The female orgasm has been the subject of ongoing debate, but at least one question has been resolved; vaginal stimulation, clitoral stimulation, or a combination of both all may produce an orgasm. Now, researchers at Concordia University and McGill University in Montreal, Canada suggest women have the potential to experience orgasms from several erogenous zones, even non-genital areas.

There's a new understanding of the female orgasm: It incorporates the external clitoral glands, the internal region around the G-spot that corresponds to the internal clitoral bulbs, the cervix, and the sensory stimulation of non-genital areas, such as the nipples.

"With experience, stimulation of one or all of these triggering zones are integrated into a 'whole' set of sensory inputs, movements, body positions, arousals and cues related to context," said Jim Pfaus, senior author and a psychology professor from the Faculty of Arts and Science at Concordia, in a statement.

In other words, it's the stimulation of one or various erogenous zones that induces pleasure and orgasm during masturbation and sexual intercourse. The researchers believe orgasms don't have to come from one site, nor from all sites, and most importantly, they don't have to be the same for every woman, nor for every sexual experience the woman has to be considered whole and valid. Orgasms are a very individual and subjective experience.

In the study, published in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, the researchers reviewed a compilation of scientific literature on the history of clitoral versus vaginal orgasm. They concluded women have the potential to experience orgasms that go beyond stimulation of the vagina or clitoris, including non-genital areas such as the lips, nipples, ears, neck, fingers, and toes.

Previous research has found when it comes to light touch, the neck, forearm, and vaginal margin are the most sensitive areas, and the areola the least sensitive. The clitoris and nipple are the most sensitive when it comes to pleasure, whereas the lateral breast and abdomen are the least. Lastly, the clitoris and nipple are the most sensitive to vibration, and expectedly, the clitoris tops the nipple in this category.

It's important to note the distinction between different orgasms isn't the difference between the external clitoris and internal vagina, but between levels of what a woman understands a “whole” orgasm to consists of. This is contingent on a woman's experience with direct stimulation of the external clitoris, internal clirtois, and cervix. This also relates to a woman’s knowledge of the arousing and erotic signs that predict orgasm; knowledge of her own pattern of movements that lead to it; and experience with stimulation of multiple external and internal genital and nongenital areas.

Some women have reported they can achieve an orgasm by having their breasts and nipples stimulated. In a 2011 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers asked women to lie inside an fMRI machine and alternate between stimulating the clitoris, vagina, cervix, and nipple for 30 seconds before repeating the process with a different part of the body. When it came to nipple stimulation, women were asked to use their right hand to “tap the left nipple rhythmically.” The researchers found stimulation of the nipple activated an area of the brain known as the genital sensory cortex, which is the same region activated by stimulation of the clitoris, vagina and cervix. This suggests some women are aroused by nipple stimulation, which could be enough to lead to orgasm.

This study adds evidence to Pfaus’ findings that will hopefully emphasize the female orgasm is far more complex than male ejaculation. It is ever changing for women. So, what works in one sexual experience may not work with another, and this can fluctuate with partners, or in a woman’s lifetime.

"A woman's erotic body map is not etched in stone, but rather is an ongoing process of experience, discovery and construction,” said Pfaus.

Therefore, what constitutes a “whole” orgasm depends on how every woman experiences sexual arousal, and what body parts are stimulated in the process. It is the sums of the parts and how a woman relates it to arousal, desire, and pleasure.

The female orgasm is constantly changing for women, and that will always remain a mystery for men.

Source: Pfaus JG, Quintana GR, and Cionnaith CM et al. The Whole Versus the Sum of the Parts: Toward Resolving the Apparently Controversy of Clitoral Versus Vaginal Orgasms. Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology. 2016.