Ever since feminists began to celebrate female pleasure, the female orgasm has been on everyone's lips. Wading through all the misinformation and myths out there can be tough (the G-spot isn't real!), but it's truly a must for sex education — and sexual liberation.
A juicy, hot button topic, this perennial pleasure-maker is a favorite not only because it feels good (to talk about), but because it can be complex AF. Like most sexual experiences, orgasms rely on a combination of physical and mental factors. While the fleshy path to O-ville is pretty straightforward — touch/lick/caress A, and you'll feel B — the psychological path can be far trickier. You can be tangling with someone who has mad skills, but if your head is elsewhere or your heart isn't in it, climaxing just might not be in the cards. This is a relatable outcome regardless of genitalia, but it's a well-established fact that vaginas do have a few more, um, moving parts shall we say, which can only exacerbate the issue. Plus, you know, patriarchy.
Figuring out physical turn-offs that affect climaxing is simple (sharp-edged, un-manicured nails come to mind) but what about psychological turn-offs? Here's what science has to say mentally impacts the female orgasm.
1. Body Image
It's easy to see how focusing on your breast size or how your stomach looks or how clear your skin is can distract you from enjoying a sexual experience. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Sex Medicine showed the dramatic impact body image has on pleasure by using a variety of intersecting questionnaires.
Researchers surveyed 154 female subjects 18-49 years old about their body image and sex lives using The Sexual Satisfaction Scale for Women, The Body Esteem Scale, The Cognitive Distraction During Sexual Activity Scale and The Female Sexual Functioning Index. They found that at least three subsets of body image are at play during sex, including weight concern, physical condition, and sexual attractiveness, and concluded that "the more esteem women had for their own body parts and functions, the higher their sexual satisfaction with their partner." In addition, the more a woman thought about her appearance during sex, the less likely she was to enjoy it. This process, called "spectatoring" is seeing yourself as you imagine you look outside your body, and can be just as damaging as thinking "I hate my thighs" during a sexual encounter. If only it was so easy to just turn our brains off...
2. Sexual Stigma
Society is obsessed with how much, how often and with whom women have (or don't have) sex. It's no wonder that transgressing sexual stigma can have an impact on sexual pleasure, too. 2013 research by The Kinsey Institute found that heterosexual women are twice as likely to climax from relationship sex as they are from hookup sex. These findings were chalked up to guys not being able to figure out a woman's unique path to orgasm on the first try, guys not caring about a women's orgasm in a hookup situation, women not caring/being afraid to ask for what they want, and women succumbing to sexual stigma. When women still face punishment from friends and acquaintances alike for engaging in casual sex, how can that stress not impact their in-the-moment bliss?
Sex is supposed to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone, which is why many feel uber relaxed at the end of a session. However, according to a 2008 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, there are some women who show an increase in cortisol during sex. Of the 30 women between 21 and 51 who participated, none reported a history of "sexual trauma." Researchers found that if a woman's cortisol increased during sex, her sexual arousal, desire, and satisfaction decreased.
I'd personally be curious how "sexual trauma" is defined for this study, because although a woman might not report sexual trauma as in, molestation or rape, she still might have experienced traumatic sexual experiences, or associate anxiety with sex due to sexual stigma or body image. Living in a culture which basically refuses to afford all women complete bodily autonomy might have something to do with increased stress during sex, in my humble opinion.
The saddest yet completely unsurprising psychological factor which can impair the female orgasm? Sexism. A new study by one Queensland University researcher in Australia found a direct correlation between the frequency of women's orgasms and their acceptance of benevolent sexism. Defined by the study author as the "legitimizing myth, whereby prejudicial attitudes toward women are justified through the guise of care and protection," benevolent sexism is a whole lot sneakier then outright woman-bashing misogyny.
How does this actually impact your O-game? As Salon eloquently put it, "If a woman believes sex is her duty, it’s unlikely her head space will focus on her orgasming, but rather fulfilling her duty as a wife so she can move on to the next task."
If you needed one more reason to double down on your fight for gender equality, here it is.
Images: Fotolia; Giphy (4)