The female orgasm

I f orgasm is the ultimate sexual pleasure, it’s something that most women want to experience. The sexual surveys indicate that about 80 per cent of women have orgasm at least occasionally though by no means all of them reach this through intercourse. That still leaves a very large number who have never had an orgasm – but just how much that matters is up to the individual concerned.

There’s been so much discussion about female sexuality in terms of ‘the orgasm’ that some women may feel there is something desperately lacking in their make-up if they never have a climax – and that something is really wrong if they never particularly want to. That’s certainly quite unnecessary.

Some women get a great deal of emotional and physical satisfaction from making love without having an orgasm; their feelings of well-being afterwards are very intense, and they can imagine no greater pleasure from a more physical reaction. Such women are genuinely not frustrated by lack of orgasms and do not feel in any way deprived or inadequate.

But others are continually upset by an unfulfilled desire to have an orgasm, which can lead to them becoming more and more tense and unhappy about sex. It can also be physically uncomfortable: arousal creates a build-up of blood in the tissues in the genital area and without an orgasm there is no immediate release of this. There’s no physical reason why any healthy woman should not experience orgasm; it’s more likely that emotional factors intervene to prevent fulfilment.

Orgasm is a reflex action of the body- it’s way of releasing the physical tension built up by concen-trated sexual stimulation. The kind 01 stimulation that brings a woman to a climax is still the subject of some controversy but the actual body changes that happen during orgasm can be described quite precisely. Four’stages’ are involved, though naturally when someone is experiencing an orgasm these stages merge into a continuous feeling.

The first phase, oiarousal or excitement, brings a number of physical changes as the woman’s body prepares for orgasm. Firsdy, the vagina lengthens and widens and secretes a lubricant to make lovemaking easier. There tends to be a pleasant ache or feeling of fullness in the genitals as they fill with blood-just as a man’s penis does when it swells to erection. The breasts may also swell and become more sensitive, and the nipples stand out.

As she moves into what is called the plateau phase, the woman’s breathing and heart rate increase, as does the general muscular tension. The colour of the labia (lips around the vulva) deepens, and the clitoris tends to retract within its hood which prevents it becoming painful from too much direct contact. Some women also sweat and experience large variations in tempera-ture, and some develop a flush or rash.

Providing stimulation continues and there are no other distractions, the plateau phase eventually evolves into the orgasm itself. This is felt as a series of rhythmical contractions centred round the vagina, but they may be felt elsewhere in the body as well – the uterus, anus, stomach, limbs, even the face.

Reactions during the climax vary a great deal; some women hold themselves very still and quiet, while others groan and move with the contractions; a few even briefly lose consciousness. The final stage is the resolution, when the body gradually returns to its unaroused state -muscles relax, breathing is slower and deeper, blood pressure and heart rate fall, and generally a feeling of fulfillment and repose takes over.

What’s the best way for a woman to reach a climax? The simple answer is that whatever works is best. Sexual response involves a complex mixture of emotional and physical triggers, and it’s not possible to be dogmatic about it However, there has been a lot or discussion about the ‘vaginal’ and ‘clitoral’ orgasms – in other words about where the main focus of sexual stimulation lies in a woman. The clitoris is a tiny organ, swathed in a protective hood, situated at the front of the genitals. Most of the research that’s been done explodes the myth that there are two ‘types’ of orgasm, in that it suggests any orgasm depends on clitoral sensation to stimulate it.

Sexual pleasure can come from stimulating other areas of the body but the majority of women- however much they enjoy the full range of love play- only achieve an orgasm as a result of continuous stimulation of the clitoris or the area immediately around it. The vagina is in fact relatively sparse in nerveendings, and therefore not particularly sensitive except around the entrance and just inside. The actual contractions, however, are felt in the vagina and this feeling-may be intensified when the area is filled by a penis.

Despite the fact that there is only one physical definition of orgasm there are differences in the way women experience it. Sexual surveys in the Seventies showed that many women felt a difference in sensation, depending on whether or not their partners’ penis was inside them. Reaching an orgasm by masturbating, or by a partner stimulating them by hand, can sometimes create a more intense and specific sensation, while orgasm during intercourse may lead to a kind of sensual experience which some women find more satisfying. However, the idea that there are two types of orgasm, vaginal and clitoral, is quite misleading, and there is no basis for thinking that any particular way of climaxing is better than another.

Is there something wrong if a woman can’t reach orgasm during intercourse? There can’t be anything wrong with something diat is in fact normal for a large percentage of the population. Studies concur in their findings that fewer than 30 per cent of women regularly come to orgasm with intercourse alone. Very few couples have the physical ‘fif which assures the clitoris is sufficiently stimulated during the thrusting of the penis in the vagina; in any case, actual intercourse may not last long enough to bring the woman to orgasm.

The action of the penis pulls the labia which in turn moves the clitoral hood – and actual pressure on the clitoris may be exerted by the man’s pubic bone. If a woman has been sufficiently aroused before penetration, this may be enough. However, she may continue to need more direct stimulation and that is easily supplied by continuing to use her own or her partner’s fingers at the same time as having intercourse. Sometimes a couple may choose for the woman to have her orgasm before they move on to intercourse, or afterwards. When really does not matter in the least so long as both of the partners are happy.

Simultaneous orgasm, where both partners climax together, is not necessarily the ‘right5 way to come and it is not some sort of great sexual achievement; scoring it as ‘top marks’ and anything else as less is nonsense.

Is it true that some women reach orgasm more easily than others? If so, why? Yes it does seem to be true – but no one knows precisely why. There is a very wide variation in the kind of sexual response that both men and women experience; for any individual the feeling can be quite different from one occasion to another in either intensity or range of sensation experienced.

Some women are very easily aroused and can reach an orgasm quickly in just a few minutes; others arouse much more slowly and the sensation only builds up from much caressing and stimu-lation. However, sexuality is at least as much of the mind as of the body, and for most women the psychological factors are crucial too. The fantasy element- the mental pictures that are happening – can contribute a great deal to the intensity of excitement, and every individual has a particular kind of mood setting and partner which combine to make the right components for arousal and satisfaction.

The contractions felt in orgasm usually only last a few seconds. A few women experience several orgasms in a row, either merging in to oneanother, or punctuated by brief returns to the plateau phase. But one orgasm is more usual, and the kind of sensation it creates can be anything from merely pleasant to exquisite. Surveys asking women to describe their orgasms reveal all sorts of sensation from ‘total bliss’, ‘delirious’ or ‘out of control’ to ‘a feeling of warmth and love’. As long as a woman feels happy and satisfied, there’s little to be gained by wondering how her experience of orgasm compares with someone else’s.

Some women complain that after being aroused, they don’t actually reach a climax as it ‘goes wrong’. Why does this happen?

The female orgasm is rarely something that happens automatically the first time a woman has sexual intercourse. It is a reflex, but in order to get the body to the pitch at which it can happen, there needs to be a certain series of events. It’s usually a question of both her and her partner exploring the sensations and the timing that this sequence involves- then it’s much more likely to become something natural and assured.

The last steps from the plateau to the orgasmic phase is one which many women find very difficult indeed. Physically, a woman needs to have discovered the kind or touch and stimulation she needs to achieve that last step. She may be very lucky and have a partner who instinctively gets it right, but as each body is different in its needs it makes sense for the woman to be prepared to encourage and guide her partner.

Many men (and women) do not realize how long it may take for a woman to reach the orgasmic stage, and they may give up or move on to intercourse long before the woman is ready. Alternatively, in an excess of zeal, a man may over-stimulate the very sensitive clitoris, which can be an altogether painful and very unerotic experience.

Sometimes, even with a sensitive and co-operative partner, a woman cannot move into orgasm, usually because of some emotional problem. This may be an expression of something wrong in the relationship, or it may indicate a block in the woman’s emotional attitude to her own body, and to having an orgasm. Many women are still brought up in ignorance and embarrassment about their bodies, if not actual dislike and disgust. As well as understanding how her genitals work, a woman has to learn to accept that this part of die body- and the range of sensations it can offer – are there to be enjoyed.

Learning to love your own body when you may have been brought up to think its functions dirty can take a long time. Gaining the confidence and insight to overcome emotional difficulties may go against a lifetime’s behaviour. No-one would pretend that such change is easy, but it is possible and there are people who can provide professional help.

Faking orgasm is no answer – having done it once it almost inevitably becomes the norm and meanwhile makes orgasm itself more and more elusive. It can put you off sex completely. If you don’t want an orgasm there’s no need to pretend, and if you do, faking will only hinder it.

What kind of help can a woman get if she has difficulty reaching an orgasm? Perhaps the greatest boost towards learning to have an orgasm is for a woman to realize that she is not unique in having a problem – thousands of others share her frustrations. Some women gradually get over their difficulties, either by themselves or with the help of a loving partner but, if anyone wants to seek professional help, it is available.

There are many clinics specializing in this kind of counselling or therapy – you could ask your doctor or a local family planning clinic for details. Any woman can seek advice – it doesn’t matter whether she is single or attached. The counsellor’s approach will depend on the problem the woman is experiencing, and what kind of emotional factors are involved.

Learning to have an orgasm must begin with learning to enjoy your own body – the sight, touch, taste and smell of it. Some orgasm therapy tends to start with exploration and explanation of how the genitals work and moves on to teach a woman to enjoy her own sensuality. Learning to give herself an orgasm by masturbating, perhaps with a vibrator if her fingers are not enough, has given many women sensations they thought they were never going to experience.

This may help many women, especially if they can go on to apply their new awareness in the context of their relationship with a loving and co-operative partner. But it’s important to realize there is no ‘rubber stamp’ approach to sexual therapy— it will always depend on the individual involved and the therapist’s understanding of her special problems.

Is it true that a woman can lose her ability to achieve orgasms? Most women get better at orgasms as they become more mature. They are more self-assured, more assertive and they’ve had more practice. There are, however, bound to be occasions when things don’t work out, and this is quite normal. In addition, alcohol or some drugs can have a temporarily lowering effect on sensitivity which may make orgasm difficult. Ill health or just plain tiredness can interfere. Taking the contraceptive Pill or being pregnant may affect the secretions which lubricate the vagina, but this can easily be offset by using a lubricating jelly -available from most chemists.

Worrying about failure to orgasm sets up a vicious circle, as it inhibits the chances of success next time. Sometimes it may help break the circle to return to masturbation techniques or to massage and other pleasures not specifically aimed at orgasm. Certainly, to demand orgasm as the outcome of every sexual encounter is unrealistic and may simply be inviting problems.