There's One Very Big Sex Myth We've Got To Stop Telling: It's All About the Orgasm

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In the movies, a sex scene isn't over until both partners are practically screaming in ecstasy. But in reality, not every sexual encounter ends with an orgasm. 

Is that a reason to feel bad? Guilty? To fake it? If anything, it's a reason for us all to get realistic and stop perpetuating the idea that the most important part of sex is orgasm. 

In fact, the orgasm isn't the end-all, be-all of sex — and treating it as such is actually a disservice to everyone involved, especially women.

Sexual pleasure is determined by more than an orgasm. We get the message in pop culture and from porn that sexual pleasure is all about orgasm. But there are actually many ways to feel sexually satisfied. 

First, there's the enjoyment of foreplay itself. Science is pretty much in agreement that foreplay contributes positively to (and is often necessary for) enjoyable sex. Communication can also be part of the pleasure: A 2012 study found that using clear, nonverbal communication during sex was directly linked to sexual satisfaction. And other sexual activities, such as those rooted in BDSM, can make sex worth having, orgasm or not.

More importantly, orgasming doesn't account for the totality of your sexual satisfaction. A 2014 study from the University of Michigan defined four different factors contributing to sexual satisfaction, and orgasm was far from the clear winner. Emotional satisfaction, satisfaction with the relationship and the satisfaction of your partner all ranked just as highly when it came to a happy sex life. 

Another study, from 2011, found that emotional and physical closeness are often more important for women's sexual satisfaction than an orgasm. 

As Tracy Moore put it at Jezebel, "We also can't assume that all good sex must end with orgasms for both partners, unless that is what both partners want. There are other values, right? Like emotional and physical closeness, and warmth, caring? Right? Or just getting fucked real good for a while even if you don't come?" 

Source: Cosmopolitan
Source: Cosmopolitan

Focusing on orgasm puts unnecessary pressure on women. Emphasis on the orgasm not only minimizes the other pleasurable parts of sex; it also puts unnecessary pressure on both partners to perform a certain way. This is especially troubling for women, who may already have difficulty orgasming (or can't orgasm at all) or need more time to come than men.

The result? Women feel anxious about their orgasm instead of enjoying it. More than 80% of women admit they've faked an orgasm, which probably isn't surprising. What is surprising, however, is that many women actually fake orgasm not only to flatter their partners, but also to improve their own experience. 

A 2013 study published by the International Academy of Sex Research found that some women fake it to actually increase their own pleasure — in other words, to actually turn themselves on.  

The need to fake it to increase pleasure underscores the outsize importance orgasms have when it comes to sexual pleasure. But for what it's worth, the idea of taking control of one's own sexual pleasure is a useful sentiment, helping us to reframe the conversation to view sex as a full experience — not just a lead-up to the big O.

As Clarisse Thorn at Feministe described it

"It is helpful to imagine sex as a journey. For me, it helps to focus on having fun throughout, instead of doing what it takes to reach the 'goal' of orgasm. If you're not taking pleasure in the journey — or at least indulging some curiosity — then why keep going? Why not stop and try something else?"

Source: Imgur
Source: Imgur

How important is orgasm? Depends on the person. Sure, some people may want to orgasm every time they have sex; but that's not something you can assume. A 2014 Huffington Post story introduced several women who, despite their lack of orgasm, are still in happy relationships. "Experts say it comes down to individual preferences and expectations, not a broader cultural assumption that sex is only satisfying if it ends with an orgasm," the article concluded. 

Of course, downplaying orgasm isn't intended to dismiss anyone who does want to climax. The "pleasure gap" is a real thing, with studies reporting that only around 25% of women orgasm regularly during intercourse. This gap is even worse in casual hookups, during which only half as many women as men achieve orgasm. 

Women and men both should get the orgasms they deserve — if they want and need them. And on the way there, let's not forget there are plenty of other things that make sex great.