Has Science Been Totally Wrong About The Female Orgasm?

Historically, many ideas about why the female orgasm exists and how it functions have been, well, pretty strange. Medieval thinkers wondered if they had to do with "wandering wombs," which were likely to run around the body, unanchored and causing havoc; various scientists and theologians in various eras have refused to believe in their existence, period; and in the 19th century, they were viewed as a cure for "hysteria."

In case you believe that we're now living in an era of complete understanding of the mechanics of orgasm, though, I'm sorry to say that you're wrong. Two new scientific theories are shedding light on the complexities of the female orgasm, but it's all still a bit of an unknown land.

This is because orgasm, scientists agree, tends to be a pretty complex process, involving muscle stimulation, neural waves, hormones, arousal, and a lot of other measures. (It's a wonder, considering the complexity, that any of us manage to get all our ducks in a row and have one at all.) But it's that complexity — and the degree to which orgasm operations might differ in male and female bodies — that has led to a lot of scientific disagreement, particularly when it comes to the female orgasm: what does the G-spot do? Does the vaginal orgasm even really exist? Why do we have clitorises? What on earth is going on in everybody's trousers? These new ideas may represent the start of some rethinking regarding scientific ideas about orgasms in the female body, and that's definitely something to celebrate (with a vibrator and a spare hour, of course).

Orgasm Is A Rhythmic Trance

The first new theory about both male and female orgasms comes from a Northwestern University study that uncovered a very interesting discovery about brain patterns synchronizing in time with outside stimuli. Looking for the mechanism by which orgasms can send us into a "trance,' researchers found that the rhythm of the sexual experience was most likely responsible. Getting a partner with a good sense of the beat, as it were, may be the key to attaining orgasm in some circumstances.

The researchers found evidence that brains coming to orgasm are actually quite similar to brains having seizures or very intensely listening to music: the "rhythmic stimulation" starts off something called neural entrainment. It's a kind of synchronization of neural activity with the "beat" of external rhythms: neurones synchronize with the stimulus and start to fire in regular oscillations. Studies have found that this sometimes happens to the beat of songs and harmonies; the brain is, in its own weird way, singing along. In the case of orgasm, the scientist believes that this "beat," if it's sustained, can take over the entire brain, absorb its entire attention, and "may be crucial for allowing for a sufficient intensity of experience to trigger the mechanisms of climax." Rhythm, according to this theory, pulls the brain into a kind of synchronized trance that pushes it towards orgasm.

The idea of rhythm as a kind of orgasmic tool isn't a new one; we already know that rhythmic pressure tends to be more capable of producing orgasm than switching perpetually from act to act. (Tantric sex, as a practice, relies a lot on the idea of rhythms and energy as keys to pleasure). The scientist behind this study notes that others have discovered that "erratic" or off-the-beat sexual stimulus tends to derail and confuse us. However, he also points out that rhythm isn't the only thing that creates orgasm: a lot of it depends on the individual activity of neurons in the brain, and how they respond to what he calls the "activation cascades" of waves of rhythm. And that can be a matter of arousal or attention; yes, it does seem more difficult to have an orgasm when you're distracted.

We Need To Reframe The Entire Clitoral Vs. Vaginal Discussion

A collection of Canadian scientists have published a paper in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology this week arguing that the whole concept of clitoral and vaginal orgasms — and the science devoted to dividing them — might actually be kind of a myth, and that it might be more valuable to consider all female orgasms as a "whole body" experience because of the complexity of the physiology.

Their theory is based on a new "synthesis:" that it's actually possible for women to experience orgasm from "one or more sources of sensory input, including the external clitoral glans, internal region around the 'G-spot' that corresponds to the internal clitoral bulbs, the cervix, as well as sensory stimulation of non-genital areas such as the nipples."

The researchers involved think they might have new insight into why no one can agree on exactly what causes female orgasms: we should rethink orgasms as something extremely complex and personal, based on individual arousal, experience and physiology, and capable of being stimulated by multiple areas at once.

In fact, this research is a a highly feminist reframing of the entire experience of female orgasm:

"Perhaps it is time to stop treating women’s orgasm as a sociopolitical entity with different sides telling women what they can and cannot experience or debating whether female orgasm is a vestigial male orgasm.... It is time to stop making believe that the vagina is an inverted penis or that the clitoris is somehow a ‘vestigial penis’ with a smaller capacity for stimulation and pleasure relative to the penis. And to the chagrin of an unfortunate number of men, it is time to stop acting like sexual interaction begins and ends with an erect penis."

It seems we may be entering a new "golden age" of orgasm understanding, where the female orgasm in particular is given more credit, released from its previous incarnation where it was considered "lesser" than the male orgasm, and explored as the weird, trance-like, multiple and bizarre thing that it is, on its own terms. Long live orgasms and the science that helps us understand 'em.

Images: Pexels, Giphy