Everyone likes a good orgasm, right? In past articles we’ve covered topics like faking orgasms, the function of orgasms in sexual communication, orgasms stemming from nipple stimulation, and even highlighted “everything you need to know about female orgasm.” Okay, so maybe we didn’t tell you everything. There’s still more that you need to know about female orgasms, especially the answer to the question: when are women most likely to have an orgasm? And what sorts of relationships (e.g., romantic relationships versus casual sex) are most likely to yield sexual satisfaction? Is the big O a requirement for sexual satisfaction? First, let’s back up a bit and briefly review some of the common explanations for what leads to fulfilling sex:
- The Technical Perspective: Good sex comes from practice and finely-honing one’s skills, and good lovers have lots of “moves.” In addition, sexual knowledge and experience helps one enjoy sex more fully. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, so you better start practicing!
- The Partner-Specific Perspective: According to this perspective, good sex is a function of knowing one’s partner. What turns her on? It takes time to learn “which buttons to push” with a new partner, so sexual satisfaction increases with repeated experiences with a specific sexual partner. Practice makes perfect, and who doesn’t want a little extra sexual practice with that special someone?
- The Committed and Affectionate Relationship Perspective: A third perspective is that sex with a partner you deeply care about and are committed to is better than sex with a less intimate partner. Given the closeness involved, those in more satisfying, secure, and trusting relationships may experience more sexual fulfillment. So maybe relationships aren’t as bad as some people make them out to be.
- The Gender Inequalities Perspective: Society views women more harshly than men when it comes to casual sex (see more on this double-standard here); women aren’t supposed to “want it” as much as men. According to traditional sex roles and sexual scripts, women are also assumed to take a more passive role in pursuing sex, and men may be more likely to focus on their own pleasure because they do not recognize women’s rights or desire for sexual satisfaction. Essentially, guys are less likely to be concerned with satisfying their partners when hooking-up.
To investigate the sources of sexual satisfaction for heterosexual women, researchers measured several aspects of individuals’ sexual activities in order to address each of these four perspectives.1 First, were couples engaging in a variety of sexual activities? Second, were sexual partners in a long-term relationship with each other, or were they hooking-up (see here, here, and here for some of our past articles about hooking up)? Additionally, for hookups, was it the first/only time that the couple had hooked-up, or had it happened before (and if so, how many times)? Finally, is the male partner attentive to the woman’s sexual needs?
Between 2005 and 2011, researchers collected data from two groups of college women: nearly 7,000 women who self-reported that they had ever hooked-up (and their most recent hookup was with a man), and more than 6,500 women in heterosexual relationships of over 6 months. In this impressive sample, when it came to sexual satisfaction, sexual enjoyment and orgasm were highly intertwined. In both hookups and relationships, orgasm was strongly associated with sexual enjoyment; women were nearly six times more likely to report sexual enjoyment when they had also experienced an orgasm in a given sexual encounter. In other words, orgasm = good.
In support of the technique perspective, performing a wide variety of sexual acts (e.g., manual genital stimulation, oral sex, intercourse) was related to higher rates of female orgasm. It’s also important to note that hookups were more likely to only include intercourse, whereas sexual activities other than intercourse were more common in ‘actual’ relationships, which could account for the increased orgasm rates in those relationships.
When it comes to the partner-specific perspective, likelihood of orgasm increased with repeated sexual experience with the same partner. Only 11% of women had orgasms with a first-time hook-up partner (see more about this idea here). If they had previously hooked-up with that partner 1-2 other times, 16% of women had orgasms, and 34% of women had orgasms with a partner they had hooked-up with three or more times. Enjoyment increases with repeated hookups, supporting the idea that sexual satisfaction is partly a function of partners learning how to navigate each others’ bodies and understanding each others’ turn-ons (even without a romantic commitment).
But when it comes to female orgasms, long-term relationships seem to be the place to find them: 67% of women in relationships reported they had an orgasm with their partners the last time they had sex, which supports the commitment and affection perspective. Similarly, rates of enjoyment of sexual activity (e.g., “enjoyed it very much”) were higher in relationships (81%) compared to hookups (50%).
Finally, to address the gender inequalities perspective, researchers conducted interviews with both women and men. Interviewees’ responses to questions about hookups and dating suggested that when in relationships, men were more attentive to their female partners’ sexual pleasure; in hookups, men were much less concerned with pleasing their partners.
The take home message is that all four perspectives outlined above have merit and likely all contribute to women’s experiences between the sheets (or on the dining room table, or in the back seat of a compact car, or....). Female orgasm and sexual enjoyment stem from engaging in a variety of sexual activities with partners who are attentive to her sexual needs. But it takes time and practice to get on the same sexual “wavelength” as a partner; women are more likely to have orgasms with partners they have hooked-up with repeatedly in the past versus one-time encounters. Not surprisingly, then, sex with a relationship partner is twice as likely to result in a woman having an orgasm. It takes variety, practice, and affection to maximize a woman’s likelihood of “getting there.” Or, to put a spin on the old Crosby, Stills, and Nash song, “make love to the one you’re with, often.”
Check out more of our articles about sex here. Remember, sexual knowledge is good; she'll thank you for doing your homework.
1Armstrong, E. A., England, P., & Fogarty, A. C. K. (in press). Accounting for women’s orgasm and sexual enjoyment in college hookups and relationships. American Sociological Review.
Dr. Benjamin Le - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Le's research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.