A Sex Therapist Explains the Biggest Myths About the Female Orgasm

Frustrated with cliches about the “elusive female orgasm,” Vanessa Marin founded Finishing School to demystify the art of orgasming.

|
Sep 29 2017, 5:08pm

Photo courtesy Vanessa Marin, with treatment by Lia Kantrowics. 

In "Unscrewing Ourselves," our first annual Sex Month on Broadly, we explore the state of sex ed today by highlighting the individuals and ideas changing our sexual health for the better. Read more from this series here.

As a sex therapist for over a decade, Vanessa Marin met woman after woman with one common complaint: They felt something was wrong with them because they'd never had an orgasm. It didn't take her long to realize the problem wasn't with them: It was with the lack of education they and their partners had received about female anatomy.

A study published earlier this year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that straight women had fewer orgasms than any other group. Sixty-five percent said they usually or always orgasmed during sexual intimacy over the previous month, compared to 95 percent of straight men. Meanwhile, the gap between gay men and lesbians appeared minimal: 89 percent versus 86 percent, respectively.

Frustrated by this unequal distribution of orgasms, Marin founded Finishing School, an online course dedicated to teaching women the nitty gritty details of their anatomy. Students receive instruction on masturbation techniques, oral and digital sex tips, and help overcoming sexual shame and body insecurities. We asked Marin what her career has taught her about women's orgasms and sex lives.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

BROADLY: What motivated you to start Finishing School?
Vanessa Marin: I created Finishing School because I saw how many of my sex therapy clients were being sabotaged by myths and misinformation about female orgasm. I got really fired up hearing people talk about how "complicated" and "mysterious" the female orgasm is. And it broke my heart whenever one of my clients talked about feeling like her body was "broken." At that point, I'd been coaching women how to orgasm for years, and I had a tried and tested system that was transforming my clients' lives. I realized I needed to share my techniques and messages with a wider audience and try to help change the way we talk about female orgasm.

I've read that five to 10 percent of women have never orgasmed, which seems really high to me. Does that seem right based on your experience?
I think that actually sounds a bit low to me! There are so many women out there who are afraid to even try to have an orgasm. Some women feel uncomfortable with their own bodies. Many women have never touched their genitals. Some women have been discouraged by their initial attempts to masturbate and just gave up. Lots of women think they should have "already" had an orgasm, so they're too scared to keep trying. There are lots of different reasons why women haven't orgasmed yet, but they do usually boil down to myths and misinformation.

What are the most common complaints you hear from clients around this issue?
No one is happy with how their body works: I hear from women who squirt but want to stop squirting; I hear from women who don't squirt but want to squirt; women who orgasm from clitoral stimulation want to orgasm from internal stimulation; women who orgasm from internal stimulation want to orgasm from clitoral stimulation. So many of us think our body needs to experience pleasure in a different way than it already does.

"I don't think female orgasm is any more difficult, complicated, or elusive than male orgasm."

It sometimes feels like I can't read a sex article without seeing the phrase "elusive female orgasm." Is it really that elusive, or are we just ignorant about it?
I'm right there with you! I don't think female orgasm is any more difficult, complicated, or elusive than male orgasm. The problem is that we approach the female orgasm the way we approach the male orgasm. Namely, that we think women should be able to orgasm from intercourse because men can orgasm from intercourse. We make women feel ashamed for needing clitoral stimulation.

Some say we put too much importance on orgasms. Why do you think the ability to orgasm is important?
Even though I teach women how to orgasm for a living, I agree that we place too much emphasis on it. People forget that the way to have an orgasm is to be experiencing pleasure. But whereas an orgasm lasts 10-20 seconds, you can experience pleasure for hours on end. Yes, orgasm is typically the peak experience of pleasure, but that doesn't mean those other moments don't feel good! Although my courses are about orgasm, I really try to focus on the pleasure itself. I also sneak in messages like developing better body confidence, learning how to communicate about sex, and being more playful in the bedroom.

That being said, I do believe that learning how to get yourself off is the most empowering experience a woman can have. Especially given how the deck is stacked against us with how we talk about female orgasm as a society. There's something so powerful about taking ownership of your body; declaring yourself deserving of pleasure; and being willing to give your body all the time, attention, and love it needs. I still get chills every time one of my clients tells me she had her first orgasm.

For More Stories Like This, Sign Up for Our Newsletter

What are the biggest myths you come across around the female orgasm, other than that it should happen through intercourse?
One myth that I'm working with a lot right now is that if you haven't learned how to orgasm yet, it's because you're emotionally "blocked." So many women think they must have some deep-seated fear of intimacy or vulnerability. Or they think they must have problems with losing control. While it's true that orgasm can be an emotional experience, most of the time, learning how to orgasm is really an issue of technique. I approach orgasm from a pretty technical standpoint because there are specific strategies that you need to learn. This is a silly example, but it's like saying, "I don't know how to play the piano yet. I must be emotionally blocked." Maybe start with some chords and scales first.