To fake or not to fake? It's a question most sexually active women ask themselves at one point or another (it's even been the topic of an Ally McBeal episode). Lacking the showy physical coda of the male orgasm, the female orgasm can be as much of a mystery to men as it is to women. Yet despite the confusion surrounding the subject ("Did she or didn't she?"), many women are less interested in honing their Meg Ryan imitations ("Yes! Yes! Yes!") than in taking greater responsibility for their own orgasmic destinies. We're here to answer a few of the frequently asked questions about women's orgasms, from faking 'em to making 'em.
Why Do Women Fake Orgasms? First and foremost, it's important to remember that achieving orgasm is a learned behavior, not some sexual skill we're all born with. It takes time, practice and, most important for women, patience. Unlike most men, who've "practiced" their orgasm skills since puberty, many women don't experiment with their sexuality (read: masturbate) until later on. The Kinsey study of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) found that as years of sexual experience increased for married women, their sexual responsiveness increased. In the meantime, whether it's because they want to protect their partner's ego, they're embarrassed or ashamed of the fact that they can't reach orgasm, or they're afraid their partner will reject them if they don't, lots of women choose to fake orgasm.
What's an Orgasm? If you're getting down on yourself because you haven't managed to scale the sexual Mount Everest, you can knock it off. Reaching orgasm isn't about hitting a magic button at precisely the right time, like some kind of carnival aim-and-win game. It's more like the climax of several stages. According to The Woman's Book of Orgasm: A Guide to the Ultimate Sexual Pleasure (Citadel Press, 1998), there are three stages, beginning with arousal. At this stage, the vagina lubricates itself and blood rushes to the pelvic area, the female version of the phenomenon that results in an erect penis. Full arousal can take anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes and leads to a build-up of sexual tension during which the clitoris may become erect (the plateau stage). The final stage, orgasm, is the point at which tension is suddenly released in a series of involuntary and pleasurable muscular contractions, which can be felt in the vagina, uterus and/or rectum. But remember: Orgasms are like snowflakes**.** No two are exactly alike. Different people experience different sensations of varying intensity and longevity.
Can Women Experience Orgasm From Intercourse Alone? Yes, but experts like Shere Hite, author of the Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality (Dell Publishing, 1977), say that only about 30 percent of women orgasm through penile thrusting alone. It's not for lack of ability or desire--it s simply a matter of anatomy. Contrary to popular belief, the vagina is not the epicenter of female sexual pleasure. That would be the clitoris, which is loaded with nerve endings (as is a man's penis). During vaginal intercourse, the clitoris gets little or no direct contact, while the penis is constantly stimulated (who said life is fair?). This can be remedied, however, by trying other sexual positions (such as "woman on top"), or by using manual, oral, or other forms of stimulation that offer more direct and consistent clitoral contact.
Clitoris 101: Where Is it? Get out those hand mirrors, ladies. The clitoris is above the urethral opening, at the point where the inner "lips" are joined. Although it varies in size, this area, called the glans of the clitoris, is usually about the size of a small pea. If you can't locate this area, the clitoral hood (a small piece of skin) may be covering it.
What's This About the G-spot? There's been great debate and lots of confusion surrounding this famed erotic area, including whether it exists at all, mainly because the term "spot" throws people off. Named after Dr. Ernest Grafenberg, the Christopher Columbus of the O-zone who "discovered" and wrote about the G-spot in the International Journal of Sexology in 1950, the G-spot isn't actually a magic button, as the name implies. Instead, it's a spongy region around the urethra located about two inches inside the vagina, behind the pubic bone. This area contains a cluster of nerve endings, much like the clitoris, but not all women respond the same way when it's stimulated. If already aroused, some women say that stimulating this area leads to more intense orgasms, while others say it makes them feel like they have to urinate. But don't fret if you can't find it or aren't thrilled by the results if you do. Even renowned sexperts such as Dr. Ruth Westheimer won't say for certain that it really exists, so don't feel bad if you haven't managed to locate this elusive erotic area.
What's the Difference Between Vaginal and Clitoral Orgasms? The difference isn't where you feel the orgasm, but where you're being stimulated when orgasm occurs. When you're sexually aroused, the clitoris swells, along with blood vessels throughout your pelvic area, which creates a feeling of fullness and sexual sensitivity. Most women achieve orgasm by stimulation of the clitoris when it's engorged. Others experience increased sensitivity in the outer third of their vagina, and when this area is stimulated during intercourse or other types of vaginal penetration, they have vaginal orgasms. Which type is better? Let's just say they're both pretty amazing. For more information on the female orgasm, check out the following resources:
For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality by Lonnie Garfield Barbach (New American Library, 1991)
Woman's Orgasm: A Guide to Sexual Satisfaction by Georgia Kline-Graber and Benjamin Graber (Warner Books, 1986)
Becoming Orgasmic: A Sexual and Personal Growth Program for Women by Julia Heiman and Joseph Lopiccolo (Simon & Schuster, 1988)
Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality by Shere Hite (Dell, 1977)
The Woman's Book of Orgasms: A Guide to the Ultimate Sexual Pleasure by Tara Barker (Citadel Press, 1998)