Throughout history, the Big O has been misconstrued in multiple ways. As recently as the 1970s, doctors believed it was normal for women not to orgasm. Fortunately, we now live in more enlightened times—and we know more about female orgasms, and how to achieve them, than ever before.
Last year, The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy published the biggest-ever orgasm study. The study surveyed 1000 women and found—among much else—that 37 percent of women required clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm, while 18 percent were able to climax through vaginal penetration alone. In fact, an orgasm doesn’t even need to involve the genitals at all—a woman can experience orgasms from, for example, stimulation of the lips, nipples, ears and neck. There is no rule or guide book—each woman is different, and communicating those needs to your partner is key.
And yet despite that knowledge, it'll be no surprise to women everywhere that there remains a gendered orgasm gap. Researchers from Chapman University, Indiana University and the Kinsey Institute recently found that while 95 percent of heterosexual men “usually or always” orgasm during sex, only 65 percent of women could say the same.
And for some women, you can replace “usually or always” with “never”. Sarah*, 20, is one of those women. She says her friends often talk about how orgasms feel—“like a rush of adrenalin”—but ultimately, she says, they say that “if you’ve never had one, it’s impossible to compare it to anything”.
Sarah, who has been sexually active for two years and has slept with multiple partners, says that while sex has for the most part been “extremely satisfying”, she has still never orgasmed. As for why, she has no idea—and she hates the fact she’s missing out. “My doctor thinks it might be medical… I’d expect that if there wasn’t something preventing it, it would’ve happened by now.”
As for what an orgasm actually feels like, Sarah can only guess. “Something like, you jump off a cliff and that rush of adrenalin mixed with the happiness you feel when you see a pizza.”
Naomi, 20, is a virgin, and doesn’t even know where to begin when she thinks about what an orgasm might feel like. “I hear lots of people say it feels so good, they say it’s like a feeling, but it’s hard to explain how something feels. I honestly would not have a clue.”
A lot of what she does know about sex and orgasms comes from the stories of her fellow students. “It’s quite explicit, but even then, no one explains how an orgasm actually feels. Even how long it takes, what do you have to do? Those are the biggest things I wanna know.”
Much of what Laura, 21, knows about how orgasms feel comes from books. While literature might tend to “make it seem a lot more romantic and crazy than it actually is”, for her it’s probably the closest thing she has to knowing what an orgasm is like, which she thinks might feel like “falling over a ledge, release”. She’s learned enough about orgasms, at least, to fake one. “I just made some noises. I kind of winged it to be honest.”
Jessica, 20, has never had an orgasm, but says she’d never fake one. “Faking an orgasm makes me feel like I'm writing off the sex as ‘bad’ when in reality it isn't their sexual prowess which is the problem, it's just me.”
Jessica is in a committed relationship, and while she is able to make her girlfriend orgasm, her partner is unable to reciprocate. “I tell her that it’s not any fault of hers, that I can’t even make myself orgasm, but I can tell that it’s frustrating.”
All she really knows about how coming feels, she says, is that “it’s supposed to be really powerful.”
“People tend to talk it up a lot.”
*All names have been changed.
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