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Are There Different Types of Female Orgasm?

Scientists are debating, while some sex educators say it's a harmful question.

If you put "different types of female orgasm" into an internet search engine, you will find thousands of articles listing different types. Some articles list four or five types, and others list as many as 24 types. In general, these articles label a woman's orgasm by the body part that is being stimulated when she experiences orgasm.

Although some women can orgasm from fantasy alone or breast stimulation alone, the overwhelming majority of women need genital stimulation to experience orgasm. This is why it's most common to read about clitoral, vaginal, G-spot, and blended (i.e., combining vaginal and clitoral stimulation) orgasms. But are there really different types of female orgasm, and why does it matter?

First, let's look at the question of if there are different types. As I state in my most recent book, Becoming Cliterate, "...the less than satisfying but honest answer [is that} at this point, scientists are still arguing."

One camp says that yes, indeed, vaginal and clitoral and blended orgasms are distinct types. These writers point out that many women say that these types of orgasms feel different from each other. They tell us that the vagina and the clitoris are connected to the brain via different nerve pathways and that different areas of the brain are activated during different types of orgasms. They also refer to the uterus doing something different during G-spot (pushing down) and clitoral (pulling up) orgasms. In short, this camp points to both first-person narratives and biological evidence to support their claim that different types of orgasms exist.

Source: 'Becoming Cliterate'/Laurie Mintz
Relation Between Vaginal Canal and Internal Clitoris
Source: 'Becoming Cliterate'/Laurie Mintz

Another camp, however, points out that no matter where the stimulation is that finally leads to orgasm, engorgement of external and internal clitoris are involved in female orgasm. As can be seen in this picture, again from Becoming Cliterate, this camp notes that the front wall of the vagina is inextricably linked with the internal parts of the clitoris, and so stimulating the vagina without also stimulating the internal clitoris is impossible. This group of scientists declares all orgasms to be clitoral—even those that result from stimulation inside of the vagina.

And, finally, a third camp says that this is an irrelevant question. This camp says it's time we start thinking of women’s entire sexual anatomy as one functional, connected unit. They point out that no matter where the stimulation that resulted in orgasm occurs, all orgasms are a result of the erectile tissue in the genital region filling with blood (engorgement) and rhythmic contractions of pelvic floor muscles releasing that blood. Some urologists and sex writers and therapists even suggest that we should consider calling the whole cluster of erectile tissue involved in female orgasm a clitoris. They point out that using this name would help us to finally stop the harmful debate about clitoral versus vaginal orgasms.

Perhaps you are wondering why I (and other sex educators and therapists) believe this debate is harmful. First, consider that we don't label men's orgasm by the point of the simulation. For example, when men orgasm from oral sex or from penile-vaginal intercourse, we don’t call these mouth and vagina orgasms. And, equally striking, we don’t talk about male prostrate versus penis orgasms—even though scientists say that these are analogous to women’s G-spot and clitoral orgasms. Indeed, it’s only when it comes to the clitoris, the vagina, and the G-spot that we label the orgasm by where the woman was being stimulated when it happened—and use this differentiation to declare one type of orgasm a superior goal to strive for.

Indeed, we live in a “difference = deficit” culture, in which when we say two things are different, we automatically brand one as superior to the other. In this case, culturally we elevate "vaginal orgasms" as the type that is best and ideal to strive for. This is a throwback to Freud, who first labeled clitoral orgasms as immature and vaginal orgasms as mature. It's also culturally privileging of male sexual pleasure because we are expecting women to orgasm most reliably the way men do—through penis-in-vagina sex.

But, really important, most women don't orgasm this way. Depending on how the question is asked, recent research finds only about 4-20 percent of women orgasm from just a thrusting penis alone. In my research, presented in Becoming Cliterate, when thousands of women are asked, "What's your most reliable route to orgasm with a partner?" here's what they say:

Source: 'Becoming Cliterate'/Laurie Mintz
Thousands of Women's Answer to the Question: "What's Your Most Reliable Route to Orgasm?"
Source: 'Becoming Cliterate'/Laurie Mintz

In short, the overwhelming majority of women need clitoral stimulation—alone or coupled with penetration—to experience orgasm with a partner. And according to research by Shere Hite, when alone, less than 1 percent of women pleasure themselves exclusively by vaginal penetration.

So, whether or not there are biologically different types of orgasms, here's one truth we do know for sure. As aptly stated by Sherri Winston, "There's a lot of variety in what gets women off, but it's safe to generalize that... clitoral play will be the easiest and most essential orgasmic trigger." And as stated by the late Betty Dodson, "an orgasm is an orgasm is an orgasm." In other words, it doesn't matter what got you there, and one way is not better than the other.

Let's stop labeling and debating and start simply enjoying. Let's get rid of our culturally imposed, false, and damaging female orgasm hierarchy.

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