Science is pretty sexist, and so the body of research on female orgasms unsurprisingly lacking. But it's getting better, more studies are being published, and we're learning more all the time about what sets female sexuality and pleasure apart. And there's so much to be gained from learning! Most importantly, the more is known about female orgasms, the smaller the pleasure gap gets.
So read up, improve your knowledge, and get better at a very specific type of trivia. Here are 11 things you probably never knew about the female orgasm, but truly should.
1. Less than 20 percent of women can orgasm from vaginal penetration alone. According to the largest study on orgasms so far, published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy in 2017, only 18 percent of American women say they can orgasm from just vaginal penetration. Which hammers home the importance of the clitoris, bringing us to the next point...
2. More than a third of women say they need some sort of clitoral stimulation to orgasm. TBH this number feels small, given what is known about the structure of the clitoris and how many nerve endings there are (thousands). According to the big orgasm study, 36.6 percent of women say clitoral stimulation is "necessary" to orgasm.
3. But clitoral and vaginal stimulation can be difficult to separate... Because, as Rosara Torrisi, a certified sex therapist at the Long Island Institute of Sex Therapy, says, the clitoris can be stimulated "indirectly from vaginal penetration." This is because the clitoris isn't just a little dot on the vulva, but a whole structure that extends into the body. It's believed that this internal clit situation is what a lot of people think is the elusive (fake) G-spot.
4. Foreplay isn't just polite, for most women, it's necessary. In the
same orgasm study, a majority of women cited "spending time to build-up
arousal" as something that enhances an orgasm. Torrisi says that "for
many women, sex is more about intimacy, so foreplay is a way of
accessing that intimacy."
There you have it, a sex therapist-certified, scientific reason to emphasize foreplay even more.
5. No two orgasms are the same. If you've had an orgasm that felt like a dud compared to one you've had previously, it's not in your head. Torrisi says "all orgasms vary in intensity based on sensation, situation, excitement, and possible fears or inhibitions." So things like environment, what's going on in the rest of your life, and how you're feeling that day are all factors, which is to say it's not all on you (or your partner) to produce wild and crazy orgasms, every single time.
6. And yes, multiple orgasms are real. But that doesn't mean you'll experience them every single time, or at all. The website OMGYes.com has a lot of handy info and very detailed (read: NSFW) guides on how to prime your body for multiple orgasms, if you're so inclined.
7. Some women have stronger orgasms while on their period. No shame if you personally hate period sex, but have you tried it? If not, you could be one of the women who say they only experience vaginal orgasms on their period, and not even know it.
8. Refractory periods aren't just for men. You've probably heard of the "refractory period," but probably only in the context of male orgasms. But this isn't just for men! According to International Society for Sexual Medicine, refractory periods aren't exactly the same for women, but it's not abnormal to experience hypersensitivity after an orgasm that makes any physical touch too overwhelming to be enjoyable.
9. Some women experience pain with orgasm. Enough women, actually, that there's a name for this phenomenon: dysorgasmia. It can be caused by a lot of things (from endometriosis to a history of sexual trauma), and usually takes a pelvic pain specialist to sort out. The thing to know about painful orgasms is that they aren't necessarily normal, meaning you don't have to go your whole life experiencing them. You can talk to your OB-GYN or general provider about this, or if you're more comfortable, seek out a pelvic pain specialist.
10. Women can (and do!) have orgasms in their sleep. Everyone can have sex dreams, which means everyone can have "nocturnal orgasms." Yet another thing that's disproportionately associated with men. So yes, if you've had a dream in which you *really* felt like you had an orgasm, odds are, you did.
11. And, yes, "nipplegasms" are real. No two people have the same level of nipple-sensitivity, but for some, nipple sensitivity is so high they can actually orgasm from nipple stimulation alone (that's a lot of nipples in one sentence). A study, published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy, that measured brain responses to various stimuli found that a small but real number of women experienced orgasms from having only their nipples stimulated. So do with that information what you will.