If you relied on Hollywood as your guide to sexual pleasure, you’d think that the typical woman only needed to rock the sheets for 8 seconds before finding herself on the brink of an earth-shattering orgasm.
But in the real world, this usually isn’t the way it goes. And the results of a recent study back up the fact that not only do most women need some level of hands-on touching to hit climax during intercourse, the type of touch—the rhythm, motion, and pressure—varies widely.
The study, published in July in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, surveyed over 1,000 women between ages 18 and 94. Participants were asked how much touching they needed to reach orgasm and what exact strokes produced the most pleasure, among other questions.
One major finding: 37% of women said they need clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm. Another 36% said that having this body part touched isn’t necessary for reaching the big O—but it does make the experience that much better.
When it comes to specifics, two-thirds of the women in the study said they preferred up-and-down motions directly on their clitoris, while 52% enjoyed direct circular movements and a third liked direct side-to-side strokes. The majority of women reported preferring light to medium pressure on their vulva, with 11% preferring firm pressure there.
Among the two thirds of women who said they preferred indirect clitoral stimulation, 69% said they enjoyed touching “through the skin above the hood,” the study stated. Approximately 29% said they liked it “through both lips pushed together (like a sandwich).” Twenty percent favored indirect touch “through the skin on the right side of [the] clitoris,” and 19.2% chose “through the skin on the left side of [the] clitoris.”
“I hope this study challenges the idea that certain things work for everyone or everyone should have sex a certain way,” Debby Herbenick, PhD, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and a co-author of the study, tells Health.
“Forever, data on orgasms during intercourse focused on college women or people in sex therapy,” says Herbenick. “But this study was nationally representative and speaks to women of all ages, educations, races, and ethnicities, since it matches the demographics of women in the United States.”
While there’s no formula for the perfect orgasm, the study shows that some types of touch are more popular than others. And while the researchers make no judgments, Herbenick has one suggestion for women hoping to experience more pleasurable orgasms: maintain an open dialogue with your partner about the type of touch you like.