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Coming to understand

Elliott, Georgina F. (2015). Coming to understand. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


One might presume that human beings would benefit in psychological and indeed relational terms from studying sexual behaviour. Yet research on the female orgasm only gained momentum in the mid – late twentieth century
(Kinsey, 1953; Krantz, 1958; Masters and Johnson, 1966). The latter piece of research was conducted at the time of the second-wave feminist movement, which “took up arms” in the clitoral vs. vaginal orgasm debate (Freud, 1931, as cited in Rieff, 1997). It was advocated by feminist writers that female orgasm resulted from clitoral stimulation, which controversially challenged the notion that it occurred in the context of heterosexual penilevaginal stimulation, through sexual intercourse for reproductive purposes. Since this time the body of research on female orgasm has grown, but it is still limited, and has primarily taken a quantitative approach. This research was conducted in part, and in response to the paucity of qualitative research in this area, as well as the more recent medicalization of female sexual “problems”, and the continued oppression and abuse of female sexuality through pornography and practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM).

A non-clinical sample of eight women were recruited and semi-structured interviews were conducted in order to answer the following research question: “What is the lived experience of reaching female orgasm in the context of a sexual relationship?” An interpretative phenomenological analysis was carried out on the data. Three superordinate themes emerged; “Anticlimax”, “This is my orgasm”, and “The challenge of our orgasm”. The women experience this phenomenon through a sense of control and restriction related to painful emotions including anxiety, anger and shame; through a developed sense of freedom in understanding and learning how to satisfy their own sexual needs; and through a contradictory experience of personal freedom versus a female – male relational power dynamic experienced as dominated - dominant respectively. The phenomenon is also made sense of through the concept of romantic love.

This study has been successful in answering the research question and highlighting the need for further qualitative research on the female orgasm. The research is applicable and important for the field of counselling psychology because it highlights this complex phenomenon as both an intrapsychic and inter-psychic experience, which can be made sense of through the “lens” of multiple psychological theories. It has implications for psychotherapeutic practice, e.g. sex and relationship therapy, and will also be of interest to other sub-disciplines such as evolutionary psychology and feminist psychology. Limitations of the research are discussed as well as recommendations made for further research.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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