Is the BIG O all in your mind? Why everything you thought you knew about female sexuality is wrong

Is the BIG O all in your mind
Startling new research reveals that everything you thought you knew about female sexuality is wrong

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UPDATED:

22:01 GMT, 25 April 2012

The female orgasm has always been a bit of a mystery. For a start, no one seems to know exactly why women have them — or don’t as the case may be.

Like male nipples, they are viewed by many as something of an evolutionary accident: existing simply because nature hasn’t come up with a good enough reason to get rid of them yet.

But ever since the sexual revolution of the Sixties, when women put down their knitting, turned on the bedside lamp and began openly discussing the concept of female sexual pleasure, there’s one thing on which everyone has been crystal clear.The best sex a woman can have is with a loving partner in a monogamous, committed relationship, isn’t it

Quite a workout: A number of women have admitted they have had an orgasm while exercising

Quite a workout: A number of women have admitted they have had an orgasm while exercising

As supposedly sentient, emotional beings, women have long been believed to differ from male ‘players’ and are, consequently, far more likely to achieve orgasm with someone they know and trust. This is why, it was assumed, women have fewer one-night stands than men.

For a woman, love is the biggest, if not the only, turn-on in her erogenous arsenal. Errr…wrong. As a science writer and sex expert, I can state with absolute conviction there is no basis for this assumption whatsoever.

My research has left me convinced that women do not have to be in committed relationships — or any relationships — to enjoy sexual satisfaction.

In fact, research has shown that even a trip to the gym or an active imagination can ‘hit the spot’ for some women, with no physical stimulation required at all.

And, if women are looking for sexual satisfaction in a relationship, they’re much more likely to reach orgasm with a new partner than they are in a marriage of several years’ standing.

The female orgasm is as diverse as it is fascinating, and we’re still a long way from understanding it.

'Researchers found
that more than half of women surveyed have experienced orgasms at the gym, or doing a yoga or spinning class'

There was quite a furore when a recent study revealed how women regularly achieve orgasm while exercising.

Researchers at Indiana University studied the sexual habits of hundreds of women aged from 18 to 63 and found that more than half have experienced orgasms on at least ten occasions while at the gym, or doing a yoga or spinning class.

In fact, many of the women surveyed admitted that sex and romance were the last things on their mind as they hit their big ‘o’ — and they found the experience unwanted and deeply embarrassing.

The exercises which hit the spot centred around the core abdominal muscles — giving the phenomenon the name ‘coregasm’.

Research leader Debby Herbenick explained: ‘This shows that orgasm is not necessarily a sexual event and may teach us about the bodily processes leading up to women’s orgasms.’

While it flies in the face of convention, I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised.

I also believe that women are able to experience a feeling of sexual arousal every bit as easily and intensely as men can.

In short, the female orgasm is much more complicated and less predictable than it was believed.

I am passionate about sorting the fact from the fiction about women’s sexuality. My book Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex And Relationships, examines the latest neurobiology in an effort to explain why we behave the way we do when it comes to sex and love.

Just a myth Conventional wisdom held that women had the best sex when in long-term relationships (posed by models)

Just a myth Conventional wisdom held that women had the best sex when in long-term relationships (posed by models)

For too long, our views on the female orgasm have been mired in misconceptions based on old-fashioned ideas of how women should behave. Science just doesn’t bear most of it out.

The truth is, very little research has ever been done into women’s sexuality. And what research was done, for example by Masters and Johnson in the Fifties — the American ‘pioneers’ who recorded some of the first laboratory data on the anatomy and physiology of human sexual response — was very heavily influenced by the culture of the time, which assumed that women didn’t really enjoy sex.

They were right in a way. Many women didn’t. But how much of this was because both sexes were so ignorant about the mechanics of the female body

'The biggest factor regarding whether an
older woman was enjoying an active sex life was whether or not she had a new
partner'

A generation ago, most people hadn’t even heard of female erogenous zones and, if they had, they certainly didn’t talk about them. In fact, to this day, there’s still debate over whether the G-spot even exists, let alone what its actual role is during orgasm.

Two years ago, a large British study concluded that this nebulous holy grail of female pleasure was a figment of the imagination.

A study published this week, however, based on the findings of an American gynaecologist, claims to have found irrefutable proof of its existence after all.

Adam Ostrzenski, of the Institute of Psychology in St Petersburg, in Florida, made the discovery during an examination of an elderly Polish woman who had died from a brain injury.

So thank heavens scientists are finally exploring the issue of what happens to a woman’s body during sex coolly and objectively. Some of the findings have been pretty explosive.

Australian psychiatrist Prof Lorraine Dennerstein recently embarked on a large-scale study of the sexual responses and habits of menopausal women, which will revisit them over many years.

Many hoped that Dennerstein and her colleagues would find some kind of smoking gun — something lacking in older women that could be linked to a decrease in sexual desire as women aged.

Instead, she found something more curious. The biggest factor regarding whether an older woman was enjoying an active sex life Not her weight, her health, or even her hormonal status. It was whether or not she had a new partner.

That’s right — women enjoyed more orgasms if they were having sex with a new man.

Mental stimulation: There's scientific backing for the idea that for females, sexual satisfaction is 'literally all in the mind' (posed by model)

Mental stimulation: There's scientific backing for the idea that for females, sexual satisfaction is 'literally all in the mind' (posed by model)

This also flies in the face of the idea that women achieve optimum sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships. The truth is that while the male orgasm is pretty straightforward, designed for purpose in its vital role in the reproductive process, women, however can climax in many different ways.

Other studies have shown, for example, that some can climax purely by having less obvious parts of their body stimulated, such as their breasts. There is also scientific backing for the idea that for females, sexual satisfaction is ‘literally all in the mind’.

Emerita Professor Beverly Whipple at Rutgers University, in the U.S. — who pioneered the discovery of the G-spot in 1982 — found in 2004 how some women with spinal injuries can have orgasms simply by thinking themselves into the mood.

In short, the biggest sexual organ could well be the brain.

That’s what neuroscientist Barry Komisaruk, also from Rutgers, discovered from his research into the neuroscience of the female orgasm last year.

In the name of science, he persuaded several broad-minded women to agree to be strapped into a MRI scanner to have their brain patterns monitored while they climaxed.

'I don't think orgasm turns off
consciousness, but it changes it. When you ask people how they perceive
their orgasm, they describe a feeling of a loss of control'

The study revealed an explosion of activity across 30 areas of the brain. Surprisingly, this was also the case in individuals who can achieve orgasm by thought alone.

Among the areas stimulated is the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain which controls complex functions such as imagination, controlling urges and making decisions.

In contrast, researchers led by Janniko Georgiadis at the university of Groningen in the Netherlands, last year found that — far from lighting up like a Christmas tree — the same brain region in women ‘switched off’ when they were reaching orgasm with a partner.

‘It is possible there is a difference between someone trying to mentalise sexual stimulation as opposed to receiving it from a partner,’ says Georgiadis.

‘I don’t think orgasm turns off consciousness, but it changes it. When you ask people how they perceive their orgasm, they describe a feeling of a loss of control.

‘I’m not sure if this altered state is necessary to achieve more pleasure or is just some side-effect.’

The implication is that women’s brains behave differently when experiencing pleasure according to whether they are alone or with a partner. It also suggests that a woman’s solo orgasm may be different to one she experiences with another person.

Perhaps the most important message is that when it comes to discovering how our bodies work, we are at the start of a long and fascinating journey.

A workout at the gym A series of sexy thoughts A loving evening under the marital duvet with a long-term partner, or a passionate clash with a new boyfriend They all have their ways of leaving us satisfied.

Kayt Sukel is the author of: Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships (Simon and Schuster, 17.86)