When was the last time you had an orgasm with your partner? When you’re with your partner, do you tend to orgasm more — or less — frequently than they do? These questions are key to unlocking whether there’s an ‘orgasm gap’ in your relationship.
The ‘orgasm gap’ is a term coined fairly recently, and it refers to the disparity of orgasms within heterosexual relationships. Recent research showed that heterosexual women tend to have fewer orgasms than their male partners — as few as one for every three the guy experiences. Researchers at Chapman University, who led the study and questioned more than 52,000 people, found that this orgasm gap narrows and even disappears in gay relationships. When they asked people if they ‘nearly always’ or ‘always’ experienced orgasm, 86% of lesbian women said yes.
These figures vary depending on the study — there are a couple more cited in this Psychology Today article, where research with college age subjects found that only 39% of heterosexual women orgasmed most of the time, compared to 96% of men. The numbers usually vary by study, but the fact remains: heterosexual men are having far more orgasms than the women they’re sleeping with.
So what gives? Why are straight women having fewer orgasms? We’ve collected some great resources on the subject of the orgasm gap — why it exists, and whether there’s anything we can do about it.
Why is there an orgasm gap?
- Female pleasure is considered less of a priority
The first explanation for the orgasm gap is that female pleasure is too often seen as just a ‘bonus’ — not entirely necessary for sexual activity, but if it happens, that’s great. Understandably, this doesn’t mean we should just shrug off the orgasm gap as unimportant, rather that we need to examine why female pleasure is so often sidelined.
In her incredible Ted talk, Peggy Orenstein offers insight based on interviews with young women aged between 15–20. One of the things that struck her when she was interviewing young women about sexual pleasure was just how little focus they themselves put on it. Many of her interviewees talked about sex — especially first time sex — as something to be endured or ‘got over with’ rather than something to enjoy. Her full talk is embedded below, and it’s well worth a watch:
The key point is that when we talk to young people about sex, the lack of focus on sexual pleasure often impacts women more than men. Our very definitions of ‘sex’ are usually skewed towards penis-in-vagina sex with male orgasm as the end goal, so most young children grow up thinking that sex begins with an erection and ends in ejaculation. That narrative has little room for female pleasure during heterosexual sex.
- Female pleasure is difficult — or impossible — to achieve.
This explanation appeared to surface as early as 2009, when Susie Bright, working as an advice columnist for Jezebel, received frequent emails from women who found it difficult to achieve orgasm. The pressure on them to have an orgasm was having a seriously negative effect — making it less likely that they would actually achieve one, and in effect choosing to ‘give up’ on trying at all.
- Heterosexual men don’t know how to give women orgasms..
As Peggy Orenstein points out in her Ted talk, the diagrams which young people are shown in sex ed to illustrate the cisgender female reproductive system are usually focused on the internal parts: ovaries, the uterus and fallopian tubes. Rarely are they shown diagrams of external genitals which include the clitoris, clitoral hood, labia minora and majora.
- Heterosexual women don’t know how to ask for orgasms.
Nicki Minaj sparked a wave of orgasm gap headlines back in 2015 when she explained — in an interview with Cosmo — that she demands orgasms from her sexual partners. Not only that, she teaches female friends how to demand — and receive — orgasms from their hetero male partners.
“I demand that I climax. I think women should demand that. I have a friend who’s never had an orgasm in her life. In her life! That hurts my heart. It’s cuckoo to me. We always have orgasm interventions where we, like, show her how to do stuff. We’ll straddle each other, saying, ‘You gotta get on him like that and do it like this.’ She says she’s a pleaser. I’m a pleaser, but it’s fifty-fifty.”
How should we close the orgasm gap?
While we can be certain that there is an orgasm gap, and we can definitely speculate on the reasons, the idea that orgasm should be the sole criteria by which we measure sexual satisfaction is controversial, to say the least.
Dr Petra Boynton, agony aunt for the Telegraph, explains:
“one of the things that causes the most damage to our sexual lives is the idea there are guaranteed sexual techniques available that universally work for all of us … What isn’t going to help you is assuming that there is a one-size-fits-all classic technique out there that — if your husband learns it — will ensure you always orgasm.”
And that, in a nutshell, is one of the issues surrounding the orgasm gap. Most people can agree that orgasms are a good thing to have, and we can also agree that providing pleasure to our sexual partners is an important goal, focusing entirely on whether or not someone orgasms can lead to other problems.
Perhaps someone is so keen to have an orgasm that they put themselves under pressure, making it less — not more — likely to happen. Perhaps someone really wants to help their partner orgasm, but neither person is able to communicate effectively what they want. It may be that orgasms are easy for someone if they’re alone or using sex toys, but they don’t want their partner to feel inadequate so they simply never raise the subject.
When it comes to the orgasm gap, there’s definitely more work to be done — not just in raising awareness of the fact that it exists, but exploring some of the reasons why it’s so hard for women to ask for (and receive!) orgasms during sexual relationships. Perhaps, too, it’s a good opportunity to talk about pleasure — giving people the tools they need to explore their own sexual pleasure, and the confidence to communicate that with their partners.