Unlike some animals, human females can have sex any time of the month, and they do not have to orgasm to ovulate or get pregnant.
Male-dominated scientific norms mean that much about the female orgasm remains misunderstood, and many harmful myths persist.
A female orgasm can be highly pleasurable and occur during masturbation or sexual activity with one or more partners. Scientists are unsure whether it has additional benefits.
In this article, we look at why female orgasms occur and what happens during an orgasm. We also debunk some common misconceptions.
The benefits of the male orgasm are clear. Men must ejaculate to deposit sperm in the vagina, possibly leading to pregnancy. The male orgasm, therefore, serves a clear evolutionary purpose.
The purpose of the female orgasm is less clear. Researchers have suggested numerous potential benefits, but few have been rigorously tested, and no theory has conclusive scientific support.
Not everything the body does has a clear purpose, however. Scientists have not discovered the evolutionary benefits of some traits that have persisted in humans.
A 2016 study argues that the female orgasm may have no obvious evolutionary benefit and that it may be a relic of a time when the hormones associated with orgasm were necessary for a woman to ovulate.
Since there was no evolutionary need to eliminate the female orgasm, it persisted even when it was no longer necessary for fertility.
Orgasm may serve important purposes, however. The pleasure it can cause can encourage females to have sex. This may also promote bonding with a sexual partner, which does have significant evolutionary benefits.
During arousal, blood flow to the genitals increases, causing them to become more sensitive.
As arousal increases, a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate may also increase. As orgasm approaches, the muscles may twitch or spasm. Many women experience rhythmic muscle spasms in the vagina during an orgasm.
Several researchers have proposed that sexual response follows specific stages, though their theories about these stages differ.
Still, most theories include the following stages:
- excitement, during which arousal builds
- plateau, during which arousal increases and levels off
- orgasm, which causes intense feelings of pleasure
- resolution, during which arousal diminishes
Many females are able to have another orgasm after resolution, whereas males usually require a period of rest before having another orgasm.
While the internet is filled with articles promising that orgasms improve skin, hair, and overall health, there is little scientific evidence that orgasms offer any specific health benefits.
Scientists have not identified any evolutionary benefits of female orgasms or found that orgasms improve health.
But orgasms are pleasurable, and pleasure can be its own benefit. Pleasurable sex may improve a person’s mood, relieve stress, boost immunity, and foster better relationships.
Women do not need to orgasm to get pregnant. However, a limited body of evidence suggests that orgasms may boost fertility.
One very small study, for example, measured whether there was better sperm retention after female orgasm. While the results confirmed this, proving that the female body retains sperm better after an orgasm will require larger studies with designs of higher quality.
People hold many misconceptions about female orgasms. Some myths include:
Women who cannot orgasm have psychological problems.
While trauma, relationship issues, and poor mental health can make it more difficult to orgasm, many people with healthy sexual attitudes and good relationships still have difficulties.
An orgasm is both a physical and psychological response, and numerous health problems can make it more difficult to enjoy sex in this way.
Some people struggle to orgasm due to inadequate lubrication. This may happen while taking hormonal birth control, or during or after pregnancy, or due to menopause.
Also, women can experience vulvodynia, which refers to unexplained pain in the vagina or around the vulva. Treating this and other medical conditions may improve sexual pleasure.
Orgasms from penetrative sex are common or the healthiest form of sexual expression.
Self-appointed experts, mostly men, have long told women that they must orgasm from heterosexual intercourse. However, many women can only orgasm from clitoral stimulation.
Sigmund Freud argued that the vaginal orgasm was the superior and more mature orgasm. No evidence supports this claim.
Women cannot have vaginal orgasms.
While vaginal orgasms are less common than those from clitoral stimulation, some women have them — with or without other stimulation.
The female orgasm can result from many types of stimulation, including vaginal, clitoral, and nipple contact.
Not everyone orgasms from the same type of stimulation.
Women need to be in love to orgasm.
Orgasm is a complex psychological and biological experience — reaching and experiencing orgasm is not the same for every woman. Some women may need to feel love to orgasm, while others may not.
A person’s relationship with their partner may or may not influence their ability to orgasm during sex.
A 2018 study found that 86% of lesbian women said they usually or always orgasm during sex, compared to just 66% of bisexual women and 65% of heterosexual women.
Participants were more likely to orgasm frequently if they:
- received more oral sex
- had longer-lasting sex
- reported higher relationship satisfaction
- asked for what they wanted in bed
- engaged in sexual emails or calls
- expressed love during sex
- acted out sexual fantasies
- tried new sexual positions
A partner can tell if a woman has had an orgasm.
There is no way to tell if a woman has had an orgasm without asking her. Some people make noises during an orgasm, while others are silent. Some flush or sweat after an orgasm, but others do not.
A person who wants to know if their partner has had an orgasm can ask without being confrontational.
If the answer is no, avoid judgment, anger, or feelings of inadequacy — these can put pressure on the person to orgasm, which can lead to anxiety and make it more difficult. Instead, discuss whether they would prefer a different approach to sex.
Being unable to orgasm is a common issue, and it can occur for a variety of reasons. Some people may not receive the right kind of stimulation during sex, while others may have experienced trauma linked to sex. Others may simply be uninterested.
A 2018 analysis of 135 prior studies identified several factors that increase the risk of sexual dysfunction, including:
- relationship problems
- mental health issues
- poor physical health
- genitourinary issues, such as pelvic pain
- a history of abortion
- a history of female genital mutilation
- sexual abuse
- being religious, perhaps due to sexual shame and stigma
The same study identified several modifiable risk factors that improve sexual experience, including:
- daily affection from a partner
- a positive body image
- sex education
- intimate communication with a partner
Masturbation can help a person find what feels good to them. Some other strategies that might help include:
- using sexual lubricants to make sex more comfortable
- asking a partner to stimulate the clitoris during sex
- masturbating during sex
- discussing fantasies with a partner
- telling a partner if something does not feel good
The aforementioned 2018 study that compared orgasm frequency among people of various sexual orientations in the United States found that the following behaviors during sex increase the likelihood of women having an orgasm:
- deep kissing
- genital stimulation during vaginal intercourse
- oral sex
If self-help strategies do not work, a doctor who specializes in sexual dysfunction may be able to identify a problem, if there is one.
Many medical issues can make having an orgasm difficult, including:
- a lack of lubrication
- hormonal imbalances
- pelvic pain
- muscle dysfunction
- a history of trauma
When trauma or relationship problems make having an orgasm difficult, or when a person feels ashamed of sex or their desires, individual or couples counseling can help.
Serious scientific research into the female orgasm is relatively recent. Even some doctors may still believe myths about the female orgasm or think that it is unimportant to the female sexual experience.
This means that many people may have trouble accessing reliable information about orgasms.
A competent, compassionate medical professional can help a person understand the process of orgasm and identify potential barriers to sexual satisfaction.
There is no right way to orgasm and no correct way to feel about sex. People should pursue what feels good to them.