Sex + Dating

What I've Learned From 15 Years of Teaching Women How to Orgasm

teaching orgasms
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

In my 15 years as a sex therapist, researcher, and educator, there is one topic that will forever be the most popular: female orgasms. People don't have them, don't know how to have them, want to have better ones, and want to give better ones. That's part of the reason I created Finishing School, an online course for women who want to learn how to have their very first orgasms -- either on their own, or with a partner. (Yup, real life.)

In all of this time spent helping women experience eye-rolling, toe-curling bliss, I've gleaned some pretty important and fascinating tidbits about women's relationships with the Big O. And suffice it to say, we've got a lot of work to do to educate, encourage, and inspire men and women to do more sex-positive outreach and ensure no woman lives an unorgasmic life. Here's what I've learned.

There's a big disconnect between women and orgasms

"Are there really women out there who don't know how to orgasm?" I get asked this question all the time, and the answer is YES -- plenty. There aren't a ton of hard statistics, but most available data suggests 10 to 15% of women have never actually climaxed. I meet these women every day -- and so do you.

Why don't you realize how big of an issue this really is? Because women feel enormous pressure to orgasm -- so they fake it. I'd even go so far as to say there are more faked orgasms than real ones. But instead of us talking about this openly, many women feel like they can't even talk to their closest girlfriends about their orgasmic challenges.

In the spirit of bringing orgasm out into the open, I've always offered a big discount to my clients who sign up with a girlfriend. Want to know how many women have taken me up on the offer? Zero. I know sex is a challenging topic to talk about, but it's sad to think that we're hiding our orgasmic status from even our most trusted confidants.  

Our orgasmic alienation began during childhood

Childhood masturbation. Yup. Uncomfortable, I know. Here's the thing -- as children, we all get the message that masturbation is wrong and bad. But there's much more of a "boys will be boys" type of attitude around masturbation, so the overwhelming majority of boys spend years getting themselves off. They get the opportunity to explore and discover what their bodies respond to.

Girls are sent much harsher messages about masturbation, and just don't get that same chance to learn what they like. By the time they become old enough to be concerned about orgasm, most women feel like they've already missed the boat. They feel embarrassed about not knowing how to masturbate, so they just don't do it. If we really want to transform women's relationships with orgasm, we have to teach our girls that there's absolutely nothing wrong with being curious about your own body.

We're more concerned with our partners' egos than our own pleasure

When I started my business, I thought women would sign up because they wanted the experience of having an orgasm. If there's one lesson that has stunned me more than any other, it's that there are so many women who are more concerned about giving their partners the experience of "making them orgasm" than they are about actually having the orgasm.

I'd estimate that a good third of the women who register cite wanting to make their partner feel better as their primary reason for signing up. I hear things like, "my partner gets so frustrated with me," or "I just want my partner to feel that confidence." I've even heard, "my partner is going to leave me if I can't do this."

More media coverage makes women feel worse

If you've had access to the internet over the last few years, you've undoubtedly seen female orgasms talked about more frequently. It's great to see female orgasm getting the attention it deserves, but one surprising bit of feedback I've gotten from my clients is that the more they see orgasms covered in the media, the worse they feel.

The problem is that almost none of these articles even acknowledge that so many women have a hard time orgasming, nor do they give genuinely helpful tips for learning how to orgasm. Without solid instructions, more media coverage only serves to make women feel like orgasm is something they should have already figured out on their own.

No two orgasms are alike

One of my favorite parts of my job has been learning about all of the different ways women experience their first orgasms. I've heard from women who cried during their orgasms. Women who got cases of the giggles. Women who fell in love. Women who felt full-body waves of ecstasy. Women who felt one explosive pop. Women who squirted (once terrifying to most, now pursued by many!).

I know how dorky this sounds, but the range of human experience is just so cool.

Orgasm shouldn't be the main goal

Even though I've made my life's work all about orgasms, my true focus has been to transform women's relationships with pleasure in a much broader sense. Orgasms are great, don't get me wrong. But they only last so long.

I want to teach women how to feel excited about exploring their bodies. I want to help them gain confidence in advocating for their own needs. I want to show them how to soak up every little moment of pleasure. I love it when women share stories with me about all the other fun stuff that comes out of sex: laughing, experiencing connection, being playful, and throwing inhibitions to the wind. Orgasm is the cherry on top of that sundae -- but damn, can that sundae be tasty.

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Vanessa Marin is a licensed psychotherapist, coach, and writer who helps people stop feeling embarrassed and start having more fun in the bedroom. She studied human sexuality at Brown University and has been featured in publications like The New York Times, CNN, O, The Oprah Magazine, and The Times of London. Whether in her work coaching clients one-on-one or through her online sex education programs like "The Modern Man’s Guide To Conquering Performance Pressure" and "Finishing School: Learn How To Orgasm," she finds immense joy in helping people discover (or rediscover!) their spark. Head over to @VMTherapy with all the questions you’ve been dying to ask.