What Sex Scientists Know (And Have Yet to Learn) About Women's Orgasms
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Not that orgasm is everything! And yet it does matter to many sexually active adults. The authors note that women were five to six times more likely to enjoy relationship or hookup sex if they had an orgasm. “These large effects,” they write, “should put to rest doubt about whether women care about orgasm.”
We women do care about our orgasms. However, sex is fraught with all kinds of things including how we feel about our genitals, gender dynamics, our feelings about ourselves and our partner, and how we learn, sort out, and then ask for the types of sexual behaviors that are more likely to feel good to us or result in orgasm, if that’s what we want (and most of us do).
We could certainly benefit from more of our partners caring about our orgasm. Fortunately, many women have partners – especially relationship partners, this study suggests – that care deeply about mutual pleasure and women’s orgasm. A recent study of older couples found that, for men, valuing their female partner’s orgasm increased the chances of their own sexual satisfaction.
In other words, partner investment matters. So does “technique,” as the present study put it, showing that sexual encounters that included intercourse were more likely to result in women’s orgasm – even if it wasn’t intercourse itself that led to the orgasm. Women were three times as likely to report orgasm during a hookup, and twice as likely during relationship sex, if intercourse occurred. It may be that sexual encounters that include intercourse signify something greater – for example, that a woman is more likely to feel comfortable with, trusting of, or highly “into” her partner.
Other behaviors that boosted the chances of whether a woman had an orgasm were whether she or her partner had stimulated her genitals with their hand, and whether she’d received oral sex. This lines up well with data from our National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior that show that greater sexual variety and specific sexual behaviors – including receiving oral sex and vaginal intercourse – are linked with a greater likelihood of female orgasm.
No study can answer every question I or you have about women’s orgasm, but this study gives us much to ponder. It demonstrates the complexity of women’s sexuality (there’s no one sexual behavior that’s a “sure thing” for women’s orgasm), and it demonstrates that for all the advances we’ve made (for example, vibrators are available in drug stores and, occasionally, street corners), we still have a long way to go. Our relationship partners may value our orgasms, but hookup partners? Not so much.
As a woman – and as a sex researcher/educator – I’m struck by study data that speak to the value of care and affection (women in the interview portion talked about noticing when a partner cares about them and their pleasure). Hookups aren’t going away, so how can women make their hookups more enjoyable? How can women learn to choose partners who care about them as people they’re creating something fun and pleasurable with, even if only for one evening? How can men learn to treat their hookup partners as equally interested in and deserving of pleasure? How can sex partners communicate together about mutual pleasure?
As a scientist, I think too of how much we still have to learn about sexual experiences. This study, like my own and others’ research, shows that women’s orgasm is more likely to occur with a regular partner, in the context of care and affection, and when sexual variety and perhaps good technique are present.