11 Mind-Blowing Facts About the Female Orgasm

During an orgasm, your reproductive orgasms rhythmically contract as your body releases a wave of relaxing and feel-good chemicals. But the complexities of female orgasms are a mystery to many. Even people with a vagina might not fully understand climaxing.

What most people do know is that orgasms feel great, and they're important to a healthy sex life. And as with most areas of sexual health, the more information you have, the more empowered you are to enjoy sex.

A young woman lying in bed with her mouth open

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The Clitoris Is Full of Nerve Endings

The clitoris is more than a small nub that extends from your vulva. "What you see is just the tip of the iceberg," Lauren Streicher, MD, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University and author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever told Health. "[The clitoris is] basically a kind of horseshoe configuration around the upper part of the vaginal opening."

This area is full of sensitive nerve endings that make the clitoris a pleasure powerhouse. So it makes sense that people with vaginas are way more likely to orgasm from clitoral stimulation. A 2018 study found that 36% of female participants needed clitoral stimulation to orgasm, while only 18% of women orgasm from penetration alone. "The bottom line is that the majority of women do not have an orgasm from penetration and need clitoral stimulation," said Dr. Streicher. 

Multiple Orgasms Are Possible

"Some women experience long, cascading orgasms, where you continue to have strong rhythmic pelvic contractions for a long time," said Dr. Streicher. "And then there are orgasms where you have that over-satisfied sensation which stops and then, with more stimulation, starts again."

People who have multiple orgasms report continuous climaxing when having solo and partnered sex. But, researchers aren't sure how many people enjoy multiple orgasms. In a 2016 study of 2,049 Finnish women from ages 18–70, 8% said they had multiple orgasms. Older research of 800 female college graduates, also found that approximately 43% reported having had multiple orgasms.

If you're one-and-done when it comes to orgasms, don't stress. "There are plenty of women who, after they have one nice big orgasm, feel a real sense of fulfillment and satisfaction and they're done. And that's totally normal," said Dr. Streicher.

Orgasms May Last Up to 2 Minutes

There's really no right amount of time for your orgasm to last. In fact, researchers used to think that 3 to 15 seconds was about the duration of a female orgasm. Then they found evidence that a climax could go on for 20 seconds to 2 minutes.

A small study from the ‘90s also found that 40% of women estimated their orgasms lasted 30 to 60 seconds, or even longer. However, more recent research estimates female orgasms can last 20 to 35 seconds. "Some people have very short orgasms, while others can last longer," said Dr. Streicher. "There's a wide variety of normal."

You Can Orgasm From Different Erogenous Zones

Your body has a bunch of erogenous zones, or areas that are sensitive to touch and create sexual pleasure. So stimulating other erogenous zones like the A-spot, G-spot, and even the nipples can also help you climax. Plus, stimulating multiple erogenous zones simultaneously can help you climax with a blended orgasm.

The A-spot, or anterior fornix, is located deep in the vagina on the high front wall beneath your cervix. This area is often responsible for orgasms from penetrative sex since you need deep penetration to stimulate the area. To hit the elusive G-spot, you need to angle a toy or your partner’s penis toward the front wall of your vagina and about halfway between the vaginal opening and cervix. The G-spot should feel slightly spongy or bumpy if you use your fingers to explore. With its close proximity to the clitoris, some researchers believe the G-spot is part of the clitoral network. And, yes, since the nipples are an erogenous zone, some folks can orgasm when the nipples are licked, sucked, or caressed.

It Can Take Longer to Orgasm During Partnered Sex

It's an old stereotype that people with vaginas take longer to reach an orgasm. But, it's more likely that your partner isn't doing what you need to climax than an inherent flaw with your anatomy. 

Research shows it can take females 6 to 20 minutes — and 14 minutes on average — to orgasm during partnered sex. On the other hand, males may take 5 to 7 minutes to climax during vaginal sex. However, when you factor in masturbation, folks with vaginas can climax in about 8 minutes.

"There's a wide range," said Dr. Streicher. "We know that this has to do with how aroused someone is in advance and how intense the stimulation is." But why you may need more arousal and varying types of stimulation isn't clear. Still, it's a good argument for finding a partner who can help you explore what makes you climax — or a reason for more self-love sessions to figure out what turns you on.

Orgasms May Help Migraine

If you deal with headaches or migraine, try getting it on. According to research published by the International Headache Society, 60% of people with migraines experienced moderate or complete relief after an orgasm.

However, orgasms can also cause headaches. "It can be bothersome but not dangerous — it's just a general headache-y feeling that people can get during sexual activity," said Dr. Streicher. "But then there's the person who, at the exact same time that they have an orgasm, will have a very painful explosive headache simultaneous with orgasm."

If you experience this excruciating headache during climax, see your healthcare provider ASAP. Streicher noted that this kind of pain is highly correlated to subarachnoid hemorrhage, a stroke caused by a burst blood vessel in the brain.  

You Can Orgasm in Your Sleep

Some folks can orgasm without directly stimulating the vagina or related erogenous zones. This includes while you're sleeping. Ever had an erotic dream that puts you on edge? Sleep orgasms, or nocturnal orgasms, likely start with sensual dreams that increase blood flow to the genitals and lead to climax.

A 2012 study also found stomach sleepers are more likely to experience erotic dreams and sexual sensations. The exact reason isn't fully understood, but pressing onto the bed may create physical stimulation and feel constrictive.

Orgasms Can Actually Dull Pain

Having an orgasm can crank up your pain tolerance by releasing specific neurotransmitters that help dull pain. This increase in pain tolerance is likely related to the feel-good endorphins and oxytocin released when you orgasm. In people with vaginas, oxytocin plays a significant role in managing pain and dialing down anxiety.

Past research shows pain threshold during orgasm increased by 75%, and the effect may last for 10 to 20 minutes. More recent research also found orgasming increased pain tolerance after sex, even after 15 minutes.

Your Ability to Orgasm May Be Genetic

Your DNA could be responsible for at least a third — and maybe even 60% — of your ability to reach orgasm. It's hard to determine exactly what role DNA plays, but it could be anatomical, said Dr. Streicher.

"If you look at the ability to orgasm during intercourse, we know that it correlates with the distance between the clitoris and the urethra," said Dr. Streicher. "If your clitoris is less than 2.5 centimeters from the urethra, it's more likely that you will orgasm during intercourse. And that's simply because of clitoral stimulation based on anatomy."

Females Can Ejaculate When They Orgasm

A review published in 2013 estimates about 54% of folks with a vagina experience female ejaculation. But that same research found that up to 66% of women experience coital incontinence, or excreting urine at orgasm. And it's hard to tell the difference between ejaculate and urine, said Dr. Streicher. 

There's also a huge debate about the difference between female ejaculation and squirting — which isn't urine. If someone is squirting during orgasm, they release a gush of clear fluid. While releasing a thick, white fluid is often considered female ejaculate.

"With female ejaculation, what we're generally talking about is an emission of fluid from the Skene's glands, which are little glands on the side of the urethra," she explains. "Some women do lose urine when they orgasm, but it's very diluted so it doesn't smell like urine. So it's not so obvious what's happening."

Females in Same-Sex Relationships Are More Likely to Orgasm 

 In a 2017 study, 95% of heterosexual men reported that they usually or always orgasm during a sexual encounter. Only 65% of heterosexual women said the same thing. However, 86% of women in same-sex relationships said they usually or always reached climax during sex.

"The reason why is kind of obvious," said Dr. Streicher. "They're not depending on intercourse to reproduce, and a woman in a same-sex relationship is more likely to know where her partner's clitoris is and what to do with it than most men."

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