Can women have premature orgasms the way men do?
Premature orgasm is a phenomenon we mostly hear about affecting people with penises — but people with vaginas can experience it as well. Several studies have documented women frequently or always orgasming before they want to.* So why haven’t we heard more about this issue? And what can people who struggle with premature orgasm do about it? Let’s get into it.
*Btw, while not all people with vaginas identify as women and not all people with penises identify as men, most scientific studies focus on cis men and women.
What exactly is premature orgasm?
Premature orgasm might sound pretty self-explanatory, but it’s more than just orgasming before you’d like to. Not only does it involve a lack of control over your orgasm, but it also often results in cutting sexual interactions short because of physical discomfort or psychological distress. The clitoris can get super sensitive after an orgasm, so continuing to have sex can feel very intense, even painful.
Premature orgasm can sometimes occur with little to no genital stimulation at all. But it’s important to keep in mind that a premature orgasm and a non-genital orgasm (i.e.: nipple orgasm) are not the same, although an orgasm can be both premature and non-genital. As non-genital orgasms are much more common for people with vaginas than for people with penises, it can sometimes be tricky to distinguish between the two.
Premature orgasm is also different from persistent genital arousal disorder, with which it is sometimes incorrectly linked. Persistent genital arousal disorder, a rare condition occurring in people with vaginas, is characterized by spontaneous, persistent, unwanted and uncontrollable genital arousal or orgasm in the absence of sexual stimulation or desire.
Not every orgasm will be the same, and everyone may experience an episode of premature orgasm from time to time. Ultimately, premature orgasm shouldn’t be defined by the amount of time it takes to orgasm, but rather by consistency and emotional impact. Premature orgasm could be an issue for you if you experience it more often than not, and if it is distressing to you and interfering with sexual satisfaction or relationships.
How common is it?
Traditionally, sexual issues for people with vaginas have received less attention than those for people with penises, and premature orgasm is no exception. Premature orgasm is well documented and researched for men, with as many as 1 in 3 reporting struggling with it. From the very little research on premature orgasm in people with vaginas available, it seems that it’s not as common among them as it is for people with penises. In a national British sex survey, nearly 15% of men reported experiencing premature orgasm in the last year, with just 2.3% of women reporting the same.
A 2011 Portugese study on premature orgasm in women reported similar findings. While 40% of participants reported occasional episodes, just over 3% reported experiencing premature orgasm frequently. Additionally, a 2016 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that 3.9% of women ages 16–21 had struggled with premature orgasm over the past year.
How is premature orgasm different for people with vaginas?
When it comes to people with penises, people usually refer to premature orgasm as premature ejaculation. However, it’s important to know that orgasm and ejaculation are not the same thing. Although they typically occur together, a person with a penis can have an orgasm without ejaculating.
While premature ejaculation for people with penises is an official sexual dysfunction listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health, there is no such category for an uncontrollably early orgasm in people with vaginas. Additionally, premature ejaculation is often measured in terms of time, with ejaculation within one minute of penetration as a common diagnostic benchmark.
Why are premature orgasms deemed a clinical dysfunction for people with penises and not for people with vaginas? And more importantly, should either be considered a medical condition? The biased focus on sexual function for people with penises is another reminder of the cultural importance placed on sex as a reproductive act rather than a simply pleasurable one.
How to handle premature orgasms
The little amount of research on premature orgasm for people with vaginas means that there are also few findings on treatment. However, there are a few proven options available. Some experts recommend masturbating as a way to become familiar with your arousal patterns and what happens in your body in the moments leading up to orgasm. Using your vibrator on a low setting or going slowly with your hand can help you learn the signs that you’re getting close. This way, you can know when to slow down or take a break. Similarly, you can figure out which sex acts or positions trigger premature orgasms and either avoid or build up to them.
Another helpful technique is edging, or masturbating almost to the point of orgasm and slowing down or stopping. You can do this solo or show your partner how to do it. Some experts use treatments typically recommended to people with penises, including Kegel exercises, sex therapy, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant known to help with premature ejaculation.
Overall, you may need to adjust your expectations when it comes to sex. It’s not necessary to aim for simultaneous orgasms. If you orgasm before your partner and are feeling too overstimulated to continue, take the opportunity to focus on your partner or get creative with other ways of giving and receiving pleasure.