There’s a lot of talk about the “Big O,” but did you know there’s more than one kind of O to sing about? Orgasms in women may seem a little harder to spot since there’s no obvious spray to end the play. But they exist, and with a little awareness and attention, you can get the Os you deserve, from the fireworks-on-display kind to the calm oh-my-gods.
When you find yourself missing out on the Big O, there are three likely culprits: expectations, communication, and method. And alongside all of that, experimenting is required. You’ll find sites reporting that there are anywhere from 12 orgasms to just 1. But we’re focusing on the five an average person can achieve, for the definitive happy ending they deserve.
Here’s a list of the most common types of orgasms and what they typically feel like, although this varies from person to person:
|Orgasm type||What they feel like|
|clitoral||These orgasms are often felt on the surface of the body, like a tingly feeling along your skin and in your brain.|
|vaginal||These orgasms are deeper in the body and can easily be felt by the person penetrating the vagina because the vaginal walls will pulse.|
|anal||Before the big O, you may feel an intense need to pee, but the contractions definitely won’t be felt around the genitals. Instead, they’ll be around the anal sphincter.|
|combo||When the vagina — particularly the G-spot — and the clitoris are stimulated at the same time, it tends to result in a more explosive movie-style orgasm that may have convulsing or literally ejaculation (read: female ejaculation is not a myth).|
|erogenous zones||Lesser known parts of your body, such as the ears, the nipples, the neck, the elbows, and the knees, can still cause a pleasurable reaction when kissed and played with. For more sensitive people, continuous play may lead to an orgasm.|
Let’s talk about the clitoris
The clitoris is a small organ with a lot of nerve endings that peeks out from the tiptop of the vulva, is often covered by a hood, and extends down the inside of the labia. The best way to stimulate the clitoris is by gently rubbing with the fingers, palm, or tongue in a back and forth or circular motion.
- Once the clitoris begins to get wet — or after you add lube because not all vaginas can get wet on their own — apply faster and harder pressure in a repetitive motion.
- Top off this motion with heavy pressure as the orgasm begins to intensify the feeling. Back down a little if the clit is too sensitive.
- If this is enough to get you off, that’s awesome! But no worries if it doesn’t since this is not the be-all and end-all.
Tackling the elusive vaginal orgasm
Vaginal orgasm is often misconstrued as the “best” way for women to orgasm (read: the easiest for penises), but it’s often the most difficult for ladies. Instead of a penis, try fingers or a sex toy. Insert the fingers or toy into the vagina and make a “come hither” motion toward the belly button.
There’s a point of pleasure on this wall called the G-spot and when you hit it with regular, strong pressure, it can lead to orgasm. Stimulation of the G-spot is also the way to lead to female ejaculation, as it stimulates the Skene’s glands on either side of the urethra.
- Aim to use fingers or a toy for penetration instead of the penis.
- Mimic the “come hither” or circular motion, rather than an in-and-out movement.
- Repeat motions that feel good so that the feelings will build up.
Exploring the anal orgasm
Anal orgasms are much more common in men because of the prostate, but can also be achieved simply by rubbing the outside of the anal opening as well as stimulating the inside of the anus with a finger. When it comes to anal sex, please, please, please use lube. Butts don’t naturally produce lubricant and the skin around the area is very prone to tears, which can lead to unwanted infection.
If you’re looking to return the favor with your male partner, stimulate the prostate by gently inserting a finger straight forward and massage the gland.
Going for the combo and erogenous zones
In order to achieve a combo orgasm, combine clitoral and vaginal stimulation at the same time, either in parallel or opposite rhythms — whatever feels best for you or your partner. This is also the most common way to achieve female ejaculation because the clitoris is stimulated and the G-spot or Skene’s glands are engaged.
Finally, erogenous zone orgasms are achieved exclusively through a lot of experimentation. You may be able to orgasm from kisses on your neck, teeth on your nipples, or fingers on the inside of your elbows. The best way to find your erogenous zones is to use a feather or another light external object and take note where you feel the most pleasure.
In any kind of sexual play, communication is key. Not only is consent literally required by law, but telling your partner what you want, how, and where is the best way to ensure maximum pleasure. It’s ideal to have these conversations before engaging in sexual play, but it’s equally effective to guide your partner during sex. This means asking for what you want either with words or with your body language. Remember, partners aren’t mind readers, even though we want them to be.
This also means being open to experimentation. If your regular sex routine isn’t getting you off, then experimenting with touching new areas at different times with different body parts (genitals, fingers, mouths) is the next best step to solving your orgasm mystery.
It’s also important to note that experimenting and achieving orgasm doesn’t require a partner. Pleasure is not dependent and neither are you — the better you know your rhythm with fingers and toys, the faster you can teach your partner how you tango.
What physically happens in a woman's body during actual orgasm is this: the vagina, uterus, and anus (and sometimes other body parts like hands, feet, and abdomen) contract rapidly 3-15 times, squeezing for 0.8 seconds at a time. Women may also ejaculate, releasing a liquid out of the urethra that contains a mix of whitish fluid from the Skene’s peri-urethral glands and urine. Don’t worry — urine is very sterile and the liquid usually comes out clear.
But not everybody experiences sex and orgasm the same way. The above explanations are great starting points, but sex doesn’t have a manual. That’s why exploring in the moment and finding what your body loves is absolutely key.
Understanding the stages that lead to an orgasm may help you
- Excitement. Initially being turned on.
- Plateau. Repetitive motion that feels pleasurable.
- Orgasm. The burst of pleasure, and release.
- Resolution. The refractory period.
While this is mostly accurate, it’s too general — especially when these stages cross over and there’s no explosive resolution. It’s also inaccurate to suggest that sex ends in orgasm, because this denies many women of their orgasms by pushing the idea that sex is finished when their male partners finish. Plus, not all sex requires an orgasm and orgasms don’t mean the sex is great.
Orgasms can be small. They can happen many times in a row or just once, and they don’t always happen. Don’t define your orgasms by someone else’s description… that’s ultimately shorting yourself on pleasure. Your calm clitoral orgasm can still be mind-blowing, just as your combo orgasm can be fun, and your partner’s ejaculation can be exciting.
Bodies are different. Orgasms are different. But the path it takes to get there is all about experimenting, communicating, and trying again. Allow yourself to soak in the sensations of the pleasure process just as much, or even more than, the finale.
Repeat after us: Orgasms aren’t the end goal of sex.
Hannah Rimm is a writer, photographer, and generally creative person in New York City. She writes primarily about mental and sexual health, and her writing and photography has appeared in Allure, HelloFlo, and Autostraddle. You can find her work at HannahRimm.com or follow her on Instagram.