How many types of orgasm can women really have?

A new scientific study may finally offer an answer to the million-dollar climax question

Published March 19, 2014 10:00PM (EDT)

    (<a href=''>Piotr Marcinski</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(Piotr Marcinski via Shutterstock)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet The elusive female orgasm has been the subject of much scientific debate over the last century.  Some researchers have argued that women can have two types of orgasms through external clitoral stimulation and vaginal penetration, while others believe both orgasms are the same type accessed through different parts of the female anatomy.

In a bid to settle the dispute once and for all, a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine claims to have solved this age-old scientific mystery, revealing that there are indeed two types of female orgasms … well kind of.

Two French gynecologists carried out ultrasound scans on three “healthy volunteers” by measuring variations in their blood flow patterns to decipher just how their sexual organs moved during different types of sex.

These women were asked to arouse themselves through manual self-stimulation of the external clitoris and through vaginal penetration using a wet tampon. Say what? Both examinations measured the changes in blood flow patterns in the area to ascertain just how the clitoris and vaginal complex responded.

The outcome? The study discovered there is a “functional difference” in orgasms depending on the type of sexual contact.  Specifically, researchers found that only the top of the clitoris responds to external stimulation, while during vaginal penetration both the “root” of the clitoris and the whole clitoral and vaginal complex respond. This affected the flow of blood and therefore produced different sensations in the body.

The study concluded: “Despite a common assumption that there is only one type of female orgasm, we may infer, on the basis of our findings, that the different reported perceptions from these two types of stimulation can be explained by the different parts of the clitoris (external and internal) and clitorourethrovaginal complex [the system of clitoral nerves] that are involved.”

In other words, as Jezebel explains, both types of orgasms are clitoral, but the parts of the clitoris that respond are different depending on the type of stimulation.

Such findings semi-align with Sigmund Freud’s two-orgasm concept devised in 1905 in which he argued women experience both clitoral and vaginal orgasms.  Only Freud’s somewhat skewed theory claimed that the clitoral orgasm was a childish prelude to the “mature” vaginal sexual response.

That theory was of course refuted by Dr. Alfred Kinsey in the ‘50s after his research showed that the vast majority of women did not have vaginal orgasms at all, only clitoral, concluding that the insistence on a vaginal orgasm was an expression of male dominance and could not be taken as the sole criterion to determine female sexual satisfaction.

Similarly, feminist Anna Koedt echoed Kinsey’s sentiment in her monumental book “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm” in the 1970s in which she argued the vagina is not designed as a pleasure center and therefore “attributions of frigidity based on not reaching vaginal climax are merely a construction of patriarchal masculinity … The location of women’s pleasure in the vagina, rather than the clitoris, is an expression of the way in which sex has been organized solely in the interests of men."

Further research into female sexuality over the years proved controversial.  Notable sexologists Masters and Johnson copped flak for attributing female psychological aspects such as anxiety, poor communication and low self-esteem to the inability of women to reach orgasm through intercourse.  Their findings were criticized on the basis that the volunteers used in the study were sex workers who arguably had more sexual experience and confidence than the average Jane Doe.

Fast-forward to the present day where research concludes that only a third of women are actually able to have an orgasm through sexual intercourse.  In fact, a study last month claimed there is actually no such thing as the “G-spot”, only a “C-spot,” finding that when it comes to clitoral orgasms, size really does matter.  It seems women who have trouble reaching orgasm tend to have a smaller clitoris located further away from the vagina, suggesting that size and location of the clitoris are just as important as psychological and “psychosocial issues” in assessing women’s sexual function.

Interestingly, the study found that sex positions also play a role in orgasm.  Study researcher, Dr. Susan Oakley explained that those who suffered from an inability to orgasm through intercourse preferred the missionary position, whereas women who were able to climax through sex favored being on top.  This of course, supports the latest premise that the clitoris is responsible for climax.

“Maybe women without orgasms have a small clitoris, but if they were to try a female dominant position maybe they could get closer stimulation to the clitoris and overcome the fact that it is small," Dr. Oakley said.

Still, given the lack of scientific consensus and the fact each woman’s physiology varies from female to female, it’s difficult to know which study to believe.  If we take the latest French findings that women can have at least two different types of orgasms as truth, what’s to say there isn’t at least three, or four, or fifty different forms of orgasms just waiting to be uncovered?

Certainly, there are proponents out there that argue women can have up to four types of orgasms including blended orgasms and multiple orgasms, as well as those who have dissected the female orgasm into at least 11 different forms such as mental orgasm, oral orgasm, U-spot orgasm and squirting orgasms to name a few.

Then again, if we weigh in on the latest French study, the peculiar methodology used to assess vaginal orgasms certainly raises some eyebrows, particularly as the volunteers – only three in total – were strangely asked to penetrate themselves with tampons, an unlikely sexual stimulant.  A vibrator or dildo, which seems the more obvious and appropriate choice, may have yielded a more accurate or entirely different result.

At the end of the day, there is clearly no right way to have an orgasm.  Whether it is a vaginal or clitoral orgasm a woman is having, her body will ultimately physically react in the exact same way: evidenced by an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing coupled with mounting tension in her pelvic region released upon climax, Medical Daily reports.  From a practical point of view, these similar bodily reactions make it difficult for a woman (or her partner) to accurately ascertain just where those sweet sensations are coming from.

Consequently, as science continues to grapple over women’s sexual physiology to find a one-size-fits-all "Big O" formula, perhaps it’s better to go with whatever floats your boat individually, rather than getting caught up in where your elusive orgasm heralds from or what conflicting, dubious scientific research has to say on the matter.

By Jodie Gummow

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