For many women sexual satisfaction can be as elusive as post-coital cuddling. While the anatomy of male orgasms are better understood, many studies and popular literature still refer to the female orgasm as "a mystery" or "misunderstood."

Scientists—from Freud to Kinsey—have attempted to shed light on women's sexuality. Some studies have searched for the "purpose" or the "evolutionary function" of the female orgasm. Few studies have brought us any closer to understanding why some women can have orgasms and others can't, or why a woman may be more likely to have an O moment during masturbation and not intercourse.

Recent research offers some surprising insights on the factors that affect female orgasms.

1. It's All in The Genes

A study published in Biology Letters is the first to consider the role of family history or genetic factors on sexual function in women. The researchers found that up to 45 percent of the differences between women in their ability to reach orgasm may be genetic—not down to factors such as upbringing, religion or race. There's a biological basis to female orgasms, although it's not clear if that basis is anatomical, physiological or psychological.

Professor Tim Spector and colleagues carried out DNA tests on more than 4,000 women between ages 19 and 83. Fifty percent of the group were identical twins and the other half were non-identical twins. A third of the women said they never or seldom achieved orgasm, while more than 10 percent said they always experienced an orgasm during intercourse.

In general orgasm frequency was higher for the identical twins than the non-identical twins, which the researchers concluded indicated that genes played a role. "We found that between 34 and 45 percent of the variation in ability to orgasm can be explained by underlying genetic variation." write the researchers.

If female orgasm is heritable, it's possible that evolution has a role. According to researchers, one theory is that orgasm promotes fertility. Previous research shows women are slightly more likely to orgasm during periods of fertility and that sperm uptake is increased during orgasm.

2. Marriage and Kids are Anticlimactic

According to Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams, author of The Multi-Orgasmic Woman, getting rid of hurdles to sexual desire is essential to female orgasms. Marriage may be one of those hurdles.

Researchers in Britain surveyed over 11,000 men and women between ages 16 and 44 on a range of sexual problems. They found that married and cohabiting women were more likely to report sexual problems lasting at least one month than single women or married or cohabiting men—especially if they had small children in the home.

Women were also much more likely than men to say they'd had a short-term or long-term problem in their sex lives over the past year. Forty-one percent of married women reported little interest in sex for up to a month in the previous year, and 10 percent had sexual desire problems lasting at least six months.

3. Higher Education Hits the Spot

According to Australian research, higher-secondary education can influence whether a woman has an orgasm or not.

In a telephone survey that involved over 9,100 women and over 10,000 men, higher levels of education and income were associated with a greater occurrence of female orgasms. On the other hand, being sexually active before age 16, the number of past sexual partners, and watching porn had little association with a woman's ability to have an orgasm.

Women were also more likely to reach orgasm if they used sex toys, or had sex more than twice a week in the month before they were surveyed.


Journal Name: Biology Letters, Vol. 1(3) pp. 260-263

Study Date: September 2005

Study Name: Genetic influences on variation in female orgasmic function: a twin study


Authors: Kate M Dunn, Lynn F Cherkas, and Tim D Spector


Journal Name: The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 43, No. 3 pp. 217-226

Study Date: August 2006

Study Name: Sexual Practices at Last Heterosexual Encounter and Occurrence of Orgasm

in a National Survey


Authors: Juliet Richters, Richard de Visser, Chris Rissel, Anthony Smith


Journal Name: Sexually Transmitted Infections, Vol. 81(5) pp. 394-399

Study Date: October 2005

Study Name: Who reports sexual function problems? Empirical evidence from Britain's 2000 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles


Authors: C Mercer, K Fenton, A Johnson, A Copas, W Macdowall, B Erens, and K Wellings