It’s near impossible to get researchers and scientists to agree on a basic definition of orgasm. So if you’re looking for a simple answer about how many different kinds of orgasms there are, you have two choices. You can read any of the thousands of self-help books that give you simple answers, which are essentially fairy tales, about the 2, 9, or 101 kinds of orgasms you can have.
Or you can deal with the messy truth, which is that an orgasm is something that defies a simple explanation.
Of all the ways that people categorize orgasm, my least favorite is the fad orgasm. These are the orgasms created for marketing purposes to sell a book, or a sex toy, which may be true for the one ‘sexpert’ who is telling you about them, but may not ring true for you or anyone else.
Rather than thinking of orgasms like products you can buy in a store, marked economy, medium, or deluxe, I prefer to think of orgasms like snowflakes; no two are alike, they’re free, they melt in your mouth, and not even the weather forecast can predict when they’ll come.
Having said that, if you’re not having orgasms or don’t know if you are having orgasms, or if you’re eager to learn more, it can help to get a sense of how others are breaking it down. Here are some ways people have distinguished types of orgasms.
Clitoral versus Vaginal Orgasms
This distinction was popularized by Sigmund Freud, who linked orgasm to our psychological development. A clitoral orgasm is brought about by clitoral stimulation and a vaginal one through vaginal penetration. Freud argued that clitoral orgasms were characteristic of the young and immature, and vaginal orgasms represented the healthy female sexual response. As such, a woman who could only have orgasms from clitoral stimulation was stuck in her development.
This theory has been largely discounted, although there are still a few curious (and not surprisingly male) researchers desperately clinging to the idea. An additional problem with this distinction is that it doesn’t describe how the orgasms feel or what their detailed physiological or psychological effects are, it focuses on the method of achieving orgasm only.
Betty Dodson’s Taxonomy of Orgasm
In sharp contrast to the psychoanalytic understanding of orgasm, author, sex activist and educator Betty Dodson has described at least nine different kinds of orgasms based on her own experience and her experience working with people for over forty years on having orgasms (often in the room with them while they’re having them).
Dodson’s descriptions of orgasm which she outlines in her excellent book Orgasms for Two are still guided by her own biases, which favors genital stimulation, and while she discounts the experience of some women, these descriptions offer a great starting point to discuss the multitude of ways people can experience orgasm. In contrast to medical and in particular Freudian descriptions of orgasm, Dodson focuses on the experience of orgasm, what it feels like, and not just the mechanics of what makes it happen. Below is a summary of some of her orgasm types, with some of my own comments.
Dodson ties these to early childhood experiences rocking back and forth or masturbating by squeezing your legs together. This orgasm comes from indirect stimulation, no rubbing, but instead applying pressure (by leaning heavily against or on something). As children we may engage in this kind of self soothing and sex stimulating behavior even if it doesn’t result in an orgasm the way we think of them as adults. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2005 took note of this very common form of self stimulation, particularly in young girls. Some adults may bring this behavior into their sex lives and have orgasms from it.
This is the orgasm that comes from direct and intense stimulation usually while you are holding your body and muscles tight and tense, and holding your breath. Dodson considers tension orgasms the most common, favored because they are quick and dirty. She also calls them “peak orgasms” as they offer an intense build-up followed by a sudden release.
Tension orgasms could be our default because of early sexual experiences, which are often secretive and quick. It’s often been suggested that for men, premature ejaculation is a result of learning early on how to get aroused and orgasm quickly. For women too, early experiences can influence later ones, and Dodson encourages people to try to experience more orgasms beyond these, even if they do do the trick.
Tension orgasms are mostly clitoral orgasms. You can either use your fingers or various types of sex toys to stimulate your clit, such as magic wand vibrators, mini bullet vibrators, vibrating panties, and clit sucking sex toys.
Dodson describes this type of orgasm as coming not from a build-up of tension, but from deep relaxation during sexual stimulation, where you continue to release tension and relax your muscles and eventually the orgasm sneaks up on you. As opposed to the “peak orgasm” Dodson cites Shree Rajneesh, a Tantric sex master and author of Tantra, Spirituality and Sex, who refers to these kinds of orgasms as “valley orgasms.”
By suggesting that a woman “relax,” what is meant is that during sex it’s best for them not to be worrying, questioning themselves, or getting ahead of where they actually are in the process of building sexual arousal. The main task is to be focused primarily on the feeling of the sensations of the stimulation.
Ideally orgasm is a fluid process (no pun intended) and if sex play lasts long enough you’ll get to enjoy more than one experience during orgasm, which can be called a combination orgasm. For Dodson, who has been teaching women to orgasm for over 40 years, combination orgasms involve a specific set of actions, including: “clitoral stimulation, vaginal stimulation, PC muscle contractions, pelvic thrusting, and breathing out loud.” One could broaden this definition to include orgasms that offer a variety of experiences and opportunity for you to pay attention to the different waves of orgasmic feelings.
While female multiple orgasms are more often talked about, both men and women are capable of having multiple orgasms. Dodson distinguishes between multiple orgasms and the “aftershocks of pleasure” that follow a big orgasm, which some people might call orgasms, and which allows them to count 20 or 30 orgasms a night. One of the pitfalls of multiple orgasms is the trap of waiting for them and having anxiety about whether or not you’ll have them. Do either of these things and your attention will be taken away from the pleasure you’re feeling, which is a waste of an orgasm whatever number it comes in.
G spot orgasms
The g spot debate is far from over, and while Dodson doesn’t discount them, she favors clitoral stimulation at least being in the mix, and offers a wary attitude to those who argue for orgasms that come from penetration alone. Nonetheless, many women report orgasms that come from g spot stimulation being fundamentally different from orgasms that come from other kinds of stimulation, and given the number of women who have written and talked about it, they certainly deserve a place in the orgasm encyclopedia.
You can find and pleasure the G-spot with fingers, a penis, or a G-spot stimulating toy, such as a rabbit vibrator.
- Fingers — Fingers are great to explore the G-spot with because you can actually feel it — usually, it has a rougher, plumper, walnut-like texture that’s distinct from the smoothness of the rest of the vagina. After warming up and making sure you’re in the mood, insert a well-lubed finger (or two … or three) into the vagina up to about the second knuckle, and then curl your fingers and gently press up on the frontal wall. Once you’ve located it, you can move your fingers on the G-spot in a variety of ways. The standard is the “come hither” motion, but you can always try little circles, up and down, side-to-side, or lightly pressing upwards while keeping a steady pressure. In general, the more you can curl or hook your fingers up towards the G-spot, the more you can isolate the sensation there. Keep communicating with your partner or yourself to see what feels best.
- A Penis — Because the G-spot is located on the front wall of the vagina, any position in which the penis is angled toward it works pretty well (doggy-style, or any position “from behind” tends to be best, but you can make just about any position work if you angle your hips right). If you’re working with a penis, it doesn’t have to go in super far — remember, the G-spot is only two to three inches inside. Also, make sure the person with the penis doesn’t thrust very far back and forth — the G-spot is relatively small, so shorter thrusts or a more steady pressure usually works better if you want to keep the stimulation on that area.
- G-spot Toys — These specially shaped toys or vibrators typically have a bulbous, angled or curved head that helps you find and isolate the G-spot. They’re great to use alone, or with a partner, and, like anything you insert into a vagina, are always better with lube.
Dodson largely discounts the idea of orgasms that result from mental stimulation alone (which is not surprising given her belief in the supremacy of clitoral stimulation). In fact, there have been several studies and years of anecdotal reports by women who have orgasms without any physical contact, and from mental fantasy alone. There is a tendency by many to see orgasms from fantasy as being less than other kinds of orgasms, but this attitude seems to come mostly from rigid thinking about the right and wrong way to orgasm, and less from people’s personal experiences. Barbara Carrellas, the author of Urban Tantra, teaches and lectures often about the ways that people can “think off” meaning experience sexual pleasures and orgasm from mental stimulation.
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