Despite its presence in about half the population, the anatomical wonder that is the clitoris has had a rough go of it in the hallowed halls of academia. From Freud’s pet theory that clitoral orgasms are infantile and indicative of a failure to mature properly, to its unceremonious deletion from the 1948 edition of Gray’s Anatomy, the only organ known to exist solely for pleasure has been quietly and systematically denied its due. Even after we had split the atom and enjoyed 20 years of penicillin, the mere act of recognizing the existence of the clitoris in the medical literature was deemed immoral.
Thankfully, the tide is changing.
In a study published this summer in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy titled “Women’s Sexual Experience With Genital Touching, Sexual Pleasure, and Orgasm: Results From a U.S. Probability Sample of Women Ages 18 to 94,” researchers from Indiana University asked that age-old but oft-neglected question: What feels good to you?
Specifically, the team looked at the role of the clitoris during climax and intercourse, while also asking women how and where they liked their genitals to be touched. Please note that of the 1,055 respondents who completed the anonymized internet survey, most of them identified as heterosexual and 95 percent of their reported relationships were with men. That is to say, what you are about to read is mostly about straight women, though much of the study is focused solely on what feels good.
Genital touch preferences were sorted by four dimensions: location of the touch, how much pressure was used, the shape or style of the motion, and the patterns performed. And while there was a gloriously broad range of diversity when it came to what the women liked, there were also some general trends. Most women preferred light to medium pressure, either directly on the clitoris or in the immediate area, with about one in ten preferring firm pressure. Regarding the “shape” of the touch, up-and-down, circular, and side-to-side motions were the popular choices, but many other modes of enjoyable touch were reported, such as pressing, flicking, tapping, and “pushed together like a sandwich.”
There was also considerable variation in the patterns women liked, with 13 of the 15 different choices described given the go-ahead by most women. Those patterns included: touching in a rhythmic motion (which was enjoyed by 81.7 percent of women polled), a motion that circles the clitoris (78.3 percent), switching between different patterns (76.0 percent), switching between intense and less intense motions (75.8 percent), and making the pleasure last longer by slowing down and not gunning directly for the quickest route to orgasm (73.6 percent).
Other things that improved the quality of orgasm? Spending time on the buildup, having a partner who knows what they like, increased emotional intimacy, and not feeling rushed.
Also notable: Fewer than one in five women reported that “sex that lasts a long time” leads to better orgasms.
How about the role of the clitoris during penetrative intercourse? Only 18.4 percent of women reported that intercourse alone was enough to bring them to orgasm. On the other hand, nearly three-quarters of women reported that adding clitoral stimulation to penetration was either necessary for orgasm or that it made their orgasms feel better. That’s three out of four women desiring clitoral stimulation during sex, for those of you playing along at home. Meanwhile, 21 of the women surveyed could not answer the study’s questions at all because their partner never touched their clitoris during intercourse.
Bottom line? If you want to please your clitoris-having sexual partner, you’ll probably need to try some different techniques. Be patient, and communicate freely. This isn’t about your ego; it’s about a complex, unique organ on a complex, unique individual. And it might not hurt to keep a clipboard on the nightstand.