The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm
Note: This the classic article on women's sexuality by the NY feminist
Anne Koedt. It is one of the most popular pages on the site. This
is the complete version.)
female orgasm and frigidity are discussed, a false distinction is
made between the vaginal and the clitoral orgasm. Frigidity has
generally been defined by men as the failure of women to have vaginal
orgasms. Actually the vagina is not a highly sensitive area and
is not constructed to achieve orgasm. It is the clitoris which is
the center of sexual sensitivity and which is the female equivalent
of the penis.
this explains a great many things: First of all, the fact that the
so-called frigidity rate among women is phenomenally high. Rather
than tracing female frigidity to the false assumptions about female
anatomy, our "experts" have declared frigidity a psychological
problem of women. Those women who complained about it were recommended
psychiatrists, so that they might discover their "problem"
-diagnosed generally as a failure to adjust to their role as women.
facts of female anatomy and sexual response tell a different story.
Although there are many areas for sexual arousal, there is only
one area for sexual climax; that area is the clitoris. All orgasms
are extensions of sensation from this area. Since the clitoris is
not necessarily stimulated sufficiently in the conventional sexual
positions, we are left "frigid."
from physical stimulation, which is the common cause of orgasm for
most people, there is also stimulation through primarily mental
processes. Some women, for example, may achieve orgasm through sexual
fantasies, or through fetishes. However, while the stimulation may
be psychological, the orgasm manifests itself physically. Thus,
while the cause is psychological, the effect is still physical,
and the orgasm necessarily takes place in the sexual organ equipped
for sexual climax, the clitoris. The orgasm experience may also
differ in degree of intensity - some more localized, and some more
diffuse and sensitive. But they are all clitoral orgasms.
this leads to some interesting questions about conventional sex
and our role in it. Men have orgasms essentially by friction with
the vagina, not the clitoral area, which is external and not able
to cause friction the way penetration does. Women have thus been
defined sexually in terms of what pleases men; our own biology has
not been properly analyzed. Instead, we are fed the myth of the
liberated woman and her vaginal orgasm - an orgasm which in fact
does not exist.
we must do is redefine our sexuality. We must discard the "normal"
concepts of sex and create new guidelines which take into account
mutual sexual enjoyment. While the idea of mutual enjoyment is liberally
applauded in marriage manuals, it is not followed to its logical
conclusion. We must begin to demand that if certain sexual positions
now defined as "standard" are not mutually conducive to
orgasm, they no longer be defined as standard. New techniques must
be used or devised which transform this particular aspect of our
current sexual exploitation.
Freud-A Father of the Vaginal Orgasm
contended that the clitoral orgasm was adolescent, and that upon
puberty, when women began having intercourse with men, women should
transfer the center of orgasm to the vagina. The vagina, it was
assumed, was able to produce a parallel, but more mature, orgasm
than the clitoris. Much work was done to elaborate on this theory,
but little was done to challenge the basic assumptions.
fully appreciate this incredible invention, perhaps Freud's general
attitude about women should first be recalled. Mary Ellman, in Thinking
About Women, summed it up this way:
Everything in Freud's patronizing and fearful attitude
toward women follows from their lack of a penis, but it is only
in his essay The Psychology of Women that Freud makes explicit...
the deprecations of women which are implicit in his work. He then
prescribes for them the abandonment of the life of the mind, which
will interfere with their sexual function. When the psycho-analyzed
patient is male, the analyst sets himself the task of developing
the man's capacities; but with women patients, the job is to resign
them to the limits of their sexuality. As Mr. Rieff puts it: For
Freud, "Analysis cannot encourage in women new energies for
success and achievement, but only teach them the lesson of rational
was Freud's feelings about women's secondary and inferior relationship
to men that formed the basis for his theories on female sexuality.
having laid down the law about the nature of our sexuality, Freud
not so strangely discovered a tremendous problem of frigidity in
women. His recommended cure for a woman who was frigid was psychiatric
care. She was suffering from failure to mentally adjust to her "natural"
role as a woman. Frank S. Caprio, a contemporary follower of these
...whenever a woman is incapable of achieving an orgasm via coitus,
provided the husband is an adequate partner, and prefers clitoral
stimulation to any other form of sexual activity, she can be regarded
as suffering from frigidity and requires psychiatric assistance.
(The Sexually Adequate Female, p.64.)
given was that women were envious of men - renunciation of womanhood.
Thus it was diagnosed as an anti-male phenomenon.
It is important
to emphasize that Freud did not base his theory upon a study of woman's
anatomy, but rather upon his assumptions of woman as an inferior appendage
to man, and her consequent social and psychological role. In their attempts
to deal with the ensuing problem of mass frigidity, Freudians embarked
on elaborate mental gymnastics. Marie Bonaparte, in Female Sexuality,
goes so far as to suggest surgery to help women back on their rightful
path. Having discovered a strange connection between the non-frigid
woman and the location of the clitoris near the vagina,
it then occurred to me that where, in certain women,
this gap was excessive, and clitoral fixation obdurate, a clitoral-vaginal
reconciliation might be effected by surgical means, which would
then benefit the normal erotic function. Professor Halban, of Vienna,
as much a biologist as surgeon, became interested in the problem
and worked out a simple operative technique. In this, the suspensory
ligament of the clitoris was severed and the clitoris secured to
the underlying structures, thus fixing it in a lower position, with
eventual reduction of the labia minora. (p.148.)
severest damage was not in the area of surgery, where Freudians ran
around absurdly trying to change female anatomy to fit their basic assumptions.
The worst damage was done to the mental health of women, who either
suffered silently with self-blame, or flocked to psychiatrists looking
desperately for the hidden and terrible repression that had kept from
them their vaginal destiny.
Lack of Evidence
One may perhaps
at first claim that these are unknown and unexplored areas, but upon
closer examination this is certainly not true today, nor was it true
even in the past. For example, men have known that women suffered from
frigidity often during intercourse. So the problem was there. Also,
there is much specific evidence. Men knew that the clitoris was and
is the essential organ for masturbation, whether in children or adult
women. So obviously women made it clear where they thought their
sexuality was located. Men also seem suspiciously aware of the clitoral
powers during "foreplay," when they want to arouse women and
produce the necessary lubrication for penetration. Foreplay is a concept
created for male purposes, but works to the disadvantage of many women,
since as soon as the woman is aroused the man changes to vaginal stimulation,
leaving her both aroused and unsatisfied.
also been known that women need no anesthesia inside the vagina during
surgery, thus pointing to the fact that the vagina is in fact not a
highly sensitive area.
with extensive knowledge of anatomy, with Kelly, Kinsey, and Masters
and Johnson, to mention just a few sources, there is no ignorance
on the subject. There are, however, social reasons why this knowledge
has not been popularized. We are living in a male society which
has not sought change in women's role.
than starting with what women ought to feel, it would seem
logical to start out with the anatomical facts regarding the clitoris
Clitoris is a small equivalent of the penis, except for the
fact that the urethra does not go through it as in the man's penis.
Its erection is similar to the male erection, and the head of the
clitoris has the same type of structure and function as the head
of the penis.
Kelly, in Sexual Feeling in Married Men and Women, says:
The head of the clitoris is also composed of erectile tissue, and
it possesses a very sensitive epithelium or surface covering, supplied
with special nerve endings called genital corpuscles, which are
peculiarly adapted for sensory stimulation that under proper mental
conditions terminates in the sexual orgasm. No other part of the
female generative tract has such corpuscles. (Pocketbooks; p.35.)
clitoris has no other function than that of sexual pleasure.
The Vagina- Its functions are related to, the reproductive
function. Principally, 1) menstruation, 2) receive penis, 3) hold
semen, and 4) birth passage. The interior of the vagina, which according
to the defenders of the vaginally caused orgasm is the center and
producer of the orgasm, is:
like nearly all other internal body structures, poorly supplied
with end organs of touch. The internal entodermal origin of the
lining of the vagina makes it similar in this respect to the rectum
and other parts of the digestive tract. (Kinsey, Sexual Behavior
in the Human Female, p.580.)
of insensitivity inside the vagina is so high that "Among the
women who were tested in our gynecologic sample, less than 14% were
at all conscious that they had been touched." (Kinsey, p. 580.)
importance of the vagina as an erotic
center (as opposed to
an orgasmic center) has been found to be minor.
Other Areas- Labia minora and the vestibule of the vagina.
These two sensitive areas may trigger off a clitoral orgasm. Because
they can be effectively stimulated during "normal" coitus,
though infrequently, this kind of stimulation is incorrectly thought
to be vaginal orgasm. However, it is important to distinguish between
areas which can stimulate the clitoris, incapable of producing the
orgasm themselves, and the clitoris:
of what means of excitation is used to bring the individual to the
state of sexual climax, the sensation is perceived by the genital
corpuscles and is localized where they are situated: in the head
of the clitoris or penis. (Kelly, p.49.)
Psychologically Stimulated Orgasm- Aside from the
above mentioned direct and indirect stimulation of the clitoris,
there is a third way an orgasm may be triggered. This is through
mental (cortical) stimulation, where the imagination stimulates
the brain, which in turn stimulates the genital corpuscles of the
glans to set off an orgasm.
Women Who Say They Have Vaginal Orgasms
Confusion- Because of the lack of knowledge of their
own anatomy, some women accept the idea that an orgasm felt during
"normal" intercourse was vaginally caused. This confusion
is caused by a combination of two factors. One, failing to locate
the center of the orgasm, and two, by a desire to fit her experience
to the male-defined idea of sexual normalcy. Considering that women
know little about their anatomy, it is easy to be confused.
Deception- The vast majority of women who pretend
vaginal orgasm to their men are faking it to "get the job."
In a new bestselling Danish book, I Accuse, Mette Ejlersen
specifically deals with this common problem, which she calls the
"sex comedy." This comedy has many causes. First of all,
the man brings a great deal of pressure to bear on the woman, because
he considers his ability as a lover at stake. So as not to offend
his ego, the woman will comply with the prescribed role and go through
simulated ecstasy. In some of the other Danish women mentioned,
women who were left frigid were turned off to sex, and pretended
vaginal orgasm to hurry up the sex act. Others admitted that they
had faked vaginal orgasm to catch a man. In one case, the woman
pretended vaginal orgasm to get him to leave his first wife, who
admitted being vaginally frigid.
she was forced to continue the deception, since obviously she couldn't
tell him to stimulate her clitorally.
more women were simply afraid to establish their right to equal
enjoyment, seeing the sexual act as being primarily for the man's
benefit, and any pleasure that the woman got as an added extra.
women, with just enough ego to reject the man's idea that they needed
psychiatric care, refused to admit their frigidity. They wouldn't
accept self-blame, but they didn't know how to solve the problem,
not knowing the physiological facts about themselves. So they were
left in a peculiar limbo.
perhaps one of the most infuriating and damaging results of this
whole charade has been that women who were perfectly healthy sexually
were taught that they were not. So in addition to being sexually
deprived, these women were told to blame themselves when they deserved
no blame. Looking for a cure to a problem that has none can lead
a woman on an endless path of self-hatred and insecurity. For she
is told by her analyst that not even in her one role allowed in
a male society-the role of a woman-is she successful. She is put
on the defensive, with phony data as evidence that she'd better
try to be even more feminine, think more feminine, and reject her
envy of men. That is, shuffle even harder, baby.
Why Men Maintain the Myth
1. Sexual Penetration Is Preferred-The best physical
stimulant for the penis is the woman's vagina. It supplies the necessary
friction and lubrication. From a strictly technical point of view
this position offers the best physical conditions, even though the
man may try other positions for variation.
2. The Invisible Woman-One of the elements of male chauvinism
is the refusal or inability to see women as total, separate human
beings. Rather, men have chosen to define women only in terms of
how they benefited men's lives. Sexually, a woman was not seen as
an individual wanting to share equally in the sexual act, any more
than she was seen as a person with independent desires when she
did anything else in society. Thus, it was easy to make up what
was convenient about women; for on top of that, society has been
a function of male interests, and women were not organized to form
even a vocal opposition to the male experts.
3. The Penis as Epitome of Masculinity-Men define their lives
primarily in terms of masculinity. It is a universal form of ego-boosting.
That is, in every society, however homogeneous (i.e., with the absence
of racial, ethnic, or major economic differences) there is always
a group, women, to oppress.
essence of male chauvinism is in the psychological superiority men
exercise over women. This kind of superior-inferior definition of
self, rather than positive definition based upon one's own achievements
and development, has of course chained victim and oppressor both.
But by far the most brutalized of the two is the victim.
is racism, where the white racist compensates for his feelings of
unworthiness by creating an image of the black man (it is primarily
a male struggle) as biologically inferior to him. Because of his
position in a white male power structure, the white man can socially
enforce this mythical division.
the extent that men try to rationalize and justify male superiority
through physical differentiation, masculinity may be symbolized
by being the most muscular, the most hairy; having the deepest
voice, and the biggest penis. Women, on the other hand, are approved
of (i.e., called feminine) if they are weak, petite, shave their
legs, have high soft voices.
the clitoris is almost identical to the penis, one finds a great
deal of evidence of men in various societies trying to either ignore
the clitoris and emphasize the vagina (as did Freud), or, as in
some places in the Mideast, actually performing clitoridectomy.
Freud saw this ancient and still practiced custom as a way of further
"feminizing" the female by removing this cardinal vestige
of her masculinity. It should be noted also that a big clitoris
is considered ugly and masculine. Some cultures engage in the practice
of pouring a chemical on the clitoris to make it shrivel up into
clear to me that men in fact fear the clitoris as a threat to masculinity.
4. Sexually Expendable Male-Men fear that they will
become sexually expendable if the clitoris is substituted for the
vagina as the center of pleasure for women. Actually this has a
great deal of validity if one considers only the anatomy.
The position of the penis inside the vagina, while perfect for reproduction,
does not necessarily stimulate an orgasm in women because the clitoris
is located externally and higher up. Women must rely upon indirect
stimulation in the "normal" position.
sexuality could make an excellent case, based upon anatomical data,
for the irrelevancy of the male organ. Albert Ellis says something
to the effect that a man without a penis can make a woman an excellent
that the vagina is very desirable from a man's point of view, purely
on physical grounds, one begins to see the dilemma for men. And
it forces us as well to discard many "physical" arguments
explaining why women go to bed with men. What is left, it seems
to me, are primarily psychological reasons why women select men
at the exclusion of women as sexual partners.
5. Control o/ Women-One reason given to explain the
Mid-eastern practice of clitoridectomy is that it will keep the
women from straying. By removing the sexual organ capable of orgasm,
it must be assumed that her sexual drive will diminish. Considering
how men look upon their women as property, particularly in very
backward nations, we should begin to consider a great deal more
why it is not in mens interest to have women totally free
sexually. The double standard, as practiced for example in Latin
America, is set up to keep the woman as total property of the husband,
while he is free to have affairs as he wishes.
6. Lesbianism and Bisexuality-Aside from the. Strictly
anatomical reasons why women might equally seek other women as lovers,
there is a fear on men's part that women will seek the company of
other women on a full, human basis. The recognition of clitoral
orgasm as fact would threaten the heterosexual institution. For
it would indicate that sexual pleasure was obtainable from either
men or women, thus making heterosexuality not an absolute,
but an option. It would thus open up the whole question of human
sexual relationships beyond the confines of the present male-female
Books Mentioned in This Essay
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Alfred C. Kinsey, Pocketbooks,
Female Sexuality, Marie Bonaparte, Grove Press, 1953.
Sex Without Guilt, Albert Ellis, Grove Press, 1958 and 1965.
Sexual Feelings in Married Men and Women, G. Lombard Kelly,
Pocketbooks, 1951 and 1965.
I Accuse (Jeg Anklager), Mette Ejlersen, Chr. Erichsens Forlag
The Sexually Adequate Female, Frank S. Caprio, Fawcett Gold
Medal Books, 1953 and 1966.
Thinking About Women, Mary Ellman, Harcourt, Brace &
Human Sexual Response, Masters and Johnson, Little, Brown,
Copyright © by Anne Koedt, 1970