Women Get Erections Too, and Other Sexual Discoveries

Ever wondered why it may be harder for some women to experience pleasure through penetration or why it takes them longer to have an orgasm than their male partners? We explore deeper into our nethers for the answers.

By | January 12, 2021

Here’s a not-so-fun fact. Did you know that straight women receive the least orgasms during partnered sex compared to lesbian women? In a study of more than 52,000 American adults, they found that only 65% of heterosexual women have orgasms during partnered sex, compared to 86% of lesbian women. The highest on the list is heretorosexual men with a whopping 95% orgasm rate, followed by 89% for gay and bisexual men and 66% for bisexual women. This means that straight women aren’t enjoying as many orgasms as they possibly can! Well, that’s not fair!

Say what! Photograph: Jasmine King

This shows that we still have a lot of unlearning and relearning to do when it comes to female pleasure. So, let’s start from the beginning shall we? 

Women can experience pleasure. In fact, we have a whole organ dedicated to it!

Doing the work that I do, especially in raising awareness about female pleasure, a lot of the feedback I get is from women who were surprised that, just like men, they too can experience pleasure.

Yes, women are capable of experiencing pleasure, more so since we have the almighty clitoris whose sole purpose is to bring us pleasure. You can thank the 8,000 nerve endings and erectile tissues that surround it for that. The glans penis (often referred to as the penis’ head) only has around 4,000 nerve endings, so you can just imagine how extremely powerful clitoral orgasms are compared to a penile one.

The clitoris is only the tip of a bundle of ‘pleasure’ nerve endings. Photograph: Ava Sol/Unsplash

It’s also interesting to note that three-quarters of the clitoris is hidden inside a woman’s body with only the glans clitoris can be seen to the naked eye—and felt. The full body of the clitoris is located behind our vulva, making the whole region of the vulva, especially the area near the vaginal opening extremely sensitive and pleasurable to touch when aroused.

We get erections too!

Think erections are just for men? Well, think again! Because of the extensive erectile tissue that surrounds the clitoris, when aroused, blood is pumped through the tissue and the “legs” of the clitoris—the corpora cavernosa and bulbs—making it engorged with blood and causing an erection to the clitoris and, indirectly, our vulvas.

It isn’t just men who get erections. Illustration: Clitoriscious

So, being “wet” alone doesn’t necessarily mean that you are aroused or ready for penetration. Just like the penis, the clitoris needs to be fully erect to be able to receive. All of us are familiar with premature ejaculation, but have you ever heard of premature penetration? It is when we receive penetration even though our body isn’t fully ready to receive yet. This results in an unsatisfactory sexual experience where you just weren’t “feeling it” and want sex to be over as soon as possible. That definitely isn’t fun for anyone, especially you!

How does one know if they are erect, you may ask. One way is through the change in size of the vulva, which becomes puffy and juicy. Another way is in the way it feels. You know that throbbing sensation down south? Yup, that’s your vulva calling out “I’m ready! Play with me!”

Can’t get off from penetration? You’re not alone

Clitoral stimulation can achieve or enhance a woman’s orgasm. Photograph: Taras Chernus/Unsplash

A study conducted by OMGyes found that out of the 2,000 women they surveyed, more than 70% acknowledged the importance of clitoral stimulation to achieve or enhance their orgasm. This isn’t surprising due to all those nerve endings, but a lot of us are also aware of this because of clitoral stimulation. Compared to penetration, clitoral stimulation is more accessible and it may have been how we achieved our first orgasm.

Knowing this fact is really important, especially when mainstream porn and media make it seem that penetration alone can make one orgasm. This is very misleading and damaging for a lot of women. I, for one, can attest that for the longest time, I thought there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t have an orgasm through penetration. As a result, I felt immense shame for disappointing my partners and not being able to have an orgasm the same time as them.

It’s not about the speed, it’s about the rhythm

Have you ever enjoyed getting stimulated by a partner and having just the right groove with them? Then, as you’re almost reaching a climax, they changed the momentum? All you can do or want to do is scream, “No, just stay there! Don’t move!” Sound familiar?

In a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10 participants between the ages of 20 and 80 were invited into a lab and were put through an fMRI scan where their brain activity was studied to understand what happens to it when undergoing an orgasm. These women were stimulated either through masturbation or by their partners. Researchers noted that while it was extremely interesting to find which parts of the brain lit up during an orgasm, they also learned that the women lost an orgasm or two during the partnered stimulation session, simply because the partners moved their hand. So, this goes to show that consistent rhythm is very important, and clear communication is key to ensuring that: “Use two fingers, up and down motion with soft pressure,” for example.

Contrary to popular belief, being ‘tight’ isn’t good

There’s nothing to be ashamed about; let’s talk about it. Photograph: Ivan Aleksic/Unsplash

The vagina is made up of muscles and not the hallowed space that we see in our textbooks. As a result, if we get stressed or anxious, especially during sex, the muscles will tense up, making penetration difficult and painful. However, if you’re fully aroused, erect/engorged and lubricated, the vagina muscles loosen and penetration feels pleasurable.

And no, you do not lose your “vaginal elasticity” from having plenty of penetrative sex because the elasticity of the vaginal muscles will be restored every time. Sure, the muscles do lose their strength as we age (this happens to muscles in general if we don’t keep them toned) and for women who have had children, the vagina may not look like its pre-birth state where the labia may feel loose and soft, but this is where pelvic floor exercises help in toning the vaginal and pelvic floor muscles

Let’s change the narrative

If pornography has taught us anything, it is that sex happens when the male desire starts and ends with a male orgasm. Porn prioritizes male pleasure. It’s time for us to change that! Perhaps it is the complexity of female pleasure that forces the industry to prioritize male pleasure or that as women, we do not understand our bodies and pleasure enough and/or choose to ignore it, but this is where we need to make that change and advocate for our pleasure.

What I have found is this: It’s not that our bodies are complicated and our pleasure unattainable, it’s just that we need time to “warm up” to be fully aroused. The best part is, we don’t need a penis for this! It can be done through foreplay, sexting or just by having our partners do something that may seem mundane but is extremely sexy and attractive to us. Once we’re aroused, then we can slowly build up to an orgasm.

If we change the narrative by using female pleasure as a measurement of a successful sexual experience, then everything will change. Instead of saying women take longer time to orgasm, the “long time” becomes the standardized length of sex. Also, who says a long time is bad? Sex should be an experience, a build-up to the finale of a more explosive and fulfilling sexual satisfaction.

Jasmine King

Jasmine King

Jasmine King is a sex positive advocate. She runs a safe and sex positive space online called Ohheymissking where she makes sex talk relatable and less awkward. She also hosts a sex podcast called I Wish Someone Told Me.