There May Be Two Kinds Of Female Orgasm After All — But Who Cares?

Studies by French gynecologists now suggest that, physiologically, women may experience two different kinds of orgasm, depending on the stimulation received — contrary to previous theories that female orgasms are all of the same fundamental (clitoral) kind. You might think that this is just a basic finding in the science of anatomy. But actually, it's a politically-laden, possibly anti-feminist development in the bizarre history of analyzing — and, in my opinion, over-analyzing — the sexual experiences of women.

If, like me, you came of age in the past few decades, you may have noticed that the psychosexual theories of Sigmund Freud are typically mocked and subsequently dismissed in circles of polite company. This is because, as it turns out, Freud was much less of a rigorous scientist and much more a peddler of, um, creative non-fiction than previously widely assumed. Around the turn of the 20th century, amongst other things (Oedipus Complex, anyone?), Freud argued that the female orgasm takes two forms: clitoral and vaginal. Moreover, in addition to being different in cause and in sensation, Freud held that vaginal orgasms are somehow superior to clitoral orgasms. A mature woman is able to experience vaginal orgasm easily during sexual intercourse with a man, whereas the more juvenile clitoral orgasms are the outcome of mere manual or oral stimulation.

In addition to being scientifically unsupported (at least at the time), Freud's theory of female orgasm was pretty phallocentric and insulting to the many women who report that vaginal intercourse just doesn't do much for them. So, we see feminists producing works like Anne Koedt's "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm," arguing that all female orgasms are, in some sense, clitoral: the clitoris is where the sexy feels are produced in women, and it can be stimulated externally and internally, but at the end of the day that's how the magic's happening. To pretend that a "vaginal" orgasm is somehow different — and better — just makes women feel needless guilty for the ways their bodies respond (or not) during sex, and it confers unjustified sexual power on the Almighty Penis.

So then we got a feminist golden age of clitoral revolution: including research showing that the clitoris extends internally (thereby explaining away the vaginal orgasm), an apparently mounting interest in the art of cunnilingus, the proliferation of clitoris-focused vibrators, and even clitoral advocacy art. Presumably everyone is having a jolly good time appreciating the clitoris from the outside, inside, left, right, and et cetera. Then these French gynecologists have to come along with their wet tampon probes and vaginal sonography to rain on our feminist parade: Freud's intuitions are vindicated; the two-type theory of female orgasm lives!

Well, hold the phone, because first of all, those findings are overblown in the way that's typical of science-related headlines. This is a bit of a semantic issue, but the French researchers did not find that there is a different kind of stimulation happening physiologically within the vagina — ( and the "G-spot" remains hugely controversial). Rather, they showed that the internal portions of the clitoris are not activated by stimulation of the external parts of the clitoris. At the risk of sounding indelicate, this is hardly surprising to vagina-havers, and explains the popularity of items such as these. So perhaps the clitoral/vaginal orgasm debate is merely a linguistic one: are the sensations different enough that we should give the events different labels, even if both result from stimulation of parts of the clitoris?

But, more importantly, let's pause to ask: what are the implications of these findings for actual women's actual sex lives? I'm about as science-minded as they come (pun intended), and I want scientists to understand the human body better and better all the time. But various women and their various partners are already exploring different kinds of stimulation largely successfully, and the research regarding types of orgasm doesn't do much to assist that process. If you're not enjoying sexual activity as much as you could be, the standard advice still totally applies: communicate with your partner, try something new, and relax about the whole thing as much as you can. It's a hugely fortunate occurrence that women experience orgasm at all, given how incidental it is to reproduction as compared to male orgasm. Feminists determined to see oppression in biology and Freudians determined to prove armchair theories of anatomy can hash out the details while the rest of us are off doing some sexual research of our own.