Understanding the female orgasm

Following a chance twitter follow and subsequent “that looks like something for us” internetspiration, a little over a week ago I was at the door of a fairly ordinary residential building seeking the Ecstatic Temple of Joy.

I got buzzed into the building and smacked in the nose by a pungent sweat stink. This kind of stench could definitely be identified as male. I later heard it was due to some sort of fight club going on downstairs. Yep, really. A. Fight. Club. Like the film but with less narcolepsy and definitely no soap. While a bunch of blokes exchanged blows on the ground floor (another blog, in a galaxy far far away), around 20 women gathered upstairs in the more fragrantly scented Ecstatic Temple of Joy (ETJ) to discuss their experiences of the female orgasm.

Scarlet Ladies are an events company for women to discuss all aspects of sex and sexuality in a safe, supportive environment. Their motto is ‘Free your vagination’. They welcomed a panel of rocking women to spark discussion including Emma Sayle, organiser of discerning sex parties, Killing Kittens, Polish sex blogger Nat, and ETJ tantra practitioner, Catherine. The floor was open to anyone and the relaxed atmosphere meant everyone could speak, laugh and be open about their experiences. The evening concluded with a demonstration of a tantric massage - we’re gonna need a separate blog to do the subject justice - watch this space!

First oh-wow moment: the cis-female body is capable of 53 kinds of orgasm. Rewind. Fif-ty-three. Men are limited to the penile one and the prostate one (sorry guys). Catherine of ETJ listed just a few places that orgasm can be stimulated including the clitoris, g-spot, breasts, urethra and throat (uh-huh). Another woman recounted experiencing orgasms from her fingers, ears and neck. It’s worth mentioning at this point, she was also of the tantric persuasion. Skillz, right?

This raised a point about how we think of and define sex and sexual pleasure. Heterosexual sex is commonly defined by penetrative, penis in vagina sex, where play often ceases after male orgasm. Polish blogger Nat noted this can manifest as goal-oriented sex, where orgasm is the objective and shared pleasure and intimacy are an afterthought (or no consideration at all). One woman described research suggesting women who have sex with women have more orgasms than heterosexual partners - women play more flexibly, with less defined sessions, able to stop and resume again, building pleasure. 

A recurrent theme was that information about female orgasm and sexual pleasure in our formal education and media representations of sex aren’t up to scratch (or rub, as may be). Scarlet Ladies founder Jannette recounted her first orgasm in her teens “I thought I was actually dying, I didn’t know what was happening to my body. My boyfriend had scratch marks on his back from my fearful grip”. It’s a funny anecdote now, but it belies a failing in our education system that we’re not given realistic expectations about how sex might affect us.

Orgasm must become a baseline expectation for women to achieve equality when it comes to pleasure
— Sophie Holloway, Ladies Come First

There’s a prevailing narrative that because the majority of women don’t regularly climax through penetrative sex (75% of us y’all!), they should just not worry about it - it’s ‘normal’. Ladies Come First founder Sophie Holloway thinks there’s a definite need to educate young, and indeed, any-aged women about orgasm and sexuality, so they communicate how pleasure works for them. 

Is there anything women can do for themselves to improve their chances of orgasm during penetrative sex? Catherine recommends exercising the pelvic floor muscles. You don’t have to be post-pregnancy to feel the benefits. Kegels have recently had a tech upgrade too - with products like Elvie able to send feedback data to your mobile phone. Orgasm isn’t an end point for everyone and in some cases, not medically achievable; we shouldn’t put pressure on ourselves to achieve it in every sexual experience, intimacy and pleasure are key.

If my brain’s in work mode he can be between my legs as long as he wants but it ain’t going to happen
— Emma Sayle, Killing Kittens

It’s impossible to talk about female sexual pleasure without acknowledging the huge role of the brain, often called women’s biggest erogenous zone. Not only do brains need to be fed quality information about our orgasmic potential, they factor hugely in our enjoyment during the moment too. For many women, the internal chatter of other things in their lives can render sex a bit, well, unsexy. Emma Sayle said: “The brain is the most powerful sex organ in the female body so if mine’s in work mode he can be between my legs as long as he wants but it ain't going to happen”.

The brain is so powerful, in fact, it can even self-serve orgasm. Sophie delighted the group by describing how she’d orgasmed on a train through breath and thought only (more details on where to learn that sort of magic below). Can’t think of a better example of the free your vagination spirit!

Thanks to the Scarlet Ladies, the panel and the other guests for a super discussion. If you’re interested in female sexuality or just want to try the breath-based orgasm, the book to read is Come as you are by Emily Nagoski.  If you’re more of a talker, join the Scarlet Ladies for one of their upcoming events