Psst—you over there! Don’t be shy…orgasms are as much a part of women’s health as dental floss—but a lot more fun. For all the things you’ve been dying to find out as well as things you’ve never even thought of, expand your knowledge about the “big O” with this list of enlightening facts.
1. Orgasms can relieve pain. Got a headache? Maybe you should have sex after all. “There is some evidence that orgasms can relieve all kinds of pain—including pain from arthritis, pain after surgery and even pain during childbirth,” notes Lisa Stern, RN, MSN, a nurse practitioner who works with Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles and blogs at Gynfizz.com. “The mechanism is largely due to the body’s release of a chemical called oxytocin during orgasm,” she says. “Oxytocin facilitates bonding, relaxation and other positive emotional states.” While the pain relief from orgasm is short-lived—usually only about eight to 10 minutes—she points to past research indicating that even thinking about sex can help alleviate pain.
2. Condom use doesn’t affect orgasm quality. In case you’re wondering if a condom has anything to do with the quality of your orgasm, don’t. “Women are equally likely to experience orgasm with or without a condom, dispelling myths that condoms don’t make for good sex,” says Debby Herbenick, PhD, a research scientist at Indiana University and author of Because It Feels Good. “In fact, condoms may help a couple spend more time having sex, as a man doesn’t have to ‘pull out’ quickly if he’s worried about ejaculating too soon,” she says. If your guy is resistant to wearing a condom because of lack of sensation, consider manual stimulation first, before intercourse, so he can have an equally enjoyable experience.
3. Thirty percent of women have trouble reaching orgasm. If you’ve ever had trouble climaxing, you’re not alone. According to Planned Parenthood statistics, as many as 1 in 3 women have trouble reaching orgasm when having sex. And as many as 80 percent of women have difficulty with orgasm from vaginal intercourse alone. Clitoral stimulation during intercourse can help, says Stern, but so can medical treatment. “Female sexual dysfunction (FSD), which encompasses the inability to orgasm, is very common—as high as 43 percent, according to some surveys—and has been a topic of much debate and medical investigation lately,” she says. “For some women, topical testosterone therapies or some oral medications can be helpful, but few medical treatments have solid evidence behind them.” Because FSD may be associated with certain medical conditions, be sure to see your doctor to rule out things like thyroid disease, depression or diabetes.
4. Finding your G-spot may improve the likelihood of orgasm. Can you identify your G-spot? The “G” refers to Ernst Gräfenberg, MD, a German gynecologist who is credited with “discovering” it in the 1950s, and sex experts have long touted this area of female genitalia, which is believed to contain a large number of nerve endings, as the key to helping women achieve longer and stronger orgasm. But it’s a controversial topic. Researchers in England refuted its existence recently, even after Italian researchers supposedly found the spot on ultrasound and published their findings in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Still, sex educators like Los Angeles–based Ava Cadell support the existence of the G-spot, and encourage women to find theirs. While the location may be slightly different in all women, it’s most often found inside the vagina and is characterized by a “rougher” texture.
5. Orgasm gets better with age. Sure, there are plenty of things to gripe about when it comes to age, but your sex life may actually improve—specifically the quality and frequency of orgasm, reports Dr. Herbenick. “Orgasm becomes easier with age,” she says. “As an example, while 61 percent of women ages 18 to 24 experienced orgasm the last time they had sex, 65 percent of women in their 30s did and about 70 percent of women in their 40s and 50s did.” Though the survey didn’t indicate why orgasms come easier with age, we can assume that as women become more sexually experienced, they have more confidence in the bedroom and therefore enjoy themselves more. Additionally, the trust and intimacy that most women experience in long-term relationships can help improve sexual confidence as well.
6. Women who mix things up in the bedroom have more frequent orgasm. If you have trouble reaching orgasm during intercourse, consider switching things up, says Dr. Herbenick. “It is significantly easier for women to experience orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts as opposed to just one act,” she says. “For example, vaginal sex plus oral sex would be linked to a higher likelihood of orgasm than either one of them alone. This may be because more sex acts mean that people spend more time having sex.”
7. A woman’s sexual self-esteem can affect the quality of her orgasms. Research shows that how a woman feels about her genitals is linked to the quality of her orgasms. “As a women’s health clinician, I can vouch for the fact that every vagina looks different and there is no ‘perfect’ way for a vagina to look,” says Stern. “As long as your vagina is pain-free and you don’t have any abnormal discharge, sores or other medical problems, you can consider yourself healthy and normal.” Increase your orgasm potential by increasing your confidence, she says. “It’s important to treat yourself the way you would want others to treat you—send yourself healthy, positive messages about yourself and your body.” Another trick: Pull out a hand mirror and take a look! Getting to know yourself down there is the first step in feeling confident about your parts.
8. There is an orgasm “gap.” While it’s true that a small number of men have trouble with orgasm, sex experts report that it’s rare. Instead, a significant percentage of women report not having had an orgasm the last time they had sex, even when their male partner thought they had. “We still have an orgasm gap,” notes Dr. Herbenick. “While 85 percent of men thought their partner had an orgasm during their most recent episode of sex, only 64 percent of women reported having an orgasm.” The cure? It’s complicated, says Dr. Herbenick, but women who are comfortable with and understand their body’s pleasure points can often learn to orgasm regularly.
9. In rare cases, orgasm can happen without genital stimulation. We’ve all heard about women who can orgasm while sitting on a train or while getting a massage, but it’s no urban legend. Experts say it’s a real phenomenon. “I had a friend who had an orgasm every time she used the treadmill,” says Stern. “If that happened to all of us, we’d be a much more physically fit society!” But, humor aside, there’s an explanation for why this occurs. “The reason for spontaneous orgasms during certain activities is twofold—increased blood flow to the genitals and vibration of or contact with the clitoris. The increased blood flow and the general relaxation of a massage can lead to orgasm sometimes, too.”
10. For most women, it takes a while… Many women take longer to climax than their male partners, and that’s perfectly normal, says Stern. In fact, according to statistics, most women require at least 20 minutes of sexual activity to climax. “If you find that your partner often reaches orgasm before you do, there are ways to help him slow down,” she says. “Mental exercises can sometimes work, and so can firm pressure around the base of the penis. If premature ejaculation is a concern, your partner may want to see a primary care doctor or urologist to find some techniques that might help.”
Sarah Jio is the health and fitness blogger for Glamour.com. Visit her blog, Vitamin G.