There are few things in life as elusive as the female orgasm. Which is why it makes sense that one in 10 sexually active women have never experienced one, let alone multiple – with a partner or via masturbation. That’s not to say it’s not normal (it definitely is), or that your sex life can’t be satisfying without them (it totally can be.)
Here, we’ve enlisted sexologist, coach and tantra practitioner, Juliet Allen, to delve into the science behind orgasms: what they are, how they work, what they feel like and how to achieve them.
What actually happens to our bodies during an orgasm?
There are lots of changes (some more subtle than others) that happen in the body when we climax.
The moment we get excited, blood rushes to our nether regions and the walls of the vagina start secreting beads of fluid (these get bigger and blend together to provide lubrication during foreplay). Next, our breathing speeds up, heart rate increases and nipples become erect. At the same time, the lower part of the vagina narrows in preparation to grip the penis, while the upper part expands to give it room to go.
Eventually, so much nerve and muscle tension has built up in our genitals, pelvis, butt and thighs that it has nowhere to go. So, the body releases it in a series of intense waves (aka, an orgasm).
At this point, the uterus and anus begin to contract simultaneously (at 0.8-second intervals.) A small orgasm might consist of three to five contractions, while a more intense one can reach 10 to 15. Some women may notice other muscles in the body contract involuntarily too (i.e. clenched toes and weird faces!)
What’s the best way to achieve an orgasm?
Want to increase your chances of reaching a mind-blowing climax? That was a rhetorical question, (obvs). Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to get there.
“Orgasm is more than just a big bang at 'the end,’” explains Juliet. “It begins way before sex even starts, when we first begin to feel pleasurable sensations swirling through our bodies ... that's orgasmic energy.”
By tuning into that feeling as soon as you notice it, you’ll start to feel it more and more. “When we let go of the 'end goal' we are able to be more present,” Juliet adds. “So, I encourage people to not have achieving an orgasm as their be-all and end-all and instead take note of the waves of orgasmic energy that are surging through us always.”
Clitoral (and/or g-spot stimulation) is also important here – in fact, some women can’t orgasm without it. Girl On Top, Doggy Style and Lotus are the best positions for facilitating this with a partner, while the Circle Perk move is a must during masturbation.
Research has found that the following activities may also help increase your ability to orgasm:
What does an orgasm feel like? How do you know if you’ve had one?
Ask anyone who has reached the Big O and they’ll struggle to describe it. Some say it feels like “pins and needles” or “an electric shock that builds in intensity.” While others settle for “waves of pleasure” followed by “total relaxation.”
“As there are different types of orgasm, everyone experiences orgasm in different ways!” says Juliet. “It can feel like a surge of energy throughout our entire body, or can be just a soft tingle in our genitals.”
As our bodily reactions to orgasms are so unique, it can be tricky to pinpoint if you’ve had one or not. Generally, though, you’ll feel flushed, out of breath and experience muscle spasms down there.
“The common denominator in all orgasms is the pleasurable sensation that we feel in our body, and then often it can be felt in our heart space and our third eye, too,” explains Julia.
Are there different types of orgasms?
It’s not so much a matter of there being different kinds of orgasms, but rather, many different ways an orgasm can be reached. This is because our erectile tissue is spread out over a large area, meaning we have multiple erogenous zones.
- Clitoral orgasm
The clitoris is a small, nerve-dense structure located at the tip of the vaginal opening that serves no purpose other than to provide sexual pleasure.
- G-spot orgasm
This highly erogenous area on the anterior (or front) vaginal wall of the urethral sponge can be stimulated during sexual activity.
- Blended orgasm
Best achieved when two or more types of stimulation occur simultaneously. I.e. the nipples and G-spot or clitoris and vagina.
- Anal orgasm
The legs of the clitoris stretch all the way back to the anus, meaning backdoor stimulation may increase sexual arousal.
- A-spot orgasm
The tissue that sits near the entrance of the uterus (toward the end of the vaginal canal) can engorge with blood and become bigger when penetrated.
- C-spot orgasm
This involves stimulation of the nerve endings located in the cervix and around the uterus.
- U-spot orgasm
The tissue that surrounds the urethra (located just below the clitoris) is also sensitive to vibratory stimulation.
What are the most common issues preventing women from achieving an orgasm during sex?
Be it a previous sexual trauma that hasn’t been properly dealt with or a health issue (depression, anxiety, certain medications), there are many reasons a woman may find climaxing difficult. That said, stressing yourself out about it won’t help – actually, it will only make it harder.
“The pressure to ‘come’ prevents many of us from reaching an orgasm because we are all up in our heads,” Juliet says. “Also, I think women expect their partner to 'make them come’, when they don’t know how to do it solo.”
Taking the time to figure out what arouses you in your own time is key here.
“I encourage all women to self-pleasure and explore their bodies extensively. This will then give you the confidence to show your partner what turns you on during intercourse,” Juliet adds.
How can you overcome these?
If you’ve tried Juliet’s tips above and still haven’t experienced an orgasm, there are a few factors to consider:
- Treating any underlying health conditions
- Switching out any medication that may be causing the issue (under the guidance of your GP)
- Seeking counselling from a qualified sex therapist
- Undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy