Sexually, what people enjoy sexually is extremely varied. Nevertheless, we can make important science-based generalizations. Research tells us, for example, that most women do not reach orgasm from intercourse alone. Perhaps you’re wondering what “most” means. Popular media sources often report that only about a quarter (25%) of women orgasm during intercourse. However, as pointed out by a scholar who analyzed the studies that popularized this statistic, they didn’t distinguish between women who orgasm during penetration by making sure their clitoris is also stimulated or those who orgasm via intercourse alone. When this differentiation was made in two recent surveys (one conducted by a magazine and the other published in a scientific journal), only about 15% of women report orgasming from thrusting alone. The numbers decrease further when my students respond to anonymous questions about their most reliable way to orgasm with a partner. Here’s what they say:
Taking out those who rarely if ever orgasm with a partner, over 95% of women indicate that their most surefire route to orgasm involves external clitoral stimulation, either alone or coupled with penetration.
As detailed in Becoming Cliterate, that's because the external clitoris contains a high number of erotic touch-sensitive nerve endings. Other parts of the vulva (that’s the proper name for the external female genitalia) with loads of touch sensitive nerve endings are the mons pubis, the inner lips, and the vaginal opening. Another place where touch sensitive nerve endings abound is the first third of the vaginal canal. On the other hand, the next two-thirds of the vaginal canal house pressure-sensitive nerve endings—and this anatomical fact explains why lots of women like the feeling of a penis or toy in their vagina, especially when they are aroused and for a great number, when also getting their external clitoris stimulated.
Maybe you're wondering why I keep talking about the external clitoris or external clitoral stimulation. It's because the clitoris has both inside and outside (external and internal) parts. As explained in one of my Psychology Today blogs, the front wall of the vaginal canal is actually inextricably linked to the internal clitoris, rendering it impossible to stimulate the vagina without also stimulating the internal clitoris.
What does all this mean for the experiences women have with vaginal penetration? According to the World Health Organization, 8-21% percent of women experience pain during penetration. This pain can be due to not being aroused enough prior to intercourse or due to a medical issue (so if you are experiencing this, please see a sexual medicine physician). Still, a great many women thoroughly enjoy intercourse, finding it arousing, sometimes orgasmic, and also a very intimate way to connect with a partner. And now, thanks to researchers at the phenomenal site, OMGYES, we now have a published study on ways women enhance pleasure during intercourse.
The authors of this study interviewed more than 4,000 women from around the world and uncovered four techniques they use to enhance their pleasure during penetrative sex. They then conducted a second study with over 3,000 U.S women (ages 18 to 93) to see how often women use these techniques and here is what they found:
About 70 percent of women stimulate their clitoris with a finger or sex toy at the same time that their vagina is being penetrated (the researchers called this "pairing”).
About 76 percent of women rock the base of a penis or sex toy so it rubs against the clitoris constantly during penetration (the researchers called this "rocking").
About 84 percent of women focus on penetration just inside the entrance of the vagina (the researchers called this "shallowing").
About 88 percent of women rotate, raise or lower their pelvis/hips during penetration to adjust where the toy or penis rubs (the researchers called this "angling"). According to the study authors, this technique could be used to stimulate the external portion of the clitoris or to adjust where the penis or toy makes contact in the vaginal canal (recall the inner two thirds of this canal responds well to pressure and is connected to the internal clitoris).
The results of this study tell us what many women already know: The clitoris is key, even during penetrative sex. In fact, notice that three of the four techniques involve making sure one's clitoris is being stimulated.
The technique that doesn’t involve clitoral stimulation (shallowing) revolves around stimulating the previously mentioned touch-sensitive nerve endings in the inner third of the vagina and surrounding the vaginal opening.
The findings of this study run counter to porn images of women having intense orgasms from thrusting penises. Instead, they provide a more realistic picture of what women do to enhance their pleasure during penetration. And for even more entertaining and informative realism, head to OMGYES, where you will find more information on these techniques, including graphics and videos of women discussing and demonstrating these techniques. You will also find the same in terms of names and demonstrations of women’s techniques for external clitoral stimulation alone.
It's high time that women feel empowered to get the clitoral stimulation they need for pleasure and orgasm, whether that be alone or coupled with penetration. Indeed, while this study focused on pleasure during penetration, it is essential to recall that for some women orgasm is easiest achieved through clitoral stimulation alone. Again, and it can’t be said enough: Some women's most reliable route to orgasm is clitoral stimulation plus penetration and for others, it's clitoral stimulation alone. Very few women say they most reliably orgasm from just penetration.
Yet, due to false media images, as a sex therapist and educator, countless women have told me that they feel broken when they don't orgasm from penetration alone. Hopefully, the results of this study will help alleviate such baseless concern and instead, in the words of one of the study's authors (Christiana D. von Hippel) bring "... this important knowledge out of the shadows into the light of day with clear language" to "empower women to better recognize, communicate and act on what they want."