There’s a certain cultural mystique around the female orgasm. You often here it described with words like “elusive” and “mysterious.” (If you have a vulva, you probably just rolled your eyes.) In reality, the female orgasm is not complicated once you understand it. The problem is, many people don’t.
"We’re told of tales of princesses and damsel growing up," sex educator Lola Jean tells Bustle. "How a kiss from their true love breaks the curse and they lived happily ever after. This notion may be slightly outdated, yet still pervasive in modern society. It’s the madonna/whore complex. It is slut-shaming. It is the belief that a woman should only engage in her sexual desires when she is in love, or when there is an emotional connection."
As we'll see, this view of women as less sexual, more emotional, and more innocent is behind many myths about their orgasms. The way we view women's sexuality, after all, is often a reflection of more general stereotypes about them. It is not always a reflection of reality.
Here are some myths still being perpetuated about the female orgasm that we really need to put to bed (but keep out of our beds).
Myth #1: Women Should Orgasm Through Penetration
Most people by now have (hopefully?) heard that the clitoris is essential to most vulva owners’ orgasms. So, then why are there still so many articles with headlines like “positions guaranteed to get her off?” and “positions guaranteed to make you orgasm”? The only positions that should be on these lists are those that let make it easy to simultaneously stimulate the clit.
Another big contributor to this myth is all the advice and products out there claiming to help those with penises last longer in bed on the premise that this will help their partners orgasm. That’s sort of like saying you’ll get better at math by spending more time practicing the piano. There may be some connection, but it’s definitely not the most efficient method.
"There's just a bunch of men, Freud included, who have misled us to believe that there is a whole grail in our vaginas, when in fact the clitoris has been the seat of female sexual pleasure all along," Dr. Nina Brochmann, author of The Wonder Down Under: The Insider's Guide to the Anatomy, Biology, and Reality of the Vagina, tells Bustle. "Only about one in four women regularly come from vaginal intercourse; the rest need clitoral stimulation."
Myth #2: “Vaginal Orgasms” Are Superior
Freud gave us the idea that there are “vaginal orgasms” and “clitoral orgasms,” with the “vaginal” ones superior. But in reality, there is no such thing as a purely vaginal orgasm. Ones that come through vaginal penetration still involve the clitoris. Some report that they feel different, but these reports are all over the place, with some actually saying clitoral orgasms are more intense and others saying vaginal orgasms are. The point is, whatever kind of orgasm you’re having is a good orgasm!
"There is absolutely no physiological difference between [clitoral and vaginal orgasms]," says Brochmann. "An orgasm is an orgasm, no matter how you achieve it.”
Myth #3: Orgasming Is Difficult For Most Women
There’s a widespread belief that female orgasms take a lot of time and work, but this completely depends on what activity women are engaging in. Sex researcher Alfred Kinsey reported in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female that on average, women masturbate to orgasm in under four minutes. While she didn’t calculate the average time, sex researcher Shere Hite reported in The Hite Report that 95 percent of women who masturbated “could orgasm easily and regularly, whenever they wanted."
The reason we view it as difficult for women to orgasm, then, is likely because we’re still expecting them to orgasm through penetration. If that’s how you’re trying to accomplish it, it will appear difficult because there aren't many nerve endings in the vagina.
It is true that 5-10 percent of women have never had orgasms, according to a 32-study meta-analysis in Elisabeth Lloyd's The Case of the Female Orgasm, but that doesn’t mean they are physically incapable. Many just have not been taught about their own capacity for pleasure or have been shamed out of exploring it. In fact, 60 to 90 percent of women who had never had orgasms can achieve them both by themselves and with partners after five or six weeks of practice.
Myth #4: You Need An Orgasm To Have A Good Sex Life
Speaking of those who have never had an orgasm, they can still have great sex lives. There are plenty of other great things about sex — the thrill of initiating it, the anticipation of taking each other’s clothes off, the intimacy of skin-to-skin contact — that make it enjoyable.
"The orgasm is not the end all of sex," Dr. Piper Grant, a licensed clinical psychologist, sex therapist, and founder of Numi Psychology, tells Bustle. "Our bodies have so many erogenous zones. There is so much pleasure that can be derived from so many different parts of our bodies. Sex is fun, playful, and pleasurable in many different ways."
Myth #5: Female Orgasms Feel Different From Male Orgasms
There seems to be a cultural belief that female orgasms are more pleasurable, more emotionally overwhelming, or otherwise different from male ones. But those with penises and those with vaginas describe orgasms in similar ways.
In fact, in one study in Archives of Sexual Behavior, neither men nor women were able to correctly guess which gender wrote which descriptions of orgasms. Another study in Sex Roles found that the vocabulary that women and men used to describe orgasms was similar. So, they may be coming from different body parts, but they probably feel the same — which makes sense because male and female genitalia develop from the same structure in the womb.
Myth #6: All People With Vulvas Have Multiple Orgasms
Multiple orgasms are often brought up as evidence of how different women supposedly are from men. But in reality, only a minority (by different accounts, 15 or 47 percent) of women have had multiple orgasms, and most have refractory periods. Clitoral stimulation after orgasm is actually uncomfortable for many women, yet due to a sexist double-standard, they're often expected to continue anyway until their partners are satisfied, while sex is considered to be over once a man orgasms.
"I am suspicious that 'multiple' is not really multiple in the way [magazines have] traditionally written about them," sex researcher Nicole Prause, PhD tells Bustle. "Rather, it seems likely that some women have a relatively short refractory period, just like some men. I doubt men and women are as different in this respect as popular culture has made them out to be."
Myth #7: The Female Orgasm Evolved For Reproduction
Some scientists have posited that the female orgasm evolved to suck in sperm so that it has a higher chance of merging with an egg. However, a lot of evidence casts serious doubt on this sperm-sucking theory. "To make the sperm theory work is like explaining how the sun and planets orbit the earth," Brent Reider, an author and referee for medical and scientific peer review journals and designer of several FDA-cleared medical devices including the Yarlap, tells Bustle.
For one, women don't typically orgasm while sperm is entering the vagina (see myth #1). Plus, there isn't any correlation between how many orgasms women have and how many children they have, according to a study in Animal Behavior. More likely is that the female orgasm evolved as a byproduct of the male orgasm or as a way to tone the pelvic floor muscles.
Myth #8: Women Need An Emotional Connection To Orgasm
As Hite wrote in The Hite Report, there's a widespread idea that women's orgasms are "more dependent on feelings." However, she explains, "There is no great mystery about why a woman has an orgasm. It happens with the right stimulation, quickly, pleasurably, and reliably."
"Speaking as someone who has never been in love or maintained an emotional connection for longer than a few weeks, I can tell you that the emotional connection is not necessary to orgasm," says Jean. "In a casual sex culture, it is more typical for the penis owner to be more concerned with their own pleasure. The reason why there is an epidemic of women — predominantly straight women — who have not, or rarely, orgasm is not due to a lack of emotional connection. A woman is more in control of her vulva and her pleasure than you know — even more than she knows."
This may leave you wondering what is true about female orgasms. Well, there's at least one thing that isn't a myth: that they're lots of fun and great for your health — and we all deserve them if we want them.