The Female Orgasm Explored

How To Achieve Orgasm During Intercourse

Just why do so few women reach orgasm during intercourse?

Few men know how to make a woman ejaculate, and the reason why might be revealed in a piece of research conducted by Kim Wallen, professor of behavioral neuroendocrinology at Emory University. Prof Wallen has investigated the structure and physiology of the vagina and clitoris in women who reach orgasm during sex as well as those who do not.

To be exact, he's investigated the correlation between orgasm during intercourse and the distance between a woman's clitoris and her vaginal opening.

For those women who have pondered ruefully on their failure to achieve orgasm during intercourse, and wondered if they might just be "built differently" to other women who appear to be more successful at achieving orgasm, this may come as a reassuring piece of information.

On the other hand, it may just add to your frustration if you find that you fall into one of the groups of women for whom there appears to be a real, practical reason for a lack of orgasm during intercourse!

You may or may not be surprised to learn that the closer a woman's clitoris is to her vagina, the more easily she's going to reach orgasm during intercourse -- and that means stimulation from penetration alone without any additional stimulation from fingers, tongue or toys.

The easy rule of thumb turns out to be that if a woman's vagina is less than 2.5 cm from her clitoris, she is likely to experience orgasms during sex quite reliably.

Unfortunately, for what must be the bulk of women, judging by the statistics about how few women achieve orgasm during intercourse, if a woman's clitoris is located more than 2.5 cm from her vagina, then she is not likely to experience orgasms during intercourse.

Interestingly enough, although you would have thought that this would have been extensively researched in recent times, this has not been investigated since 1920, when the first piece of research on female orgasmic response (or the lack thereof) was conducted.

Marie Bonaparte was a French psychoanalyst and friend of Freud who investigated this very question because of the number of women that she saw who complained about not being able to reach orgasm during intercourse. She published her observations in 1924, and, reanalyzed by Wallen, they demonstrated a strong correlation with the results of his own research.

One thing that makes me feel there may be something in this work is that Wallen has indicated that he thinks only about 7% of women reach orgasm during intercourse alone: this very low figure is much more in line with everything that I've learnt about women's sexual responses in the 10 years that I've been working in the field.

Over that time, I've seen many reports which suggested that up to 50% of women reach orgasm during intercourse, and I've never believed any of them. I actually think the proportion of women who achieve orgasm during intercourse from penile thrusting alone is between 5% and 10% -- which is exactly in line with Wallen's conclusions.

Now, of course, this doesn't mean that any women who have a large gap between the clitoris and vagina should be discouraged about the possibility of getting satisfaction during sexual intercourse.

There are various positions which you can adopt to help this process: most well-known of these is the coital alignment technique or CAT.

In any event, the ability to have orgasms with "no hands / penis only" thrusting is not any guarantee of a happy sex life, because in some ways penile-vaginal sex can be disconnected and remote: there are much more intimate activities for a couple to share, including oral sex, cuddling, mutual masturbation, and intercourse after the man has brought the women to orgasm through oral sex or massaging and caressing her both internally and externally.

 What all this probably means is that couples need to be more imaginative and inventive in how they approach sex, especially when dealing with a woman's difficulty reaching orgasm during intercourse.

Mysteries of the female orgasm

There are some extraordinary mysteries about the female orgasm (and, for that matter, the male orgasm too).

The fact that the neurophysiology of the orgasm is a mystery is demonstrated by the fact that nobody as yet has really explained how some individuals with complete spinal-cord severance manage to have orgasms, or why the phenomenon of "orgasmic aura" can take hold of a person with epilepsy just before a seizure: apparently the sensations of the orgasmic aura is so pleasant that some epilepsy patients refuse treatment so they don't lose the pleasure of these pseudo-orgasms.

Work is being done to uncover the neurophysiology of the orgasm includes looking beyond the genitals to the structure of the central nervous system and the brain, and in particular how different regions of the nervous system interact during orgasm by tracing nerve pathways to find areas of the brain that might be linked to orgasm.

By using magnetic resonance imaging scans during sexual activity, scientists are beginning to understand how the brain works and how the nerve pathways actually produce the sensations of orgasm. They've conducted this work using willing volunteers, who are happy to reach orgasm either individually or together whilst having their brains scanned.

Barry R. Komisaruk, psychology professor at Rutgers University, says that while there is a huge amount we don't know about orgasms, science is now on the verge of discovering some important information and understanding how it can be used in practical terms to help people with orgasmic difficulties. This would include people with multiple sclerosis, cancer, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and even depression.

One of the more interesting things about orgasmic pleasure is that we're not talking about how many people are missing out on it, even though we're all brought up in a culture where sex and the achievement of orgasmic ecstasy seem to be incredibly important. While it may be well known that many people can't reach orgasm because they're on antidepressant drugs, what's not so well known is that possibly around 30 or 40% of men and women in the United States have some degree of sexual dysfunction.

Because it's never been easy to discuss sexuality, let alone study it (and there's no field of sexuality for which that statement is more true than the study of the orgasm), it's actually rather difficult to study orgasms scientifically, especially in the incredibly sexually inhibited United States.

One of the chief difficulties in this field is that an orgasm is actually quite difficult to define. We all know what one feels like, but scientists are a little less confident in being able to explain how it actually works in terms of the nervous system.

We do know that there are three main nerve pathways associated with stimulating the genitals: the pelvic, pudendal and hypogastric nerves. Signals are sent along these nerves and enter the spinal column before being passed to the brain regions that respond to sensations coming from the genitals.

After processing, signals are sent back down the spinal column to the genitals with instructions to lubricate the vagina, start an erection in a man, produce engorgement of the genitals, increase the heart rate, contract the muscles of the pelvic region so that orgasm is achieved ... and all the while, make it feel very good to the person concerned.

So it would appear on the face of it that having a severed spinal-cord would rule out all possibility of orgasmic activity, and yet there's plenty of evidence that this is not the case.

For example, Dr. Marca Sipski-Alexander, had work published in 2001 and some years later in which he reported that about half of men and women with varying degrees of spinal-cord injury could obtain orgasms when stimulated appropriately in both the mind and body.

This seems to demonstrate that the normal genital to spinal column to brain pathways are not the only ones that can produce an orgasm.

One explanation for this is that a touch which is not perceived by the brain can still produce an orgasm; this would only be true of course if orgasm was a reflex, albeit one which was optionally under conscious control. In other words, maybe all need to produce an orgasm is some connection between pelvic stimulation and the spinal-cord.

Even if this were true, we all know that an orgasm is much more than just pelvic contractions and muscles spasms around the genitals. An orgasm actually makes feel good, so we have to explain how the brains of spinal-cord injured people could sense orgasmic pleasure ...

...well, Professor Komisaruk and retired Rutgers University Professor Beverly Whipple, who was one of the discoveries of the G spot, suggest that orgasm isn't just a reflex. They think there is an orgasmic pathway that bypasses the spine and which can produce an orgasm: it's the vagus nerve network, which wonders throughout the entire body, starting at the base of the brain and going down the neck (but not through the spinal-cord column), while stretching out into every major organ system in the body including the uterus and cervix.

This may provide an explanation of how people with spinal column damage can still reach orgasm.

In 2004 Komisaruk and Whipple stimulated the cervixes of women whose spinal columns were completely severed, using MRI scanning to measure how their brains responded to the touch.

All the women reported feeling the stimulation inside their cervix, and obviously since the brain lit up with activity when the stimulation was applied, nerve impulses from the stimulation were actually reaching the brain. Interestingly three of the volunteers had an orgasm.

Orgasms elicit strong electoral activity in the nucleus accumbens, which is effectively the reward centre of the brain, responding to stimulate such as nicotine, chocolate and drugs; there's also activity during orgasm in the cerebellum, which coordinates muscle activity; and also in parts of the hypothalamus, a gland which releases oxytocin, a hormone known to be released after a woman has reached orgasm which elicits a bonding urge and a sense of intimate trust with a partner.

It's also fascinating to note that some areas of the neocortex that respond to pain also "fire up" during orgasm, an observation that might explain the fact that people often look like they're in pain when they're coming.

Other areas of the brain which are clearly involved with orgasm include the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, and the hippocampus, which deals with memory. Activity in these regions is associated with the experience orgasmic pleasure during epileptic seizures.

Interestingly enough, some areas of the brain need to be inactive during orgasm: including a region behind the left eyeball - the lateral orbitofrontal cortex - which has a role in controlling sexuality and antisocial and impulsive tendencies.

Since an orgasm is generally associated with loss of control, you might expect the regions of the brain associated with the control of sex and impulsive behavior to shut down during sexual arousal, and this is indeed the case. In fact there is an association between the degree to which these parts of the brain shut down and how aroused a woman actually is.

And this might even be one of the reasons why people find auto-asphyxiation during sexual activity arousing -- because depriving the brain of blood can decrease the activity of those parts which would normally inhibit sexual activity.

Most improbably, Komisaruk is trying to apply this new knowledge about how the brain works during sexual activity and orgasm to people who have difficulty reaching orgasm. By using a kind of biofeedback he has tried to train them to control the activity within their brain, thereby hopefully giving them increased chances of reaching orgasm.

For example, in some women who have difficulty reaching orgasm, he is trying to help them increase activity in the part of the brain associated with orgasm. However, at the moment this all remains rather uncertain and unproven. It's a case of watch this space!

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