Like most bad ideas, the theory of a vaginal orgasm began with one man and zero research. The man was Sigmund Freud and the thing he refused to study was the clitoris. In 1905, Freud declared that women who achieved orgasm via clitoral stimulation were "immature," and that any right-minded woman should shift her orgasms to vaginal penetration. This distinction between clitoral and vaginal orgasms had no anatomical or observational basis, yet this idea that there is a mature orgasm hiding inside a woman's vagina still persists today.
Imagine telling men that they have to stop enjoying their penises, and somehow consciously start having orgasms exclusively from rimming. If they can't climax from rimjobs alone, it's grounds for being institutionalized. Yet as late as 1966, psychoanalysts were spouting such noise as "whenever a woman is incapable of achieving an orgasm via coitus, provided the husband is an adequate partner, and prefers clitoral stimulation to any other form of sexual activity, she can be regarded as suffering from frigidity and requires psychiatric assistance." That quote comes from Frank S. Caprio's book, The Sexually Adequate Female, which has a chapter on "The Menopause" and is every bit as empowering a read as the title makes it sound.
Only 25 percent of women reach orgasm during vaginal intercourse. The other 75 percent need direct clit stimulation. "The clitoris is really the powerhouse of the orgasm," says Ian Kerner, sex and relationship therapist and author of She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman. Kerner tells Broadly that much of the confusion surrounding vaginal orgasms comes from the idea that the clitoris is just that little nub at the top of your downstairs. "When we observe the clitoris glans [science-talk for the nub], we're really seeing the tip of the iceberg."
The clitoral iceberg (clitberg?) was only given the full anatomical mapping it deserves in 2009. Rather than being a small bundle of nerves and tissue atop the labia minora, the clitoris is actually a swan boat-shaped network of nerves and erectile tissue. When excited, your clitoris engorges with blood, popping out of its hood for easier access. The clitoris gets hard like a penis because it's made of the same tissue as a penis. The same tissue that becomes corpora cavernosa in a penis becomes clitoral bulbs in a vagina. The clitoral bulbs wrap around the vagina opening; when you're aroused they fill with blood, making you tighter. And although the clitoral glans has 8,000 nerve endings—twice as many as a penis—there's another 15,000 nerve endings in and around the vagina and anus. "The nerve endings that extend from the clitoris through the pelvic area is a vast network," says Kerner, "but the clitoris is at the center of that network."
There's no perfect answer to what feels good to all women.
What about the g-spot? you may be asking. Can't you come from something tickling that? Yes, probably. Many women report an enjoyment of g-spot stimulation; many do not. That's because rather than being its own discrete organ, the g-spot "may really be the root of the clitoris," according to Kerner. Every set of genitals is beautiful and unique, meaning everyone's clitoral network is different.
"What works for one person might not work for another," says Chad Braverman, chief operating officer of sex toy empire Doc Johnson. "There's no perfect answer to what feels good to all women." Braverman's company has been selling sex toys for 40 years. "If you're looking at the market, clit stimulation is what's most sought after," he says. Their most popular toy is the Pocket Rocket, a vibrator that's "not even insertable," according to Braverman. Johnson does offer g-spot stimulators, but their most popular vibrator—the Rabbit—also provides clitoral stimulation.
Why do we keep pursuing this elusive vaginal orgasm, when there are perfectly good clitoral orgasms all over the place? "We live in what I call an 'intercourse discourse,'" says Kerner. Society privileges penis-in-vagina sex as "real sex" and everything else as less-than. But ask any lesbian and they'll tell you: Sex is whatever makes you come. "Intercourse is promoted everywhere as the main form of sexual interaction," says Kerner, who promotes a sexual routine he calls "outercourse," or sexy stuff you can do with a partner that doesn't involve penetration. "Consistent, persistent clitoral stimulation is the surest path to orgasm."
Take whatever orgasm you can get.
Much like the portal between our world and the Upside-Down on Stranger Things, the vagina is a complex network of tissues and goop. There's no such thing as a solely vaginal orgasm because there's no such thing as a vagina that operates independently of a clitoris. "We should be focused on all women having sexual pleasure," says Kerner. Take whatever orgasm you can get. If you can come from penetration, mazel tov. If you can't, do not stress it. It's all good because it's all rooted in the clitoral hood.