, go slow, and remember it’s a learning process.
Orgasms, Sexual Health, and Pleasure Activism
The key to pleasure activism is this: don’t give up on yourself. You are the closest person you can experience intimate pleasure with. Learning your body for yourself is a prerequisite to enjoying pleasure with someone else. It might take time to learn or to find your spark again, but you deserve the effort. Especially if it’s important to you.
Visit the sexual health shop for more resources.