Information for the Woman and Her Partner

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Robert W. Birch, Ph.D.
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Anatomical drawings of internal and external Female Sexual Anatomy

Orgasm, Orgasm, Whose Got the Orgasm?

The problem

Surveys and clinical experience confirm that between 10 and 15 percent of all American women have never experienced orgasm and only around 35 percent of the female population will orgasm during intercourse. Failure to orgasm at all or difficulty reaching orgasm during intercourse has stirred much concern among women and among their partners, causing one, the other, or both to feel inept or dysfunctional.

The definition

An orgasm, of course, is the much sought-after conclusion to a period of high sexual arousal. During her excitement, a woman’s body packs blood into her clitoris, labia and tissue surrounding her vaginal opening. Physical tension builds, as does the subjective experience of sexual arousal. If an orgasm occurs, the blood is released from the genital tissue and the woman senses a warm wave of intense pleasure in association with each strong contraction of her pelvic floor muscles. After an orgasm (or several orgasms if the woman is multiply-orgasmic) both mind and body relax, as the woman bathes in her quiet post-orgasmic after-glow.

The confusion

Many reasons for the failure of a woman to orgasm have been proposed: anger, ignorance, guilt, inhibition, and fear of losing control and letting go, to mention only a few. There are those who have pointed to hormones, to sexual abuse, or to clumsy men. There is confusion about vaginal verses clitoral orgasms, questions concerning G Spot stimulation and curiosity about the pelvic floor exercises. In a recent article in a health food journal, a woman who earned her Ph.D. in Communications has suggested that the reason women are not orgasmic is because of low desire, and then goes on to push what she calls the "sex vitamins and minerals." It is clear that people who claim expertise in vitamins should not write about sex, and those who specialize in sexuality should not write about vitamins! (And perhaps women who study communication should stick to writing about communicating.)


The easy answer to the questions is, "You can't miss it!" While that is probably true, that answer does not help the woman who has never had one. Since the orgasmic awareness is such a subjective experience, it might be best to begin at the physical level, and in doing so to begin at the beginning.

A Typical Physical Orgasm

Ideally the sexual response begins with a physical hunger. Call it what you will... sexual desire, libido, or horniness. Desire is the yearning between the ears. It is the motivation to sex sexual pleasure and release. The next step in the "sexual response cycle" is arousal. As a woman becomes aroused (turned on), physical changes begin. Blood is sent down into the tissue of her genitals. Her genital lips will swell a bit and might spread open. Her clitoris, (often called the pleasure bud) is composed of spongy erectile tissue that engorges, enlarges, and firms. The clitoris becomes exquisitely sensitive to touch. As the woman responds the muscles around the entrance to her vaginal will relax and the slippery lubricant will seep out from its opening.

During arousal a woman's nipple might firm. Some will develop a slight rash (call the sexual flush) on their chests. Breathing is likely to change and blood pressure will increase.

With continued stimulation, most typically and effectively focused on the clitoris, the orgasmic woman will mentally experience her rapidly escalating excitement. Her breathing pattern will change, her psychological awareness will focus on the stimulation, and she will probably close her eyes. As this builds, the typical woman will feel her body begin to tense. The muscles in her legs, pelvis and abdomen will tighten. This is called hypertonicity and should not be a reason for a woman to stop! Many women exaggerate their automatic response and consciously tighten the muscles surround their vaginal opening. In fact, a small number of women can orgasm with no external stimulation at all, simply be tightening their abdominal/pelvic muscles. I few have discovered this while working out at a health club!

No one quite understands the neurological build up or what the exact orgasmic trigger is (or where it is located). But, the excitement builds to a point that a strong reflex is activated. The muscles in the woman's pelvic floor (called the PC muscles) begin to automatically contract, and the resulting subjective experience of these contractions are the waves of intense pleasure that sweep through the body. Some women will moan, some will cry out, some remain silent. Some women thrust with each contraction, some do not. As the orgasm subsides, some women cry, some laugh, but most just "purr."

I should be quick now to add that if you were to ask twelve orgasmic women to describe their climactic experience, you will get twelve different answers. This may in part be dues to slightly different physical reactions, differing types of stimulation, dissimilarity between expectations, and idiosyncratic psychological interpretatons of the event.

Different Physical Responses

During the orgasmic response, as noted above, the muscles of a woman's pelvic floor rhythmically contract. For most women (who have not had hysterectomies) their uterus will also contract, although not in synch with the PC muscles. The awareness of these uterine contractions vary among women (and some women might only have been aware of them during a pregnancy). A woman whose awareness is mostly of her pelvic floor contractions will speak primarily of the waves of pleasure. A woman who is mostly aware of her uterine contractions is likely to emphasize a deep feeling of warmth. A woman who experiences a blended orgasm will talk of both the waves and the pleasure deep in her pelvis.

The awareness of the pelvic floor contractions are to some extent dependent on the tonicity of the PC muscle band. The better toned the muscles, the more intense the orgasm. (A link to an article on the Kegel Exercise for the PC muscles can be found below.

Different Stimulation

Women are likely to describe a difference in their orgasmic experience, depending on the type of stimulation that brought them to their climax... oral, vibrator, manual. Women are likely to describe a difference between reaching orgasm with the manual stimulation by a partner and reaching orgasm with self-pleasuring (masturbation). Women are also likely to report a different experience depending on whether or not there is something (a dildo or a penis) in their vagina. It is sometimes easier for a woman to orgasm with one partner than it is with another, even though she is unsure of the reason.

Clitoral vs Vaginal Orgasms

It is pretty much accepted that try to distinguish between clitoral and vaginal orgasms is a confusing and worthless undertaking. If a woman is able (as some are) to reach orgasm with nipple stimulation, should we call this a "nipple orgasm?" And what about the small number of women who can think themselves into a climax. It makes better sense to talk of the location of the orgasmic response, rather than the site of stimulation that triggered it. Above was mentioned the pelvic floor orgasms, the uterine orgasms, and the blended orgasms.

The question of clitoral or vaginal orgasms is really about whether a woman should be able to orgasm during intercourse (or with a dildo). Should a woman be able to orgasm with just vaginal stimulation? It might be nice, but the answer is "No." Can some women orgasm just with vaginal stimulation? The answer is "Yes." Is the G Spot somehow involve? The honest answer is "Maybe, but maybe not." (A link to an article on the G Spot can be found in the list above.) Do most women orgasm with vaginal stimulation alone? The answer is a resounding "No."

A Woman's Expectations

What a woman expects, how she believes she should respond, and how she thinks she should act will all impact how she experiences, behaves during, and reports her orgasmic event. A sexual response is a complex blend of many physical and psychological variables.

So how's a woman to know if she is getting close?

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First of all, read the above!

Women react differently to their orgasms, and so there are no guaranteed indicators that your partner has made it... other than those that you must learn from her. Everything listed below is qualified and must be clarified and verified with each new partner.

You will most likely feel her body begin to tense as she approaches the jumping off place. As she gets close she will probably stop talking, she is likely to either hold her breath or pant, and she will probably begin to bear down.

If you have a finger in her vagina when the orgasm is very close, you might feel the inner two thirds of her vagina suddenly balloon out (called tenting) or tighten down (called A framing). Your partner will be totally unaware of these changes deep within her vagina. There might be an increase in her lubrication.

If you have a finger or two inside her vagina when she begins to orgasm, you might very minor contractions around the opening (these will be major internal earthquakes for her). As she orgasms she might make sounds, might thrust, or might just remain motionless and quiet.

It used to be thought that firm nipples (nipple erections) were a sure sign of a woman's orgasm but this is not true. It certainly might be a sign of her arousal, her anxiety, or her reaction to the cold!

Some women will expel a clear watery fluid (the female ejaculate) out through their urethral opening with their orgasmic contractions, but this is not typical. This female ejaculation comes from where a woman urinates, but it is not urine. It does not come from her vagina and it is not slippery. Since female ejaculation is uncommon, it is not a reliable sign that a woman has reached orgasm, and even women who do ejaculate might not do it every time.

Some women are able to have more than one orgasm during any encounter. For some, they must take a brief break between orgasms, although remaining aroused, but other women can go practically non-stop from orgasm to orgasm. While some believe a woman can learn to be multiply orgasmic, most who are never remember having learned it... some just seem to have the ability.

fake orgasm

In summary... the best way to know if your partner has had her orgasm is to establish open and honest communication about your sexual expectations, desires, and the experience the two of you share.

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Why Do Women Fake Orgasm?



It has been estimated that between ten and fifteen percent of American women have never experienced orgasm, and the percentage might be even higher in countries in which there is less sexuality information available. There are many reasons for a woman's failure to climax, including such things as sexual ignorance, sexual anxiety, or a fear of letting go. Some reasons have more to do with the woman's partner, who might also be ignorant of sexual anatomy or hold unrealistic expectations of how a women reach orgasm. A man who rushes foreplay believing he must finish the job with intercourse might well leave his partner frustrated.

A PERSISTENT SEXUAL MYTH Many men and women still believe that women should orgasm during intercourse. That is, women should all be capable of vaginal orgasms. Many people even refer to orgasms during intercourse as the only "right way" to get there. In reality, perhaps thirty-five percent of women can indeed climax during intercourse, but the vast majority of women never have and probably never will. In fact, most of the women who do orgasm during intercourse are only able to do so because they are in a position that provides effective clitoral stimulation.


female genitals Female genitals are variations on the same theme, but no two women look exactly the same. Thus, a single drawing cannot look like every woman. However, the one presented here portrays all the essential "parts" of a woman's vulva. At the top is the clitoral hood, in this drawing it appears quite fleshy. The hood may be thick or thin, might cover the head of the clitoris, or allow it to be exposed as shown here. Whether the hood is thick or thin, covers the clitoris or not, seems unrelated to woman's ability to orgasm.

Beneath the clitoral hood lies the clitoral shaft. The length of the shaft will vary among women, just as penis size varies among men. The head of the clitoris is rich with nerve endings and is the most sensitive part of a woman's vulva. Most women require clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm, although the sensitivity of this small organ will vary among women. For some women direct stimulation of the clitoral head is pleasurable, but for others the head is too sensitive and stimulation of the shaft works best. Sexual communication can be essential in redirecting a well-intended finger or tongue.

The small inner lips might be thin or full, short or long. Often, as in the portrayal above, one lip will be larger than the other. Nothing on one side of the human body is a mirror image of the corresponding part of the other side, and so asymmetrical genital lips (labia) are not uncommon and should be no cause for concern.

A woman's urethral opening, from which she urinates, is below the clitoris and above the vaginal opening. Often this opening cannot be seen without close inspection.

The opening to the vagina is below the clitoris, perhaps an inch or so, and in most positions of intercourse is not in "the direct line of fire" of a trusting penis. The walls of a woman's vagina are relatively insensitive, although there is certainly feeling in the muscular opening (first inch) and there is clearly a sense of containment. The role of the "G Spot" is probably minimal, although some women do report "hot spots" deep inside.


As a woman approaches orgasm, her body will naturally tense. This is called hypertonicity . A woman should not attempt to undo this natural process, but rather allow her body to do what it needs to do. This hypertonicity might last anywhere from a minute to twenty or more. When sexual excitement reaches a certain threshold, there is a neurological "orgasmic trigger" which his pulled. This threshold is lower for some women than for others.

Women will report their subjective experience of orgasm in their own unique ways. "A rush of warm feelings," "an explosion of pleasure," "waves of ecstasy, and so on. Most, however, will identify the waves of positive feelings associated with the physical contractions of their pelvic floor muscles. The best way, then, to objectively describe an orgasm is as a series (six to ten) of strong muscle spasms that radiate positive feelings throughout the entire body.

If a woman who has never experienced orgasm wants a small sample of that experience, she can rhythmically contract her pelvic floor muscles. Then multiply these sensations by one hundred! If a woman does not know where these muscles are, she should read the article on the Articles page that describe the Kegel Exercises.

For many women, there will also be uterine contractions during orgasm, but many will not feel these unless pregnant. Follow a hysterectomy, some women report a change in their orgasmic experience, but others will not.

The period of relaxation and warm feelings of contentment that follow an orgasm has been called the afterglow. There women who are capable of going on an experiencing one or more additional orgasms. No body knows why some women are multiply orgasmic and others are not.


A small percentage of women will expel a clear fluid when they orgasm. This fluid comes out of the urethral opening, and is often mistaken for urine. This fluid is quite different from a woman's sexual lubrication, but many people believe that a woman who is exceptionally wet with her slippery lubricant has ejaculated. This is not so. The lubrication comes for small glands just inside the vaginal opening and is thick. The ejaculate comes from the urethral opening and is watery.

Despite claims that women can learn to ejaculate, there is not evidence that this is possible. Some women expel fluid, others don't. Either way, this should not be of concern.


Women can learn to become orgasmic and there are several good self-help programs available, including my book, PATHWAYS TO PLEASURE, coauthored by Cynthia Ruberg, Sexuality and relationship counselor. The exception video BECOMING ORGASMIC is sold from this site. I also recommend the book FOR YOURSELF by Dr. Lonnie Barbach (available from amazon.com).

For many woman, their first attempts to learn are on their own. If this does not work, however, or if there are psychological blocks the woman cannot overcome on her own, therapy with a qualified sex therapist is recommended. ©2001 Robert W. Birch, Ph.D.

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Robert W. Birch, Ph.D.

Sexologist & Adult Sexuality Educator

      Out of curiosity, a need to finish a job once started, or genuine concern, men, having recovered from their own post-orgasmic euphoria, are apt to ask their partners if they had made it as well. It is interesting that the converse is seldom true... women rarely ask men. It's either they don't care or they assume that men always get their's. It is certainly true that men are considerably more predictable - rub it, suck it, stroke it - with enough stimulation, the guys are going to pop. Women, on the other hand, seem more complicated when it comes to reaching orgasm, and to make matters worse, there's nothing big down there to grab a hold of.

      As statistics based on surveys tend to do, the numbers assigned to female orgasms vary, depending on who was surveyed and who is reporting. However, probably as much as 15 percent of the female population have never experience an orgasm, and there may be up to 10 percent who can only orgasm when masturbating alone. The majority of women can orgasm with their partners, but only when the men are rubbing or licking their clitorises, or the women are "buzzing off" with a vibrator. (Marvelous contraptions!) Only about thirty-five percent of women will orgasm during intercourse. That means that about sixty-five percent of women have never, and might never, get off with penile-vaginal stimulation alone, unless there is something they can learn from the minority of women who are making it.

      Before going on and perhaps revealing a few secrets, let me point out again that the issue of female orgasm is complex. While at one extreme some women never have a single orgasm while awake (some will come in their sleep, the female equivalent of a boy's wet dream), but others will have three or more... the record (don't ask for a phone number) is somewhere around 35 in an hour. There is also a wide variety of ways women get there. Some women can orgasm with nipple stimulation alone, some can get off by squeezing the pelvic floor muscles that surround the opening of their vaginas, and some women have been found who seem able to orgasm with fantasy alone, these women being proficient at "thinking off."

      Regardless of the position, there will be women who will make it... standing on their heads... no problem. However, there is a problem with most positions of intercourse, and the way they are performed in the heat of passion. Most women will not receive the direct clitoral stimulation needed to reach a climax in most positions, especially when the man is making long strokes. Without clitoral involvement, the experience for most women will range from an "is that all there is" reaction to a "feels good but it ain't goin' anywhere!" What's a girl to do?

      First let's clear up some misconceptions: The old saying about the size of the plow being secondary in importance to the time a man keeps it in the ground, isn't automatically true. For a man to simply last longer while doing the wrong thing will not help. And then there's the G Spot. If a woman even has a sensitive G Spot, it is probably in a place that cannot be easily reached by a penis. (See the video titled "Unlocking the Secrets of the G-spot.")Then, there are the reports of other mysterious centers of erogenous sensitivity... the X Spots. Repeatedly poking any of these spots probably will not get a woman off either. And relax guys, bigger is not necessarily better, for there is indeed some truth to that saying about the size of the tool being less important than the skill of the workman.

      Now to the information many readers will have already discovered, so this is for those who are still wondering. Remember, clitoral stimulation is the trigger for most women, and a man who is on top (missionary position) and is taking long, deep in-out strokes might be hitting her liver, but he's missing her clitoris. One of my not-so-bright clients had once called this the mercenary position, and I think some women might agree. Now, for the same reason, if a woman is squatting over her guy and is bouncing up and down, all she is getting for herself is up-down vaginal stimulation, and most vaginas are not very sensitive. The neglected clitoris is missing out on all the action and the woman's excitement plateaus, shortly before her legs give out!

      If, on the other hand, a woman straddles a man, leans forward and slides front to back, and if she stays in close, she can rub her clitoris on her partner's pubic bone as she pushes forward and can run her clitoris up the shaft of his penis as she pushes back. The man, who is laying passively on his back, will know she has made clitoral contact if on her back swing she bends his penis toward his feet. This gives her a good firm surface to rub against and will not cause any harm to the instrument of her pleasure. She must stay in close, however, to maintain the clitoral contact.

      Some women can lay flat on top of their partner, but down lower on his body than the man might have chosen. She would want the erection to be pointing upward so that it passes over her clitoris and then enters her vagina. With short pelvic thrusts up and down, never losing contact with the erection, the woman can achieve the clitoral stimulation needed for her to reach orgasm.

      There are several advantages to the female superior positions. First, it is the woman who is running the show and she is, therefore, able to get her clitoris where she needs it to be. Second, it is a neat trip for guys who are tired of orchestrating every encounter... it's his turn to get used. Finally, with a man on his back, with the very short strokes, and by staying fairly relaxed, he is very likely to last longer, giving his partner the time she needs to reach orgasm before he does.

      Oh.... I forgot to mention the view for the man... his partner astride him, her breasts swinging with each of her powerful thrusts as she does her thing.... nice!

Much more interesting and instructive information on female orgasm can be found in PATHWAYS TO PLEASURE: A Woman's Guide to Orgasm, by Robert W. Birch, Ph.D. & Cynthia Lief Ruberg, MS.Ed. (2000).

Read my informative article on Reaching Simultaneous Orgasms During Intercourse

In the Vibrator pages, I will show you how to use a vibrator during intercourse to facilitate an orgasm during the coital act.


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Read the related article on The G Spot


female orgasm We think our book, PATHWAYS TO PLEASURE: A Woman’s Guide to Orgasm (2000), is a winner. However, to create a complete package for you, we are offering a free copy of our book when you buy the widely acclaimed Becoming Orgasmic video. We also offer the video's companion book by the doctors Julia Heiman, & Joseph LoPiccolo, BECOMING ORGASMIC: A Sexual Growth Program for Women.

The best resources are, of course, written by professionals who have studied human sexuality. In addition to the books offered on this site, there is the highly recommended book on female orgasm by sexologist Lonnie Barbach, FOR YOURSELF: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality, 1995.

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