If the internet is to be believed, we’re in a golden age of epic orgasms. Women need them, men finally want to give them to us, and not just regular old orgasms, but earth-shaking body-rockers. Orgasms that change her life and put the bounce back in her hair. Orgasms that last 30 entire minutes. But on behalf of all the women who still aren’t having any orgasms with their partners, I’d argue that what most women still really want, and still really need, is not a life-altering orgasm, but an orgasm. Nothing special. Literally any old orgasm will do.
To be clear, female orgasms desperately needed liberating. They were comically misunderstood for most of history, once believed to be essential not for sexual pleasure, but to ensure pregnancy or cure hysteria. And liberated they were: Now everyone has an idea for how to help get women off, from virtual vaginas to YouTube tutorials on fingering to endless tips on how to give her the best orgasm of her life. While this is, in theory, excellent progress, it has come to seem like an endless churn of disposable tips that aren’t actually improving anyone’s sex life.
Take a recently recirculated Men’s Health piece called “How to Give Her a 60-Second Orgasm,” where we learn the sober facts: Most female orgasms only last six to 30 seconds. But you can double her pleasure if you just “turn your room into a hotel room” and “shower her with compliments.” While I’m sure no woman would nix a freshly turned-down bed and to be told she’s pretty, when even the six-second orgasm is still elusive for many women, this is effectively instructing men on how to hit it out of the park when they still need to work on hitting the ball. In a comprehensive 2009 study, 91 percent of men said they had gotten off during their last sexual encounter, compared to just 64 percent of women. Another survey on the orgasm gap found that just 57 percent of women regularly orgasm with a partner. Half of those who didn’t orgasm said they got very close, while another 38 percent of the non-comers said the right kind of clitoral stimulation never happened in the first place.
And this isn’t entirely on men. Sex is a two-way climb that requires communication beyond sit back and let me blow your mind, or I hope he figures out exactly how to touch me while I lie here seductively. Eighty-five percent of the men surveyed in the 2009 study thought their partners had had an orgasm, too, which suggests that many women are still faking it for show.
Looked at in this light, we should focus not on sexual wizardry, but sexual competence. We were on the right track. Women have demanded orgasm equality in the last few years. Men have apologized in turn for not stepping up to the plate. But even the desire to get off is not monolithic, and soon other voices entered the fray. Vogue interjected that, hey, not all women want orgasms every time. Some women find it harder to climax with a partner, and would rather not feel the pressure to blow their load, too. “Being intimate with a relative stranger can be fun, freeing, and empowering, whether you come or not,” Karley Sciortino wrote. “And often, just rolling around naked is the most fun and most intimate part of sex.”
Which brings us to the oral sex backlash — and given that some 80 percent of women need manual clitoral stimulation to get off, that was inevitable. In a piece for Fusion earlier this year, Charlotte Shane argued that oral isn’t all it’s cracked up to, especially when it’s so often bad. (And Shane is far from the only one who feels that way. )
“Not only is it often performative and clueless — all show, no technique — but, for me anyway, stimulation that doesn’t actually feel good ruins me for stimulation that does,” Shane writes. “Under normal circumstances I might be really hot for that D, but if it’s delivered after ten minutes of bad head? Forget it.”
Her point, ultimately, is that while it’s great that more men are into going down to get a woman off, it still pushes oral and orgasms as the new normal, only when a man doesn’t know what his specific lady partner wants or doesn’t, the result is still a woman who, at the end of the act, is not satisfied.
Stuff like this, by the way, is why women still fake it. A new Canadian study in the journal Sexualities looked at old research on orgasm faking and then asked 14 women about if and why they faked it. Only one woman out of the 14 said she hadn’t faked — and the fakers’ reasons were telling. Even in an age where mainstream lady comedians like Amy Schumer encourage women to “make sure he knows you’re entitled to an orgasm,” plenty of women simply can’t do it. The women in the study said mostly that this was because they didn’t want to admit the sex wasn’t doing it for them, so they went along with it to please their partners or protect their feelings.
None of this is meant to stem the tide of progress, or to suggest that the female orgasm shouldn’t be in play. It’s that we shouldn’t forget that the driving reason for the orgasm gap has typically not been a lack of enthusiasm, but lack of experience. It’s good that the length of the sex act no longer needs to be measured by the duration of the boner, but the last thing we want is to encourage men to attempt to become the Michael Jordan of the big O when a significant portion of them still don’t know how to dribble.
The best orgasms, and the best sex, are still really about what a specific partner wants — not about developing a specific skill set that can be used on anyone. There’s no such thing as someone who is “good at sex,” researcher Nicole Prause told New York magazine earlier this year. “It completely depends on your partner. For example, if you’re someone who loves to be pooped on, I’m never going to be a good partner for you. That’s just not in my repertoire.”
That’s why she reiterates that the most exciting sex is still achieved through the least exciting means: building a good rapport through talking about what you like and don’t like, not twiddling dials for a transcendent light show. Though such tips don’t make for great magazine content, they do, eventually, lead to great orgasms.