As sex educator Sheri Winston explains, female orgasm and sexual pleasure may play a bigger role in female fertility than you think!
We all know the role that male orgasm plays in reproduction, but what about female orgasm? Technically, making sure you both reach climax isn’t necessary to get pregnant. As long as the sperm meets the egg, the egg becomes an embryo and the embryo attaches, life finds a way whether you’re shouting your partner’s name in ecstasy or waiting for him to just finish already so you can go file your taxes.
“Studies have shown that the presence or lack of a female orgasm in no way helps or hinders fertility and the ability to get pregnant,” says Dr. Shahin Ghadir, Astroglide’s Resident Fertility Expert. “Medically speaking, there is no research that has shown a clinical correlation between female orgasm and increased fertility rate.
With that said, women still have orgasms — and not only do they have orgasms, but they have all types of them! Multiple orgasms, long orgasms, clitoral orgasms, G-spot orgasms and full-body orgasms that seem to go on forever. From an evolutionary standpoint, it would be weird for those orgasms to serve no purpose in conception, when the male orgasm so obviously does.
Also, if female orgasm played no role in conception, the fact that pig farmers can buy vibrators made to assist with inseminating pigs would be — well, it’s already pretty strange, but it would be stranger still.
We wanted to know what role, if any, female orgasm played in female fertility. For that, we turned to Sheri Winston (@sheriwinston), sexuality educator and founder of The Center for the Intimate Arts, and author of such tantalizingly titled books as Women’s Anatomy of Arousal: Secret Maps to Buried Pleasure and Succulent SexCraft: Your Hands-On Guide to Erotic Play & Practice. In addition, Winston has served as a certified nurse-midwife and gynecology nurse-practitioner.
To put it briefly, Winston knows her female orgasms. She also knows her babymaking. We asked her if she thought there was any connection between the two.
“Unfortunate, there’s no data about any of this. In humans, we think that fertility is somehow not connected to female orgasm. We tend to think reproduction and pleasure are somehow separate systems,” she said. “But they’re so obviously not! I’m convinced that powerful, well-timed female orgasms are helpful for conception.”
To explain why Winston feels so strongly about female orgasm and female fertility, we need to take a look (figuratively, at least — unless you have a speculum) at the cervix and uterus, and how they move throughout a woman’s cycle.
It was once commonly believed that the uterus floated all around the abdominal cavity, causing madness and “hysteria” in women (ever notice that “hysteria” and “hysterectomy” have the same root?). First hypothesized by Plato and Hippocrates in ancient Greece and widely accepted until the 21st century, the “wandering womb” was a convenient way to pathologize any pesky female behaviors that didn’t jive with the more patriarchal societies of yore.
Does your wife suddenly want to socialize outside of the home more? Has she been complaining too much about your drinking? Time to get that womb checked out! Fortunately for stressed out couples, in the 1800s, doctors devised a treatment for wandering womb, and it proved very popular among “hysterical” women: vibrators, dildos and other “womb massaging” devices. Female orgasm was a medical treatment, albeit for a condition that doesn’t exist.
However, while your womb doesn’t float all over your abdomen, it does move — and the doctors of the 19th century got one thing sort of right: “We know for sure that during female arousal, the uterus picks itself up and moves forward, and during orgasm it bounces up and down,” says Winston. This movement, according to Winston, is key to understanding whether there’s a link between female orgasm and fertility.
We’ve written before about how the cervix moves throughout a woman’s cycle, becoming high and soft during ovulation and low and firm closer to menstruation. “It also moves up when you’re aroused,” says Winston, who was initially perplexed by the cervix’ habit of shying away from penetrating objects during the body’s most fertile time. “You would think that the cervix would be lower when aroused so that it’s easier for the sperm to get there,” she says. “There had to be a piece of the story I was missing.”
She eventually had her “aha!” moment — and it was about everybody’s favorite “aha!” moment. “I realized that the missing piece was orgasm. During orgasm, the cervix moves up and down, sucking all that semen up.” Imagine you’re sucking a drink up from a bowl of water, but instead of using your lips, you’re using your cervix.
“There’s a slight negative pressure in the vaginal vault created by the movement of the cervix up and the pumping action of the penis. The back of the vagina forms a bowl, where the semen can be deposited,” says Winston. “Then the up and down movement of the uterus, as well as uterine contractions and the negative pressure combine to increase the sperm uptake into the cervix.” Again, without this sucking motion, plenty of sperm will swim their way in, totally independent of female orgasm – but according to this theory, the motion of the cervix and uterus increases the number of sperm that make it to the egg, which increases the chances of conception.
“Other people call this the ‘upsuck theory,’” says Winston. “It’s not a charming name, but to me it makes perfect sense.”
Orgasm may also be a workaround for a species that doesn’t go into heat, Winston adds. “We [female humans] have what’s called ‘hidden ovulation,’ though it’s not totally hidden!” Indeed, it’s thought that women become more attractive during their fertile window, but this is a very subtle sign compared to other species. “If you have a cat that goes into heat, you know she’s in heat,” Winston explains. “When a chimpanzee goes into heat, her vulva swells up and turns different colors. Human females have a much more hidden, subtle ovulation, and we can have sex even when we’re not fertile. If your cat isn’t in heat, she’s not going to have sex.”
That’s not the only reason the human female reproductive system is unique compared to that of other mammals. “Other animals don’t menstruate,” Winston adds. A few will bleed a little when they’re ovulating — so what’s that about? The human female system is an interesting evolutionary choice — you have to ask yourself, why did that happen? In many ways, I think this is an evolutionary experiment, and our fertility is so fragile and prone to environmental, dietary and emotional influences.”
Winston feels that the power of female orgasm can help overcome the challenge of hidden ovulation and fragile fertility. “With orgasm, we’re essentially going into heat by choice when we get turned on,” she says. “That’s why I think it takes women longer than men to get aroused. Male sexuality is very similar to that of most male animal sexuality — men are ready to go whenever, so that they’re ready when there’s a female in heat.”
Of course, female orgasm has one more benefit for TTC couples, even if it isn’t strictly clinical: good sex can help keep your relationship going strong during stressful times, like trying to conceive.
“Good sex is the glue and the lubricant of a long-term relationship,” says Winston. (Lubricant? Now you’re speaking our language!) “But when you’re going through something like trying to get pregnant and having a difficult time of it, it can be hard on relationships. So if you are able to have that pleasurable sex, it helps you stick together and have less friction."
Dr. Ghadir agrees: “Emotionally and psychologically speaking, the presence of female orgasm can allow for a more pleasurable female sexual experience, leading to more stress relief and desire to have more intercourse.” Dr. Ghadir has written before about how frequency of intercourse can affect your odds of conceiving — and if you’re committed to having sex at least once every other day during your fertile window, knowing that both parties are having a good time can make that goal a little easier to achieve!
Even if female orgasm isn’t essential to female fertility, it certainly can’t hurt. So how can women enjoy more orgasmic bliss during scheduled TTC sex, which can sometimes be hurried or routine? Winston has great advice for that, too.
“How we frame things mentally is really important. If you’re framing TTC as ‘everything is riding on this,’ if you're putting a lot of pressure on you and your partner, you’re going to wind up having sex that’s not that pleasurable,” she says.
“Anxiety is the opposite of arousal. It’s easy to say, but not too easy to do, to let go of the anxiety, focus on the pleasure and the connection,” Winston says. It also helps, she adds, to schedule plenty of time for foreplay, cuddling and connecting when you’re trying to conceive. “But even if it’s scheduled, and even if it’s quick, focus on the pleasure of the experience. If the encounter isn’t orgasmic, that’s okay — it doesn’t have to be every time. But make it pleasurable!”
When it comes to trying to conceive, it can be all too easy to focus on the end at the expense of the means. While Winston is keen to emphasize that most of the evidence behind female orgasm boosting female fertility is anecdotal and speculative, orgasm has many proven benefits (including stress reduction, which is critical when you’re trying to get pregnant.)
So this cycle, take a few extra hours during your fertile window, trade some sexy massages with your partner (here’s how to do it right!), grab your Astroglide TTC and focus on her orgasm too — not just his.
How do you and your partner make trying to conceive more pleasurable? Let us know by tweeting us @AstroglideTTC!
Images are for illustrative purposes only.