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The 5 biggest lies you’ve been told about orgasms

meg ryan orgasm when harry met sally

Spoiler: Sex is about a whole lot more than getting off.

BY EJ DICKSON AND NICO LANG

This article features frank discussions of sexuality and is NSFW.

There’s already a subreddit and a podcast devoted to orgasms, but this week got the Internet talking about pleasure in a whole new way.  On Tuesday, a study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine quickly went viral, getting picked up by HuffPost, Jezebel, Autostraddle, BuzzFeed, Bustle, Mic, and Cosmo. In it, the Journal compared how often men and women have orgasms during sex.

The study, which polled more than 6,000 Americans between the ages of 21 and 65, concluded that men, on average, have orgasms during 85 percent of sexual encounters, whereas women have orgasms during approximately 63 percent of their sexual encounters. This percentage, however, increased among gay women, who reported having orgasms 75 percent of the time during sex, which researchers attributed to “lesbian women being more comfortable and familiar with the female body.”

If you read about this study, and you are familiar with the concept of sex, have had sex with another person in your entire life, or have ever logged onto PornHub, you probably weren’t surprised by the results. (Lesbian women are “more comfortable and familiar with the female body, Journal of Sexual Medicine? Is water wet? Do dogs bark? Is Taylor Swift’s new music video polarizing? Please regale us with more pearls of your unique insight into female sexuality.)

But what is surprising is how often the blogosphere reports on studies about the “mysterious” female orgasm, despite the fact that there’s already a significant body of existing research on the subject. It’s actually not that “mysterious” at all, and to pretend it is only perpetuates a wealth of misinformation about the primacy of orgasms. We’ll likely even know less than what we started with.

Even though we, apparently unlike most sex researchers on the Internet, don’t have to tell you about how your own body works—and what feels good and what doesn’t—we thought we’d take the opportunity to debunk some of the biggest myths about the Big O out there.

1) It’s way harder for most women to come from penetrative sex than you think.

EJ: I have come from penetration a grand total of two times in my life. The first time was after extensive clitoral stimulation; the second I was on mushrooms and spent the following three hours wearing a blanket over my head and jabbering about Archduke Ferdinand assassination conspiracy theories. While I was far from a reliable self-reporter in that moment, you should’ve seen my sexual partners’ faces at the time; I’d never seen anyone look so pleased with themselves. It was like they’d just won the gold medal in shot-putting at the Olympics, and I’d just told them their face was gonna be on a Wheaties box.

My partners’ response to helping me achieve penetrative orgasm, and my subsequent sense of enormous shame and sadness upon realizing that neither time really “counted,” per se, leads me to believe that if Ernst Grafenberg, the so-called father of the G-spot, had not died back in 1957, you can bet your ass that he would’ve perished as the result of mob violence, at the hands of women infuriated by the influence he’s had over the popular sexual imagination.

While countless women’s magazines and sex toy brands have based their entire financial models around the idea that all women a) have G-spots, and b) are capable of having orgasms via G-spot stimulation, the truth is that many researchers are wary of the G-spot’s function in reproductive health; in fact, many are not even sure it even exists. And yet, both men and women alike have convinced themselves that if ladies aren’t gushing like a NERF Super Soaker the second a penis make its first appearance in their vaginal canals, they’re somehow sexually inferior or less attuned to their bodies.

Here is what we do know about the G-spot, and how women achieve orgasm in general: The vast majority of women—93 percent, according to one estimate—cannot reliably come from penetration alone, and 27 percent say they’ve never come from penetration at all. The truth is that most women are like me, and require clitoral stimulation to do the trick. In fact, one study has hinted that a woman’s ability to come from penetrative sex depends on the “rule of thumb,” or how close your vagina is to your clit. (This is generally accepted to be the length from the tip of your thumb to your knuckle, or about 2.5 centimeters.)  

Given how rare it is for a woman to come from penetration alone, one would think that the myth of the multi-orgasmic super-squirter would ultimately die on its own. But if nothing else, this myth has become even more dominant in our collective consciousness. G-spot vibrators like GIGI 2 sell like hotcakes, and there’s even a cosmetic surgery procedure called “G-spot amplification,” a series of injections in the vagina that allegedly make it easier for women to reach orgasm. (Shockingly, this procedure is not yet approved by the FDA.)

We already have so many things about our bodies that we’re ashamed of for no good reason. Do we really need to add the inability to come from penetrative sex to the list?

2) Sex is about a whole lot more than getting off.

Nico: I don’t mean this in the strictly teenage-coming-of-age film way, where Shane West learns how to be a better human from watching Mandy Moore slowly die of movie disease. In strictly Michael Douglas movie terms, sex is a whole lot more interesting if orgasms aren’t your sole intended purpose. Every gay man has encountered the guy hanging out late at the bar (read: on Grindr) who is just waiting for someone to get off with, and this guy is a scourge on the community. He’s not that interested in your pleasure, just the sheer fact of your existence. You are to the bedroom what Katie Holmes was to Tom Cruise.

I’ve always been told that masturbation is the best sex you’ll have (because you have it with yourself), but I’ve never found this to be true. While my hand knows me best, my hand can’t warm me up in the same way that another human person can, and I tend to find self-arousal a little awkward. I just don’t do it for me, and it means sex with myself—honestly—isn’t that good. If it were, and orgasms were the whole deal, I’d never leave the house.

This is one of the many reasons that the intense focus on orgasms, in my opinion, has always been a bit premature. It reduces the entire variety of the sexual experience down to whether you do or do not do one exact thing, when (as anyone with an Internet connection knows) good sex is anything but singular. In fact, some of my best sexual experiences have been times when I didn’t come at all, so focused was I on my partner’s pleasure that my orgasms become secondary. It’s not taking one for the team; it’s becoming oriented to a definition of sex more inclusive than the one you learned in middle-school sex-ed.

3) Lady orgasms aren’t “bonding,” so if you make a woman come, she won’t fall in love with you and follow you everywhere.

EJ: In the film version of the musical Annie, the titular orphan saves a scrappy sheepdog from going to the dogpound, which leads the dog, Sandy, to develop an attachment to her and follow her around wherever she goes. (Hence the song “Dumb Dog,” an addition to the film soundtrack that does not appear in the original musical version, which makes sense because frankly it kinda sucks, but I digress.)

There seems to be a widespread conception among researchers that orgasms in women trigger a flood of oxytocin, or the so-called “cuddle drug.” According to this theory, oxytocin causes women to bond to their partners, which is why women often want to cuddle after sex while men just want to roll over and fart and go to sleep. In essence, the myth that female orgasm triggers the release of so-called “bonding chemicals” is a good loophole for commitment-phobic hetero dudes to avoid working too hard in bed. So that’s why that hedge fund manager douchebag didn’t go down on you the other night: He was doing you a favor by not letting you become too attached! Otherwise, you probably would’ve followed him around the streets of 1930s Manhattan and accompanied him on various whimsical musical adventures.  

The only problem with this narrative is that it’s not true: Although women do exhibit peak levels of oxytocin in the bloodstream after orgasm, “there’s no evidence” of what effect oxytocin has on the human female brain, or if it leads women to become more attached to their partners after sex, according to researcher Barry Komisaruk. “The evidence of stimulating pair bonding and cuddling, that’s based on injection of oxytocin directly into the brain in rodents,” Komisaruk told Salon. “There’s no evidence like that in humans.”

Additionally, oxytocin is not only triggered by orgasm in women, but in men as well, just at lower levels. “The similarities are much greater than the differences in orgasm between men and women,” Komisaruk says. So feel free to make your lady come as hard as she wants, gentlemen. Don’t worry, you’re not gonna have a Sandy/Annie situation situation on your hands.

4) Simultaneous orgasms aren’t magic.

Nico: They always say that simultaneous orgasms are like the Arc of the Covenant, this thing of almost mythic stature that people search their entire lives for and never find—if they’re female. For two men, it’s very easy to achieve orgasm at the same time, about as rare and unusual as a sore throat. I’d much rather achieve orgasm at the same time with my partner than get Strep, but it’s not this all-powerful force that magically leads to sexual satisfaction. You can have lots of bad, mindless, meaningless, unfulfilling sex with a partner whose glands you happen to sync up with, just like you can have bad, mindless, meaningless, unfulfilling sex with anyone, especially if that person is a Tea Party voter.

In the Steven Soderbergh movie sex lies and videotape, James Spader’s character famously doesn’t like to get off around other people, meaning that he’ll never be a simultaneous orgasm unicorn. (None for you, Steff.) Within the context of the film, this is somehow seen as both mysterious and vaguely pathetic, because he’ll never have that one thing that everyone else wants: a moment of real connection with another person. 

But these things are not necessarily linked, and the movie shows he’s just as unlikely to find real connection (whatever that even means) with company around—because he’s a weirdo. Spader plays a creepy (if secretly hot) basement dweller, hanging with his library of personal home videos, but if he has a perfectly fulfilling sex life without involving another human being, that’s his prerogative. He’s clearly made this choice out of a preference that works for him, and who is to tell him he can’t be at peace with that? Sure, some might find it a little odd—but golf clothing is odd, and no one gets sanctimonious about that. (However, they should—visors are not part of God’s plan.)

In general, it’s a bad idea to pretend that you know what good sex is for everyone, because our definitions of what’s pleasurable and arousing are all going to be wildly divergent. 

5) You don’t have to have an orgasm to have good sex.

EJ: Of all the myths about the female orgasm out there, the one that you need to have an orgasm in order to signify the end of a “good” sexual encounter is perhaps the most insidious. Contrary to popular belief, dudes, most women don’t care that much about whether or not you make them come every time you have sex; they just want to make sure that you’re being responsive and attentive to their needs in bed. Having a screaming, hair-pulling, earth-shattering, sheet-ripping, dig-your-nails-into-someone-else’s-flesh orgasm after an already-awesome sexual encounter is just like putting frosting on an already-delicious pound cake, not baking the cake itself.

The idea that you’re only having good sex if you’re having a full-body, minute-long, preferably vaginal orgasm at the end of every sexual encounter is so incredibly frustrating. For one thing, it puts undue pressure on both men and women by making them feel like they’re inferior or biologically ill-equipped if they fail to come during sex, when in fact as many as one in three women have reportedly never had an orgasm with a partner during sex. Then you’re both stuck spending hours and hours on achieving a goal that’s just not gonna happen, which contributes to the endlessly self-perpetuating cycle of frustration. Having sex for hours sounds great and all, but sometimes you’d just rather be spending that valuable time working on your novel, or making a lasagna, or watching the first season of Queer as Folk on Netflix.

The takeaway is this: Orgasms are awesome, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of sex. Yet the promise of having incredible, round-the-clock orgasms continues to wield enormous power over our sexual imaginations. When we start stripping the idea of the elusive, mind-bending orgasm of its power, then and only then will it stop dominating every aspect of our sex lives.

Screengrab via ChaZacIsa\YouTube