Note: This article is intended for all people who have vaginas, regardless of gender.
Vaginal orgasm (and in using this phrase, I’m referring to all orgasms that happen for people with vaginas): It’s something that we all want to understand, but like the question of whether or not there’s life on other planets, we hit a lot of roadblocks on the way to discovering its truths (and dismantling its myths).
Because sex is considered scary in our culture, we miss out on accurate, comprehensive, pleasure-based sex education in school and at home.
Unfortunately, the number of sexist myths surrounding pleasure, sexual response, and orgasm is astounding in the way that these falsities permeate culture and become the status quo.
If you’ve ever had a partner tell you that your body is “broken” or “wrong” or “not like all of the others” – or felt, yourself, that this was the case – then you know what I’m talking about.
Oh, we’ve made gains in the way of understanding vaginal pleasure and orgasm, now that Freud and Kinsey (ahem – cis men) aren’t our only go-to sources for information about sexuality.
And yet, as always, we have a long way to go. There is a lot of misinformation still out there about sexual response and what is considered “normal,” driven home by patriarchal ideals about what vaginal orgasm “should” look like. This leads us to second-guess our own bodies.
As a side project, I run a sex advice blog for teenagers and young adults. And there, the questions that I receive are overwhelmingly about whether or not it’s acceptable or normal to experience pleasure and orgasm the way that they do.
Well, here is an all-encompassing news flash for you. Whatever your body does is perfectly normal and awesome.
Most people don’t take that tidbit of information and run with it, though. In a culture where we depend, first and foremost, on science and statistics to explain the world around us, I find that people don’t just want to know if they’re normal, but also why that’s true in order to validate their experiences.
Thus, with this in mind, I’ve created this article – the top five questions that I get about vaginal orgasm and why whatever your body does is A-okay.
1. I Can’t Orgasm through Intercourse. What’s Wrong with Me?
Absolutely nothing. If anything, you’re actually perfectly average (and I bet you’ve never taken that as a sigh of relief before).
70% of ciswomen cannot achieve orgasm through intercourse alone, according to the revolutionary (although limited in its only using ciswomen as participants) Hite Report, originally published in 1976. And it’s for a rather simple reason – there aren’t a whole lot of nerve-endings inside of the vagina.
If there were, think about how horrible childbirth would be.
Although the vaginal entrance is often sensitive, after about three inches into the vagina, nerves just about dissipate. And while some absolutely can and do achieve orgasms vaginally (or through the G-spot, which is often stimulated through the vagina), most need a little something more – namely, clitoral stimulation.
Many people have a sense that the clitoris is that little nub of skin located at the top of the vulva, and I’m glad that so many people can locate it, but that’s only partially true. The visible part of the organ is called the glans clitoris, and the little covering that it wears sometimes is called the clitoral hood.
But there is more to the clitoris than meets the eye! It actually extends under the skin into a whole system of awesome, including cura or legs, that spread down either side of the vulva and bulbs that hang underneath those.
Thus, the clitoris can technically be stimulated even by pressing against your vulva or on either side of the urethral opening! How cool is that?
And it’s especially awesome for those of you who feel like direct clitoral stimulation is too much pressure, even bordering on painful. You can still enjoy clitoral stimulation without touching the glans clitoris directly!
That being said, the want to orgasm during penis-in-vagina (or toy-in-vagina) intercourse is really common. So here’s a suggestion: Have your partner position themselves in such a way during missionary that your pubic bones are on-level and your partner is positioned over your shoulder.
Tada! Clitoral stimulation during intercourse without the aid of a hand or a vibrator.
2. I Just Plateau and Then Feel Satisfied, Rather Than Having an Intense and Full Orgasm. Why?
You actually are orgasming. Did I just blow your mind?
Media representations of orgasm always show them as these intense, earthshattering events – and hell, sometimes they’re not.
According to Masters and Johnson (who, again, were limited in their scope by only studying cis folks), some ciswomen have really calm orgasms, and others experience orgasms in all sorts of different ways. We generally think of sexual response as the process of arousal ascending into a plateau phase and then ending in the heightened excitement of an orgasm before falling into resolution.
And for some people, this is how orgasm happens.
But there’s also a variety where a plateau and an orgasm can happen at the same time, causing a whole bunch of tiny little waves of orgasm (which might even be imperceptible to you!) before a feeling of complete sexual satisfaction.
It’s not that you’re not orgasming. It’s that you’re orgasming in a way that you didn’t know was possible.
Unfortunately, the media (read: pornography) represent all sexual response and orgasm as exactly the same as cismale experiences, and they’re not.
People with vaginas have three different documented types of orgasms, only one of which mimics the aforementioned experience.
It’s a common misconception to think that your orgasm should look like what you see in porn. Rather, it should look like (and be appreciated for!) the way that it is.
3. Multiple Orgasms. What’s the Deal?
To reiterate some of what’s above, there are different kinds of vaginal orgasm – one of which allows for the possibility of multiple orgasms. But take a closer look at the diagram.
The light blue graph is the one that represents the possibility for multiple orgasms, but note that the subsequent orgasms are represented by a dotted line, indicating that they’re not guaranteed. Rather, they’re possible.
Because people with vaginas, unlike people with penises, don’t go through a refractory period after orgasm, it’s entirely possible for them to maintain their arousal and eventually achieve more than one orgasm.
But this isn’t true for everyone (after all, nothing is), and if after your orgasm, you experience a resolution and therefore are done, that’s perfectly normal and okay, too!
Instead of trying to achieve a type of orgasm that your body may not be able or willing to produce, focus on the kind of orgasm that you do have – and enjoy it!
4. What is ‘Female Ejaculation?’
“Female ejaculation,” in simplest terms, is the expulsion of fluid from the paraurethral ducts during arousal or orgasm. It’s become very popularized by pornography, and you may recognize it as a sort of gushing, which is inaccurate.
Vaginal ejaculation’s more colloquial name – squirting – is much more precise. The paraurethral ducts (also known as the Skene’s and Bartholin’s glands) are located on either side of the urethral opening and also located inside of the vagina, and they secrete fluid when under pressure. (Have you ever wondered how it’s possible to get a tampon in without lubrication? Your Bartholin’s glands actually push out some fluid to help with the insertion! Whoa!)
Some research posits that the glands are part of the G-spot, and that that explains why some people, when experiencing G-spot orgasms, expel this fluid.
However, not everyone can make this happen. Every person with a vagina certainly secretes fluid from these glands during sexual activity (remember: when pressure is placed around the urethra or against the vaginal opening, this happens).
But not all of them have the capacity to expel so much fluid that it appears to be squirting out.
So is there anything wrong with you if you don’t or can’t squirt? No!
And is there anything wrong with you if you can? Not at all.
Are you noticing a trend here?
5. I Can’t Orgasm. What’s Wrong with Me?
Nothing. The truth is that 10% of ciswomen never have an orgasm, which is perfectly normal (albeit frustrating), and an even larger percentage of them don’t experience a climax until later in life (think: late twenties, early thirties).
If the answers above don’t give you a better idea of how your body works, then my suggestion would be to spend some time alone, getting to know yourself.
According to research, women (and I use “women” here because it is unclear if this is a biological, psychological, or sociological issue) are much more likely to experience an orgasm by themselves than with a partner, and a lot of factors can contribute to this.
There is, of course, the physical issue of being able to understand your speed, pressure, and depth preferences better.
But there’s a mental issue, too. Without worry of possibly disappointing your partner, some anxiety is taken away.
And if you focus more on the journey (the pleasure) than the destination (the orgasm), then you just might find yourself in the throes soon enough.
There are many psychological factors, including sexual trauma and internalized stigma of sex, that can contribute to an interference with sexual response and orgasm. This can be something you can discuss with a mental health professional.
In some cases, however, there’s another problem at work – sexual dysfunction. If you think that a desire, arousal, pain, or orgasm disorder might be the cause of your sexual dissatisfaction, then you should discuss it with your primary care physician or a specialist.
Vaginas are not necessarily more complicated than penises, but insofar as function, they are more varied.
The media, especially in pornography, wants us to believe otherwise. It wants us to believe that all orgasm is immediate, that it’s always mind-blowing, that we scream a whole lot, and that a penis (or penetration in general) is the end all, be all to sexual satisfaction.
The media and society in general convince us that our orgasms aren’t for ourselves but rather for our partners (particularly our male partners) – and that if they’re not satisfied with our orgasms, then we shouldn’t be either.
Well, the media is wrong.
Here’s the truth – if you understand your body, then you’re in for a lifetime of awesome sexual pleasure.
And if your partner would rather you operate a certain way than learn how to please you and your individuality, then maybe it’s time to rethink or rework that partnership.
Get to know yourself. Understand your body and its physiological responses. And learn to appreciate the beauty inherent in your own uniqueness.
It is, truly, as Oscar Wilde points out, the beginning of a life-long romance.
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Melissa A. Fabello, Managing Editor of Everyday Feminism, is a domestic violence prevention and sexuality educator, eating disorder and body image activist, and media literacy vlogger based out of Philadelphia. She enjoys rainy days, Jurassic Park, and the occasional Taylor Swift song and can be found on YouTube and Tumblr. She holds a B.S. in English Education from Boston University and an M.Ed. in Human Sexuality from Widener University. She is currently working on her PhD. She can be reached on Twitter @fyeahmfabello. Read her articles here and book her for speaking engagements here.