In order to close the orgasm gap, it's important to understand what contributes to it. In this series of posts, I’ll be exploring the key barriers that allow the female orgasm gap to persist, followed by proposed solutions. For the first two posts in the series, click here and here.
Sex, like eating, is a natural biological impulse. But the way it’s practiced is a learned phenomenon, highly influenced by the culture it exists in. For this reason, it’s important to frame the orgasm gap not as an individual problem but rather to investigate what in our sexual culture contributes to its persistence.
One contribution to the persistence of the female orgasm gap is the shocking lack of knowledge about female genital anatomy and physiology. It wasn’t until 1998 that Dr. Helen O’Connell, an Australian urologist, described the anatomy of the female clitoris, including its network of pleasure-inducing nerves. This new, more complete view is slowly trickling down into medical textbooks and gaining traction in popular knowledge. In 2009, Dr. Dr. Odile Buisson and Dr. Pierre Foldès conducted the first complete 3-D sonography of an erect female clitoris, which further educated us to the true size of women’s internal sexual anatomy (more here ).
While we are finally clear on the anatomical structure of the clitoris, it important to also consider the physiology, which is even less commonly discussed – in particular, the female erection. The conversation around female arousal and readiness for intercourse still focuses almost exclusively on vaginal lubrication while ignoring the female erection.
SOLUTION #2: Let’s update our knowledge of female physiology and prioritize female erections.
Surprisingly little is understood about the importance of female erections in female pleasure. It may come as a surprise to learn that women possess the same amount of erectile tissue as men (it’s just internal). A woman’s erectile network is vast and comprised of the entire clitoris, the vestibular bulbs (a.k.a. clitoral bulbs), the urethral sponge and the perineal sponge (for a diagram visit the brilliant sex educator, Sheri Winston’s site). When fully engorged or erect, these tissues surround the vagina, making it both snug and expandable, creating an optimal climate for penetration. When a woman is fully (or at least partially) engorged, penetration is far more pleasurable as her body is prepared.
It is widely understood that attempting penetration before a man is erect is difficult if not impossible. Yet women’s genital erection, which happens to be internal, is ignored despite being equally important to their sexual function and pleasure. For maximum mutual pleasure, it’s key to wait until a woman is erect before entering her. Marcia Douglass and Lisa Douglass, social scientists and authors of The Sex You Want: A Lovers’ Guide to Women’s Sexual Pleasure, refer to penetration without a female erection as premature intercourse. According to the authors, “Intercourse without [female] erection can feel about as exciting to a woman as inserting a tampon. Worse, it can make a woman feel like a mere vehicle of a man’s pleasure, or even as if she is having sex against her will.” When the erectile network that surrounds the vagina is activated, the vaginal walls are sensitized and prepared, making intercourse far more comfortable and pleasurable.
For maximum pleasure for both partners, let’s make it the norm to minimize premature intercourse. The way to make penetration mutually pleasurable is to wait until a woman’s erectile network is fully engorged prior to intercourse. And – surprise, surprise – the best way to engage a women’s erectile tissues is through clitoral stimulation, which leads to engorgement of the clitoral legs and bulbs. (To engage the full erectile network, also focus on stimulating the urethral sponge, which can be accessed through the anterior wall of the vagina a.k.a. “the g-spot”, and the perineal sponge, which can be stimulated through the posterior wall of the vagina or anus). With adequate clitoral stimulation, a woman will have a distinct “hard-on” as the clitoral bulbs engorge, forming a tumescent cuff around the vaginal opening. You can tell a woman is erect when her genitals take on a flushed look, and her labia and perineum swell. The vaginal opening will feel more snug as the erectile tissue puff up and press on the vaginal walls. Another clue is that her state of arousal will drastically heighten.
Let’s learn to identify a female erection and make it as important as a male’s erection; because if mutual pleasure is the goal, it is!
Next Up: Why a ladies first approach is best...
*I want to be clear that my intention with these articles is not to imply that orgasm is the ultimate goal of sex or put any pressure on women to have orgasms. In my view, orgasm isn’t the goal of sex but rather mutual pleasure. Instead, my goal with this series is simply to encourage a context where female orgasm is more viable and accessible and placed in equal importance as male orgasm.