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Experts weigh in on vaginal orgasms

Can women reach orgasm solely through vaginal stimulation?

Experts have been debating this question for decades and the conversation continues today, with six experts offering insights in the April 2012 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine (JSM).

In the 1950s and 1960s many believed that female orgasms came from the clitoris alone. However, later studies have shown that nerves in the vagina do indeed respond to sexual stimulation. Women have also reported feeling different sensations in clitoral and vaginal orgasms.

In the JSM article, contributor Beverly Whipple, PhD, points out the presence of the G-spot, a particularly sensitive vaginal area that swells when stimulated, bringing some women to experience orgasm and female ejaculation (a release of fluid from the urethra that isn’t urine).

Whipple also notes that this vaginal area may play a role in reducing pain during childbirth. In her work with John Perry, she found that women could better withstand pain when the G-spot was stimulated. Pain thresholds rose 84% when the spot was pleasurably stimulated and rose 107% if women reached orgasm.

Another contributor, French gynecologist Odile Buisson, MD, posits the idea that the internal clitoris and anterior vaginal wall are so anatomically related that stimulating the lower vagina also stimulates the clitoris. During vaginal intercourse, the force of the penis stretches the clitoris, adding to the overall stimulation.

Barry R. Komisaruk, PhD, writes about his research in mapping women’s brains during orgasm. In an fMRI machine, women reached orgasm by self-stimulating the clitoris, vagina, and cervix. As a comparison, Komisaruk also had the women stimulate a nipple, finger, and toe.

Komisaruk and his colleagues found that different areas of the brain responded when different genital areas were stimulated. There was some overlap, but for the most part, the regions were distinct. They also found that nipple stimulation responded in a similar area of the brain. Komisaruk concludes that since stimulation of these areas prompts response in distinct areas of the brain, it’s possible for women to reach orgasm by stimulating one area alone.

Contributor Stuart Brody, PhD suggests that vaginal orgasm is about more than just anatomy. As an example, he cites one study’s findings that vaginally-orgasmic women were more likely to be taught that orgasms do, in fact, originate in the vagina.

Physical characteristics may also be involved. Another study cited by Brody suggests that women who do not have vaginal orgasms may have “impairment of pelvic and vertebral rotation.”

There could also be psychological factors at work. Brody cites a Swedish study in which women who had had a vaginal orgasm were more satisfied with sex, their partners, their mental health, and life in general than women who did not have vaginal orgasms.

If women don’t have vaginal orgasms, should they be concerned?

They shouldn’t, according to contributors Emmanuele A. Jannini, MD and biologist Alberto Rubio-Casillas. Women are different anatomically, which makes clitoral orgasm “a constant” and vaginal orgasm “a variable.” They add, “Women who are not able to climax through vaginal penetration alone should be educated to reject the feeling of being inadequate or underachieving.”