Are You Coming Right?

We’ve turned just about every facet of our health into data—our steps, our resting heart rate, the instant we ovulate—so it’s no surprise we’re starting to gamify our orgasms. A growing number of smart sex toys can chart the intensity of those orgasms and provide titillating data on how often and how well we come.

Take, for example, the Lioness. This vibrator has built-in sensors that measure tension (which reflects arousal and how close you are to finishing), temperature (to track when it’s inside you) and motion (to follow how you’re moving the toy). The data captured is sent to an app that maps each session, showing vaginal contractions as a spike. The stronger the contraction (and thus the pleasure), the higher the spike. Newer models of the Lioness even let you see real-time data on your phone as you’re self-pleasuring. With all that info, you can start to figure out what actions get you off the most. And while it can definitely help people who struggle to know what they like, turning self-pleasure into a numbers game—and trying to score new personal bests—might not be so great for our relationship with our orgasms.

These toys tap into one of the foundational myths of women’s health: that our orgasms need to be better. That myth causes people to constantly search for ways to improve their orgasms, and women’s media, in response, publishes all sorts of reassurances that good orgasms are possible. Some articles offer science-backed tips. Others recommend breathing tricks. Some tell you how to have multiple orgasms each time, or how to have a squirting orgasms (which, full disclosure, has been Best Health’s most-read article online for years).

But thanks to William Masters and Virginia Johnson, we’ve known since the 1960s that women are just as capable as men of reaching orgasm—if not more capable. Those researchers mapped out what happens to the body during sex, and, among their discoveries, they found that women don’t experience a refractory period, which means they’re capable of more orgasms—multiple, successive orgasms. Men, meanwhile, can’t get aroused for anywhere from minutes to hours after ejaculation.

“Every study since Masters and Johnson has found that if there is any difference between male physiology and female physiology, it’s that females have a greater capacity for orgasms,” says Tina Fetner, a professor of sociology at McMaster University and author of Sex in Canada: The Who, Why, When, and How of Getting Down Up North. Fetner’s book breaks down the results of a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind coast-to-coast study looking at the sexual activity of average Canadians. Social differences, she found, affect sexual behaviour: Older women, for example, are less afraid to ask their partners for pleasure than their younger counterparts, while francophones have more sex altogether.

So how did we get here? In no small part, unsurprisingly, it’s the patriarchy. The primacy of the male orgasm has led to an idea of sex and pleasure that screws us all: Both partners in a heterosexual relationship work toward the male orgasm, so women’s orgasms are seen as a “side effect of the kind of activity that brings men sexual pleasure,” says Fetner. Penis-in-vagina sex is great at making men come, but most women need clitoral stimulation to get off. And when a woman can’t come after male-focused sex, it’s seen as a problem—when it’s seen at all.

There’s a lot of pressure, then, on women to achieve orgasm (even that turn of phrase—achieve). And there isn’t necessarily a simple answer, although stimulating the clitoris generally helps, especially through oral sex and foreplay—though these acts can be seen as special, not routine, Fetner says. According to her findings, men who identify as feminist and prioritize their partner’s pleasure are more likely to engage in clitoris-stimulating acts like oral sex.

At the end of the day, a happy ending is whatever you want it to be. That might look like optimizing your orgasm: “If you want to gamify sex, or outscore yourself every time, well, who am I to deny anyone access to sexual pleasure?” Fetner says. It could mean moving oral sex from “extracurricular” to “must-do” or introducing a stimulating lubricant to increase the sensitivity of your clitoris. What it doesn’t look like is disciplining your body to perform in a certain way. Says Fetner: “That just makes it more and more difficult to be in your body—and enjoy what you enjoy.”

Next: Your Showers Are About to Get a Lot Longer (But Not for the Reason You Think)