Does the vaginal orgasm exist? For years, scientists -- and women themselves -- have grappled with this question. According to new research published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, they do, and past studies that concluded otherwise are suspect.
Experts (Mostly) Agree: There's More Than One Type Of Orgasm
In a series of essays published, experts examine past and current data about the female orgasm. Their overarching conclusion is that the clitoral orgasm (whose existence no one seems to dispute) is a separate phenomenon from vaginal orgasm (VO). "We have plenty of evidence regarding the difference between the two main orgasms, clitoral and vaginally activated orgasm," Emmanuele Jannini, a professor of endocrinology at the University of Aquila who organized the series, told LiveScience.
Not all of the contributing experts agree. French gynecologist Odile Buisson argues that the internal parts of the clitoris can't be separated from the vagina, so therefore neither can the two types of orgasm. Essentially, she believes that a vaginal orgasm is just a clitoral orgasm achieved through slightly different means. However, other researchers -- including Jannini -- make the case for a greater distinction between the two as well as the existence of other types of orgasm. (Remember those exercise-induced "coregasms" that made headlines a few weeks ago?)
One of the series' contributors, Barry Komisaruk, a professor at Rutgers University, is the man behind the now-famous video of a woman's brain during orgasm. Komisaruk and his colleagues have conducted a number of studies examining the way that women's brains respond to orgasm during masturbation using an fMRI machine. He found that different areas of the brain are activated depending on where a woman is stimulating herself. And Rutgers professor emeritus, Beverly Whipple, writes in the series that the "G-region" (since the G-spot is no longer considered to be a distinct spot) is different in each woman. "[O]rgasm in women is in the brain, it is felt in many body regions, and it can be stimulated from many body regions as well as from imagery alone," she wrote.
What This Could Mean For Women
While it's important to understand the physiological aspects of orgasm -- and to constantly challenge the research around it -- the reality is that we'll never arrive at a "how-to" for the "big O" that works for every woman. However you get there, it's different for everyone.
The kind of prescriptives we read in women's magazines all the time -- follow these 10 steps to a climax so good they'll hear you in Guam -- can obscure that fact, and cause many women more anxiety than pleasure.
Even if vaginal orgasm is more available to women than previously thought, it doesn't work for everyone, or even most women. ABC News reported that up to 75 percent of women have trouble having orgasms from vaginal penetration alone, and that 10 to 15 percent have trouble having an orgasm at all, and yet many women still feel they're doing something wrong if they can't "achieve" the ecstasy that seems to come so easily to porn stars and models in perfume ads during intercourse. A simple Google search turns up hundreds of postings on Yahoo message boards from women who feel inadequate because they can't achieve a specific type of orgasm -- or any orgasm. These posts have titles like "I can't have a vaginal orgasm...and it's affecting my relationship?" "I have never had an orgasm through penetrative sex, am I normal?" and "Is it normal that I have never had an orgasm?!?"
The new data isn't problematic in and of itself, but when women feel that they should be having a specific type of orgasm and then don't, they can end up blaming themselves for a "problem" that isn't necessarily a problem. Leonore Tiefer, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NYU Langone Medical Center, spoke to The Huffington Post on this subject last October. "The crucial thing is not to overvalue [the orgasm] or make it sound as though it's essential for normalcy or enjoyment or intimacy or maturity or femininity," Tiefer said. "People agonize over it."
Jannini expressed the hope that women stop judging their bodies based on how they experience sexual pleasure. "A woman should have an understanding -- who is she, how is her body composed, what is the possibility of her body, but she should not be looking for something like a race, like a game, like a duty," Jannini told LiveScience. "Looking for the G-spot orgasm or the vaginal orgasm as a need, as a duty, is the best way to lose the happiness of sex." So sex should be fun, pleasurable and make you happy? Amen to that. Because at the end of the day, as long as you're enjoying yourself, who cares what body part that enjoyment comes from.
RELATED ON HUFFPOST WOMEN: The Health Benefits Of An Orgasm
According to Dr. Jennifer Berman, co-founder of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at UCLA, orgasms increase your circulation, keeping the blood flowing to your genital area. This in turn keeps your tissue healthy!
Although it can't be considered an alternative to daily exercise, having an orgasm is a cardiovascular activity. "Your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases [and your] respiratory rate increases," says Berman. And because it's akin to running in many physiological respects, your body also releases endorphins. Sounds like a pretty fun way to work your heart out.
Feeling down in the dumps? An orgasm might be just what you need to pick yourself up. In addition to endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin are also released during orgasm. All three of these hormones have what Berman terms "mood-enhancing effects." In fact, dopamine is the same hormone that's released when individuals use drugs such as cocaine -- or eat something really delicious.
A little pleasure may go a long way towards a good night's rest. A recent survey of 1,800 women found that over 30 percent of them used sexual release as a natural sedative.
Having an orgasm not only works out your heart, but also your head. Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D. told Cosmopolitan that orgasms actually nourish the brain with oxygen. "Functional MRI images show that women's brains utilize much more oxygen during orgasm than usual," Komisaruk says.
One thing that Victorian practitioners may have been onto is that orgasms can work to soothe certain aches and pains -- namely migraines and menstrual cramps. (So now you know what to do next time you have a headache if you don't feel like popping an Excedrin.) According to Berman, the contractions that make up an orgasm can actually work to evacuate blood clots during your period, providing some temporary relief.
Most of our lives are so hectic that it's hard to even imagine being relaxed. However, it turns out that sexual release can double as stress relief. Not only do the hormones help with this task, Berman says that being sexual also gives our minds a break: "When we're stressed out and overextending ourselves, [we're] not being in the moment. Being sexual requires us to focus on one thing only."
There actually might be something to the idea that we "glow" after sex. The hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), which shows increased levels during sexual excitement, can actually make your skin healthier.
Last but not least, when you know what it takes to make yourself orgasm, you may increase your emotional confidence and intelligence. "When you understand how your body works and ... [that it] is capable of pleasure on its own, regardless of your partner status, you make much better decisions in relationships," says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexologist and certified sexuality educator. "You don't look to someone else to legitimize that you're a sexual being."
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