“I demand that I climax. I think women should demand that.” — Nicki Minaj
What is the Orgasm Gap?
The Gap: A Statistical Overview
In a study of 800 college students, a 52% orgasm gap was found. That is, 39% of women and 91% of men said that they usually or always experienced orgasm in partnered sex.
This study did not query the context of the act, but another study with 15,000 college students discovered that the orgasm gap is even bigger in casual affairs.
Is this a problem? Yes, it is!
Let’s look at it like this: orgasms are not simply a way of feeling good. Physicians, scientists, and other experts have proved that orgasms improve a woman’s personality, decrease anxiety and stress, and even contribute to her overall quality of life. Now it is true that, for most women, having an orgasm is often not the primary goal of sex.
Instead, we tend to value emotional closeness over anything else when we are intimate with a partner. Nevertheless, orgasms are certainly a welcome addition to any intimate encounter, as a sort of very tasty icing on an already wonderful cake.
Yet, as in so many other areas of life, women seriously lag men in the number and frequency of this delight. The size of the gap varies with the study, with one finding a 52% gap, as mentioned above. Another study found 95% of men commonly achieving orgasm, while women were experiencing it only 65% of the time.
All studies, however, found a very large gender gap. Paula England, Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, has stated, “The orgasm gap is an inequity that’s as serious as the pay gap, and it’s producing a rampant culture of sexual asymmetry.”
The orgasm gap: how did this happen?
There are many reasons for this gap. We list some of them below (in no particular order):
Reason 1: Sexual Orientation and Orgasm Hierarchy
Interestingly enough, lesbians seem to have orgasms at far higher rates than straight women, at about 86%, and almost at par with gay men (at 89%). The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in fact discovered an orgasm ranking among sexual identities, with straight men having the most frequent orgasms, followed by gay men, bisexual men, lesbians, bisexual women, and, at the very bottom of the scale, straight women.
Reason 2: Education
Sex education tends to be very patchy in the United States. The topic is only integrated into some American schools. In fact, the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that fewer than half of American high schools teach any sex education at all, and only one-fifth of middle schools do.
Even when the subject is taught, it is usually in the manner of a stale reproductive biology course, with a few tips thrown in on how to avoid pregnancy or Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). There is little to no information about emotional intimacy, pleasuring your partner, or cultural, emotional, religious, or other important aspects of the act.
Compounding the problem, as therapist Jennifer Weeks, PhD., points out, most American parents rely on schools to provide sexual education, so in many cases, the end result is that American students typically get no sex education whatsoever. Outside the West, sex education (especially for women) can be even more scattershot.
Reason 3: Pop culture
Pop culture—books and magazines, the Internet, movies and TV—have created a “script” for lovemaking. In this script, as things get hot and heavy, the man engages in little to no foreplay, moving directly to penetrative sex. A few moments later, the woman climaxes, followed by the man.
Consciously or unconsciously, many couples try to follow this pop culture script in their own intimate lives. Unfortunately, this script is completely at odds with what studies say is satisfactory lovemaking—particularly from a woman’s perspective. Indiana Professor Elisabeth Lloyd writes extensively about this in her book, The Case of the Female Orgasm.
She explains how only 25% of women orgasm consistently from penetrative sex—the kind we see in frenetic Hollywood love scenes. This is especially true when the woman has only known the man for a very short time.
Reason 4: Ignoring the psychological and physical needs of women
As the NCBI notes, women are actually more likely to orgasm or have an overall more satisfying experience if they “receive more oral sex, have longer duration of sex, are more satisfied with their relationship, ask for what they want in bed, praise their partner for something they did in bed, call/email to tease about doing something sexual, wear sexy lingerie, try new sexual positions, anal stimulation, act out fantasies, incorporate sexy talk, and express love during sex.
Women were more likely to orgasm if their last sexual encounter included deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and/or oral sex in addition to vaginal intercourse.” The NCBI goes on to state that their studies “suggest a variety of behaviors couples can try to increase (female) orgasm frequency.”
In simplest terms, the orgasm gap could be “man-made,” and fixable by couples extending foreplay, engaging in more flirty or erotic behaviors outside the bedroom, and communicating what they want.
Reason 5: Hookup Culture
Casual affairs [otherwise known as casual sex, hookups, No-Strings Attached (NSA) relationships or one-nighters] are a relatively new cultural phenomena, emerging in the West in the 1960s, and only accelerating since that time. Nowadays, it is also slowly entering some non-Western cultures.
While more than a few women relish the freedom to move from man to man without care, studies show that, on average, women enjoy the most frequent and highest-quality orgasms with a partner that they have an emotional bond with. The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University discovered that women were about two times more likely to achieve orgasm with a trusted partner than with anyone else.
This is certainly not to say that a free-spirited woman can’t have fun with a different guy every week, but, according to science, there could be a challenge in consistently achieving high-quality orgasms in such a lifestyle.
Reason 6: The Pressure to “Fake it”
The female orgasm has been alive in entertainment media for decades. However, these print, images, audio and video depictions are often entirely detached from how things play out in real life. Partly because of the previously mentioned “sex script” that many couples try to follow, women may feel the need to express a climax even if they are not even nearing one.
This idea of “faking it” has become a staple of movies, female comedy routines, and private conversations and jokes among women. So no wonder the Orgasm Gap exists: we are complicit in keeping it alive by pretending that we have been satisfied (just like the script says we should be). Faking it can indeed get the man to roll off you and allow you to go to sleep. But it is no long-term substitute for a truly satisfying sex life.
“Remember to allow yourself real pleasure, and not worry about how long it takes.”— Amy Poehler
Towards A Global Women’s Pleasure Culture
Men are already regularly enjoying consistent orgasms. Women may have to become more active in order to create a global pleasure culture that is centered on them. If you’re like most women worldwide, your sex education may have been patchy or even non-existent. However, we women now have myriad tools to self-educate on this topic. When doing so, we shouldn’t hesitate to prioritize our own needs.
This self-education must then be followed by active communication with our partners. The Mayo Clinic strongly recommends direct and consistent communication of this type, which could start outside the bedroom in flirty small talk. Indeed, starting small is a great way to gradually build trust with your partner (after all, he may have had as little sex education as you).
These conversations are just that—conversations, and explorations of what you (and your partner) truly like or dislike as you build a more mutually satisfying sex life together.
Unlike the wealth gap, the power gap, and other aspects of gender relations where we women face important disadvantages,
As we shift our relationships in ways that center on our own pleasure, we will feel not only physically, but emotionally and even socially empowered. So, let the journey begin.