Have You Heard of the Orgasm Gap? It’s Real (And It’s Ruining Sex for Everyone)
There’s a term to describe an aspect of the ways men and women experience sex with each other: the “orgasm gap.”
It arises not from ideological conceptions of sex, but rather from hard data. Study after study after study shows that in sexual interactions between men and women, a much higher percentage of men achieve orgasm — whether it’s a first-time hookup or a long-term relationship.
In other words? There is a pronounced orgasm gap in play, and female orgasms are on the losing side in a big way.
Of course, this data alone is not enough to tell us the answers to other associated questions: Where does the orgasm gap come from? Is it a result of biological differences between men and women, or social factors? Can we bridge it? And if so, how?
In order to explore what the orgasm gap means for you and your sex life, we spoke with three sex experts to chat a little more about it. Here’s what they had to say:
What Is the Orgasm Gap?
So what is the orgasm gap, really?
“Researchers have found that a gap exists between the frequency with which men and women experience orgasm, especially during heterosexual sex,” says Coleen Singer, sexpert at Sssh.com. “Specifically, women consistently have fewer orgasms than their male partners in general. In one study, only 39 percent of female college students compared to 91 percent of male students reported that they always experienced an orgasm from partnered sex.”
Erika Lust, a porn director, screenwriter and producer, chimes in with statistics of her own.
“A 2016 study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 95 percent of heterosexual men always orgasm during sex compared to 65 percent of heterosexual women,” she notes.
When men and women have sex, the women aren’t orgasming nearly as much as the men — 30 percent to 50 percent less often, to be exact. That’s a lot of missing orgasms, particularly when you consider that women have the ability to be multi-orgasmic in a way that most men don’t.
Where Does the Orgasm Gap Come From?
The gap, Lust says, “has developed from a number of factors, which ultimately stem from a great misunderstanding and misconception of female pleasure.”
This list is by no means comprehensive, but it will give you an idea of why the orgasm gap is so big (and so pervasive).
1. Men Misunderstand Female Desire
Sex educator Kenneth Play believes there’s a deep misunderstanding entangled into the roots of the orgasm gap.
“To quote Dr. Wednesday Martin, we have this cultural myth that women want sex less than men, when really women crave sex as much as if not more than men,” he says. “The problem is that the sex they receive (especially in hookups) isn’t satisfying, orgasmic or pleasurable. If we make a metaphor here, women aren’t avoiding your restaurant because they aren’t hungry, they aren’t going because the food isn’t good. Trust me, women are hungry! You just need to serve something better to find out.”
2. Men Over-Focus on Penetration
As Lust points out, what men are used to serving is penis-in-vagina penetrative sex.
“Mainstream media and pornography have historically glorified penetrative sex and ignored other means of pleasure, such as the clitoris,” she says. “There is a warped hierarchy within sexual relationships that deems that women should climax solely from penetrative intercourse, and where clitoral orgasms are rated ‘second-class.’ Most women need direct clitoral stimulation from oral sex or touching to orgasm, yet this is very rarely depicted in porn or mass media. Instead, we see women having these big orgasms from penetration alone.”
Unfortunately, this kind of misunderstanding about female desire and pleasure isn’t an accident.
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“There is a huge anatomical lack of understanding about the clitoris,” adds Lust. “In sex ed, young people are shown illustrations of the female reproductive system which are usually focused on the internal parts of the vagina instead of the external genitals, including the clitoris. Therefore most people are really shocked when they see what a clitoris actually looks like. It’s not this small bulb on the outside of your body — it’s a large internal organ, similar in scale to a penis.”
3. Women Aren’t Taught About Their Own Pleasure
While poor sex ed prevents boys from knowing which parts of their partners to touch, girls lose out on knowing the specifics of their own bodies, and their own pleasure. And how can you teach your partner how to pleasure you if you’re not 100 percent clear on the subject yourself?
“Boys are taught about sex through erections, ejaculations and masturbation,” notes Lust, “whereas young girls’ sex education is focused on what they don’t want, whether it’s pregnancy or an STI.”
The upshot of that? “When the time comes for their first sexual experience, [many girls] don’t know what they like or what to ask for,” explains Lust. “Whereas most boys have their first sexual experience alone through masturbation, most girls have it with someone else. This means that from the very beginning of their sexual lives, girls are taught to understand their sexuality and pleasure in relation to someone else. We grow up not knowing what we like, how to pleasure ourselves or how to ask for what we want.”
4. Porn Gives Us a Warped Perspective
Mainstream porn, which acts as a form of sex ed for a lot of young people, is also bad at prioritizing female pleasure because it’s rarely shown in a real way.
RELATED: 6 Reasons Porn Is a Horrible Form of Sex Ed
According to Lust, it “glorifies penetrative sex that ends in male ejaculation.”
“Comprehensive sex education in school is lacking pretty much everywhere, and when this happens, porn steps in as the de-facto educator,” says Lust. “The issue is that when most young people type ‘sex’ into a search engine, they will be answered by the free tube sites, and a lot of the type of sex they will see on these sites is male-centric. A combination of early exposure to this type of porn and inadequate sex education fails to teach young people anything about female pleasure.”
Why Should Guys Care About the Orgasm Gap?
It might be obvious why you should care, but for some guys, it’s not.
Not only is it a deeply selfish approach to sex — imagine your partner focusing primarily on her orgasm and telling you sex was over as soon as she was done — it’s also a pretty short-sighted one.
As Singer puts it, “If a guy doesn’t care that his sexual partner has an orgasm or not, she will become frustrated, and a dark cloud will come over the relationship, oftentimes ending it.”
Being a giving, awesome lover isn’t rocket science — it’s basically just asking the other person what they like, and then doing it to the best of your abilities. Even if you don’t make them finish the first time, your enthusiasm and good manners are likely to earn you a second shot (and possibly a third, fourth and so on).
Not to mention, every time a guy treats a woman’s pleasure as unimportant, he’s making her that much less likely to want to hookup again with him or anyone else.
When men treat women badly over and over, women are going to be more likely to regard men with suspicion. That applies in all kinds of facets of life, and it’s particularly apt in the case of casual sex.
For that matter, couples in long-term relationships are also impacted by this kind of thing. Spend less time pleasuring a partner? Maybe she won’t leave you, but maybe she’ll initiate sex less and less as time goes by. On the flip side, if you make her orgasms as big of a priority as your own, she’s likely to be more enthusiastic about your time in bed together.
“Men have the power to help revolutionise the way they pleasure women in bed by making themselves aware of the fact women need more than penetrative sex to reach an orgasm,” says Lust. “If couples can open up the conversation with each other and find out what makes them tick and be open to exploration, they create a whole new exciting world for themselves to become better lovers.”
How You Can Help Close the Orgasm Gap
So where to begin? Glad you asked.
If You’re a Single Guy
The bad rap that single guys get when it comes to the orgasm gap may have a slight silver lining. With expectations this low, you can only go up from here.
Next time you hook up with a woman, focus on her pleasure as much as yours. For Play, a huge part is that focusing on penetrative sex only is the wrong type of stimulation for most women.
“Imagine if every sexual encounter you had only touched the bottom third of your penis,” he says. “That isn’t enough stimulation to properly have a good time.”
Instead, as Singer puts it, female pleasure is “all about clitoral stimulation.”
“By taking your time to properly stimulate that area either through cunnilingus, fingering or vibrating sex toys, it is often fairly achievable to bring a woman to orgasm if you listen to her signals of what is working for her,” she says. “Many women already have a collection of vibrators that they use for masturbation and to achieve climax on their own. Take advantage of that!”
RELATED: The Best Sex Toys for Women’s Pleasure, Revealed
However, toys or no toys, what’s most important is “to take your time and respond to her verbal and non-verbal cues.”
If You’re in a Relationship
As much as it might seem like the orgasm gap is mostly a problem for those engaging in casual sex, it also impacts long-term couples.
Nonetheless, couples who care, trust each other and are capable of talking about their sex lives are in a great position to seriously close the gap.
“Great orgasms are a product of great relationships,” says Singer. “As with so many other aspects of relationship-building, it all comes down to exploration and communication to cultivate healthy relationships. This then has the benefit of enhancing sexual relationships and helping close the orgasm gap.”
Play agrees, noting that while much of the advice that works for hookups also works for long-term relationships, people in the latter have a significant advantage: communication.
“Start the foreplay early in the day before y’all are even home together — ask her what gets her hot and bothered, what’s her favorite way to be touched or if she wants to try a new technique you just learned,” he says. “Novelty and excitement gets the arousal for sex higher, learning new techniques that trigger different pleasure nerves keeps the arousal building, and communication and feedback helps you pinpoint exactly where the switch for climax happens and how to encourage it. If you learn all of this, you’ll help close the orgasm gap, [and] also help your partner tap into the multi-orgasmic potential of women.”
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Illustration by Carlee Ranger.