The science of orgasms

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

If there is one thing men and women can agree on during sex its that the most satisfying and frustrating part can be trying to get their partner to reach orgasm.

Despite the obvious physical difference between the sexes, Alexandra McIntyre-Smith, a PhD student in clinical psychology at Western, said it is difficult to differentiate the feeling between a male and a female orgasm.

“The feelings are pretty similar,” McIntyre-Smith continued. “It is usually described as a warmth and spreading sensation.”

Rhythmic contractions as well as increased blood flow to the genitals play a major role in both male and female orgasms. One may also feel an increase in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure; dilating pupils is also a sign of extreme arousal during intercourse.

However, reaching orgasm can be more difficult for a woman than for a man. While males generally need encompassing stimulation of the penal skin, pleasuring a woman can more complex.

“For most women it [takes] clitoral stimulation,” McIntyre-Smith said.

“Partnered sex can be challenging for women because very few women feel orgasm through vaginal stimulation and usually even in the vagina [it’s the] clitoris that’s actually being stimulated because the glands reach further into the body.”

McIntyre-Smith said there is a misconception about where the focus during sex should be because films, specifically pornography, can make it seem as though penetration should be the goal of intercourse, when very few women can be properly aroused vaginally.

“Women that are struggling [to reach orgasm] are encouraged to masturbate and touch their clitoris in a good way and that’s where vibrators and other sex toys can play a huge factor,” she said.

However, solving the mystery of a woman’s sexual function has become a daunting challenge for researchers because women seem to need more psychological arousal than men.

“They are trying to find a drug desperately for women that promotes arousal but they are finding it extremely difficult,” McIntyre-Smith explained. “It’s because the psychological aspect seems to play a bigger role in a woman’s orgasm.”

“Textures, sounds, smells; all feed into our cognition to what is particularly arousing for us,” Michelle Everest, professor of human sexuality at Western, added. “It can be the arousing nature of skin-to-skin contact with someone they feel close or intimate with.”

The inability to reach orgasm can be frustrating and some will resort to pretending they have climaxed so as not to hurt their partner’s feelings.

“Women will fake orgasm for different reasons. Some will do it on occasion because they’re tired, some out of frustration. Even men who may feel tired and find it difficult to ejaculate [will fake orgasm], especially if [they are] wearing a condom and no semen is being released,” Everest said.

“But not only [are they] missing out on the opportunity to reach orgasm, they are bringing lies into the relationship and that is never healthy.”

“There is a lot of pressure on women … they don’t want their partner to think that they’re not [enjoying the sex]. But then there’s also a huge piece about wanting to please their partner and making him feel like he’s a good lover,” McIntyre-Smith added.

McIntyre-Smith said the most vital part of intercourse is communication. Studies show couples that have difficulty communicating about clitoral stimulation for the woman were less likely to reach orgasm.

However, McIntyre-Smith added sex does not have to be just about reaching orgasm; many people can enjoy intercourse without climaxing.

“It’s really about letting go and being in the moment ... women have said they can usually reach orgasm 70 to 90 per cent of the time with clitoral stimulation,” McIntyre-Smith stated, adding that women who have been raised to feel uncomfortable with sexuality usually find it more difficult to enjoy sex.

Both partners have to be open to the other’s needs, even if it is difficult not receiving what you want right away. McIntyre-Smith said men often think they are stimulating the clitoris when they are really not and may be anxious to proceed to intercourse right away.

“Guys can be extremely quick to go in the moment. Women need to be willing to take it upon themselves to reach orgasm by stimulating their own clitoris during sex,” McIntyre-Smith said, adding that a couple expecting to climax together will be disappointed.

“The simultaneous orgasm is a myth and it puts too much pressure on both parties. It’s good if guys are able to last two to four minutes at this age and women generally take longer,” McIntyre-Smith concluded. “It is important to slow down and make the clitoris part of the bigger picture.”

“Research shows men and women both want more foreplay,” Everest added. “Many men want women to reach orgasm, they just need direction. It’s all about communication.”

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