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A Surprisingly Simple Solution to Helping Women Who Can't Orgasm

A new study suggests people who have trouble with orgasm really need to focus on arousal and sexual touch.

Photo Credit: (Credit: krivenko /



Those of us who study sex focus on specific types of sex. We ask about oral sex, vaginal sex, and increasingly we ask about anal sex. But in our scientific work – and similar to many Americans in their own sex lives – we often miss out on the rich details of sexual experience: that is, the hugs, kisses, cuddles that make sex more than just  in-out-repeat. Not this  new study, however, which focuses entirely on the value of sexual touching to arousal and orgasm.

Think back to the most recent time you had sex. How much did you kiss each other on the mouth, forehead or hand? Hug or spoon with your partner? Run your hands up and down one another’s back or chest? Kiss the length of your partner’s arms or legs? Did you lay your head on your partner’s chest? Did your partner run his or her fingers through your hair?

These are the kinds of sexual touch this new study, conducted by Dr. Adena Galinsky at the University of Chicago, focused on. She analyzed data from the 2005-2006 National Social Life Health and Aging Project, which surveyed about 3,000 women and men in the United States ages 57 to 85. Galinsky focused on a specific subsample of about 1,300 women and men who reported having had sex at least once in the past year in her quest to understand the relationship between sexual touching — and the difficulties men and women experience with sexual arousal and orgasm.

One of the reasons this research is needed, according to Galinsky, is because of how sexual stimulation (often via sexual touch) and sexual problems and “dysfunctions” are defined. “According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), in order to diagnose sexual arousal and orgasm disorders, it is necessary to determine the adequacy of sexual stimulation,” she writes. “The DSM-IV-TR states, ‘If sexual stimulation is inadequate in either focus, intensity or duration, the diagnosis of Sexual Dysfunction involving excitement or orgasm is not made. In the absence of sexual stimulation, a difficulty which meets all other diagnostic criteria for arousal or orgasmic dysfunction is a (possibly dyadic) behavior problem but not a dysfunction.”

In other words, a woman doesn’t have orgasmic “dysfunction” just because she doesn’t easily have orgasms. If a hypothetical woman and her partner only have intercourse for 30 seconds, without any other sexual touching, kissing or buildup — and with no focus on stimulating her in ways that are likely to lead to orgasm (such as focusing stimulation on the front wall of the vagina or the glans clitoris) — then our hypothetical woman is unlikely to experience orgasm. That doesn’t mean she’s dysfunctional; it just means they’re not doing much to ease orgasm. Likewise, if you’re hungry after a lunch that consists of only three bites of yogurt, there’s nothing dysfunctional about your body. Most people would find that eating only three spoonfuls of yogurt isn’t sufficient to quell hunger pangs. And most women will find that 30 seconds of intercourse with no other touching or stimulation isn’t sufficient to trigger orgasm.

That isn’t rocket science. And yet how sexual touch fits into people’s experiences of sexual pleasure, arousal and orgasm is an important aspect of sexual science — after all, we’ve somewhat just assumed sexual touch to be important for all these years and included chapters about it in various sex guides and so-called marriage manuals for decades.

Now we know that it matters a great deal. Most people – about 80 percent of men and 74 percent of women — say they “always” kissed, hugged, caressed or engaged in other types of sexual touch when they had sex. Unfortunately, we don’t know from the survey how extensive the touching was or how they felt about it. (Was it welcome? Loving? Did it make them cringe some of the time?) We also don’t know much about the roughly 1,700 people who didn’t have any sex in the past year – did they engage in affectionate touching, even if it stopped there? Or did their sex lives disappear, in part, because they and their partner had failed to be affectionate with, or touch, one another?

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