Female orgasmic function

For discussion of general issues pertaining to asexuality.
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Mr. Paradox
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Female orgasmic function

Postby Mr. Paradox » Sun Jan 20, 2008 4:46 pm

I'm adding this paper to the knowledge base, but I wanted to discuss it as well. Spin has already offered to write this up in a blog post in the future, so let's talk and maybe we'll get some ideas going.

This is a 2005 twin study on orgasmic function in women which produced some very interesting data. I know lack of orgasmic function and asexuality aren't the same thing, but the two sometimes go together and interact. I also think this stands as a worthwhile reminder of just how ubiquitous sexual variation and "dysfunction" is in human populations. I have my own theories about this but I'll go into that later.

{link removed}

Abstract wrote:Orgasmic dysfunction in females is commonly reported in the general population with little consensus on its aetiology. We performed a classical twin study to explore whether there were observable genetic influences on female orgasmic dysfunction. Adult females from the TwinsUK register were sent a confidential survey including questions on sexual problems. Complete responses to the questions on orgasmic dysfunction were obtained from 4037 women consisting of 683 monozygotic and 714 dizygotic pairs of female twins aged between 19 and 83 years. One in three women (32%) reported never or infrequently achieving orgasm during intercourse, with a corresponding figure of 21% during masturbation. A significant genetic influence was seen with an estimated heritability for difficulty reaching orgasm during intercourse of 34% (95% confidence interval 27–40%) and 45% (95% confidence interval 38–52%) for orgasm during masturbation. These results show that the wide variation in orgasmic dysfunction in females has a genetic basis and cannot be attributed solely to cultural influences. These results should stimulate further research into the biological and perhaps evolutionary processes governing female sexual function.

Essentially, you have over 20% of a female sample reporting never or almost never having an orgasm even while masturbating. That represents a huge chunk of the population, and the study finds that it's as genetically linked as traits like blood pressure and age of menarche. This goes up against a huge amount of conventional wisdom. Can we believe that 10-20% of women are simply genetically non-orgasmic? What are the implications?
"He cannot, however, long remain asexual when he sees the great peasant girls, as ardent as mares in heat, abandoning themselves to the arms of robust youths."
--Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex

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Vittoria
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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Vittoria » Mon Jan 21, 2008 3:40 pm

This reminds me of the Redbook article where they said 70% of women would prefer chocolate to sex. Oprah has done shows about the high percentage of abnormal women who have low libido.

Excuse me very much, but it's not all that 'abnormal' if a huge portion of the population is experiencing it, you tit. What that number means is that lots of men are griping because they don't get as much ten second sex as they want and make the women feel badly about it. I love statistics.

In response to the implications of a decent amount of women never getting that sort of tingle from sexual activity--I'm more interested in how those women feel about themselves once they learn they can't and 'it's so freakin great, the best thing ever,' which you know they must hear.

I would guess that their sexual attraction would be on the same spectrum as orgasmic females, but I'd also guess they'd be more likely to engage in sex with the men they loved. Orgasmic women often complain that men don't take their time and do what needs doing to make them orgasm but non-orgasmic women would never expect that so their requirements wouldn't be so high.

Omnes et Nihil
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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Tue Jan 22, 2008 10:54 pm

Mr. Paradox wrote:Essentially, you have over 20% of a female sample reporting never or almost never having an orgasm even while masturbating. That represents a huge chunk of the population, and the study finds that it's as genetically linked as traits like blood pressure and age of menarche. This goes up against a huge amount of conventional wisdom. Can we believe that 10-20% of women are simply genetically non-orgasmic? What are the implications?


This article isn't about women who can't orgasm. It's about women who generally don't orgasm. This article actually doesn't support the existence of women who are genetically non-orgasmic. (It doesn't address that at all.) What their evidence does suggest is that there is some genetic component to the frequency of orgasm-- likely (although neither the authors nor their evidence touch this) there is a genetic component probably to the ease of orgasm which sort of makes sense given that women's parts come in all sorts of shapes, and that identical twins might be more similar than fraternal twins. The authors also don't give their effect size-- and although they conclude that there is a substantial genetic component, their data don't support that. The "as traits like blood pressure and age of menarche" I think refers to "in the same way" and not "to the same degree". People very often confuse significance (which is easy to get even with really tiny effects, with a large sample... which they have) with importance or size of the thing that is significant.

Keep in mind also... these are a group of (almost entirely heterosexual) British women with an average age of 50. This is still the generation of women who married at a time when it was illegal for a wife NOT to have sex with her husband (or more specifically, when it was legal for a husband to force intercourse on his wife)... and who grew up being told that when submitting to their wifely duties (i.e. to sex)... to close their eyes and to think of England. I wish I were joking.

Implication: Yes there is a huge proportion of women who don't orgasm, who probably don't know how to orgasm (because from what many many people have told me, it is something that needs to be learned); and who grew up never expecting to orgasm, in a society where their sexual pleasure didn't, and to a large degree still doesn't matter. There is a genetic component to frequency of orgasm... which is probably to the ease of orgasm.
Implication to me: The so-called second-wave feminist sexual revolution... didn't work so well for these women-- regardless of their genes.

Edit: Wow, that sounded harsh. Not quite my intent. Didn't mean to come off quite so strong.

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Mr. Paradox
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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Mr. Paradox » Wed Jan 23, 2008 2:55 am

I understand what you're saying, Omnes. You're correct -- this is only measuring low orgasmic function, not absent. I'm making the assumption, as with asexuality, that we're dealing with a normal distribution, and thus some women will have a complete lack of function. That almost goes without saying. And you make a good point that the percentage of regularly orgasmic women on that bell curve would spread with more general education and liberation. But the simple idea of so much variation to begin with, and an apparent genetic component, is important.

I don't think the genetic link is unsupported by this. They're using a twin study specifically to control for cultural and environmental factors. Their "heritability" is a quantitative estimate of additive genetic variance, drawn from their data and presented in table 3. This is how all twin studies are done, and how we know about most complex genetically linked conditions. Their comparison of this to other traits is not merely qualitative: "These heritability findings are in a similar range (35-60%) to other behavioural and complex traits such as migraine, blood pressure, anxiety or depression and age at menarche and menopause" (citing MacGregor et al. 2000 for these examples.)

My tendency is to view this as empowering for non-orgasmic women. As with asexuality, a model of genetic variance challenges the biologically uniform idea that non-orgasmic women are simply repressed, and if women are doing it right they should have an orgasm every day. There are women on this board who don't or rarely have orgasms, have tried plenty hard, and just aren't too bothered now. Of course, there are multiple levels to this, because a lot of women are repressed and would benefit from more orgasms. This is comparable to one of the issues raised with asexuality (by Joy Davidson, among others), that we're acting against sexual enlightenment because we're allowing some people who genuinely need help to hide from it. It's a tough call, because in many respects we are ahead of the curve-- we're in danger of launching the post-sexual revolution while the sexual revolution is still struggling.
"He cannot, however, long remain asexual when he sees the great peasant girls, as ardent as mares in heat, abandoning themselves to the arms of robust youths."
--Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby spin » Wed Jan 23, 2008 4:20 pm

Thanks for bringing this up, Mr. 'dox. Sorry for not responding sooner! I've got a lot more reading (and maybe a little more practical research) to do before I can write up a blog post, but I'd like to throw in that stimulation can still be quite pleasant for a lot of these non-orgasmic women.

Omnes brings up a good point. I've often read that women need to learn how to orgasm--there's a strong thread in sexual-empowerment type literature that a significant proportion of women are pre-orgasmic. This recognizes the fact that a lot of women aren't having orgasms, but on the other hand positions non-orgasmic women as incomplete. Some may be pre-orgasmic, but some may simply have less orgasmic function ("ease" of orgasm) which may not change with practice. I'd argue, Omnes, that the fact they don't or rarely orgasm when masturbating points more to an inability than a result of culturally stifled sexuality.

There's a lot more qualitative sort of stuff I'd like to have answered on this topic. As Vittoria brings up, one important and intriguing factor is what the women themselves think of their sexual functioning. I'd also like to know how many of these women still masturbate regularly despite not orgasming, at what age they started masturbating, how much experimentation they've done in attempts to orgasm (or how much orgasmic women had to do to get where they are), whether they prefer intercourse or masturbation, &c &c.

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Thu Jan 24, 2008 12:16 am

Mr. Paradox wrote: I don't think the genetic link is unsupported by this. They're using a twin study specifically to control for cultural and environmental factors. Their "heritability" is a quantitative estimate of additive genetic variance, drawn from their data and presented in table 3. This is how all twin studies are done, and how we know about most complex genetically linked conditions. Their comparison of this to other traits is not merely qualitative: "These heritability findings are in a similar range (35-60%) to other behavioural and complex traits such as migraine, blood pressure, anxiety or depression and age at menarche and menopause" (citing MacGregor et al. 2000 for these examples.)


I don't dispute that that's precisely what the authors are claiming. I'm disputing the legitimacy of precisely what they claim. (And please believe the rant-like nature of these comments are directed at the authors of the article, and not at you-- the person reading the article the way it was intended to be read.)

Actually, the model they are using for "heritability" in both cases is the model which uses additive genetic effects AND unique environmental effects together. I'm pointing out certain things... for instance, in table 3, this "heritability" model that they chose to report for their 34% (orgasm during intercourse) and 45% (orgasm during masturbation) is NOT in fact the model which is statistically most sound-- they are reporting the model they are interested in, which incidentally has the highest p-value for the orgasms during intercourse, and the second highest p-value for the orgasms during masturbation. The most statistically sound model would actually be (for BOTH orgasm situation cases) the one that used only common environmental factors and unique environmental factors, but NOT additive genetic effects.

Second, the thing I was saying about effect size... the 34% and 45% (even if we assume for a moment that these are the numbers to be accepted) don't mean that heritability (in this case referring to additive genetic effects and unique environmental effects) explains 34% and 45% of the orgasming. That's not what those numbers means. The numbers that would say how much of the orgasming is explained by "heritability" aren't actually reported. They are completely left out of the article, which isn't all that uncommon in psychology and and health-related work, by convention. But, given that the identical twins only have an ICC of about 30% to begin with, the MOST orgasming that could possibly be explained by "heritability" (if the model above were 100%) would be about 9%. That's what I meant when I said it could be a very small proportion of the orgasming that is explained by genetic factors.

And even still, if we were to accept all of that, there is still the question of whether the statistical tests being performed are even legitimate given the type of data that was collected. These tests are supposed to be performed on a ratio scale variable. They don't really mean much of anything on something that isn't at least an interval scale (equal distance between graduations on the scale in terms of the absolute amounts of things being measured). Now, the scale of measurements is a number of orgasms. So, 1) the reported results are actually about number of orgasms, and not ability to orgasm if they are legitimate and 2) there is good reason to doubt that the number of orgasms doesn't neatly map on to ease of orgasm or whatever it is they are trying to measure.

So basically... there are a lot of numbers suggesting that whoa! genetics are pretty important in women's orgasming... which don't really amount to justifying that conclusion.

It follows the way this type of research is done... because the concerns I've raised are conventionally ignored by the field. Seriously... it's by convention. Way to go objective pursuit of the truth, scientists!

Note: My frustration is completely aimed at the profound epistemological problems embodied by this entire type of research, namely by a field predicated on the bastardisation of statistics.

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Thu Jan 24, 2008 12:37 am

spin wrote:Omnes brings up a good point. I've often read that women need to learn how to orgasm--there's a strong thread in sexual-empowerment type literature that a significant proportion of women are pre-orgasmic. This recognizes the fact that a lot of women aren't having orgasms, but on the other hand positions non-orgasmic women as incomplete. Some may be pre-orgasmic, but some may simply have less orgasmic function ("ease" of orgasm) which may not change with practice. I'd argue, Omnes, that the fact they don't or rarely orgasm when masturbating points more to an inability than a result of culturally stifled sexuality.


Oh, I don't think that women who don't orgasm are repressed... I can see it might have sounded that way. It's more of a cultural context not favourable to the conditions of women learning how to orgasm, or questioning their lack of orgasms.

I might be mistaken about the actual act, but it strikes me as a rather repetitive thing. If there's a trick to it, masturbating for years and years the same way isn't going to lead a woman to stumble upon orgasm one day. Now, I think it's a shame we live in a society where the cultural context is not conducive to women exploring their bodies shamelessly. That doesn't mean that I believe women to be repressed or culturally repressed. One doesn't entail the other. And I absolutely completely agree that women who don't orgasm (for whatever reason) should NOT be made to feel like they need fixing or that they are somehow lacking / deffective.

Mr. Paradox wrote: It's a tough call, because in many respects we are ahead of the curve-- we're in danger of launching the post-sexual revolution while the sexual revolution is still struggling.


Very nicely said.

To summarise my position crudely (just to avoid confusion)... I think everyone needs to have the freedom not to orgasm-- but even as we're getting there, no-one should be denied the freedom to orgasm: they are ultimately the same freedom. And the fact that this freedom is lacking, though it affects individual women and though individual women can often change (their choices to orgasm or even their ability to orgasm), the women aren't the problem. And no woman's choice or lack of choice should ever be pathologised or reproached. [And in the context of larger conceptualisations of freedom and oppression... an orgasm is just an orgasm.]

(I'm trying to extract my foot from an Elliottan "that's not what I meant at all" trap.)

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Mr. Paradox
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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Mr. Paradox » Fri Jan 25, 2008 7:27 am

Understood. Thank you for explaining all of this-- I'm still at an early stage in my statistical education and too often have to take these sorts of things at face value. What exactly is your field, if you don't mind me asking?
"He cannot, however, long remain asexual when he sees the great peasant girls, as ardent as mares in heat, abandoning themselves to the arms of robust youths."
--Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Parth » Fri Jan 25, 2008 11:48 am

I think some women don't realise just what sort of stimulation has to happen for an orgasm to be achieved. I wouldn't have myself, if I hadn't discovered the alternate use of a vibrating massager I bought my mother for her back. :shifty: This was also combined with some intellectual research into the vulva.
My sister has had sex on numerous occasions, but she says she hasn't ever orgasmed. For this reason she doesn't masturbate at all. 'Cause if she knew what orgasms felt like, I'm pretty sure she would :lol:
But I mean, I originally thought female masturbation was meant to consist of vaginal penetration. But now that I regularly masturbate, my vagina gets no love at all. 'Cause it's gross and I don't need to touch it.

But anyway, all I know is myself...

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Olivier » Fri Jan 25, 2008 7:13 pm

spin wrote:I'd like to throw in that stimulation can still be quite pleasant for a lot of these non-orgasmic women.

And it's also wise to remember that stimulation and even orgasm can be quite dull and pointless for some orgasmic women. This is sometimes referred to as "sexual anesthesia". Much of the literature treats this as a uniquely a symptom of psychiatric disorders for reasons that don't convince me at all, but that doesn't change the fact some women can have an orgasm and think "so what?".

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Mysteria » Fri Jan 25, 2008 11:00 pm

Olivier wrote:
spin wrote:I'd like to throw in that stimulation can still be quite pleasant for a lot of these non-orgasmic women.

And it's also wise to remember that stimulation and even orgasm can be quite dull and pointless for some orgasmic women. This is sometimes referred to as "sexual anesthesia". Much of the literature treats this as a uniquely a symptom of psychiatric disorders for reasons that don't convince me at all, but that doesn't change the fact some women can have an orgasm and think "so what?".

Yes, and I'm one of them! :mrgreen:

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Sat Jan 26, 2008 2:01 am

Mr. Paradox wrote:Understood. Thank you for explaining all of this-- I'm still at an early stage in my statistical education and too often have to take these sorts of things at face value. What exactly is your field, if you don't mind me asking?


I'm not entirely sure how to answer that.

I'm in a marginal branch of psychology, which as a field is predicated on the bastardisation of statistics. I have a much stronger background in math (pure math) than the vast majority of people in psychology. Nevertheless, I'm into qualitative research (for reasons that might be clear given my rant above...).

Most psychologists have never heard of theoretical psychology... but it's kind of an umbrella term for all the people on the fringes doing psychological stuff concerned with philosophical, epistemological, historical, political, otherwise theoretical etc. implications, and questions. Lots of history types, lots of philosophy types, and an assortment of everyone else, dabbling in things from post-modernist theory through feminist theory and its off-shoots. With lots of original and interdiciplinary combinations. Look up "International Society of Theory in Psychology" as a starting point for more information.

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Witch of Wapping » Sun Jan 27, 2008 10:49 am

Omnes et Nihil wrote:

Keep in mind also... these are a group of (almost entirely heterosexual) British women with an average age of 50. This is still the generation of women who married at a time when it was illegal for a wife NOT to have sex with her husband (or more specifically, when it was legal for a husband to force intercourse on his wife)... and who grew up being told that when submitting to their wifely duties (i.e. to sex)... to close their eyes and to think of England. I wish I were joking.

Implication to me: The so-called second-wave feminist sexual revolution... didn't work so well for these women-- regardless of their genes.

Edit: Wow, that sounded harsh. Not quite my intent. Didn't mean to come off quite so strong.


Sorry to get picky about something so far back in the thread. I'm not sure how significant the average age over such a wide span is anyway, but - I'm a British woman in my 50s and need to say this doesn't ring quite true. I'm not heterosexual, and I'm not taking away from your point about how hard it was to get marital rape made illegal here. However, we very much saw a huge gulf between our mothers' generation, who were the one expected to "lie back and think of England", and ours, who hit young womanhood in the context of the broader, late 1960s, "sexual revolution" and second-wave feminism, and were abruptly expected to have a wonderful, well-informed sexual time, much like every generation after us but we felt like the first, whether or not we called ourselves feminists. Magazines like Cosmo harangued us about what a big change it was, and how important it was to get up to speed.

For a long time as a younger woman I thought I must be pre-orgasmic even though I wasn't, either through masturbating or with a partner - stimulation and orgasm, for me, were, well, very pleasant, but nowhere near thunderous enough to explain why I should pursue sexual encounters more enthusiastically - which is why it took so long to realise I was asexual rather than just bad at being a lesbian. The literature about training yourself to have better orgasms had something to do with it. :lol:

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Omnes et Nihil » Sun Jan 27, 2008 8:20 pm

Witch of Wapping wrote:
Sorry to get picky about something so far back in the thread. I'm not sure how significant the average age over such a wide span is anyway, but - I'm a British woman in my 50s and need to say this doesn't ring quite true. I'm not heterosexual, and I'm not taking away from your point about how hard it was to get marital rape made illegal here. However, we very much saw a huge gulf between our mothers' generation, who were the one expected to "lie back and think of England", and ours, who hit young womanhood in the context of the broader, late 1960s, "sexual revolution" and second-wave feminism, and were abruptly expected to have a wonderful, well-informed sexual time, much like every generation after us but we felt like the first, whether or not we called ourselves feminists. Magazines like Cosmo harangued us about what a big change it was, and how important it was to get up to speed.

For a long time as a younger woman I thought I must be pre-orgasmic even though I wasn't, either through masturbating or with a partner - stimulation and orgasm, for me, were, well, very pleasant, but nowhere near thunderous enough to explain why I should pursue sexual encounters more enthusiastically - which is why it took so long to realise I was asexual rather than just bad at being a lesbian. The literature about training yourself to have better orgasms had something to do with it. :lol:


You're right-- my comments were overly simplistic. I really don't know what it was like in England in the 1960's-- I wasn't there.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

My point was basically that there's more to the women in the article than their biological ability to orgasm-- people have a context. And I think it's important to remember that people have multifaceted experiences when trying to piece together a story about genes. That's what I was trying to get at.

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Bunnyk. » Mon Feb 18, 2008 10:25 pm

Implication: Yes there is a huge proportion of women who don't orgasm, who probably don't know how to orgasm (because from what many many people have told me, it is something that needs to be learned)


I definitely had to learn how to orgasm. I didn't have one until I was 18(ish), even though I was definitely sexual, and got turned on by foreplay, and tried masturbating a lot. Actually, the only way I could orgasm at first was through oral sex.

I guess 18 isn't that old, but considering how determined I was, it took me a long damn time. :lol:
I'd argue, Omnes, that the fact they don't or rarely orgasm when masturbating points more to an inability than a result of culturally stifled sexuality.


If the only way I had to orgasm was masturbation, I might STILL be completely orgasm-free. I don't know why, but until I knew how to do it, I never could figure it out. No one ever said ****TMI***** that you had to be lubricated and touch near but not ON the clitoris because that hurts, and you can't just rub up and down and expect anything to happen, and vibrators make you go numb *****END TMI*****. Probably very few women other than me would ever give those particular directions, anyway, because from what I hear, women's bodies are all very different. Even in this thread, Parth likes vibrators, and they very rarely work for me.

So I'm not sure that the ability to orgasm while masturbating is entirely indicative of a lack of orgasmic ability. I think it's a better measure than orgasms during sex, but I suspect a lot of women have just never quite figured it out.

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Re: Female orgasmic function

Postby Heligan » Sat Aug 23, 2008 6:39 am

Mysteria wrote:
Olivier wrote:
spin wrote:I'd like to throw in that stimulation can still be quite pleasant for a lot of these non-orgasmic women.

And it's also wise to remember that stimulation and even orgasm can be quite dull and pointless for some orgasmic women. This is sometimes referred to as "sexual anesthesia". Much of the literature treats this as a uniquely a symptom of psychiatric disorders for reasons that don't convince me at all, but that doesn't change the fact some women can have an orgasm and think "so what?".

Yes, and I'm one of them! :mrgreen:


Im taking 'sexual anesthesia' as referring to orgasms that are registered but not pleaurable (is this correct- i could find much on net about it?). I think everyone gets these occassionally, the 'call that an orgasm, that was a muscle twitch...' response. I had no idea that that was the only kind of orgasm some people have.

Thing is orgasms can not be 'rated highly' as a 'life experience' even if they are good.

Its very hard to get people to understand that yes you have orgasms but you dont really care. No there is nothing wrong with your orgasms, no really its just not a big deal- you want one you have one- its almost to easy to be worth it- its over in under 2 min, no huge fuss is needed after all.
But as Im reading the article Im starting to feel quite guilty for not valuing it more. But its like anything else, if something is easy for you, you think its easy for everyone and are quite shocked to find out its not.

That said Im not talking about during sex, I have had orgasms during sex, but find them to be quite painful resulting in a cramp like after effect, that is not remotely plesant. I dont see why sexual intercourse itself has to have orgasms associated with it for women really, I dont see the point... even when I was sexual the sex act itself was nothing to do with orgasm- (in fact thinking about it thats probably why I didnt have them, my mind was not in the game- it was off doing love and intimacy stuff, not focusing on the serious business of being aroused- lol- maybe I was really Grey-A when I thought I was sexual?!).

In fact that does kind of link in with the fact, that to really be able to have easy orgasms as a woman, (without a vibrator) you need firstly to be able to get relaxed and secondly to have quite a dirty mind and run with it.

I suppose repulsed asexuals might have a problem with the dirty mind thing, but I understand a vibrator can take that mental input out of the equation (though I have not tired myself so am slightly dubious of that claim). Certainly when this was discussed on AVEN, a few people claimed to masturbate totally without fantasy input... that has to make it much more dificult.
A lot said they used a generic person as a sexual partner, or werent really involved themselves just imagined situations.
Certainly I think having had sex, and being able to remember sensations and emotions helps (even if you no longer would want any of that stuff for real now- your memory doesnt seem tainted with that)

Heligan

While we are on this subject does anyone know how common female ejaculation is and how that correlates with asexuality?
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