“Can women really have multiple orgasms? Really? How? Seems fake.”
The female orgasm has historically been an elusive part of female sexuality. It has gone from having its existence denied completely to being prescribed as a treatment by doctors for an excess of female sexual desire — also known as hysteria — to being stigmatized in today’s society.
One effect of societal attitudes toward the female orgasm is a phenomenon known as the “orgasm gap,” which refers to the fact that in heterosexual encounters, cisgender men tend to have more orgasms than cisgender women. In fact, according to a study conducted by the American Sociological Review in 2012, only 8% of cisgender women report having an orgasm in a heterosexual encounter.
Psychology Today suggests the orgasm gap exists for a myriad of reasons, including a double standard when it comes to attitudes toward sex with regard to men versus women, as well as a lack of knowledge about women’s orgasms and a lack of pleasure-based sex education.
Dr. Debby Herbenick, a human sexuality professor in the School of Public Health, is one of the many sexuality professionals working to dispel sexuality myths and close the orgasm gap through education.
“I think sexuality is rarely talked about in genuine, authentic ways,” Herbenick said. “Taking a human sexuality class can help people learn fact-based information about sex — including orgasm — and, very importantly, can help grow students’ comfort talking about sexuality topics.”
Although a penile orgasm has taken priority over a vaginal orgasm for centuries, Herbenick said the two are remarkably similar.
“Everyone actually starts out with the same kinds of ‘parts’ in terms of genital tissue, they just become differently organized as fetuses develop,” Herbenick said. “And, of course, we all have nerves and brains. That said, everyone’s body is a little different which is pretty fascinating.”
It is much more common for people with vaginas to have multiple orgasms than for people with penises to have multiple orgasms. Contrary to how it sounds, multiple orgasms do not mean there is more than one orgasm happening at the same time.
“Multiple orgasms refers to more than one orgasm, generally with continued stimulation — though it doesn’t necessarily mean one right after the other, people can and do sometimes take ‘breaks’ between orgasms,” Herbenick said. “People with penises rarely have multiple orgasms, but for some it is possible.”
This is because people with penises have a refractory period, which is the time between one ejaculation and the ability to ejaculate again, Herbenick said. This time period is often shorter at a young age.
Due to a lack of pleasure-based sex education, many people with vaginas worry that they are unable to reach orgasm. While it is typical for vaginal orgasms to take more time to reach than penile orgasms, most people are able to achieve orgasm, Herbenick said.
When it comes to cisgender women, Herbenick said it is common to take time to learn how to experience orgasm, and it is not unusual for them to still be learning well into their 20s.
“I encourage people to explore their bodies on their own and to focus on pleasure rather than orgasm,” Herbenick said. “Orgasm will be easiest when a person feels sexually turned on or aroused, open to pleasure, and with the time, space and relaxation to explore those pleasures.”
Whether it be through solo, group or partnered stimulation, orgasms and sexual pleasure — especially for people with vaginas — is normal, valid and good for you. By continuing to educate, we can hopefully close the orgasm gap and change the narrative that vaginal orgasms are less important than penile orgasms.
Speaking of Sex will be an affirming, nonjudgmental space exploring a myriad of topics related to gender and sexuality such as bodily normalization, pleasure-focused sex, healthy boundaries, consent and alternative relationships. You can submit questions via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or anonymously in this form.
Editor’s note: Advice offered is intended for informational use and may not be applicable to everyone. This column is not intended to replace professional advice.
Taylor Harmon (she/her) is a sophomore studying sexuality, gender and reproductive health with a minor in theater and drama.