Friday Weird Science: There are HOW many types of Female Orgasm?

Sep 24 2010 Published by under Friday Weird Science

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.


(From here)

ResearchBlogging.org King et al. "Are there different types of female orgasm?" Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2010.

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.


(Yeah, I know, click to embiggen)

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 conīŦrming, 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

12 responses so far

  • Kele says:

    I'm troubled by the use of self-reports to reach any of their conclusions. When you have things as psychologically informed as sex and orgasms, I can't see how the evidence definitively tells you anything but how the subjects thought and felt about sex and orgasms. As you said, they should have been asking about relationship happiness instead. That they make the jump to the disputed "insuck" theory from these self-reports is startling.

  • Raven says:

    Good God, can they think of a better term than "insuck?"

  • cpr says:

    I thought the term was "upsuck." Also, what's with orgasms from bad sex? Don't most women define bad sex as that which doesn't lead to orgasm? And what about masturbating with a partner? Where does that fall? I agree with the author, very scattershot methodology.

  • FiSH says:

    Sci, interesting as always, and I agree with your criticisms. Along those lines, one of the potential pitfalls of principle components is that they determine the relationships between the variables that are included in the study (if you choose poorly you don't get a good representation of what you are interested in). As for insuck, I can't say that I've ever experienced it (from my end, so to speak); but one factor they don't seem to have considered in female orgasms is female ejaculation ( or if that is too extreme, just increased vaginal secretions, particularly during orgasms), that I find is a good indicator of the quality and intensity (both from my own perception and partner reports) of female orgasms. Also, it seems to me that this would be more important for helping the little swimmers find their way than some mythical "insuck", the idea of which I find a little bit frightening.

  • Adrian Blake says:

    Woah, remind me not to send you any first drafts of papers I write.... haha I'm not saying it wasn't justified, but that was a brutal tear apart!

    I don't have access to the journal (Since graduating I have been bereft of nerdy journal searchability), but from what you say, it does seem like they had a conclusion written out with gaps in and then just grabbed a study and inserted bits of data into it.

    Also.... umm this is already published.... so what happened to peer review? Isn't someone at the archive of sexytime meant tohave said what you just said.... and then thrown it back at them.... and spat on them...... isn't that what journal reviewers pretty much get paid to do?

    • scicurious says:

      The Archives of Sexual Behavior IS a peer reviewed journal, so it did get peer reviewed. So it's possible that the paper went through several iterations (and possibly several journal submissions) before being accepted for publication. That said, I do agree that, if I were a reviewer, I would demand a substantive rewrite of the introduction and discussion. It's possible they did that and the thing was even more crayzay before the changes. It is also possible that they got reviewers that just didn't see any problem with the conclusions.

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  • Gill says:

    I don't really understand why type II is 'better' than type III -- I'd judge the last 4 criteria to be more important than the first 6, and type III beats type II on all of those!
    CPR - some women orgasm quite easily, so you can have crappy sex leading to a boring orgasm; a bad orgasm is one that is worse than that you can get all by yourself (and with less time and effort involved, too).

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  • [...] of the female orgasm, as predicted and constructed by feminist theories (1)and subsequent American socio-cultural sexual trends, demonstrate that women will be having at least, if not waaay more, tha... of orgasms by the year [...]

  • Jude Grey says:

    They asked for the most recent orgasm because it preserves random selection and the most recently updated opinion of the women. A survey of political affiliation would not determine the numbers of dem vs rep. by asking for their most notable political affiliations throughout their lives. Likewise, including previous orgasms allows for selection on the part of those being asked, which would be useful for a modified survey method and for a different inquiry, but not when you are trying to do random sampling. The happiness in relationship bit bothers me too, but they could still ask that question if the survey provided suitable margins of error, such that the statistical likelihood that a bad orgasm which was just an anomaly in the relationship could be accounted for in the percentage given for their margin of error.

    But yeah, I mostly agree with you, and I'm not sure my above paragraph necessarily disagrees with you so much as it tries to answer a question. Overall, the graph itself bugs me, it seems to use a slightly antiquated approach to modelling statistics related to preference (See Malcolm Gladwell's TED talk, if you haven't) in conjunction with some modern approaches. Anyway, it honestly doesn't look enough like the kind of graph I'd use in their situation for me to make sense of my exact disagreement with it. Point: I agree with you, though for probably different reasons. And I probably shouldn't have started this without the time to fully flesh those out. Later, probably.

    Cheers.

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