A Science-Based Guide to Women’s Orgasms & Pleasure
On average, women have less consistent experiences with orgasm than men. Not only are women less likely to say they orgasmed the last time they had sex, but they’re also less likely to say that they usually or always reach orgasm in general. Further, women are more likely than men to say that they’ve faked an orgasm at least once before.
These findings are well-documented across multiple studies, and they point to the existence of what many have termed the “orgasm gap” or “pleasure gap.” This is a persistent issue that always deserves more attention—but especially in the midst of Women’s History Month.
Whether you’re a woman or just someone who loves women, this article is for you because it’s all about how we can bridge this gap through a science-based understanding of women’s sexual pleasure. Here are five tips that can help:
Tip 1: Explore your own body—and tell your partner what you want.
One of the keys to unlocking pleasure is to really understand your own body. Masturbation is one of the best ways to do this; however, women are less likely than men to have masturbated before. So a good starting point is to spend some time alone exploring your body and literally getting “in touch with” yourself.
Touch yourself in different ways and in different areas. Consider getting some sex toys to explore and experiment with different sensations. The old saying “you don’t know what you like until you try it” holds true when it comes to sexual pleasure. Sexual self-exploration is crucial because it can be hard to tell your partner what you want if you don’t know what it is that you find most pleasurable.
Knowing what gets you going is one thing—but sharing this information with your partner is another. Many of us expect our partners to automatically know what we like. However, when we don’t communicate our wants, our partners often make mistaken assumptions or rely on their own sexual scripts by default.
You can tell your partner what you want in many ways. If you’re comfortable vocalizing it, great! Just take care to frame it in a clear and constructive way (e.g., “It drives me wild when you…” or “Remember when we did that thing? It was so hot. Let’s do it again…”). In sexual communication, positive reinforcement is key to getting what you want.
If talking about what you want makes you feel apprehensive, there are several other communication strategies you might consider. For example, you might gently guide your partner’s hand where you want it to go during sex. Or you might take turns masturbating in front of each other to better understand one another’s turn-ons. There isn’t just one right or correct way to do this. The key is to focus first on understanding yourself and then communicating your wants, needs, and desires to your partner(s) in a way that feels natural for you.
Tip 2: Recognize that it’s normal to want or need more than penetration.
When vaginal penetration is the only thing on the menu, research shows that most women (59%) say that they orgasm less than half of the time. However, when clitoral stimulation is added to penetration, the numbers shift significantly, with most women saying they orgasm most of the time.
We need to normalize the fact that penetration alone isn’t the most effective or reliable means of sexual stimulation for women. Clitoral or other forms of stimulation are usually necessary; however, the most effective forms of stimulation for a given person can be highly idiosyncratic, which gets back to the importance of understanding your body and communicating your wants.
Tip 3: Try new positions and techniques.
The single most common sexual position for heterosexual adults is the missionary position (i.e., face-to-face with the male partner on top). However, research finds that women report the least consistent experiences with orgasm in this position.
Why is that? In part, because it tends to yield less clitoral stimulation. However, there are other positions that are linked to more frequent orgasms for women.
One of them is the seated, face-to-face position, in which partners sit upright and the woman is on top. Then there’s the coital alignment technique (or CAT for short), which is a modified missionary position in which the base of the penis remains in constant contact with the clitoris. It involves making a rocking (rather than thrusting) motion during sex.
Of course, sex is about more than just vaginal penetration. It’s also about oral stimulation, genital touch, and more. However, different forms of touch and stimulation may be more pleasurable to some than to others.
For example, when it comes to clitoral stimulation, some prefer to have the clitoris directly touched, whereas others prefer to have the skin around it touched. Women also vary in their preferred “shapes” of genital touch.
While up and down, circular, and side to side are the most preferred shapes reported in survey studies, others may prefer shapes that evoke very different sensations and/or offer variable amounts of pressure.
Tip 4: Keep your sex life novel and varied.
It is often said that variety is the spice of life—but it’s also the variety of your sex life! Across genders, trying new and different things in bed can help to boost arousal, increase sexual desire, and keep passion alive in relationships.
While almost all of us seem to be drawn to having new and novel sexual experiences, novelty does appear to be particularly important for women’s orgasms and pleasure. For example, research finds that the more activities that take place during a given sexual event, the greater women’s odds of having an orgasm.
Some research also suggests that monogamy may be harder on women’s sex drive than it is on men’s, in part, due to women becoming bored with sexual routines more easily than men. This is yet another reason why novelty is so crucial to maintaining an active and satisfying sex life.
Tip 5: Dial down the pressure to orgasm and learn to be in the moment during sex.
On average, it takes women longer to orgasm than men during a partnered experience—about 2-3 times as long, in fact. This is part of the reason why the orgasm gap exists in the first place in male-female sexual experiences. Sex often stops when the man has his orgasm.
It’s worth noting that the orgasm gap doesn’t really exist when you compare gay men to lesbians in terms of their odds of having an orgasm during sex. When women have sex with women, they have orgasms about as often as men usually do.
When you’re partnered with someone who orgasms faster than you, this can create pressure to try and orgasm quickly. However, the more pressure you put on yourself to have an orgasm, the less likely it is that it will occur because you can get stuck in your head or feel stressed or anxious.
It’s important to remove that sense of pressure to orgasm, whether self-induced or from a partner, because good sex is about feeling relaxed and having fun, not achieving a goal. When you take that pressure off, good things can come (pun intended).
Learning to be in the moment during sex can help with this, such as by practicing mindfulness exercises, which teach you to tune into your body sensations and tune out distractions (one of my favorite recommendations for learning more about this is Dr. Lori Brotto’s book, Better Sex Through Mindfulness).
Closing the orgasm gap may also involve taking more time to build up arousal, such as by spending more time on activities that precede penetration, such as kissing, oral sex, and genital touching. If you and your partner invest time in getting fully aroused prior to intercourse or penetration, this can increase the odds of everyone getting the pleasure they’re after.
Maximizing sexual pleasure and having more consistent orgasms begins with self-understanding and sexual communication. However, it’s also about expanding your definition of sex, continually adding new and different things into the mix, and learning to be relaxed and present during sex.
At a general level, these tips can potentially help anyone to enhance their sex life, but they’re especially important for women—and for closing the orgasm gap once and for all.
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