How can a woman orgasm during intercourse? Is the clitoris involved?

Responding to a recent post related to female orgasm, reader Marcey wrote, “As a “lay” sex educator (pardon the pun), I talk about the legs of the clitoris embedded behind the walls of the vagina. As the first third of the vaginal walls become tight due to sexual arousal, it brings the legs closer to the penis or whatever is inserted into the vagina, thereby increasing the chances of them being stimulated enough to achieve orgasm through intercourse. I also say that only one out of five women can experience orgasm that way. Of course, I add that not being able to achieve orgasm through intercourse does not make her any less of a woman. Am I correct in my assessment of one of the ways a woman can achieve orgasm through intercourse?”

Answer:
Fantastic questions! You are absolutely correct that the clitoris has branches/legs (called “crura”) that stretch back a few inches into the body. The above diagram shows a little bit about their positioning. Although there may be some contractions during arousal, the contractions are strongest once orgasm has already been “triggered.” It is unclear exactly what it is that triggers orgasm for women during sexual excitement. It is possible that as the crura get closer to the object of choice (fingers, penis, toy) they feel more stimulated. Also, keep in mind that during sexual arousal, the crura (which are made of erectile tissue, just like the inside parts of the penis) swell and the nerves in this area may become quite stimulated, sending “pleasure” signals to the brain. It may be that women are also getting direct stimulation to the glans clitoris (the small-ish looking part one can see from the outside), and certainly other women report that fantasy or dirty talk (psychological arousal) is what really sends them over the edge to orgasm. It seems that there are many routes and we are still learning how orgasm happens for women (and men). You can learn a bit more about what we do and don’t know about female (and male) orgasm in the relatively recent book The Science of Orgasm

As for figures, it is hard to know how many women “can” orgasm during intercourse versus the number that do. Some women may very well be able to have an orgasm intercourse but either don’t have a partner or perhaps they do have a partner, but they tend to stick with oral sex or hand stimulation or maybe their partner doesn’t do what they ask them to do during intercourse (or maybe they don’t know their own body well enough to ask, or simply aren’t interested in orgasm). It seems that more than half of women are capable of orgasm during intercourse, but fewer (maybe around 1/5 to 1/3 of women, depending on the age group, culture, and study) tend to report regular orgasm during intercourse. A great book for women learning to have an orgasm for the first time  – whether from intercourse, masturbation or other partner play – is Becoming Orgasmic. You can also learn more about how to have one (or multiple) orgasms in my book Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction (save money by pre-ordering your copy on Amazon).

[Above image via this site.]

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.