How Often Do Women Orgasm During Sex? It Depends How You Ask The Question

Several studies have looked at women’s experiences with orgasm during penile-vaginal intercourse. However, these studies have produced variable results, making it difficult to draw firm conclusions about how often women tend to reach orgasm during this sexual activity.

Why have the findings varied so much? According to a new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, part of the reason may be due to the fact that the questions researchers have been asking have been somewhat ambiguous. It turns out that question wording matters when it comes to studying women’s orgasms. It matters a lot.

Importantly, most previous studies haven’t specified whether “vaginal intercourse” includes added clitoral stimulation. This is problematic because it means that different women may be interpreting the question in different ways (some may assume intercourse includes clitoral stimulation, while others may not), and that could be leading to inconsistency in research findings.

What researchers in the new study did was to ask more than 1,400 women about their experiences with orgasm in three different ways. Specifically, they were given the following questions:

1. “What percent of the time do you come to climax (orgasm) during vaginal intercourse (vaginal intercourse: the part of intercourse with a man that occurs while the man’s penis is in the woman’s vagina)?”(‘‘Intercourse in general’’)

2. “When having strictly vaginal intercourse (strictly vaginal intercourse: intercourse with no additional clitoral stimulation from hands or a vibrator at the same time vaginal intercourse is going on), what percent of the time do you reach orgasm?” (“Unassisted form”)

3. “When having intercourse with additional clitoral stimulation (intercourse with additional clitoral stimulation: intercourse with additional touching or rubbing of the clitoris with hands or a vibrator at the same time that intercourse is going on), what percent of the time do you reach orgasm?”(“Assisted form”)

What the researchers found was that orgasm frequency varied substantially across these three questions.

For example, when asked about intercourse in general, 22% of women said they never experience orgasm. By contrast, this number dropped to 14% for “assisted” intercourse (i.e., when clitoral stimulation was specifically included), but increased to 37% when asked about “unassisted” intercourse (i.e., when clitoral stimulation was specifically excluded).

Likewise, on average, women said they reach orgasm 31-40% of the time in response to the question about intercourse in general. By contrast, women said they reached orgasm even more often with assisted intercourse (51-60% of the time), but less often with unassisted intercourse (21-30%) of the time.

What these results tell us is that when women are asked about their experiences with orgasm in general during vaginal intercourse, they seem to be interpreting it in multiple ways. Some are thinking about intercourse alone (no clitoral stimulation), some are thinking about intercourse with added clitoral stimulation, and some are probably thinking about both of these things and averaging them together.

All in all, these findings demonstrate the importance of asking women clear and detailed questions about their orgasms when conducting survey research. This will not only help give us a better idea of how often women tend to reach orgasm during intercourse, but it will also serve to highlight the forms of stimulation that women find most pleasurable.

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To learn more about this research, see: Shirazi, T., Renfro, K., Lloyd, E., & Wallen, K. (2017). Women’s Experience of Orgasm During Intercourse: Question Semantics Affect Women’s Reports and Men’s Estimates of Orgasm Occurrence. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Image Credit: 123RF/Nipon Temsakun

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