At the end of the first day of my undergraduate Human Sexuality class, I asked the students to anonymously write any question they wanted answers to on a slip of paper. I told them that, over the course, of the semester, I would try to answer all their questions. A preponderance of the questions focused on the female orgasm, including how to have them and how to give them. There were quite a number of questions on “types” of orgasms—with several focused on how to have an orgasm during heterosexual penile-vaginal intercourse.
In reply to these orgasm-during-intercourse questions, I explained that according to the Kinsey Institute, women are much more likely to be nearly always or always orgasmic when alone than with a partner, and are also more likely to orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts. I told the class that research shows that 70% of women cannot orgasm with intercourse alone and need direct clitoral stimulation to orgasm. To see if this statistic fit for the women in the class, I used in-class anonymous polling technology and lo and behold, the numbers came out exact! Thirty percent of the women said that they can reach orgasm through intercourse alone and 70% said that they cannot.
The reason for these numbers, I explained, is that the majority of women need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm and that penile-vaginal intercourse often does not stimulate the clitoris. I then presented a variety of ways to more directly stimulate the clitoris during intercourse including:
I pointed out that all of these methods work because of the clitoral stimulation that they provide—and given this, another option is simply for the woman to stimulate her own clitoris, with a vibrator or a hand, during intercourse, or to have her lover do so. Betty Dodson calls this “penetration plus stimulation” and recommends it highly.
Another equally viable option, I told the young women and men in the class, is to let go of this goal and adapt a turn-taking mentality in which, to steal Ian Kerner’s book title, “She Comes First.” While Kerner’s book is focused on oral sex, the title captures the essence of the notion of turn-taking: first the woman has an orgasm during foreplay (through oral sex or manual stimulation, for example) and then the man has an orgasm during intercourse. Of course, the turn taking mentality could also be reversed: both the woman and man get aroused during foreplay, the couple has intercourse where the man achieves orgasm and afterwards, the woman reaches orgasm (for example, through stimulation via a toy or a hand to the clitoris).
I could feel that many of the women in the class were resonating with the information. A few even approached me after class to thank me—to tell me that I had helped them feel “normal” rather than inadequate about how they reached orgasm. However, one brave woman told me that she felt bad about herself as a result of my lecture. She told me that all this focus on the clitoris made her feel that she was reaching orgasms the wrong way—through intercourse. She told me that she never orgasms via masturbation or stimulation of the clitoris but reliably does so via intercourse. In short, some women in the 70% thanked me and at least one in the 30% felt confused and upset.
Based on this woman’s response, I went back the next lecture and vehemetly emphasized that there is not a right way to have an orgasm. Some women reach orgasm via penile-vaginal intercourse and some don’t. Some women have found—and enjoy—g-spot simulation; some women can’t find the spot or don’t even care to look. One percent of women can orgasm via breast stimulation alone.
Despite this variety, psychologists—starting with Freud and continuing to this day—have been categorizing types of women’s orgasms and labeling one type superior to the other. It’s time to stop such nonsense.
A famous psychologist, Albert Ellis, told people to not “should on” themselves. This advice holds true of orgasm. When it comes to orgasms, there is not one right way. In the words of Betty Dodson, it doesn’t matter how we get them, just so long as we have them.
When it comes to female orgasms, let’s stop shoulding on ourselves.
A Few Resources to Help Woman Learn to Achieve Orgasm: