Natalie, a woman in her late twenties, had a close relationship with her mother who was a doctor. I approached Natalie hoping that a mother with a medical background might be more likely than others to have discussed her sexual experiences with a daughter.

When young women have difficulty reaching orgasm during sex, it can be difficult for them to find answers. Natalie was relieved and grateful on realising that she was not alone in experiencing a lack of arousal during sex. She was too embarrassed to talk to me but wrote: “On reading your book, I spoke to my mum who said (I quote!): ‘OF COURSE YOU DON’T ORGASM DURING SEX!’ Like this was a well known fact!!!!”

“The married female reaches orgasm in only a portion of her coitus, and some 10 per cent of all the females in the available sample had never reached orgasm at any time, in any of their marital coitus.” (p352 Sexual behavior in the human female 1953)

For me, Natalie epitomised the modern professional young woman: successful, attractive and confident. Tall and slim, she wore her blond hair cut short, which gave her a sweet elfish look.

I envied the easy-going friendships she maintained with her male work colleagues both within and outside the workplace. Despite her predicament, it was evident that Natalie had never been either brave or curious enough to research explanations for women’s sexual arousal through reading or talking to someone.

“Everything you talk about in your book, particularly with reference to your problems with having an orgasm during sexual intercourse, I had been having the same problem. For many years, I had thought there was something wrong with me but was just too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it.”

“In fact, I once heard on a radio talk show someone called in and said they couldn’t orgasm during sex. The response to the person having the problem was to blame this on the man!” Holding men responsible for women’s sexual arousal makes men feel inadequate and puts pressure on women to fake orgasm.

We think we live in an information age and at a time when people have relatively relaxed attitudes towards sex, yet this educated young woman was unable to find explanations for her sexual experiences or even to talk to her friends or to her mother. Young women often don’t know how to orgasm and unfortunately there are very few sources of information to help them learn.

Natalie told me: “As a result (of reading your book) my relationship with my partner has stepped up a level. I had been reluctant to have sex with him for about a year as I had it in my head that HIS inability to make me orgasm during intercourse must mean I didn’t love him or don’t want to be with him…!”

“Waiting for the Right Man to make us orgasm is like waiting for the prince to come.” (p254 The Hite Report 1976)

Why is it so difficult to find answers? Female orgasm is not required either for men’s enjoyment of sex or for successful reproduction. To keep her man happy and to have a family, a woman is more likely to be concerned with the basics of whether vaginal intercourse is possible than with orgasm (the cherry on the cake!). Most women are too embarrassed to ask for more.

So typically sex experts deal with sexual dysfunction (primarily problems with male sexual performance). Any problem with female sexual performance, even though considered to be a sexual dysfunction, is not as well understood. Since relatively few women are seeking answers there is little funding to improve our understanding of female sexual arousal and orgasm.

“Shocking though the statistics are, many women have found it secretly comforting to discover they are not the only ones who experience this enormous discrepancy between masturbation and intercourse. For years I was unable to have an orgasm except by masturbation, and assumed I was a freak. I remember the relief when I discovered Hite…” (p207 Satisfaction Guaranteed 1996)

Excerpt from Jane’s book Ways Women Orgasm (2011)


  1. I am a practising Sex Therapist and Relationship Counsellor and specialise in Sexual Dysfunction. I take a sexual history of every client I see and there is a very large difference between males and females. Most males start getting erections when they are around 12 or 13 years old and learn to masturbate. I have never spoken to a man who was not able to get an orgasm by masturbation. Usually the problems that arise when getting older are erection problems, premature or delayed ejaculation which are mainly psychological issues. I have had some clients who ended up with inhibited ejaculation and could not reach orgasm anymore until they received sex therapy. But it is a fact that any man can orgasm very easily.
    When girls turn 12 or 13 they don’t get erections and depending on their background or culture many women do not masturbate as early as the boys and therefore do not have orgasms or even know about them. Especially between the fifties and seventies when the Kinsey/Hite research was happening. Most women have caught up but there is still the fact that only about one in five women orgasm during penetrative sex – most women need additional manual stimulation and/or sexual phantasies.

    I always tell my female clients who have difficulties, to masturbate as often as they can to get in touch with their bodies. I advice them to read the Nancy Friday books with the sexual phantasies short stories to get aroused or other erotica they might like. Just using the vibrator has desensitised many a clitoris! Only if a woman knows how she can achieve an orgasm can she tell her partner what to do.
    Personally I don’t teach women how to find their G-Spot – just getting a clitoral orgasm will make most women happy. If you want more go and see a Sex Coach.

    Believe it or not but there are still lots of women who fake having an orgasm because it is easier and they do not want to upset their partners.

    Women surely can live without an orgasm but if they know how to do it they will appreciate it.

    Anyway orgasms are healthy and I am all for “Solo Sex” if you happen to not have a partner.

    I am not a researcher but the book that nobody has mentioned yet is “The Elusive Orgasm” by Australian Dr. Vivienne Cass – check it out!

  2. Jane, I was at pains in The Elusive Orgasm to emphasise, perhaps to the point of being overly repetitive, that orgasm should not be seen as THE GOAL of sex, while acknowledging that many women want to feel this as part of their sexual experience. I also suggest that women should not waste their money buying the book if they are quite happy with NOT having an orgasm. However, there are many sexual therapists who would also advocate this approach.

    I agree that there is indeed still a mystery about exactly what turns women on. Some of this is probably the result of there being less interest in women’s sexuality and also the dominance of the male model of sexuality. It is also due, I believe, to the fact that any sexual behaviour, and especially women’s sexuality, is always the result of a complex interaction between biology, psychology and culture, and this simply isn’t easy to unravel. It was easier for me to suggest 25 factors that prevented women having an orgasm, than to describe what led her to have one.

    Finally, while I agree that the term G-Spot is misleading and has been hyped out of all proportion, I believe it is wrong to say ‘it’ is a myth in the sense you do, since erect clitoral tissue ‘behind’ the upper vaginal wall creates a sensitivity that can be felt via the vaginal wall. Some women feel this, some don’t. Some feel it at some times and not others. Some believe they need to be touched in this area to orgasm, some don’t. Is this just an ‘emotional orgasm’ as you suggest? Since my approach is that orgasms are a psychological/emotional/cultural outcome, then every orgasm can be seen as having an emotional component.

  3. Thanks Vivienne,

    I think we are largely in agreement but you have avoided the key issue.

    I believe women interpret sex and orgasm in emotional or relationship terms.

    I am talking about erotic turn-ons related to thinking about a man’s genitals or sexual activity involving a male.

    I am suggesting that the use of fantasy works during masturbation but not with a partner. This is my own experience plus the experience of other women who have confided in me.

    I am asking other women who masturbate to confirm this experience.

    I am suggesting that orgasm with a partner is a completely different experience to masturbation where a woman uses sexual fantasies for arousal.

    I do not believe in the G-spot any more than I believe in fairies. I have met no woman in real life (who is not a therapist) who has ever referred to the G-spot.

    I am trying to reconcile women’s REAL LIFE experiences to the theory. If intercourse (G-spot or however) was that great then why don’t women line up in bars with their legs open and hook the first man they can get to stimulate them vaginally?

    These ‘vaginal orgasms’ are not so great that women still don’t want to trade sex either for money or for a relationship.

    My point is that women do not have a sex drive and that orgasm is not nearly as important to women’s emotional well-being as it is to men’s.