Closing the Orgasm Gap: Tips for Personal and Culture Change

Let's work towards gender parity in our most intimate sexual encounters.

Posted Mar 08, 2018

Today is International Women’s Day. This day is a global celebration of women’s achievements across many domains—social, economic, cultural, and political.  It’s also a day where women are called to action to focus on equality.  This year’s theme is #PressforProgress.

Here’s what the organizers say about the theme this year:

Individually, we're one drop but together we're an ocean. Commit to a "gender parity mindset" via progressive action.

The organizers recommend that individuals commit to pressing for gender parity in their own sphere of influence. 

shutterstock
Source: shutterstock

As a sex educator with a specialization in women’s pleasure, for me this means continuing to press for gender parity in the bedroom. It means pushing for gender equality in our most personal, intimate encounters.

Research shows we don’t yet have such gender parity.  Instead, we have an orgasm gap between women and men. Here are some telling statistics:

  • One study of university students found that 91 percent of men vs. 39 percent of women report always or usually experiencing an orgasm with a partner.

While this study didn’t ask the context of the sexual encounter (e.g., hookup or relationship), when I poll my students (using anonymous classroom technology), across five years and over 500 students, I’ve found that:

Clearly, the orgasm gap is massive in casual sexual encounters. And, while it narrows, it doesn’t disappear in relationship sex. In one study, 85 percent of men vs. 68 percent of women said they’d orgasmed during their last sexual encounter that occurred in the context of a committed relationship.

It’s time to push for progress in terms of closing this gender orgasm gap. If you are a woman who has sex with men, here are a five steps that you can take, at a personal and a cultural level.

  1. Know your own anatomy. One study showed that over a quarter of women couldn’t locate the clitoris—their most essential orgasmic organ—on a diagram. My experience as a sex educator is that even more women don’t know that their inner lips are chock-full of nerve endings (they’re analogous to the head of the penis). If you don’t know what you’ve got “down there,” you won’t know how to please yourself or to tell a partner how to do so. So, grab that hand mirror and a diagram of a vulva, and take a look at yourself. And, while you are taking a look, pleasure yourself too. Every woman’s genital nerves are positioned a bit differently, so before you can tell a partner what feels good, you will need to learn this by yourself.
  2. Call your anatomy by the correct name. Perhaps you noticed that I used the word vulva in a prior sentence. This is the correct name for women’s external genital anatomy. Yet, in our culture we call everything down there a vagina. By doing so, we are erasing our most erotic parts and calling our genitals by the part that is most useful to men rather than to women themselves. Words convey the importance we place on something. Use words that show you consider your pleasure important.

  3. Stop thinking of sex as synonymous with intercourse. Speaking of words, in our culture, we use the words sex and intercourse synonymously and relegate everything that comes before as “just foreplay.” This language privileges men’s most reliable route to orgasm (penetration) as the only one that counts as sex and relegates women’s most reliable route to orgasm (clitoral stimulation) as a warm-up for the real act. Only about 5 percent of women say they most reliably orgasm from intercourse alone. About 95 percent of women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm—either alone (e.g., oral sex) or paired with intercourse (e.g., using a vibrator on yourself during intercourse). Start considering your pleasure just as much sex—in other words, just as important—as his pleasure.
  4. Get the stimulation you need during partner sex. To put the attitude that your pleasure is as important as his into action, you will need to get the stimulation you need to orgasm during partner sex. A survey by Cosmopolitan magazine found that during heterosexual encounters that involve intercourse, 78 percent of women’s orgasm problems were due to not getting enough clitoral stimulation. In other words, when a penis is part of the sexual encounter, we forgo the stimulation we need in favor of his stimulation. Don’t skip over your pleasure. Instead of relying on the standard cultural script of 1) foreplay; 2) intercourse; 3) male orgasm, and 4) sex over, use sexual scripts where your orgasm is as central as his. While you can find details of these sexual scripts here, the summary is that you can employ a turn-taking model where you come first (e.g., oral sex during which you orgasm followed by intercourse) or you come second (e.g., enough stimulation to get you ready for intercourse, intercourse, and then have him or you use a vibrator on yourself after). Alternatively, you can both come during the same sexual act (e.g., touch your clitoris during intercourse, or use a couple’s vibrator, such as a cock ring with a clitoral vibrator). When enacting these new sexual scripts, keep in mind that the key to getting the stimulation you need is getting the same type of stimulation you use with yourself when with a partner.  We know how to pleasure ourselves when alone (94 percent of women orgasm when pleasuring ourselves), but we too rarely transfer this to sex with a partner.

    shutterstock
    Source: shutterstock
  5. Start talking about women’s pleasure, and your own pleasure, loudly and proudly. To implement the tips above, you’re going to have to learn and use good sexual communication skills. Say what you like and what you don’t like loudly and clearly.  Research shows that clear, enthusiastic consent and female pleasure are highly related.  And, it’s not just in our own bedrooms that we need to talk—it’s publicly. Push for progress by talking about the orgasm gap and by educating others about how to close it. As one example, the next time you are watching a movie with friends and there is a scene where after two minutes of foreplay, the couple has intercourse and they both have screaming, simultaneous orgasms, call this out. Similarly, call out penis size jokes, as they perpetuate the lie that penetration is the route to female pleasure, as well as perpetuate male insecurities. In both cases, call out the lie and then share the truth—that is, that women’s and men’s easiest and most reliable routes to pleasure (penile and clitoral stimulation, respectively) need to be equally attended to and valued.

I hope this blog inspires you to push for progress, today and every day.  When it comes to orgasm equality, pushing for progress can be quite pleasurable!