Is It Normal If I Can't Have a Vaginal Orgasm?

Smiling, affectionate couple cuddling in bed
Smiling, affectionate couple cuddling in bed.

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The problematic notion that vaginal orgasm is the norm for assigned women's experience of sexual pleasure can be traced back to Sigmund Freud, at least in part. Freud believed that orgasming from vaginal stimulation alone (i.e. having a vaginal orgasm) was more mature than orgasming from clitoral stimulation. He believed this because he thought that the clitoris was a male organ, due to its structural similarity to a penis. Needing or wanting to stimulate these "male" parts for pleasure made women less feminine, and thus less mature.

Today, we know that Freud's beliefs about women's sexual pleasure were based on flawed reasoning and heterosexist assumptions. Research has clearly shown that how women (and other individuals who have a clitoris and/or vagina) orgasm, is highly variable. Vaginal orgasm is not an option available to everyone, and women who do not experience vaginal orgasm are neither more or less mature than those who do. Vaginal orgasm is also not a myth. Women who experience orgasms from vaginal stimulation alone may not be in the majority, but they do exist.

What Is an Orgasm?

Sexual pleasure comes in as many forms as there are people to experience it, and there are almost as many answers to the question of how to define sex. It is, in some ways, almost as difficult to define the word orgasm. Looking at sexual response models, orgasm as usually conceived of as a series of rhythmic contractions of the genital muscles followed by relaxation. In someone with a penis, this is often accompanied by ejaculation. In someone with a vagina and/or clitoris, orgasm is not generally associated with the release of secretions.

Orgasms can occur multiple times in a sexual encounter, only once, or not at all. Orgasms can also occur without any sexual stimulation or only in response to certain types of stimulation.

It is important to note that much of the language around orgasm and sexual function privileges heterosexual behavior and normative, cisgender bodies. This reflects the fact that female sexual health research has historically focused on cisgender women's sexual response to cisgender men—generally in the context of vaginal intercourse. A great deal of sex therapy education focuses on achieving vaginal intercourse that leads to orgasm for both parties. This does a great disservice to not only gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, whose sexual experiences do not necessarily revolve around (or even include) intercourse. It also has the potential to cause problems for heterosexual couples whose sexual interactions may be focused on the specific act of vaginal intercourse, when other sexual experiences may be as satisfying, if not more. Making orgasm a goal can also distract from the benefits of sexual pleasure and enjoyment—things that can and do occur in the absence of orgasm.

Types of Orgasm

When discussing the types of orgasm experienced by individuals assigned female at birth, people will sometimes distinguish between clitoral orgasm and vaginal orgasm. A clitoral orgasm is an orgasm that occurs after stimulation of the clitoris (for example, through manual sex or oral sex). A vaginal orgasm is an orgasm that occurs from stimulation of the vagina, usually during vaginal intercourse. Some people have one type of orgasm, some the other, some can orgasm in both ways, and some can't orgasm at all.

Orgasms During Vaginal Intercourse

When women are worried about whether it's normal to not have vaginal orgasms, they are usually specifically concerned about whether it's normal to need clitoral stimulation to orgasm during vaginal sex. The answer to that question is an unqualified yes. More women than not report that clitoral stimulation during intercourse makes them far more likely to orgasm. (It's also normal to have orgasms from vaginal stimulation alone. It's just much less common.)

Unfortunately, by and large, the quality of data on orgasms during vaginal intercourse is relatively low. This is due in part to the fact that very few studies ask about how women have sexual intercourse. They don't distinguish between intercourse with simultaneous clitoral stimulation, intercourse with no clitoral stimulation, and intercourse where clitoral stimulation wasn't specified.

A 2018 study that tried to carefully distinguish between these types of intercourse, found that women were most likely to report having orgasms when clitoral stimulation occurred during intercourse. More than half reported having orgasms in that circumstance. In contrast, less than a third reported orgasms during intercourse with no clitoral stimulation.

One of the most comprehensive studies of orgasmic experiences among women during intercourse was completed in Finland using data from almost 50 years of surveys. That study found that only 40% to 50% of women experienced orgasms most or all of the time during sexual intercourse, with that number declining with age. It also found that, during sexual intercourse, more than half usually achieved orgasm through both vaginal and clitoral stimulation, one third through clitoral stimulation, and only 6% through vaginal stimulation. This is consistent with other studies that have generally found that proportionally few women have orgasms from vaginal stimulation alone.

Perhaps more importantly, that study found that the things most likely to make orgasm difficult were fatigue, stress, and difficulty concentrating. In addition, although 1 in 5 women attributed difficulty having an orgasm to their partner, the vast majority linked that difficulty to their own bodies, minds, and lives. This included things like having low sexual self-esteem and placing low importance on sex in the relationship.

Having More Orgasms During Vaginal Intercourse

Not every person cares if they have an orgasm during vaginal sex, or at all. However, for people who want to have more orgasms during vaginal penetration, the research is clear. If either a woman or her partner stimulates her clitoris during penetration, she is more likely to achieve orgasm. This can be done through changing sexual positions to increase pressure on the clitoris, manual stimulation of the clitoris, or the use of sex toys. However, don't forget to communicate. Some people find intense clitoral stimulation to be uncomfortable or even painful. That's not the right recipe for more orgasms.

Addressing Anorgasmia

If you have never had an orgasm, from masturbation or intercourse, and you would like to, don't lose hope. Although there is a small percentage of women who never experience orgasm, there is a much larger group who don't experience orgasm until relatively late in their life. Why? A combination of mental and physical factors may have made it difficult for them to experience stimulation in a way they find arousing, and satisfying, enough to orgasm.

If you experience anorgasmia, or other forms of female sexual dysfunction, it may be helpful to find a professional to talk to. This could be a gynecologist, a primary care doctor, or even a sex therapist. While the first two are likely to be the most helpful in determining whether there is a medical component to your difficulty achieving orgasm, the third may be most likely to be able to offer you helpful suggestions.

Masturbation can be a helpful tool for learning how to have an orgasm. This may be difficult for some people who for religious, cultural, or other reasons are uncomfortable with self-stimulation. However, becoming more comfortable with your own body makes it easier to understand how you respond to a partner's touch, what kinds of touch you find pleasurable, and what kinds you don't. Another important factor is learning how to have what a sex therapy instructor would call "sexy thoughts."

Sexy thoughts are those thoughts that are associated with arousal. For some people, they occur when watching romantic movies. For others, they are more likely to happen when reading erotica or watching porn. The trick is to learn how to concentrate on and enjoy those sexy thoughts without worrying about them or thinking too hard. That's a process that can take time. Then, when combined with safe experiences of touch, those sexy thoughts may be able to help you experience orgasm.

A Word From Verywell

If you don't learn to have an orgasm, or don't want to, there's nothing wrong with that. Many people have healthy, happy sexual lives without wanting or having orgasms. And, for some people, a healthy, happy life may be one that doesn't include sex at all.

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Article Sources

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  1. Shirazi T, Renfro KJ, Lloyd E, Wallen K. Women's Experience of Orgasm During Intercourse: Question Semantics Affect Women's Reports and Men's Estimates of Orgasm Occurrence. Arch Sex Behav. 2018;47(3):605-613. doi:10.1007/s10508-017-1102-6

  2. Kontula O, Miettinen A. Determinants of female sexual orgasms Socioaffect Neurosci Psychol. 2016;6:31624. doi:10.3402/snp.v6.31624

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