Female Pleasure With a Partner
By Cindy Pierce
I declare a Clitoris Crisis in America. For 17 years I have been speaking to groups of women, and the first thing they all want to know is: Why can’t I have orgasms with a partner? Female pleasure is complicated, and a partner can make it even more challenging. The first step toward clitoral orgasms with a partner is to get informed and realize you are not alone.
We could use an army of orgasm campaigners rallying girls and young women under the banner of the Pleasure Education before they surrender to below-average sex that could become their expected norm. Since that army is nowhere in sight, a lot of young women have had to depend on a random woman like me to share helpful information.
Limited research on female pleasure over the decades has resulted in persistent misinformation. Statistics for women with a medical condition of anorgasmia, being incapable of orgasms. Contrary to widespread belief, almost all biological females have the capacity for incredibly powerful clitoral orgasms unless there has been damage to the clitoris or significant malformation (which is rare). And yet, clitoral orgasms remain elusive; 70-80% of women do not have clitoral orgasms with penetration alone and require extra clitoral stimulus. And here’s the rub: Without open and frank communication, that extra clitoral stimulus is not going to happen with a partner. To have a clitoral orgasm with a partner, a woman must understand her capacity for pleasure and be willing to directly provide guidance for her partner (of any gender!) It is a team effort that requires communication.
The clitoris has a whopping 8000 nerve endings, more than any other body part and twice as many as the head of the penis. Most sexuality educators give anatomy lessons that cover periods, pregnancy and birth, without a mention of clitoral orgasms. It is crucial for a young woman to learn about her own clitoris and pleasure zones before she can experience pleasure with a partner. Masturbation is healthy and normal for all genders, yet our culture, parents, religion, and even peers implicitly and explicitly discourage girls from exploring their bodies.
Too many girls and women miss out on orgasms because they get mixed messages about speaking up, and they find it awkward to guide their partners. I hear many women and moms talk a big game about how girls and young women should “own their sexuality” and have sexual agency, yet they fail to model and teach that female pleasure should be a priority. Many women miss out on orgasms because they assume they are part of the rare group who have anorgasmia.
People of any gender cannot be expected to automatically understand how to provide clitoral orgasms for their female partners. They have to be taught. Many women remain sexually unfulfilled right through middle age, often blaming themselves or faking orgasms to avoid hurting a partner’s feelings. Providing clitoral orgasms for a partner involves adaptation and communication to navigate their specific desires, which can shift on any given day, week or year and are also affected by monthly cycles and emotional states. Stimulating the clitoris to the point of orgasm is a challenging endeavor that requires focus and patience.
It is often assumed that women can easily provide clitoral orgasms for a female partner because they are “the same.” While there is some advantage of having female genitalia, what women find sexually pleasurable varies greatly between women, and even for individual women, it varies depending on the day and her state of mind at the time. Male partners are often blamed for being selfish, clueless and not invested in providing pleasure. However, I’ve found that heterosexual male audience members are downright obsessed with and befuddled by how the clitoris works. Societal and cultural expectations for boys and men hinder them from asking for guidance, often leading them to porn, the most prominent source of misinformation for many young men.
Like young women, young men are so desperate for answers that they clamor for any tidbit of clitoral information or guidance. Most guys tell me they are expected to know where the clitoris is and how to bring it to a full orgasm, and fear of shame and rejection means they can’t ask for help or directions from their partner. Guys tell me they are willing to rummage around in search of the clitoris in hopes of finding what works rather than admit they don’t know. It could be years of rummaging! Here is my advice to all sexual partners: communicate openly and frankly. Good, pleasurable sex depends on that.
There are ample sources for accurate information about the clitoris, including diagrams and photos (Planned Parenthood, Sex Etc., Scarlateen, Go Ask Alice) The appearance of vulvas vary greatly (see The Great Wall of Vaginas by Jamie McCartney)
Helpful information about the clitoris:
- The bulb of the clitoris has 8000 nerves and is located above the urethra at the top of the vaginal opening where the inner labia meet to create the clitoral hood.
- The clitoris has wishbone-shaped “legs” that extend behind the bulb underneath the labia and are not visible on the outside.
- 20-30% of women experience clitoral orgasms with penetration alone (by a penis or dildo). 70-80% of women need extra clitoral stimulation during penetration from her own “helping hand,” her partner’s manual stimulus or a vibrator.
- 20 minutes is the average time it takes for biological females to reach clitoral orgasm. The average time for biological males is 4 minutes. Porn has contributed to widespread erectile dysfunction among boys and young men.
- Understanding what stimulates one’s own clitoris to the point of orgasm requires adaptation.
- Even if a clitoris is located and stimulated to the point of orgasm, there is no guarantee it will respond to the same stimulus the next time. Female pleasure requires ongoing communication between partners and the willingness to adapt.
Special thanks to Nicola Smith for her keen eye in editing.