By Dr. Barnaby B. Barratt, PhD, DHS, ABPP, FAPA
Director of the Midwest Institute of Sexology
In the history of western cultures, nothing has greater mystique than women's sexuality and, specifically, female desire and female orgasm. Although we are gradually progressing beyond the age-old notion that women are not supposed to have sexual pleasures (but merely be the willing vehicle for men's indulgences), many women are still uncomfortable owning and enjoying their sexual pleasures, desires, fantasies, and sources of erotic satisfaction.
Women experience their orgasmic potential in many ways, and this potential is almost as varied as each individual. However, in this culture, we often have a stereotyped image of what a woman's orgasm "should" look like. This image, influenced largely by male-oriented books, magazines and "hardcore" movies, is quite misleading and often becomes a hindrance to the woman who needs to develop her own orgasmic pleasures in whatever way suits her as an individual.
Clinical sexologists and sexual scientists define orgasm as an experience that affects the entire body involving pleasurable waves of energy, preceded by engorgement with blood of the genitals and nipples, and often accompanied by involuntary muscular contractions, changes in breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, skin color, as well as the release of chemicals in the brain causing temporarily altered states of consciousness.
Many women find that genital arousal is their favorite way to achieve orgasm. For some women, arousal results most intensely from direct stimulation of the clitoris. For others, the clitoris may be too sensitive to be touched directly and stimulation of the surrounding vulval structures may be preferred. For some women, the clitoris retracts and almost disappears as it becomes engorged with excitement. For others, the clitoris becomes more visible with excitement, filling with blood and becoming "puffed up" like the labia and the nipples.
For some women, genital arousal results most intensely from direct stimulation of the vaginal canal by a finger, a sex toy, or a penis. Many women find that the anterior wall of the vagina is especially sensitive, forming the so-called "G-spot" that can make vaginal play intensely pleasurable. For other women, the walls of the vagina seem almost without sensation. Anatomically, the sensitive roots of the clitoris extend back to the anterior wall of the vagina, so women may find one or the other or both forms of genital stimulation satisfying.
There are many variations in female anatomy that are important to consider. For example, in some women the clitoris is located relatively close to the vaginal entrance making insertive play directly stimulating to the clitoris. In others, this distance is greater, with the result that insertion of a penis, for example, does not provide sufficiently direct clitoral stimulation. In some women, the G-spot is relatively close to the vaginal entrance, in others the distance is greater, and this makes a difference in terms of what sort of penis, sex toy, or digital penetration is preferable for vaginal or G-spot stimulation.
Orgasm can occur without genital stimulation at all. Many women find themselves having orgasms in response to fantasies or exciting dreams. Many women find that they can orgasm when non-genital parts of their bodies are pleasurably stimulated. Recent scientific studies have demonstrated how orgasms can be enjoyed by spinal-cord injured women who are without genital sensation. This, in itself, shows how wonderfully varied women's orgasmic capacities can be.
When orgasm occurs, some women experience an "ejaculatory" response in which a small amount of fluid is expelled from glands located just above the vaginal entrance. This fluid is not urine, but a special substance chemically similar to the man's pre-ejaculate. Only about 25% of women ever experience this "ejaculation." Those who do should not feel embarrassed by it. Trying to stop the ejaculation will only lessen your pleasure, and may well prevent you from having orgasms at all.
Some women experience orgasm as a single event. Most women have the potential to become multi-orgasmic, experiencing a succession of orgasms during an episode of sexual play. Some women rarely experience orgasm, or may never do so. If you are one of these women, try not to think of yourself as "non-orgasmic." Rather, try to think of yourself as "pre-orgasmic," as a woman whose range of sexual pleasures could be enhanced.
Find out what you enjoy, what sensations give you the most satisfaction, and devote time to cultivating these experiences. Feeling a sense of trust and safety with your own bodily pleasures (and with the behaviors of your partner) is often necessary for orgasm, which usually requires a "letting go" of conscious control over bodily excitement. Out of anxiety, some women unconsciously prevent their orgasms, or lessen their intensity, sometimes by "holding their breath" and blocking the potentially pleasurable flow of energy through the body.
Discovering what you like, and giving pleasure to yourself, is the best way to start enriching your sexual life. Don't be shy about using sex toys such as vibrators. They are a wonderful way to learn about your body and your erotic preferences. Consult a clinical sexologist if you feel the need for help in overcoming obstacles to your pleasure.
Remember, no one can tell you how to have an your orgasm. The way you will experience the best pleasure is the way that is right for you. Orgasmic pleasure is just for you. Start by finding it for yourself. Later you can always share your joys with a partner of your choice.
Dr. Barnaby Barratt is the Director of the Midwest Institute of Sexology and is certified as a Sexuality Educator and Sex Therapist by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, has served on this organization’s Board of Directors since 1997, and was awarded the Diplomate in Sex Therapy in 2003. The author of three books, and about eighty scientific and professional papers, articles and reviews, Dr. Barratt has also held positions on the Editorial Boards of twelve national and international scientific and professional journals. His next book, Sexual Health and Erotic Freedom, will be published in 2005.
Dr. Barratt is frequently sought as lecturer and consultant, locally and nationally, on such topics as sexual education, the treatment of sexual distress or difficulty, the diversity of contemporary sexual practices, issues of sexual rights, and tantric sexuality spirituality. He has studied tantra for over thirty years, and currently offers workshops and personal consultations in tantric sexuality and spirituality. He is the author of The Way of the BodyPrayerPath: Erotic Freedom and Spiritual Enlightenment (Xlibris, 2004). More details about this aspect of his work are available at www.BodyPrayerPath.org.