Journal

Female orgasm 101

Orgasms. Both men and women are able to have them, but for some reason, female orgasms have been shrouded in secrecy and, even today, are studied at a much lower rate than men’s sexual health problems. Part of the reason for this is that, unlike with men, there is often no visible evidence that women have climaxed. (This is apart, of course, from the estimated 10-54% of women who are able to squirt.) Another reason is that, again, unlike men, women can lose their orgasm up until the point that they actually come. So where to start? Below we answer five common questions about the female orgasm.

What does an orgasm feel like for a woman?

The word orgasm describes a wide range of experiences. Technically speaking, an orgasm is a series of involuntary muscle contractions (around 0.8 seconds apart) in the vagina, anus and, for some women, the uterus.

However, this technical description does little justice to the magnificent, spiritual, unremarkable or sobering experience that an orgasm can be. Many women have trouble describing the moment of orgasm itself, since the emotional centers of the brain all but shut down for a few seconds.

Most women describe orgasm as starting with a feeling of tingling and warmth in the genitals, as a result of increasing arousal during masturbation, partner play or fantasizing. These physical feelings often expand into the lower abdominal area and sometimes out in a wave to part or all of the body. During an orgasm, heart rate, breathing and body temperature all rise until the moment of orgasmic release, after which they begin returning to normal. The pelvic floor muscles contract to release blood that becomes trapped in the genitals during arousal. An orgasm may be followed by feelings of well-being, pleasure, regret, loneliness or the desire for more. (Interested in multiples? We have a whole course on multiple orgasms for women in the Coral app.)

Orgasms are likely to be different from one experience to another, since they depend on where and how a woman is being stimulated, as well as where her mind is at. Stimulating the genitals is the most obvious and common path to orgasm; however, the body is loaded with sensitive spots that can create intense, full-body orgasms.

What if she’s never had one?

An orgasm is the result of physical stimulation, psychological stimulation or both, which triggers nerve signals to travel between the genitals, the brain and the spinal cord. Each part is equally important, which is why a problem in one area can affect orgasm ability.

The jury is out as to how many women are anorgasmic, or totally unable to orgasm. Although the most cited statistic tells us that 5-15% of women have never experienced an orgasm, that number may include a disproportionate amount of women under the age of 25, who may not have had an orgasm yet. And anorgasmia is far from a final verdict. Research shows that “women with primary orgasmic dysfunction who are treated with [directed masturbation] have an 80% to 90% success rate.” There are, however, several reasons why a woman may not be able to have an orgasm: any medical condition, injury or disease that affects communication between the brain and the spinal cord (and even some medications) can interfere with orgasm ability, as can a woman’s mind. Inhibition, shame and a lack of knowledge about one's body and the mechanics of sex makes orgasm less likely.

Still other women might not recognize what an orgasm is. Many women are surprised to learn that orgasms aren't always the screaming, can't-miss-‘em variety we see in the movies or read about in romance novels. Sometimes, a woman may not recognize that she has, in fact, had an orgasm.

So experiment and explore! And whatever you do, don't make orgasm the end-all-be-all.

What if she can’t have one?

For many women, orgasm is like the weather. Sometimes it’s perfectly sunny and 72 degrees, other times it’s pouring buckets with no end in sight. Although there are certain things you can do to make orgasm more likely, nothing is a sure bet.

There are a lot of women who find it easier to orgasm from masturbation, but this likely because A) a woman knows her own body, B) there is zero pressure to perform and C) she is less likely to feel self-conscious when it’s just her. That being said, many women rate partnered sex higher in terms of satisfaction and orgasm intensity than solo pleasure and when you consider all the extras: snuggling, eye contact and the connected feeling that comes from sex with the one you love or lust, this should come as no surprise.

Although orgasms for all should be a priority in any sexual encounter, there are many other types of pleasure outside of orgasm. Intimacy, emotional closeness and a spirit of experimentation are just a few of the many reasons to have sex.

The bottom line is, if a woman isn't bothered by a lack of orgasm, neither should her partner be. Sex can be great, no orgasm required.

What if she can’t have one with a partner?

You or your partner knows how to have an orgasm… When alone. So why does it take so long to get there during sex with a partner? Well, let's start with the good news: masturbating is great! Studies indicate that up to 75% of women touch themselves, which is a very good thing for body awareness and a healthy sex life, whether you're single or coupled.

The bad news is that this private pleasure doesn't always translate to shared pleasure with a partner. Most women experience a difference in orgasm ability during masturbation than during sex with a partner. Solo orgasms are often quicker and more intense in the physical sense, though not necessarily more satisfying, than the shared variety. Indeed, studies show that the average woman reaches orgasm significantly quicker when masturbating than when with a partner. (In his landmark text Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), Alfred Kinsey found that 45% of cis women took one to three minutes to orgasm through masturbation, 25% took four to five minutes, 19% took six to 10 minutes, and only 12% took over 10.)

Why? Some women find that the lack of distraction or self-consciousness during masturbation leads to quick orgasms. She’s not worried about the stubble on her legs or, perhaps more importantly, pleasing another person. Relationship issues are on the backburner because, well, it's just her. She’s also relaxed and touching herself in a way that is expert, even if she isn’t aware of it. Women (and men) who masturbate often know exactly what they need to reach orgasm.

If you’re a woman, the trick is to bring this sense of relaxation and knowledge into partner sex. After all, sharing an orgasm is often half the fun. Make masturbation your very own Orgasm 101 classroom. (If you're not masturbating, try our exercise Shift your self-pleasure script in the Coral app to get started.) Pay attention to everything you're doing when you touch yourself. Do you start by rubbing your thighs or abdomen? Are you fantasizing or doing something else to get yourself in the mood? Is your touching limited to the external, or do you like penetration? Pay attention to the strokes you're using, and how they change as your arousal increases, whether long, short, fast or slow or anything in between.

Then try to relax and share this orgasm expertise with a partner. Only you can let them in on the secrets of your orgasm; every person is different. Most partners will appreciate that you know what you want. Say it gently or set the rhythm you need by moving or touching yourself. Better yet, masturbate in front of your partner, if you feel comfortable. It will provide a direct learning experience. It will also work to improve your connection to each other, which itself works wonders for reaching the big O.

And if you're the partner of a woman who's finding it difficult to reach orgasm, take heart, it's a common problem. Try to be supportive and explore different types of stimulation. Pay attention to her whole body, not just her genitals. Her relaxation is probably the most direct route to orgasm and feeling pressure to come makes it hard to relax! So take a load off of both your shoulders and just enjoy.

What should she do if she wants to get help?

It can take a lot of courage for a woman to see help when she has difficulty achieving orgasm. Some women may get help on their own, and others may go with their partner for support and to work through the issue together.

If a woman thinks something may physically be wrong or a side effect of medications she is taking, it can be helpful to see a doctor. Making an appointment to see a gynecologist to be examined can be helpful. But, more often than not, it is related to psychological reasons like not understanding what it takes to get off or concentrating too hard which makes orgasm unlikely.

Often, as mentioned above, when women understand how their bodies work, consciously explore them and are able to effectively communicate, they are generally able to experience an orgasm. Coral can help by providing knowledge and guided exercises that facilitate understanding and exploration. Check out the lesson “Increase her chances of orgasm” or the “Shift your self-pleasure script” exercise in app.

If the cause may be psychological in nature, it's helpful to see a sex counselor or sex therapist. In general, sex counselors and sex therapists tends to get specific training about sexual issues that sabotage sexual satisfaction, like not achieving orgasm. It is important to find a counselor or therapist who is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) as experts with this certification have had training related to both relationship issues and sexual concerns.

A sex coach can also help individuals and couples. They tend to work on issues in the present, and through communication and home activities help get to the root of the issue providing education, support and guidance for an individual or couple to set and reach their goals. In regard to achieving orgasm, when the cause is not deeply psychological in nature, coaching can be helpful. Since many people can call themselves a "coach," it is best to find one that has a graduate or doctoral degree in human sexuality and certification from AASECT as a sexuality educator, counselor or therapist.

The following is a quick reference guide for the various academic degrees and licenses a mental health professional might obtain:

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