Review: The physiology of pleasure

“Why rush to dessert when you can have a multi-course degustation?”

It’s not every day you can stumble into a tent on Eastern Avenue and learn how to improve your sex life. Luckily for us, sex therapist and media personality, Tanya Koens, laid bare the juicy deets on what makes sex fun, freeing and fulfilling last week. Tanya kicked off the University of Sydney Union’s  Radical Sex and Consent Week with a bang (pun certainly intended).

I’ve never seen a room of USyd students more attentive than during Tanya’s overview of the different male and female erogenous zones. Let me tell you, the list ain’t short. In fact, there are 40 parts on a female body that can cause orgasm. 40! I thought mastering one was challenging enough…

What I found most striking from Tanya’s talk was that it takes men and women the same amount of time to orgasm when masturbating — in fact, just like the title of Justin Timberlake and Madonna’s delectable 2008 pop collaboration, it only takes ‘four minutes’. I don’t think they were talking about masturbating, but it’s a coincidence I just can’t ignore.

However, despite the mutual four minutes it takes to climax while doin’ it solo, in partnered sex it’s a very different story. To reach orgasm with someone else, it typically takes males five and a half minutes compared to the 17 minutes for females.

I’m no Einstein, but that’s a pretty notable gap. So if women are physiologically capable of reaching orgasm as quickly as men, why is it that it takes us ladies so much longer to climax when we’re with a partner? According to Tanya, there a multitude of reasons.

For women, desire and arousal are wholly controlled by the brain, which controls the rest of our body. When women are with a partner, it can take more time to relax and trigger arousal in the brain, and thus blood flow in the vagina and other erogenous zones. Although this can be impacted by things like stress, nervousness, self-esteem issues, past experiences, and physical impairment (to name a few), it still takes women a little more time to become fully aroused in the absence of these factors.

As our personal sexpert suggested, what’s important is that we take things nice and slow. Take time to touch each other’s entire bodies before going straight for the bullseye. After all, “why rush to dessert when you can have a multi-course degustation?”

Of equal importance, Tanya re-iterated what you’ve probably already heard several times before: “communication is key”. Making an effort to talk to your partner and find out what they like can go a long way. Before getting physical, “connect with each other mentally first by using your words”, she says. Who knew it was that simple?

On top of this gender imbalance in the time it takes to orgasm, when it comes to hook-up sex, the stats are even more divided. On average, a mere 4 per cent of women orgasm compared to a whopping 85 per cent of men. The rate of orgasm increases with the number of hook-ups between the pair, presumably because both parties get to know each other better. Clearly, communication and comfort have a lot to do with reaching the big O.

As alarming as this orgasm gap is, fear not! Tanya reminded us that reaching orgasm isn’t the be all and end all of good sex. “Don’t make sex outcome focussed”, she advised. “Sex is about the journey, not the destination”. That goes for everyone: so long as you’re having fun, that’s all that really matters in the end!

Content note: Some Rad Sex coverage uses language that reinforces the gender binary to reflect the content of reviewed events. Honi understands that this does not represent the identities of all our readers.

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