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Why would intercourse feel good for women?

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Anonymous asks:

I was reading about the female anatomy on your website and you said that the clitoris was the part that would be the source of pleasure for the woman. If the most sensitive part of a woman's anatomy is on the outside, how can intercourse feel good? Also, I don't understand how intercourse would stimulate the clitoris. From the diagrams on your website, it seems to me that the clitoris is quite far from the viginal entry. How can a penis entering the virgina have any affect on the clitoris? Thank you for your response!

Heather Corinna replies:

You know, I always feel for heterosexual or bisexual folks when they clearly have paid attention to this stuff, done the reading or just talked to women, put it all together and have that "Whoah!" moment about this issue. With so many people reared to think that male-female vaginal intercourse is THE sex, and how many gender issues are often involved in that social conditioning, even though it's ultimately positive to start reaching these conclusions about the reality of the thing, for plenty of people, it can feel like an awful lot of air is being let out of the proverbial sails. But really, I swear: it's a positive realization that benefits everybody.

Let's take a look at that piece together, okay?

(You might also find it helpful to look at this article, Yield for Pleasure and this one, Vagzilla! (Or, All Genitals Great and Small)).

First of all, understand that the clitoris is bigger than it looks: it isn't just the glans and the hood that you can see on the outside, it's also internal, as explained and illustrated about halfway through that article. Imagine, if you would, if a penis were internal: the clitoris as a whole is about the same size, internal and external combined. A guy can even get a sense of that just by feeling his penis through a pair of jeans. If someone, say, is straddling a male's lap and rocking their weight over the area where the penis is, inside pants, that guy most certainly feels something. That's part of how vaginal intercourse can provide some clitoral stimulus: the pressure of another person's body on the vulva entire, as well as the internal pressure of the penis (or a silicone substitute) stimulating the clitoris in a general way.

Another big why that front portion of the vaginal canal is the most sensitive -- as opposed to the back half of the vagina, where we have no real sensory nerve endings at all -- is that parts of the internal clitoris surround it, and the g-spot is just inside there, too. So, again, women can feel pleasurable pressure on those portions during intercourse and other kinds of vaginal sex. With intercourse, that tends to be more generalized pressure than something more specific and targeted -- such as say, with fingers -- but some women like that feeling of general pressure, and some even prefer it to more direct stimulus.

Too, certain sexual positions put weight and pressure on the internal and/or external clitoris. The clitoris really is not that far from the vaginal opening, nor does intercourse only put pressure on the vaginal opening and vaginal canal. A female partner who wants to have intercourse can let her partner in on which positions are best for her when it comes to her clitoris.

But overall, is intercourse, all by itself, something a majority of women find completely satisfying, physically or otherwise? Is it something which will cause a majority of women to reach orgasm through? No, it isn't. It's also something a great many men don't find completely satisfying all by itself either -- and not just because just like vaginal intercourse doesn't always stimulate the clitoris or g-spot, intercourse doesn't stimulate the prostate gland or the rest of a man's body and sensitive bits. Are women whose sex lives are ONLY about vaginal intercourse usually feeling very fulfilled? No, not usually. But when that is the case, it also often isn't just about not getting enough clitoral stimulus: it tends to also be about how it emotionally feels to only engage in that activity and what the dynamics of sexual relationships tend to be like when intercourse is the only kind of sex being had.

Another truth of the matter is that even when we take away any anatomical issues, having one kind of sex all the time, or making one kind of sex THE sex, is like eating the same meal every single day. Sure, that meal might sustain us in some ways, but it's not likely to stimulate us very much, physically, emotionally or intellectually.

For the most part, with any kind of sex, for most couples and most people it is all about combining more than one activity at a time. For example, it's incredibly easy for women to get very direct clitoral stimulation during intercourse by just having themselves or a partner manually (with fingers) rub the clitoris during that intercourse, or use a vibrator. Too, if women want vaginal insertion that gives more specific, rather than general, pressure, their partners can use their fingers and hands or mouths rather than penises.

I am sure I did not write that the "clitoris is the source of pleasure for a woman." Sure, it's mostly a matter of semantics, but the semantics are important in this case. Pleasure -- for men or women -- and sexual pleasure are far more complex things than to be found or derived in one, small place, and it's really helpful for everyone to really understand and internalize that.

Not only do women differ a lot, but our whole bodies -- whatever our gender is -- are sexual organs and places of pleasure. As well, whether we do or don't experience pleasure during sex, how much or how little, also has, in many ways, a lot more to do with our brains, our whole nervous systems and the specific dynamics involved in sex with someone else than with our sexual anatomy. What was written there is that the clitoris is the primary source of most genital sensation. Not most pleasure. Pleasure is a very multifaceted thing. To give you a solid example, understand that someone being sexually assaulted might get clitoral stimulus and yet be feeling the literal opposite of pleasure. Just touching a pleasurable spot on the body does not always pleasure make.

There was a study that came out a little while ago about the positive motivations for teenage partnered sex which showed that more young women who had sex did so primarily for emotional reasons and benefits than for physical pleasure as compared to young men. My first reaction to that, as a feminist, was that that was likely because so many women have been reared being told that is what they SHOULD enjoy most with sex, and so many women have simply accepted that so much of the sex they are having isn't about their pleasure. For sure, that is going to be part of the issue, and by that same token, young men have the same or similar motivations, but we aren't hearing about it as much because men are so often reared told that they should NOT enjoy the emotional aspects of sex most, or give them any real priority. As well, we also know that for many young men (and plenty of older men), social status and personal validation can be a bigger driver for partnered sex than physical pleasure.

But at the same time, we really can't say partnered (or solo, really) sex is somehow just physical or just emotional, because it is interpersonal and because our sexuality isn't just physical: it is about our identity, our feelings, our unique history and personality, about the intellectual, the psychological and the spiritual. And partnered sex is also about what pleasure we derive from our partner's pleasure. Sexuality is big stuff. We also have to be pretty careful saying that sex is more or less pleasurable for people as a whole because of the reasons why people report to enjoy it. In other words, if a given person finds great enjoyment in intercourse that is very emotionally enriching for them, but which doesn't result in orgasm, we can't really say that it's somehow unilaterally better for people with the opposite experience. Sexuality is very individual, and so are sexual experiences. Obviously, the ideal is for any sexual activity to feel bloody fantastic emotionally and bloody fantastic physically. But often enough, no matter what we're doing, just because our moods, state of being in our bodies, relationship dynamics and the whole lot differ from day to day, even with the same sexual activity, we'll have varied experiences.

So, for those women who say they don't get a lot of physical pleasure from intercourse, but do get a lot of emotional pleasure, not only do we have to believe them -- rather than just presuming they only speak about this in the way they were taught to -- we also have to value their experiences and personal preferences without analyzing them to death. Which part of something they enjoy isn't all that important: what's important is simply that it is pleasurable and positive for them. In the case that some or all of those women were or are only saying what they think they should, and really are not enjoying their sex lives and the intercourse they're having at all, then we have to simply afford them the respect of accepting that they will change that for themselves if they want to at some point.

I don't know if you have girl-parts or boy-parts, but whichever it is, know that whatever sexual activities it is that you and your partners together enjoy most, by whatever merits and in whatever ways or combinations, are just fine. If, in fact, it turns out that for you, or for a partner you have, intercourse isn't that exciting -- even when combined with other activities -- but other sexual activities do the job better, there's not a thing in the world wrong with that. You may find too, as many people do, that what you and your partners enjoy doesn't stay the same, but shifts from partnership to partnership or scenario to scenario: a woman may enjoy vaginal intercourse in some situations and partnerships more than she does in others. And there are also women who just plain don't like intercourse at all, but that gets to be just as okay as men who just plain don't enjoy being on the receiving end of anal sex. Because any one sexual activity isn't someone's thing doesn't mean that a person is somehow missing out: most people will have something that they either don't like or just don't find very compelling, and that's no big whoop.

If you want to delve more into this issue, I have a pretty substantial section of my book which addresses intercourse dynamics and underwhelm, and you might also have a look at this piece, which talks about human sexual response, arousal and orgasm in depth. You might also find this piece, which addresses the metaphysics of entry, of interest.

Heather Corinna • Scarleteen Founder, Editor & Advice-Slingin' Sister • Author, S.E.X.

written 24 Nov 2007 . updated 21 Jan 2014

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