By Nicola Davies and Mona Chalabi
February 23, 2017

The female orgasm has often been described as elusive, but researchers say they might have discovered how to boost the chances of eliciting the yes, yes, yes.

A study from a team of US researchers suggests that a combination of genital stimulation, deep kissing and oral sex is the “golden trio” for women when it comes to increasing their likelihood of reaching orgasm with a sexual partner.

Published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, a team of US researchers analysed data collected through an online survey, hosted on the NBC News website, based on responses from more than 52,000 participants aged between 18 and 65 who were in a relationship with one person.

The results shed light on a number of “orgasm gaps” – not just between the sexes, but also between individuals with different sexual orientations. “We had the rare opportunity to look at responses from over 50,000 people, including over 2,000 gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women,” said David Frederick, lead author of the research from Chapman University.

While 95% of heterosexual men reported that they usually or always orgasmed during sexually intimate moments, just 65% of heterosexual women did. By contrast, the figure was 89% for gay men, 86% for lesbian women, 88% for bisexual men and 66% for bisexual women.

Orgasm data chart

The proportion of respondents who say they always reach orgasm Photograph: Mona Chalabi“The orgasm gaps between men and heterosexual women were well known prior to this study,” said Frederick. “The gaps between lesbian women and heterosexual women, however, were more speculative or based on small samples of lesbian women. This study highlights much more precisely that there are multiple orgasm gaps.”

The large disparities seen for women of different sexualities, the authors say, could at least in part be down to other women being more like to take turns at inducing orgasms, and having a better understanding than men that female orgasms are not primarily associated with vaginal sex.

“About 30% of men actually think that intercourse is the best way for women to have orgasm, and that is sort of a tragic figure because it couldn’t be more incorrect,” said co-author of the research Elisabeth Lloyd, a professor of biology at Indiana University and author of The Case of the Female Orgasm.

According to the research, only 35% of heterosexual women always or usually orgasm during vaginal sex alone, with 44% saying they rarely or never did. By contrast, 80% of heterosexual women and 91% of lesbians always or usually orgasm with a combination of genital stimulation, deep kissing and oral sex – but without vaginal sex. “To say that there needs to be some education I think is an understatement,” said Lloyd.

Whether it is playing music, changing sexual positions or saying “I love you”, very little appears to affect the probability that a man will orgasm. By contrast, women who said that they had done these things during their last sexual encounter were about 20% more likely to also tell the researchers that they “usually” or “always” orgasmed.

But there are other possibilities, says Frederick, including that women may take longer to become aroused than men, or that men desire orgasm more frequently than women. “So another question worth investigating is what percentage of women are happy with the frequency with which they orgasm,” he said.

The study also found that while 41% of heterosexual men reported that their partner always reached orgasm, only 33% of heterosexual women said that they did. “Part of this difference in perception could be due to women faking orgasms, which research has suggested women will do for a variety of reasons, including out of love for their partner, to protect their partner’s self-esteem, intoxication, or to bring the sexual encounter to an end,” the authors note.

Why women fake orgasms

Reasons given by women for faking orgasms Photograph: Mona ChalabiFurther analysis of the surveys revealed that women who frequently orgasmed were more likely to have a longer duration of sex and were more likely to have a higher relationship satisfaction, with the study also suggesting that factors such as asking for particular behaviours in bed and flirting with their partner throughout the day were linked to small but significant associations with more frequent orgasms in women.

The results, the authors say, offer couples a range of different approaches that could boost the frequency of orgasms, particularly among women.

“Women really are tremendously variable in how readily they orgasm and what makes one woman orgasm can be quite different than what makes another woman orgasm,” said Frederick. “Explicit and direct communication with one’s partner is key.”

Osmo Kontula, a sociologist and sexologist who was not involved in the study, said that the conclusion chimed with results from his own research into female orgasms based on a host of national surveys conducted in Finland, but added that other factors not explored in the new study also played a role in the frequency of female orgasm. “Important determinants were valuing orgasms, sexual desire, ability to concentrate and sexual self-esteem,” he said.

Lloyd says she hopes couples will consider the “golden trio” of behaviours for female orgasm. “I would like [women] to take that home and think about it, and to think about it with their partners and talk about it with their partners,” said Lloyd. “If they are not fully experiencing their fullest sexual expression to the maximum of their ability then I think our paper has something to contribute to their wellbeing.”