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Why is the female orgasm so elusive?
January 5th, 2012
07:25 AM ET

Why is the female orgasm so elusive?

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

Nearly every week I receive an email from at least one woman asking me what she needs to do to have an orgasm during intercourse, or worrying that something may be wrong with her because she can’t. Yet I rarely, if ever, receive the same question from men.

The simple fact is that the male orgasm typically comes easily during sex and female orgasms do not. The late Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, famous for interviewing thousands about their sex lives, declared that 75% of men ejaculate within two minutes of penetration in over half of their sexual encounters.

It should come as no surprise, then, that researchers from the University of Chicago have declared that men reach orgasm during intercourse far more consistently than do women, and that three-fourths of men, but less than a third of women, always have orgasms.

According to Drs. Kim Wallen and Elisabeth Lloyd who recently published a study in the Journal of Hormones and Behavior entitled “Female Sexual Arousal: Genital Anatomy and Orgasm in Intercourse,” there’s one striking difference between men’s and women’s ability to orgasm: female orgasmic ability develops more slowly over time and with less predictability.

In fact, the researchers have found that, as a man moves from puberty to adulthood, his odds of ejaculating (and therefore, presumably, climaxing) increase from 5% to 100% within just 5 years. This increase appears to be much more gradual in women: According to Kinsey, a woman’s chances of experiencing orgasm slowly rise over the course of 25 years but never even approach 90%.

This “orgasm discrepancy” between the sexes may help explain why, in the recently published National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 85% of men said that their partner had experienced an orgasm during their most recent sexual event, while only 64% of women reported actually having had an orgasm.

But why is the female orgasm so inconsistent during intercourse? For generations, it was widely believed that a woman who couldn’t orgasm as a result of intercourse had psychological inhibitions or was sexually frigid.

Much of this misunderstanding goes back to the legacy of Freud, who could not reconcile himself with the powerful role of the clitoris in female sexual pleasure. Freud perpetuated the myth that the clitoris was an immature source of sexual pleasure, a mere launching pad for the more “mature” vaginal orgasm, which, of course, should be produced via genital intercourse.

“With the change to femininity the clitoris should wholly, or in part, hand over its sensitivity and at the same time its importance to the vagina,” wrote Freud in the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.

Fortunately, today we are becoming more aware of the role of the clitoris as the powerhouse of the female orgasm. The clitoris has over 8,000 nerve fibers - more than any other part of the human body - and interacts with the 15,000 nerve fibers that service the entire pelvic area. In their landmark work, “A New View of a Woman's Body: A Fully Illustrated Guide,” the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers identified 18 structures as part of the clitoris, both external and internal.

Even what we think of as the G-spot may simply be a part of the clitoris. As science writer Natalie Angier describes in her book “Woman: An Intimate Geography” the area of soft tissue just inside the vaginal area, “the roots of the clitoris run deep, after all, and very likely can be tickled through posterior agitation. In other words, the G-spot may be nothing more than the back end of the clitoris.”

In their recent study, Wallen and Lloyd analyzed years of data that support the notion that the distance between a woman’s clitoris and her vagina influences the likelihood that she will regularly experience orgasm solely from intercourse.

According to Wallen and Lloyd, women who reported experiencing orgasm more regularly had a shorter distance between their clitoris and vagina - less than 2.5 centimeters - than did women who reported not experiencing, or less regularly experiencing, orgasm during intercourse.

“Thus, some women may be anatomically predisposed to experience orgasm from intercourse, while the genital anatomy of other women makes such orgasms unlikely,” write the researchers.

Why does this distance matter? A shorter distance provides for more stimulation of the external structures of the clitoris during intercourse, and may also reflect that the internal structures are more densely packed and pressing closer to the vagina, and therefore more receptive to sensation during intercourse.

As Angier writes of the clitoral network, “Nerves are like wolves or birds: If one starts crying, there goes the neighborhood.”

When you have a shorter distance between clitoris and vagina, you’re more likely to get those nerves howling. But regardless of the variation of this distance on a specific woman, Wallen and Lloyd’s study helps render the female orgasm less elusive (and hopefully more consistent) by showing us, from an anatomical perspective, why intercourse on its own may not consistently lead to female orgasm.

As he neared the end of his life, Freud acknowledged his incomplete understanding of female sexuality and said, “If you want to know more about femininity, you must interrogate your own experience, or turn to the poets, or else wait until science can give you more profound and more coherent information.”

Today, sexual science is finally providing us with the information and, hopefully, we’ll act upon it. By understanding the role of the clitoris in producing the female orgasm, and knowing that intercourse does not always directly stimulate the clitoris depending on its position, men and women need not fault themselves when intercourse fails to produce mutual satisfaction, but rather can focus on extending foreplay (and those activities we associate with foreplay) into fuller acts of love-making.

I look forward to the day when I’ll stop receiving those emails.


soundoff (164 Responses)
  1. Omar Bassetto

    Orgasm requires the proper physical and mental estimulation from both sides. If a woman is treated as a sperm receptacle she will not get aroused, it will not be pleasing and will end in frustration. Orgasms should be the consequence of lovemaking not plain sex. In plain sex, no one cares. Good lovemaking requires both to be in sync in body, mind and spirit. Leave all troubles and taboos outside to savor the moment. Show love, respect and appreciation for each other, Explore each others' body visually. Touch and caress each other. Let your partner know how s/he wants to be pleased and work toward that goal. In that time and space, you are king and queen. Learn what turns each other on and off. Avoid the turn offs. Regardless of age, be a teen again as you do it without boundaries – be explorers. I think this will help a bit.

    January 6, 2012 at 11:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Raphael

      believe it or not, he needs to spend more time with himself and not you. the asnwer to his problem is the age old taboo masturbation. does he do it? i imagine having an active sex partner he feels he doesn't need to,but it can actually help him to control his sex drive and when he ejaculates. he has to become more aware of when that time is coming(pun intended),and learn how to put on the brakes before it's too late. it could take some time for him to become used to holding out ,but it can be done. learning to do this on his own will also save you the frustration of not getting off when you do have sex. and you cant look at it as he doesn't love me otherwise he wouldn't be doing that . if it makes you insecure or jealous (though why you'd be jealous of his hand i don't know) let him look at you while he does it. or just pictures of you if it's too embarassing to watch him. you have to understand what a man feels when he's with a woman. it's THE most exciting thing in the world. it's hard NOT to be a little quick on the draw. but if he can learn to control his sexual charge through masturbation, it'll be beneficial for both of you in the end (no pun intended unless you're into that kind of thing).

      October 11, 2012 at 06:35 | Report abuse |
  2. Seriously

    It's all in the brain when it comes to women ;)

    January 6, 2012 at 12:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jz

      Nopes, it's not. Use this and then reply back to me. Am speaking from a previously highly frustrated life as I just could not manage an O. And now, that's not at all an issue in my marriage :)
      Read these reviews if you don't believe me http://www.amazon.com/Vibratex-HV-250R-Hitachi-Magic-Massager/product-reviews/B00005M1WE/ref=sr_1_1_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

      January 9, 2012 at 17:15 | Report abuse |
  3. Dr. Puffy

    Ladies I want to say something. First off, we need to stop faking it! Young women you ruining it for us older women cause when you fake it these men think they are studs when they are ro really duds! Stop giving props to substandard work.
    Stop sparing the man's feelings and start giving him some report cards! An F don't make a man fantastic. Just sayin.'

    January 6, 2012 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alla

      This is an excellent statement. Why do we have O with some men and not with others? I don't think we can orgarm in 2 minutes. We, women, should definitely evaluate male's performance and be clear about it. Men deserve honesty, at minimum.

      January 26, 2012 at 14:21 | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      From the male point of view (ok, the male point of view that is married and would likes a good sex life), I agree. Most men (who are worth your time ladies), would prefer to know that they've "done right by you" so to speak. As childish as you may think this is (but hey, if it can work in your favor, go for it), yes we like to think we're the stud who rocks your world. And we're not afraid to put a little extra effort into it. I'm sure there are going to be some jokers who disagree with timeless lines like "Love 'em and leave 'em" "Wham, bam, thank you man" and who can forget "Get in, get on, get off, get out", but I wasn't speaking for them anyway; they're not worth your time.

      January 26, 2012 at 14:40 | Report abuse |
    • Darren

      I think this comment is spot on. I am a man who is under 30 years old and of course as Rick states, I think all men enjoy feeling as though they have satisfied their partner, but I think communication is the best way to have better sex. I understand that some women don't feel comfortable with that, or feel that a man should "just know" what to do, but sex is a very personal thing and not everyone enjoys the same things. I personally find it more satisfying when a woman is able to communicate her needs so that we can both enjoy ourselves.

      January 26, 2012 at 23:49 | Report abuse |
  4. TCC

    I have been married for quite a while. If I am, at the moment happy with my hubby; perhaps he has helped with the kids or with dinner, I am more apt to want to have sex. You have to be happy to want to have sex. Once I want to have sex, climax is not a problem, ever. If he comes home and plops on the couch being useless, forget it.

    January 6, 2012 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. bob

    In terms of evolution, only the male orgasm is necessary for pregnancy. Men who do not ejaculate simply don't have children – they don't pass on their genes. This is not true for women who do not orgasm. Evolutionarily, then, the male is more predisposed to orgasm. Note: This is not to say that orgasm isn't important, on many levels, for women, but an attempt to explain the disparity in rates between men and women noted in the article.

    January 6, 2012 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Shan

      The female orgasm has an evolutionary value. Otherwise, women wouldn't even have the ability to have one. Spasms carrying the sperm of the successful male up the canal...get my drift? And the successful male might get more action that way too, thus ensuring his being able to impregnate more females. It's not just the act, it's getting to the act, and the aftermath of the act.

      January 10, 2012 at 22:41 | Report abuse |
  6. yet another mike

    I have enjoyed reading the female comments, and feel like I need to write a post for the men. I'm 45 and enjoy articles about the orgasm of a woman, which is what led me here. Education can be in many forms, I have to say a woman perspective is always best in the female orgasm. I'm well endowed and pride myself in being able to hold off my orgasm. Though still... I always ask my partner how I did ... with not always the results I presumed, from half a dozen to I got nothing honey. Patience, listening, caring, loving, learning what your lover needs or wants, because to me the needs and wants change over time. Stimulation can be something you say as much as what you or her do. Experimentation with oral, digital, anal and just understanding your lover by listening will turn her on and then she will be very interested in returning the favor!

    January 6, 2012 at 18:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Multiple

    I can multiple orgasm from intercourse. It doesn't happen often, but it can easily happen. Usually I orgasm from intercourse about 50% of the time. I think hormones have a lot to do with it. Around ovulation is the best time sexually for me. When I was younger (20s) I used to orgasm even more. I learned to orgasm as a teenager by masturbating. It helps that I read some medical books about it too. I learned to orgasm. I also knew that I could multiple orgasm before I ever did. It took years to learn that. Relaxing helps a lot. My first partner I rarely orgasmed from intercourse. It was not a big issue for me because my partner was so good in many ways. He was the best lover even though I had nothing to compare him too. He really took the time to turn me on. Sex was a long enjoyable activity, not a quickie. I was also turned on around him. He had a big problem with my not orgasming during intercourse, but I did not care about it.

    My husband on the other hand does not have the skill of my first. He was a long term virgin when we met and he still acts like it. He does not take the time to really learn about me and make sex good for me. Yet, he gets upset that I don't want sex like I used to years ago. I used to orgasm from him pretty easily, but it varied over the years and now it is less so. Being more well endowed does help a bit, but it does I would rather have a partner that was good sexually at everything else than one who gave me orgasms from sex. With women it is about feeling good. If you make a women feel good sexually, orgasm or not, she will keep coming back for more. I do not understand why men don't get that! If you make a women feel good, she will want sex all of the time. Isn't that every man's fantasy? It should be a man's goal to learn how to sexually please the woman that he is with. A man's sex life depends on it.

    January 7, 2012 at 03:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katherine

      I wholeheartedly agree with you on that one. The best sex I ever had was with a man who always told me I was sexy and praised me consistently during the course of our relationship and my sex drive went through the roof. I often tell this guy he should write a book for other men because it really wasn't that difficult to make me orgasm and I beleive that with the same method I could still achieve that. I think a lot of men tend to be lazy and needless to say I show them the door pretty quickly; there are only so many hints before my patience wears thin. I believe most women can come through penetration but just haven't met the right man.

      March 17, 2012 at 05:38 | Report abuse |
  8. EVE

    IF YOUR GOING TO DISCUSS THE CROWN JEWEL DONT BE SUCH A HIPOCRIT & HAVE SOME CLASS

    January 7, 2012 at 13:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. OrangeW3dge

    As in any relationship, trust and honesty are what matters.Understanding each other's pleasures are a function of communication, with trust and honesty

    January 8, 2012 at 05:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Shan

    OK. Plain and simple guys – the vast majority of the time if you really work with her and do anything you can to please her...she will come! I mean, all this talk of the nub. Pay it some real attention if you know what I mean.

    January 10, 2012 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Shan

    OK – the last word on this. Buy a vibrating egg and use it together during the encounter. If the male is open-minded enough, the results can be...very rewarding for all.

    January 10, 2012 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AGuest9

      Until she becomes so de-sensitized that she requires a jack-hammer.

      January 19, 2012 at 17:26 | Report abuse |
  12. Commander Pleasure

    Delivering orgasims to women is like being a heroin dealer, but with none of the drawbacks. Come get your fix ladies. First taste is free...

    January 11, 2012 at 10:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dammit

      LOL! Invariably the ones who crow the loudest about their own awesomeness are the ones with the least skill.

      January 25, 2012 at 13:42 | Report abuse |
  13. Lovemaster

    The answer to the articles question – "Why is the female orgasm so elusive?", is quite simple actually.

    The trolls grunting & mindlessly searching in the dark will never find it. Non-Trolls have fround it and it is ALIVE AND WELL!

    January 11, 2012 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. augustghost

    because women can complicate ANYTHING

    January 11, 2012 at 23:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • unowhome

      Because women can complicate anything is correct for some or the majority but not all, lol. You don't have a problem with a woman eating a cupcake because she knows it tastes good but you might have hell getting a woman to have sex even though she knows it will feel good.

      January 19, 2012 at 21:01 | Report abuse |
    • hopelessromantic

      Sad but true

      January 25, 2012 at 18:08 | Report abuse |
  15. Pat

    It is a 2 way street. If the mind is willing it will happen. If the woman is hung up about sex, it wont happen...

    January 13, 2012 at 18:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hopelessromantic

      Wow that is so very true!

      January 25, 2012 at 18:09 | Report abuse |
  16. cnyguy

    For some women all it takes is Kahlua and cream or rum and coke. All in the mind for some women.

    January 17, 2012 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. long john

    Maybe your slong is too small, I don't have that problem at all. One of the best ways for her to reach orgasm is for you to flip her over like a pancake and do the doggie, RUFF, RUFF!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 17, 2012 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Just a Guy

    At the risk of oversimplifying this, a woman needs to KNOW what she likes, she needs to have the confidence to TELL her partner what she likes, and she needs to have a willing partner with the skill to DO what she likes AND the patience to TRY AGAIN if things don't turn out perfectly the first time. There's no one size fits all magic formula. No two women reach the promised land the same exact way and no one woman likes to do the same exact thing the same exact way every time.

    Alternatively, proactively ASKING her what she likes WITHOUT JUDGING often yields positive results as well. I will say in my experience that every sex partner I've had who got what she wanted was more than willing to give me what I wanted, (sometimes as often as I wanted). I know it may be a foreign concept to some but TEAM activities tend to work better when BOTH parties get something out of the deal.

    January 17, 2012 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. crackface

    You have a small penis. Thats the only problem.

    January 18, 2012 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Ben Dover

    2 words: Who cares?

    January 19, 2012 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alla

      Every single man I've been with cared about it like it was the end of the world, his world that is.

      January 26, 2012 at 14:27 | Report abuse |
  21. AGuest9

    I love it. I am with a woman that I can do nothing wrong with. I was in a marriage for 17 years, and it was like WORK to get my wife to climax. It made me a much better lover for the women after her, but it was hell getting here. I am asked, why do you work so hard for this? I can't seem to get her to stop. When I am finally there, she makes me stop touching her because she gets turned on again. Is it that ANY woman can be like that, and there is a special technique that must be learned? Sadly, for many women it seems, the answer is "no".

    January 19, 2012 at 17:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. burger town

    Orgasm starts in your brain. if you are not mentally there, your not going there physically. Buy toys and make it happen with your husband. ;)

    January 23, 2012 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Wind

    To make a woman reach orgasm one must listen to her body. Focus on getting her off and put emotion into it, make it seem like you'll never hit it again. By doing that your gonna do your best to please her. It's all mental, take it from someone in his early 20's who's been up in a girl's dorm 4 days straight.

    January 23, 2012 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. MumsToo

    They're not elusive... it's called foreplay people... foreplay.

    January 24, 2012 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. mariposa

    some of these comments are priceless...i agree completely w practice i've been married for 4yrs and when we began our relationship ofcourse some alcohol pretty much helped us out lol...but w the yrs i became distant from my partner never realy wanting to have sex w all the excuses a woman can come up w...but now i help the hub get on the right spot and in the right direction for me to climax it might take a while but he knows it me first then him...and he doesnt seem to have a problem w it now....i do have a condition though lol if the dishes arent done no sexy time....i told him all the dishes have to be done for the day and he gets lucky when theres only one plate he has to wash lol...so i gotta give it up

    January 24, 2012 at 09:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Chris

    You know.....I keep trying to put my fingers on it..........

    January 24, 2012 at 20:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. hopelessromantic

    It's sex people, why can't we just relax, and enjoy the one we're with for that x amount of time. For that time, nothing in the world matters, just enjoy and come back to this mess we call life after you are done. This is the one thing that is real satisfaction, lets not ruin that too!!!!
    Goodnight
    farewell and
    Amen.

    January 25, 2012 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. cookie

    Maybe her orgasm is elusive because she is intellectually bored with her partner.............it all begins in the brain baby!

    January 27, 2012 at 03:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. texas man

    Ladies and gents, most of you are missing the WHOLE thing here. Foreplay and Oral Sex will get your partner off EVERY TIME without the work that i hear above. Oral Sex is the best way to turn your lady on EVERY TIME. Oral for an Hour or so, works EVERY TIME. Hope this helps.

    January 27, 2012 at 10:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andre

      Drug treatmentAlthough anti-anxiety mecidations such as benzodiazepines and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are already used in the treatment of premature ejaculation, they are not drugs specifically targeted to treat premature ejaculation.A serotonin transport inhibitor drug intended to specifically target premature ejaculation, with the generic name of dapoxetine, is currently undergoing Phase III clinical evaluation.

      October 11, 2012 at 06:36 | Report abuse |
  30. texas man

    I forgot to add that after a good hour of Oral then start to have sex. You will be amazed at the results. ANY woman on here will tell you that she loves to have her cl** sucked on and a tongue in the box will delight her**

    January 27, 2012 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. "They"

    So the man's role, as usual these days, is to completely submit his entire life to your directions and ever changing mood so YOU can orgasm?

    Literally and figuratively, GFY....lmao

    January 28, 2012 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. JustsayIt

    An unhappy woman cannot have an orgasm, but an unhappy man can.

    January 29, 2012 at 22:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. john

    Get a Sybian and orgasms wll no longer be elusive. Every woman should have one.

    February 3, 2012 at 19:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Ricky

    I'd like to know what if a man does it every single day with his hands like masturbation? What kinda effect could happen on his health and would it create any laziness or bad for mental health till you don't do it with a girl?

    March 17, 2012 at 18:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Dr. Charles Runels

    Some women have difficulty reaching orgasm, which is probably why they fake it. A procedue called o-shot, can treat this problem. Watch the procedure at oshot.info

    December 13, 2012 at 02:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Charles Runels

    "How to activate the female orgasm system described in detail by Dr Runels in his course, Activate the Female Orgasm System. Go here to see video: http://OrgasmSystem.info

    March 11, 2013 at 00:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Jonathan Skeeling

    "Its all in the mind"
    Yes I do agree when the person whom your having orgasm with is a mature ones and had some
    orgasm before well, It is a sign that she really is a professional and easy to handle things like this. LOL

    Try referring to this link :
    http://www.orgasmgeek.com/the-science-of-orgasm/

    January 4, 2014 at 11:40 | Report abuse | Reply
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