Scientists and men have long sought to understand the female orgasm. Thanks to a new study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy focusing on genital touch and stimulation, one thing is clear: While every woman experiences sexual pleasure differently, there are a few touch techniques most women respond to.
The study's authors analyzed data from a 2015 nationally representative online survey, and focused on the responses of 1,055, mostly straight, women between the ages of 18 and 94. Specifically, they looked at questions having to do with demographics and sexual history, orgasm during intercourse, orgasm quality, and genital touching.
Read more: Vaginal Orgasms and Where to Find Them
One of the most fascinating aspects of the survey was just how specific it got about genital touch. Researchers from Indiana University collaborated with representatives from OMGYes.com, a California-based company that had previously done work on women's preferences and preferred techniques, to craft these questions. Not only were participants asked about where they enjoyed being touched (options included directly on clitoris, on the skin around clitoris, on the vagina lips, etc.) but also what style of motion (such as side to side, up and down, or diagonal) and how much pressure (from light to firm enough to move deep into the genital skin) they preferred.
Among the study's rich compilation of data, researchers reported "considerable diversity in genital touch preferences" in terms of location, pressure, shape/style, and patterns. For example, two-thirds of women said they enjoyed stimulation just around the clitoris (e.g., to the sides or above or below the clitoris), brushing over the clitoris without applying pressure to it, and labia stimulation. While the two most commonly preferred shapes or styles of touch were up and down (63.7 percent) and circular movements (51.6 percent), interestingly, many women (41 percent) preferred just one style of touch.
Most women also said they enjoyed light to medium pressure; 16 percent, though, said they liked all types of pressure. And in terms of pattern, more than 75 percent of respondents endorsed rhythmic motion, a motion that circles around the clitoris, switching between different motions, and switching between more and less intense touch.
"Women might find it helpful to think about these different dimensions of genital touch or stimulation when exploring their sexual response during solo or partnered sexual play," the study states, "and therapists and educators might find these dimensions helpful in making specific suggestions to couples. Having these four dimensions of touch in mind may give individuals or couples more direction or concrete ideas to experiment with that go beyond broad encouragement to simply 'go explore and see what you like.'"
One of the study's greater takeaways for women, though, is the power of putting into words one's touch preferences. "I think very few people have put that much detail into their sexual discussions with a partner," Debby Herbenick, the lead author on the study and a professor of applied health science at Indiana University, tells Broadly. "It's an interesting takeaway for me (as a sexuality researcher) in terms of working with OMGYES and the level of detail that they have explored through their own work. The data show how there truly are differences in the ways that women enjoy touching themselves or having a partner touch them."
"Why wouldn't we want to expand our language about sex beyond 'touch down there'?"
"And why wouldn't we share that?" she continues. "People can go into all sorts of detail about the kinds of wine or beer they like (e.g., talking about hints of a grapefruit finish with wine, or hoppiness about beer)—and people get that kind of language! (At least if you're into wine or beer you do.) Why wouldn't we want to expand our language about sex beyond 'touch down there'?"
Another important finding the study highlights is that not all orgasms are the same. Three-quarters (77.5 percent) of the women reported that some orgasms feel better than others (of these, 39 percent said adding clitoral stimulation to penetration enhanced their experience). "It's important to expand our conversations about orgasm," Herbenick says, "because too often, orgasm is treated as binary—it happened or it didn't. But … orgasms are nuanced, and being aware of that can help people enhance their experiences and simply explore."