Science, Now + Beyond

Your one-night stand doesn’t care about what you actually want in bed

Women want them, and they’re not getting them.

Orgasm. The big O. Climax. Whatever you want to call it, women want them, and they’re not getting them.

That is, they’re not getting them as often as men do. There’s been a discussion circulating about why, evolutionarily, women have the ability to orgasm. After all, men are the ones who need to climax in order to reproduce. But women? There’s no current biological need, so why bother with female orgasms?

Research has found that way back when hormonal surges during female orgasms were important for conception. This was due to the placement of the clitoris that was perhaps once closer to the vagina. Now that the clitoris is anatomically further away, conception does not depend on female hormone surges. This also means that penetrative sexual intercourse alone often does not lead a woman to climax. So, problem solved. No need for women to orgasm during sex, no need to worry about female orgasms, right?

blonde woman pretends to have an orgasm in a restaurant
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Wrong. The purpose of sex between men and women today is not the same as it was during the time of our predecessors. It’s still about reproduction, but much less so. Western society has much more control over who our partners are and if and when we want to reproduce: modern-day sex is much more about pleasure.

But why, then, are women who have sex with men still less likely to experience orgasm?

There is very little research about the female orgasm, and female pleasure is still a relatively taboo subject. While there’s an abundance of articles like this that talk about pleasing men, the equivalent doesn’t exist for women. It wasn’t even until the 1970s that it was discovered that most women can’t climax from penetrative sex alone. 

 Amongst the little research out there about the female orgasm, one perspective says we need to talk about the sexual response cycles of men and women differently. In your Sex Ed class, you probably learned the Masters and Johnson model: excitement, plateau, orgasm, resolution. One study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, argues that there should be a difference between the way we think about this model for men and women, particularly when it comes to the excitement, or arousal, stage. 

According to the study, women are sexually aroused for different reasons than men. Rather than looking for sexual release or orgasm, women might be seeking intimacy with a partner. Unlike men, whose erections let them know when they’re aroused and ready to go, women don’t perceive their physical sexual arousal in the same way. For example, sufficient lubrication, an indicator of arousal in women, isn’t as easily sensed. 

Hookup culture in the western world makes the female orgasm all the more complicated. 

women shaking her head slowly
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Hookup culture means that women might be having more sexual partners than ever before, but it doesn’t ensure that the quality of sex is any better. One study found that women in relationships have more orgasms during sex than women with casual partners. The men in the study, maybe not surprisingly, also admitted that during a random hookup, their female partner’s sexual pleasure wasn’t as important to them as it is when they’re in a relationship. 

Because of the nature of a hookup, something that is quick and casual and perhaps never again repeated, it might seem like a lot of effort on the woman’s part to explain what feels good to them, and what they need in order to experience orgasm. Combine that with a potentially reluctant-to-please male partner and you have a recipe for a load of orgasmless sex. 

It’s important to acknowledge, though, the way that we think about what constitutes good sex. We usually think that sex needs to end in orgasm, but that view is very much influenced by the male perspective. If you’re a lady having sex with men out there and satisfied with your sexual experiences that don’t lead to orgasm, then that is also totally OK.

There are lots of reasons why women might not orgasm during sex, ranging from personal preference, mood, and pain during sex. That doesn’t make that sexual experience inherently unpleasurable or incomplete. 

I think the narrative regarding female orgasms that needs to change is that they are mysterious. The reality of it is, the key to female orgasms isn’t hidden in the Chamber of Secrets: in fact, the answer to female orgasms more often lies outside of the Chamber, if you catch my drift. In the context of the college hookup, it seems like the mysterious female orgasm really feels like an excuse for men not to worry if their female sexual partner is having a good time. It’s a hookup, after all. 

But at the end of the day, sex is about pleasure. It’s time for female pleasure to become a bigger part of the discussion.