Distance From Clitoris to Vagina: Does It Matter to Orgasms?

Today, ladies and gentlemen, in "A Journal Article I Read," I will be going over an article about distance from vagina to clit and its relationship to a lady's ability to orgasm during intercourse. Take a quick peak at the abstract.

"Female sexual arousal: Genital anatomy and orgasm in intercourse"
Kim Wallens and Elisabeth A. Lloyd
Hormones and Behavior 59 (2011) 780-792

In men and women sexual arousal culminates in orgasm, with female orgasm solely from sexual intercourse often regarded as a unique feature of human sexuality. However, orgasm from sexual intercourse occurs more reliably in men than in women, likely reflecting the different types of physical stimulation men and women require for orgasm. In men, orgasms are under strong selective pressure as orgasms are coupled with ejaculation and thus contribute to male reproductive success. By contrast, women's orgasms in intercourse are highly variable and are under little selective pressure as they are not a reproductive necessity. The proximal mechanisms producing variability in women's orgasms are little understood. In 1924 Marie Bonaparte proposed that a shorter distance between a woman's clitoris and her urethral meatus (CUMD) increased her likelihood of experiencing orgasm in intercourse. She based this on her published data that were never statistically analyzed. In 1940 Landis and colleagues published similar data suggesting the same relationship, but these data too were never fully analyzed. We analyzed raw data from these two studies and found that both demonstrate a strong inverse relationship between CUMD and orgasm during intercourse. Unresolved is whether this increased likelihood of orgasm with shorter CUMD reflects increased penile-clitoral contact during sexual intercourse or increased penile stimulation of internal aspects of the clitoris. CUMD likely reflects prenatal androgen exposure, with higher androgen levels producing larger distances. Thus these results suggest that women exposed to lower levels of prenatal androgens are more likely to experience orgasm during sexual intercourse.
Super Summary Of My Thoughts
For those who don't like to read too much, here's my super quick take. I think this is a truly useful study in that it takes a popular assumption about clit-vag distance and its relationship to getting banged into an orgasm and digs into as much concrete information on it as can be found. I'm very glad it exists. I think it is fair and not overreaching when it investigates the raw data of the 2 studies, and its conclusion that they show a correlation between CUMD and the ability to orgasm during intercourse seems fair enough and definitely worth duplication experiments, follow-up studies, and further discussion.

However, the last sentence of the abstract about prenatal androgen exposure is, in my oh-so-humble opinion, overreaching. The authors themselves said there was no direct evidence of CUMD differences in women being caused by prenatal androgen exposure. It was a hypothesis taken from a couple experiments in other animals. Also the only real indication (thus far) that CUMD is correlated with orgasm ability during intercourse are the conclusions these authors made from reanalyzing these 2 70-year old studies that include less than 100 participants between them and some problematic aspects to the data. So to put those two shakey assertions together and say that " women exposed to lower levels of prenatal androgens are more likely to experience orgasm during sexual intercourse," is a big stretch.

Also, there is the ever lurking problem of researchers assuming that there is an orgasm that occurs through vaginal stimulation alone. As I always point out, the only evidence of this is women saying that they have experienced this. There is no physical evidence. None have ever been observed in a lab, and we really (I mean we really do) need to settle that this orgasm-from-vaginal-stimulation thing is even an actual thing before we start trying to find mechanisms for how it might work, as this article attempts to do. ***Seriously, researchers from all over the sex researching fields, can we just at least minimally acknowledge that this lack of evidence for a vaginally induced orgasm is troubling...I mean you don't have to say you doubt its existence, but for god's sake let's just put some thought into why the hell there isn't any, and how some evidence could be attained...seriously, it's getting ridiculous.

Summary of Background in this Article
The article starts out telling us that, basically, most men orgasm during intercourse and most women don't and that there is diversity in women's ability to orgasm - specifically during intercourse.
"Although sexual arousal preceded orgasm in women, the specific sexual stimulation that triggers orgasm varies greatly among women. Women reach orgasm from direct clitoral stimulation, indirect clitoral stimulation, vaginal stimulation, or stimulation of internal areas surrounding the vagina." - p. 781
"Post-pubertal males routinely, and apparently easily, experience orgasm, as indicated by their reliable ejaculatory reflex, but female orgasm appears to develop less quickly and is less predictable than male orgasm." -p. 781
As I mentioned above only the first 2 of that list of possible ways for women to orgasm has any actual physical evidence to support the claim (and it always surprises me that this is not mentioned more clearly in scholarly works). However, none the less there is certainly a cultural feeling that all 4 of those options exist, and also that women have a diverse sets of abilities for orgasm, so I guess that in itself  makes it worth investigating.

They also point out that there is a marked difference between males and females as to whether they orgasm during intercourse always, nearly always, often, sometimes, rarely, or never.
"In men, the distribution has a single sharp peak centered on "always" or "nearly always"...by contrast, the women's distribution is relatively flat across categories with an elevation in the middle and smaller frequencies at the endpoints of "never" and "always" (Lloyd 2005). - p.781
The authors tell us that the reason for the variability in women's ability to orgasm is unknown but often theorized about. For instance, Freud said it had to do with psychological development i.e. immature=clitoral, mature=vaginal/during intercourse. The authors rightly point out that although this has no evidence and is somewhat silly, there are plenty of people (including researchers published in peer reviewed journals) still promoting that to this day. the also pointed out the following things:

  • that data about women orgasming during intercourse is a bit messy and often does not distinguish between intercourse with and without concurrent clitoral stimulation. 
  • but even so, the amount of women who report orgasmimg from intercourse is still clearly under 30%. 
  • that one going line of thought is that all orgasms are clitoral, in that even orgasms attained during intercourse without concurrent clitoral stimulation are actually indirectly stimulating the clitoris ***I would like to take a minute to point out that the authors didn't go into another subtle, but important sub topic here. There are some who would say that stimulation of something inside the vagina (possibly some indirect stimulation of the inner clitoral legs or of the "g-spot") is one way that women can orgasm "clitorally" but during intercourse. This, contrary to popular belief, has never been observed and is as of yet only a theory. Others, including myself, would say that the stimulation during intercourse causing indirect stimulation to the clitoris must be indirect stimulation to the clitoral glans area. The mechanism for orgasms happening this way have been observed. All indications are that these are rare, and result in a less intense orgasm than an orgasm that includes direct clitoral stimulation for the women who have them.
  • that the distance between the clitoral glans and the vagina may be an indicator as to which women have orgasms during intercourse and which do not. They base this possibility on the results of three old studies.
The Old Clit-Vag distance Studies!
The first was an analysis in 1924 by a woman named Marie Bonaparte (who used the pseudo-name Narjani). She, herself, could orgasm but not during intercourse and thought it might be because her clit was too far from her vagina. She compared the vag-clit distance (CUMD) in women to their instance of orgasming during intercourse and came to the conclusion that there was a link between a short clit-vag distance and ability to orgasm. Bonaparte actually worked with a surgeon and went through a procedure to move her clit closer to her vagina. It didn't work, but she went on and had it 2 more times. It still didn't work, and it also didn't work for the 4 or 5 other women who also had the procedure. She became a student of Freud's in 1927 and later said her original analysis was wrong and that the problem was probably a psychological one. She pointed out that there were women in her study with a long CUMD who could orgasm during intercourse and vice-versa.

The second was Dickinson, a gynocologist in 1933. He actually didn't publish a study on this topic, but he did have data for it on 200 women. He briefly mentioned it in his 1933 book "Atlas of Human Sexual Anatomy." He said there was no connection between CUMD and ability to orgasm during intercourse, but cited no data except that, like Bonaparte, he found woman with long CUMD who could orgasm during intercourse and vice-versa.

The third was Carney Landis along with his wife Agnus and an associate Marjorie Bowles. They reported on CUMD and the occurrence of orgasm during intercourse. They used 142 mentally ill patients and 153 non-mentally ill patients. Of the 153 non-mentally ill patients, they presented data for only 44 married women in the study with only 37 having a complete data set. In addition, they only minimally analyzed their data. So, although they claimed there was a significant correlation between low CUMD and ability to orgasm during intercourse, it's not super conclusive.

More Stuff This Paper Says That You Should To Know
"Regardless of the lack of analytical detail in all these studies, the notion that the placement of the clitoris in relation to the vagina affected orgasm response had a popular distribution and was presented as a settled fact by authors of "marital sex manuals" of the era as well as being presented in other publications over the last 80 years." -p783
The authors go on to cite many times when this occurs and then let us know that they have gotten access to the raw data for both the Bonaparte (stats on 43 married woman) and the Landis study (stats on 44 married women) and have assessed them using modern statistical analysis.

I'm not a statistics wiz, so if there are things in their analysis to be criticized or given accolades, I'm not the one to do it. They seem to be open about their methods, so if you are interested in what they did, check out the paper. I can give you a quick idea of some of their challenges with the data sets, though.

From Bonaparte's data about her measuring specifications
  1. Bonaparte measured from basically the underside of the clit down to the vagina. She had clear notes about how her measurements were done. Landis didn't have clear notes about how measurements were done, but it seems as if they were done from on the clit down, given context clues and that they were all slightly larger than Bonaparte]s. It didn't cause a problem in the stat within each study, but it made it harder to combine the two sets of stats.
  2. Bonaparte did both the measuring and the questioning - so bias could abound. In the Landis study, it seemed that the gynocologist who took the measurements was blind to the questionnaire the patients were given which is a bit better as bias goes.
  3. It is not certain that the Landis study discerned between women who did or did not have additional clitoral stimulation during intercourse orgasms. 2 subjects were dropped from the modern analysis, though because they described themselves as "helping their orgasm along" which could possibly mean adding some additional clitoral stimulation.
  4. Bonapart basically asked if the woman can or cannot orgasm through intercourse with no extra clitoral stimulation. It is assumed from context she clearly made a distinction between orgasm during intercourse with and without extra clitoral stimulation. Technically the question she asked, however, was if the respondent "had a normal reaction during sexual intercourse." 
  5. The Landis study had a more comprehensive set of questions with the one we're interested in asking,
"How long have you been married or how long have you been having relations before you experienced your first satisfactory orgasm with your current husband? Do you usually experience a climax or orgasm when you are have intercourse? About what proportion of the time do you fail to experience it, i.e. about how many times out of ten?" -p. 784-785 
So, one (Bonaparte) is a yes/no and the other (Landis) has a percentage of times out of ten a woman orgasms that is coded to rarely=10%, sometimes=30%, often=60%, usually=80%, and almost always=90%.  

The Results Were:

Bonaparte's women who answered "yes" to orgasming during intercourse had on average lower CUMD than the women who said "no" - the difference was deemed statistically significant.

The women in the Landis study who reported intercourse orgasms 66% of the time or more had on average lower CUMD than the women who experienced intercourse orgasm less than 66% of the time or not at all - the difference was deemed statistically significant.

The women in the Landis study who reported any instances of intercourse orgasms had on average a lower CUMD than the women who never experienced intercourse orgasm - but this difference was only deemed "near significant" and "the corresponding effect size was moderate."

The average CUMD difference shown in A (above) was greater than that found in B (above). The combination of results A and B also showed significant difference between CUMD of women who orgasmsed regularly (above 66% of the time in Landis study and "yes" answers in Bonapartes study) and those who did not (Bonaparte's "no" answers and Landis' 66% and below answers).

Bonaparte had data on 33 women about ability to experience orgasm through masturbation. In this case there was no statistically significant difference between CUMD of women who could and could not do so.

There were also a lot of other statistical measures they dug in to, including things like discrimination functions and the ability to predict, better than chance, a woman's ability to orgasm from intercourse based on her CUMD. Feel free to look them up on your own, but from what I could understand, it seems that there was some better and worse predictability surrounding this depending on what kind of calculations were used, but that in general the authors of this paper felt that the results were positive for identifying a link between CUMD and orgasm during intercourse.

The discussion of the data goes over the problems that could occur from the issues stated above. It also points out that they feel the results of 2 different studies, despite their problems, still suggest that there just might be a correlation between CUMD and ability to orgasm during intercourse. However, they also rightly point out that this correlation still doesn't actually say anything about what the mechanism is that could cause a lower CUMD to allow for greater ability to orgasm during intercourse. They do put out some ideas though.
"Although the notion of pelvic or penile stimulation of the clitoral glans or shaft is intuitively appealing and is consistent with the data presented here, short CUMD, instead of being the actual mechanism creating orgasm in intercourse, could be an external marker of other processes producing increased vaginal sensitivity that increases the likelihood of orgasm solely from sexual intercourse." - p. 789
Their point being that if low CUMD really does signify an ability to orgasm from intercourse, maybe it's not the obvious situation in which the outer parts of the clit get touched more while getting banged. Maybe it is that the low CUMD merely indicates something about the inner parts of the lady junk that make intercourse orgasms possible. Particularly, they wonder if the inner legs of the clitoris might be packed in a little tighter in low CUMD women and if this allows a penis to push on the clitoral legs, through the vagina, more than in high CUMD women. If this were true then, they tell us, their theory here supports a vaginal-to-inner-clitoral type of stimulation as causing orgasm, and this is much more similar to the traditional idea of a "vaginal" orgasm since it involves no stimulation of the outer parts of the clit at all.

Of course the main problem here is that an orgasm of this type, one that only relies on stimulation of the inside of the vagina, has never been observed. Currently, the only thing that indicates the existence of such an orgasm is that women say they have had them, so to me the very existence of such a thing should be examined before we try to find possible mechanisms for how they happen. This truth about our current knowledge of what causes orgasm in women reveals statements in this article, like the one below which takes as fact that there is a natural occurrence of women who can orgasm through vaginal stimulation even when there is simply no real data to support that, as way overreaching.
"Both types of orgasm induction occur naturally in women, with orgasms induced by direct stimulation of the clitoral glans or shaft being more common than those induced by vaginal stimulation." - p. 790
Prenatal Androgen Exposure, Maybe?
Using the medical understanding of how the genitals of boys and girls are formed in the womb, the authors theorize that a longer CUMD might have "had their clitoral migration arrested later in embryonic development" and thus could have their clitoris positioned in a place a bit more like the penis and possibly have sensitivity distributed more like males. Strangely, Bonaparte was actually the one that posited the above back in 1924. It is quite a modern way of understanding embryology, and the authors take this a bit further and say this is consistent with "the notion that women with higher CUMD have been exposed to higher levels of prenatal androgen than have women with smaller distances." They go on to point out there is no direct evidence for this connection between prenatal androgens and CUMD in women, but discuss studies in rats that point to the possibility that their could be.

The authors also theorize the following:
"Women who are exposed to higher levels of prenatal androgens may not only have a more male-like rostral clitoral location, but also their clitoral eroticism may be more similar to that of the penis. Thus, increased prenatal androgen exposure may focus erotic sensitivity to the clitoral shaft and glans, reducing or eliminating erotic sensitivity in the bulbs and bodies of the clitoris. In this view, all women possess erotic sensitivity in the clitoral shaft and glans, but only women exposed to lower levels of prenatal androgens retain significant erotic sensitivity in the internal clitoral structures." p.790
I think that they are more open inside the article that their hypothesis about androgen exposure being connected to CUMD being connected to ability to orgasm during intercourse without extra clitoral stimulation is just that - a hypothesis. The evidence to support this is as yet flimsey at best, but it's a sensible hypothesis given the data they have, and should be investigated further. In the abstract for this article, though, that hypothesis is stated more like a fact they uncovered, and that's a little troubling
The End  
They end the article by saying that there are plenty of good studies that could come from this possible correlation between CUMD and ability for women to orgasm during intercourse. They are absolutely correct. I would love to see some really good studies to investigate this. It, as they point out, may shed some light on the variability in women's ability to orgasm. I completely agree. My only worry is that other studies will take for granted, as this study has done, a position that should not be taken for granted - that vaginally stimulated orgasms actually exist. Women saying they have experienced these is only an indication that they might exist. It is not proof that they do, and we need to get some proof.


  1. More often than not, scientists are regarded as hopeless geeks who couldn't find their way around a pudendum if their lives depended on it. This inspirational article helped me to see (at least some) scientists in a wholly new light.

    What a marvelous way to make a living - measuring women's CUMDs and trying to quantify how often and how quickly they reach orgasm!

    Where do I sign up?!!!

    1. I think you have to get a PhD first, but does sound like some very special work, huh? :)