Sci has covered a bunch of stuff in the past on the subject of female orgasm. That mysterious thing which so few appear to understand, and which always seems to be the one subject about sex that women's magazines avoid like the plague (seriously, tons of articles on how to please HIM, but nothing on how to please HER?).
Anyway. hypotheses abound on the female orgasm. What it is and why we have them. And what KINDS women can have. First there was just the one orgasm. Then there was the clitoral vs the vaginal orgasm.
And then. Then there were FOUR.
The idea behind this study actually wasn't to identify how many types of orgasm there were. Rather, the authors were interested in the question of whether certain types of orgasm are selected for and used to promote the selection of specific male sperm during intercourse. I'll get back to this later.
What they ended up doing was taking data from a previous survey (they obtained permission from the participants) of 503 women. The data had the women ranking different feelings associated with orgasm. These included adjectives like "pulsating", "throbbing", "shooting", "spurting", "quivering", "satisfying", "relaxing", "euphoric", "flooding"...you get the idea. You could probably write an entire romance novel off the adjectives they used. There were 27. The women had to rank, for their most recent solitary and partner stimulated orgasm, where they fell on each of these descriptors.
They also had the women rank their PHYSICAL sensations for their orgasms, as well as where they felt the orgasm was located (deep inside, shallow, etc).
They then added up the numbers for each particular orgasm, and noticed that the orgasms broke down into FOUR different types.
The types broke down like this
I. The best type of orgasm (types I and II were lumped together and described as "good sex" orgasms). This one ranked high on both pleasure and physical sensation, with lots of throbbing and euphora.
II. This was the other type of "good sex" orgasm, which ranked very high on pleasure, but lower on physical sensation.
III. The third and the fourth types were classified as "not so good sex" orgasms, I guess because they were too polite to say "bad sex". This was classified as medium pleasure, but low physical sensation.
IV. The lowest of the low, this one was low pleasure and sensation. Generally not great.
And they compared all these to solitary masturbation, which, according to them, resulted in very low physical sensation, but more pleasurable sensations, ranking especially high on relaxation. It's mostly tables, but you can see the graph here:
Though they stressed that masturbation was low on physical sensation, it appears that it made out ok, especially compared to the "not so good sex".
They also looked at duration, and the perceived duration of "good sex" orgasms lasted significantly longer than "not so good sex" orgasms. Finally, they looked at the perceived closeness with the sexual partner. They found that good sex orgasms were correlated with happiness in the relationship, emotional intimacy, and relationship satisfaction.
So their conclusions were that orgasm with a partner can be divided into four types, with masturbation as a separate fifth type.
I'm not gonna lie. I had some problems with this paper. Not with the data, per se. The data are the data, and they do appear to break down into several types. No, my problems are more with their interpretations and how they try to place their data in context. My problems are these:
1) They were very interested in orgasm types as related to oxytocin level, but this was a survey. It'd be really interesting to bring women into the lab, get them to orgasm, and take oxytocin, while also getting subjective rankings (though the lab environment might hinder that a bit). They talk about how they think their types of orgasm were correlated with oxytocin because of the muscle spasms and how relaxed and happy the women ended up, saying this has correlation with effects of oxytocin, but there are no references for this, and no studies appear to have been done on it.
2) Sci is a little confused about their graph showing the four types of orgasm, along with orgasms induced by masturbation. The way the data is presented kind of implies that the orgasms produced by masturbation are (a) always different from that with a partner, even when the orgasm from a partner interaction was due to oral or digital stimulation, and (b) that there is only one type of orgasm associated with masturbation. I have a hard time believing point (a) especially (Masturbation measures in the graph line up pretty tight against type II orgasm), and think they should look into this point a little more.
3) I am not sure why they felt the need to divide the orgasms into FOUR subtypes, particularly since the two lowest appear to be really similar in their rankings, and basically ranked as crappy sex. I feel like the top two, especially as represented by the data, are good separations, but the bottom two might as well be lumped together.
4) This was only their most recent orgasm, and the authors compared this to happiness in the relationship, etc. But it was only one orgasm, what about others? Additionally, remembering that one awesome orgasm might cause the subject to look on her relationship in a more favorable light, something which they didn't really seem to consider.
5) Ok, now on to the bit above that I mentioned I'd get back to later. The authors wanted to explore whether female orgasm was used to "select" sperm, getting the best sperm from the best males. I'm gonna come right out and say: I am not an expert in this topic, but it seems to me that they did not choose the best method of pursuing this hypothesis. That's polite speak for...why on earth were you doing THIS PARTICULAR SURVEY? Ok, you did already have the data, but I could think of LOADS of other important questions you might want to correlate with orgasm type to see if orgasms are working to select particular sperm. The relationship happiness one is a start. But what about types of orgasms experienced by women actively TRYING to conceive? And honestly, there's really very little that a survey can tell you here. What you need to do (in my not very humble opinion) is a physical study, looking at various types of orgasm, and the amount of "insuck" you end up with in terms of either sperm or labeled fluid that you can scan for. Preferably look at oxytocin as well. Just asking about how people experienced their orgasms and how happy they were with their partners is not enough, and indeed, in this study, didn't really tell you anything.
6) And now I'd like to talk for a moment about "insuck". "Insuck" is the idea that orgasm in women is used to suck sperm into the uterus. I was under the impression that studies showing this effect had not ever been replicated, and that the idea had fallen into disfavor, but apparently not. The authors devoted a lot of the introduction to it and were clearly really enamored of the idea that certain kinds of orgasm would produce more insuck than others. But this was not measured (as it was a survey using old data from another analysis), and as far as I can tell they have simply no way to determine if there was any insuck in these women at all, or how it might be related to orgasm type. I'm really not sure why they kept talking about it if the data didn't address it at all. They even SAY that their types of orgasm are "consistent with, though not conﬁrming, a sperm-selecting insuck process perhaps shaped by natural selection and involving oxytocin release,". Um. WHAT. WHAT!? Where is the sperm selecting insuck process? Where is that correlated anywhere with types of orgasm? Where do you have actual correlations with oxytocin release?! I see some really good, testable ideas here, but those are not CONCLUSIONS, and these are certainly not conclusions that can be derived from the data shown here. In fact, with the data presented here, I don't think you can even reasonably TALK about insuck and oxytocin and expect me to go along with it. There is nothing here on insuck or oxytocin, and the relationships seen in the literature are tenous.
So what can be drawn from this paper? Basically, that there may be four types of with-partner orgasms. There may be five types including masturbation. Additionally, the goodness of the most recent orgasm correlates with the perceived happiness of the woman with her relationship. All this talk about oxytocin and insuck are just talk until I see some data.
King R, Belsky J, Mah K, & Binik Y (2010). Are There Different Types of Female Orgasm? Archives of sexual behavior PMID: 20697937