I was a 23-year-old graduate student, studying Counseling Psychology and seeing clients professionally, before I realised that my clitoris was outside my vagina. Please don’t mock! I grew up Catholic, in Ireland, and we weren’t too comfortable talking about sex and sex organs, to put it mildly. This isn’t unique to Irish Catholics (though we may be a special case). Sex is one of those things everyone’s always talking about, but rarely in the way, or in the depth, it deserves.
So personally, I think it’s great that we’re starting to discuss sex in a more straightforward way. Recently, there’s been a buzz about the anatomy of the female orgasm, prompted by a new study claiming to prove that vaginal orgasms, which many call a “myth,” don't exist. People have been arguing about the vaginal orgasm since Freud first talked about it, and emotions run high on both sides of the debate.
Many think that the existence (or not) of vaginal orgasms boils down to basic female anatomy. That’s the conclusion of the new study, which basically says that the clitoris is the Holy Grail, and women don’t need penetration to get off.
The study says that “orgasm is always possible if the female erectile organs [clitoris] are effectively stimulated” and that this is true for all women. That means that however you get your jollies–solo masturbation, cunnilingus, partner masturbation, vaginal or anal intercourse–all that’s really required for female orgasm is a well-placed finger. Sounds straightforward enough.
But my interest in the vaginal vs. clitoral debate is more at the psychological level. What is the mind-body connection in sexual climax? What can we do as women to maximize our sexual pleasure and experiences? If we have a partner, how can we communicate in a way that increases our intimacy and sexual connection?
From my professional and personal experience, women often have difficulty attaining orgasm even when the clitoris is effectively stimulated. A lot of this has to do with the individual psychology of each woman. Of course it’s helpful to know more about our bodies and what can give us pleasure physiologically. But if we get completely hooked on the concept that we MUST have an orgasm, and it must be a particular KIND of orgasm, our anxiety and attempts to control that experience can get in the way of our sexual pleasure.
How can we, as women, create the environment that helps us to achieve the optimal orgasm for us? Science says we don’t need penetration to orgasm, but some of us may find that penetration leads to a higher form of arousal that increases our pleasure at the point of climax. The practice of mindfulness, an idea borrowed from Buddhism, has helped some of my clients have more fun in the bedroom. Mindfulness just means paying close attention to the present moment, without judgment. This practice can help you really tune into your body and increase enjoyment and arousal.
It can also be useful to look at your attitudes toward your body, sex and orgasm. Do you hold some level of shame around any of these things? Are you inhibited about fully experiencing sexual pleasure? If so, it’s likely that this will negatively impact the sexual experience. If there’s secrecy, silence or judgment around masturbation, our bodies or our sexual preferences, there’s a good chance that there’s also some shame.
In my experience working with clients on sexual issues, I find that the vast majority of women hold at least some shame around sex. It’s hard not to, given the mixed messages we get from society, which both demands that women “look sexy,” and slut-shames us for expressing desire.
In sex, as in life generally, it’s best to relate to others and to ourselves from a place of awareness, courage and love. Am I truly aware of what’s going on for me and for my sex partner? Can I view my body and my sexual experience from a place of acceptance and compassion? Can I be courageous enough to explore my body and sexual experiences in novel ways that may take me outside my comfort zone? Am I willing to have an uncomfortable conversation in the service of increased intimacy with my partner?
The vaginal orgasm may be a myth, but we all know it takes more than a finger to achieve optimal sexual pleasure. Are you willing to take one step toward body awareness, courage and love to improve your relationship with your clitoris? I promise you it’s worth the risk.
Aisling Curtin is a Dublin-based Counseling Psychologist and Founder of ACT Now Ireland. She gives workshops internationally on bringing mindfulness, compassion and values to our relationship with our sexual selves.