The incidental orgasm: the presence of clitoral knowledge and the absence of orgasm for women

Women Health. 2005;42(1):117-38. doi: 10.1300/J013v42n01_07.


Women report anorgasmia and other difficulties achieving orgasm. One approach to alleviating this problem is to teach women about the clitoris. This assumes that women lack information about the clitoris and that knowledge about the clitoris is correlated with orgasm. Using a non-random sample of 833 undergraduate students, our study investigates both assumptions. First, we test the amount of knowledge about the clitoris, the reported sources of this knowledge, and the correlation between citing a source and actual knowledge. Second, we measure the correlation between clitoral knowledge and orgasm in both masturbation and partnered sex. Among a sample of undergraduate students, the most frequently cited sources of clitoral knowledge (school and friends) were associated with the least amount of tested knowledge. The source most likely to correlate with clitoral knowledge (self-exploration) was among the most rarely cited. Despite this, respondents correctly answered, on average, three of the five clitoral knowledge measures. Knowledge correlated significantly with the frequency of women's orgasm in masturbation but not partnered sex. Our results are discussed in light of gender inequality and a social construction of sexuality, endorsed by both men and women, that privileges men's sexual pleasure over women's, such that orgasm for women is pleasing, but ultimately incidental.

MeSH terms

  • Clitoris*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Masturbation
  • Orgasm*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Self Concept
  • Sex Education / methods*
  • Stereotyping
  • Students / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Women's Health*