The vaginal orgasm – a myth? An interview with Nicole Engel

Is the vaginal orgasm nothing more than a myth? And if so, why do we continue to debate it? For centuries, there has been much speculation as to how and whether a woman achieves an orgasm through penetration alone. Sigmund Freud even stigmatized the clitoral orgasm as being incomplete. What nonsense! We spoke to psychologist and relationship expert Nicole Engel about the myth of the vaginal orgasm and reveal why it may not be made up after all.

The vagina, female lust and especially the vaginal orgasm continue to be a taboo subject, but why?

Much like Stokowski writes in her latest book Untenrum Frei (Naked Down Below) (2018), we continue to find it easier to talk about food than we do about sex. We live in a time when sex has been liberated right down to the smallest detail and are presented with thousands of pages of science and advice on every angle of the subject. The Internet is far from sparse on topics such as sexual preferences and the media knows no sexual taboos. Nevertheless, people still find it difficult to deal with their most intimate body parts. Stokowski highlights how sexual role models and feelings of shame can manifest, how they restrict us and why we should get rid of them.

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In speaking to many women, I often notice that there’s a general lack of knowledge on the subject of female lust, but at the same time there’s the pressurized existence of one’s own sexual performance. This includes exaggerated imaginations about how often a woman should be in the mood for sex or how important certain sexual practices may be. That’s where shame always plays an important role, because it hinders open communication about one’s real desires and preferences. Only a few of us have mastered the art of communicating openly. And it wasn’t our parents, schools or gynecologists from whom we learned. Previous generations were able to educate themselves via the German youth magazine BRAVO. Nowadays, we’ve got the Internet to teach the next generations everything concerning the matter of sex. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that unrealistic ideas of sex and high-performance pressures are picked up early on during a teenager’s sexual development. Women’s magazines promoting and preserving clichés aren’t helping either.

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Women’s magazines prefer to offer tips on how to perform the perfect blow job or find crazy Kamasutra positions. Male satisfaction is often the focus. What about a woman’s lust and satisfaction?

I wouldn’t claim that blow jobs or Kamasutra are only satisfying a man’s needs. Women also experience great lust during these sexual acts. Just seeing an erect penis can be highly arousing. In order to help women lead a fulfilled sex life, however, the approach or perspective of such articles could be modified. It shouldn’t be about being submissive to give men the feeling of power. Instead of suggesting 10 steps to achieve the perfect blow job, magazines could write about 10 things which help women experience lust or which may play a role psychologically and physiologically. And if a woman doesn’t feel any desire performing a blow job, she probably shouldn’t give one.

Every woman should have a connection to her clitoris, vulva and vagina by actively discovering each part and becoming sensitized.

How can a woman achieve desire?

The female genital area is fascinating. The key to good sexuality lies in knowing the functions of the sexual system, one’s own individual sexual process and its connections. In other words, there’s a connection between fantasy, lust, movement and desire. This can vary from woman to woman and much should be tried out.

Every woman should have a connection to her clitoris, vulva and vagina by actively discovering each part and becoming sensitized. The more sensitized the genital area is, the higher the chances of experiencing desire. Lust is no less a matter of practice than any other thing in life. It’s about awakening all sensors within the genital area and exploring what one considers particularly arousing. That includes the exact body areas or body parts, the amount of pressure applied, the rhythm and movements. Which fantasies are firing one’s imagination? Is there a particular environment, certain scents, music, words or things which are arousing? And what feels uncomfortable and decreases the level of arousal? All the individual answers to these questions and the practical implementation can help women find lust.

I should emphasize the importance of sexual fantasies at this point. These can be particularly helpful in experiencing desire. However, many women are afraid to permit them. But fantasies aren’t really an indicator of what a woman wants to experience in real life and only in rare cases do they signify oppressed desires. Therefore, I encourage anyone to engage with sexual fantasies and perhaps even shout them out loud or just take a closer look at them. A woman is able to monitor how her own stimulation changes when her fantasies change. It’s a very exciting process.

And now the all-important question: How does a woman orgasm?

Clitorally or vaginally?

The distinction between clitoral and vaginal orgasms is often made. Do you think that’s meaningful?

Sure, because both are possible and we can therefore differentiate where the main focus of stimulation for our sexual arousal lies. An orgasm which occurs upon dedicated stimulation of the clitoris (it doesn’t have to be the pulp of the clitoris, because the organ is more than that) is considered to be a clitoral orgasm. Here, a woman achieves a climax not through penetration, but by stimulation with the hand, orally or with sex toys before, during or after sex. That’s how a woman can have great sex without vaginal sensitivity. In addition, if a woman has learned to be aroused vaginally, her sex life can be even more varied. She can experience a vaginal orgasm through penetration during the act.

Does a true vaginal orgasm actually exist?

That’s a hotly debated question. The vaginal orgasm often occurs through stimulation of the vagina or the clitoris. However, it is absolutely possible to climax just through penetration, i.e. vaginally and without the need for clitoral stimulation. Even so, the clitoris and vagina are anatomically close to each other. Because the clitoris consists not just of the pulp, but also the flanks and the cavernous body which enclose the opening of the vagina, it is inevitably also being stimulated during penetration.

How much can masturbation help with female sexual satisfaction? Is it something that you recommend?

Climaxing during sex is a matter of practice. It’s worth engaging with one’s own body intensively. All our body parts are equipped with nerve endings which are in turn directly connected to our brain. The more often we use a body part, the more actively our brain fires, which can lead to increased sensations of feeling. Because the vagina is rather hidden, compared to the penis, women are at a disadvantage here. The vagina is often not used during one’s own sexualization history and thus is not being sensitized. With boys this process is often automatic, because the penis is easy to grab hold of and touch such as during micturition. Through masturbation, the vagina is awakened, trained and sensitized. Women can discover for themselves what arouses them, what heightens their arousal and how they can achieve an orgasm. All this knowledge can be helpful in a partnership and when talking about sex with a partner.

Can one learn to orgasm?

Yes, of course. Sex can be learned and lust as well as orgasms can too. There are many great books such as Coming Soon(Schiftan, 2018), Viva La Vagina (Brochmann & Stokken Dahl, 2018) and blogs such as Happy Vagina which educate openly and are free from moralizing values about the fabulous organ – the vagina – without resorting to sensationalism. They represent the sexocorporal approach which considers sexuality and thus orgasms as something that can be learned. Here, it’s more about connecting the body to the mind. Through dedicated exercises, women can learn to feel and discover their own bodies and vaginas. Because the mind can shut down an orgasm, the networking of sensory experience in the brain is particularly important. In addition, exercises on the sexual past or sexual fantasies play an important role. It’s about discovering, observing and training. If this is difficult to practice alone, one can always find support through colleagues or friends.

The discussion of the vaginal and clitoral climax has a long tradition. Even Sigmund Freud engaged with the topic. He considered the self-induced clitoral orgasm to be immature and proposed that only when the penis enters the vagina is a mature climax possible. That’s nonsense – right?

I currently don’t know of a scientific study which can confirm Freud’s hypothesis. As a trained behavioral therapist, I may not be the right person to ask. My depth psychology colleague may know more about that.

How well should men know female sexual anatomy?

Fulfilled sexuality has to be created and developed. Sexuality in a partnership needs room to play, a space where both partners can demand from each other. The meeting of a vagina and a penis doesn’t necessarily result in good sex. An exclusive focus on the clitoris or the conventional “in-out” action of a penis doesn’t really stimulate the vagina if a woman hasn’t previously trained it. That’s why women should first discover themselves and explore what arouses them. Nevertheless, a knowing and sensitive man can be helpful. Varied movements during sex, different from the traditional “in-out”, slowness and pressure, can provide excellent stimulation for the vaginal walls and arouse both partners. So, yes, men should absolutely be aware of the female anatomy. But they won’t have to read guide books to understand how. It still works best when couples feel, explore and openly communicate with each other.

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Frieda worked as a freelance journalist for over 10 years: She used to write about Easter recipes and style icons, about human metabolism and Michelin-rated restaurants. In short: about everything, except for sex. And for a good reason. Frieda always considered herself to be an average sexual person for all those years. Until a breakup persuaded her to stop taking the pill, which she had been on for 14 years. It was then, at the age of 28, that she finally discovered her wonderful sexuality and found her true, unique and hungry libido. Ever since, she has not only practiced a new sexuality. She writes and speaks about it too. And has never been as fulfilled as she is today!