Since I first started writing about sex, women have been asking the same question: “How do I know if I’ve had an orgasm?”
It’s a query that’s far more common than you might think.
In fact, it’s estimated around 15 per cent of women have never reached climax. And given the shame and mystery surrounding female pleasure, my guess is the real number is higher.
Though I’m an outspoken advocate of not making sex goal-oriented (that is, having sex that isn’t focused around achieving an orgasm), I’m deeply troubled by this statistic. Largely because it speaks to a wider issue within our culture when it comes to women’s body autonomy.
It’s no coincidence there aren’t any lessons on the clitoris in sex ed, or that its true anatomy was only discovered as recently as a decade ago – many years after the intricate details of the penis were well known. In fact, the researchers who built the first 3D model of the clitoral structure weren’t even properly funded for their work.
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‘I see stars and forget where I am’
With 8000 nerve endings (far more than the end of the penis) and roots we now know run deep into the vagina and sit flush with the G-spot, the clitoris has the ability to deliver life-changing pleasure. Or, as one woman in an informal survey I ran on Instagram put it: “The most delicious release of ecstasy. I see stars and forget where I am.”
It’s additionally the only structure in the human body with the exclusive purpose of delivering pleasure, and the key to the ‘Big Oh’ for roughly two-thirds of women. So powerful is the euphoria it can produce, academic and author Naomi Wolf famously referred to the chemicals released in the brain after female orgasm as the “ultimate feminist neurotransmitters”.
Which makes sense, given women who regularly orgasm are typically more confident, focused and sexually assertive.
It also offers a possible explanation as to why so little emphasis has been placed on the female orgasm throughout history.
Sex education acknowledges male pleasure while completely censoring female pleasure from the discussion. Porn too, views sex through the male gaze – one in which women act as conduits for men’s orgasms.
Women are cautioned from being sexual; warned we’ll be deemed “easy”, “used up” and “not wife material” (though, confusingly, labelled “prudes” when we reject men’s sexual advances) and girls are regularly told to close their legs and “save” themselves for the right guy.
Female pleasure has been so routinely demonised, Freud even once hypothesised women who masturbated were suffering from a form of neurosis.
In suppressing information around female sexuality and treating women’s bodies as objects that exist for the pleasure of men, we’ve succeeded not only in sexually disenfranchising women, but in brainwashing ourselves into believing the female orgasm is elusive and complicated.
Here’s the truth: it’s not.
Orgasms easy to achieve for most women
Research indicates that, during masturbation, with correct clitoral stimulation, orgasms are quick and easy for the vast majority of women. We actually achieve them in roughly the same amount of time it takes men to get there – four minutes.
So, what exactly does that look and feel like?
Well, it varies from one woman to another, but in general, studies show women require light to medium pressure in order to build to climax.
Orgasm itself is characterised by several key factors, which sex scientists Masters and Johnson observed in a lab in the 1960s while quite literally studying people as they got it on in real-time.
During climax, a woman will experience a rapid rise in blood pressure and faster breathing, rhythmic contractions of the vaginal muscles, and involuntary contractions throughout the body that can feel similar to spontaneous cramps.
Almost universally, women who’ve climaxed describe the sensation as a feeling of intense release. And, perhaps most significantly, this feeling is extremely unmistakeable. As in, you will absolutely know if it’s happened to you.
Take it from someone who, after discovering the magic of orgasm at 13, spent most of my teens guiltily masturbating under the duvet, convinced I’d be hurled into a courtroom like a 17th century witch.
Or, as one survey respondent described it, it’s like being hit “by a freight train”.
Needless to say, if you have to ask, “How will I know if I’ve had an orgasm?” you’re yet to experience the unadulterated joy of riding the metaphorical rollercoaster.
But this shouldn’t be cause for making it the focus of sex (whether it’s the kind you’re having on your own or with a partner). When we put pressure on ourselves, stress hormones rise, inhibiting our muscles, including the ones *ahem* down there.
Ironically, if you’re one of the estimated 15 per cent of women who have never climaxed, your best chance of getting there is to take orgasm off the table entirely. Go into sex planning not to, and instead focus on enjoying the moment, and most importantly – your clitoris.
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