This Friday, July 31, is National Orgasm Day, and it’s our pleasure to honor it with this week’s Myth Monday! Discourse around orgasms tend to focus on the “orgasm gap,” which is the phenomenon of straight women “achieving” orgasm at a much lower rate than both straight men and lesbian women. While the orgasm gap is an important observation, these discussions tend to be not only cisnormative, but also posit orgasms as achievements of heterosexual penetrative sex, which puts unnecessary pressure on something that should be fun and carefree! As a sex-positive organization, we like to focus on strengths rather than deficiencies, so today we’re going to explore what makes for good pleasure! 

It’s common to have a tried-and-true method of pleasure, which is completely valid, but oftentimes that’s because we have yet to explore the wealth of untapped pleasure techniques out there. This can be traced back to the widely distributed sex education in our education system, which focuses more on fears and negative outcomes and rarely includes pleasure in the discussion. When college students were asked about what good sex looks like for them during a presentation by the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, their responses included mutual pleasure, communication, everybody orgasms, passion, protective, and love. They also responded with whipped cream, handcuffs, other kink/BDSM activities, and unique positions – however, they didn’t report to be having this type of sex, indicating a disparity between what turns us on and what we actually pursue. 

Vanilla sex, or “normative” sex that falls within the range of conventionality for a culture, can be fantastic and fulfilling. But there are a wealth of pleasure techniques out there that are underrepresented in our orgasm discourse, so let’s explore! 

Orgasm and penetrative sex are sisters, not twins – they don’t need to look or feel the same. OMGYes is an organization that lists a number of pleasure techniques, such as “layering” which is indirect pleasure through surrounding skin; “hinting,” which is only occasionally indulging; “orbiting,” which are the number of ways to circle the clit; “broadening,” which is widening pressure and grinding, to name just a few of their techniques. Non-genitalia involved techniques can include nipple play, dirty talk, and role play. 

Kink, BDSM, and fetish communities have a wealth of pleasure techniques which include a variety of sensation play, which ranges from spanking and bondage to light touches with feathers. Power dynamic play is common in BDSM practice, which at its core involves assigning positions of power to partners for erotic pleasure. 

Other pleasure techniques are more about getting in tune with oneself in ways beyond eroticism and sex; orgasmic yoga and partnered sensate focus exercises are some ways to explore bodies and pleasure. 

Orgasmic Yoga is an erotic embodiment practice that can be done solo, with a partner, or in a group setting (whether in person or virtually) where the focus is on one’s own pleasure discovery. OYoga is not about having orgasms specifically, or using traditional yoga poses, but about incorporating the entire body (including genitals) in exploration. The main cornerstones of this self-pleasure practice are weaving in awareness, breath, movement, presence, sound, and touch. Sometimes orgasms happen, but they aren’t required. Sometimes this practice is done while not in an erotic state at all, but is a time set aside for gentle, curious exploration, to learn new things about our bodies, to explore sensations, and to savor.

Sensate focus has some similar elements, in that it is very much about exploration and noticing. It is usually a paired exploration that is not immediately reciprocated. One partner is the giver while the other is receiver and they swap later on. Sex, (whether it’s PIV or anything else) is typically not on the table during this practice. This is often a method that may be suggested to couples by a therapist, particularly when working on intimacy and communication issues.

The tried-and-true ways to experience pleasure and orgasm are awesome! And it’s also valuable and FUN to explore other ways, tools, and methods to expand our erotic menus.

Written in collaboration with intern Olivia Poulin and Victoria Reuveni.