Girls Talk #15: The Orgasm Gap

Girls Talk #15: The Orgasm Gap

The orgasm gap is the recently documented cultural phenomenon of the disparity between the higher rate of orgasm among men compared to women in heterosexual relationships. According to Psychology Today, in a study of 800 college students, a 52% orgasm gap was found between male and female sexual partners. 39% of women and 91% of men said they always/usually orgasm in partnered sex. Interestingly, in the same study 39% of women said they always orgasm in solo sex, while only 6% said they always orgasm in partnered sex.

Surprisingly, when the age range is opened up to 18-65 years old, the statistics remain very similar. In a survey of 3,000 single men and women in the US, women said they orgasm 63% of the time, and men 85% of the time. Even though 75% of women don’t orgasm from penetrative sex, culturally we prioritise PIV, and the orgasm that comes from it. In fact, about 3-10% of women reliably orgasm from PIV alone. In fact, 10-15% of women struggle to orgasm at all.

Lesbians have a significantly higher rate of orgasms than heterosexual women.

Interestingly, lesbians have a significantly higher rate of orgasms than heterosexual women. And, for men the orgasm rate doesn’t vary with sexual orientation. This perhaps suggests that the penis is the reason for the orgasm gap, not women’s inherent inability to orgasm.

Men are socially conditioned to prioritise their own pleasure, nearly all porn is made by men, for men – centring male pleasure. On the other hand, women are conditioned to prioritise their partners pleasure, and that the male orgasm is the end of a sexual encounter. Women are also taught through porn, and through male expectations, that they should be able to come easily and readily at the will of their partner. In reality, the more pressure that is put on anyone to achieve an orgasm, the less likely it is to happen. Whatsmore, the more pressure that is put on women to have performative orgasms to please their partner – the wider the orgasm gap will get. Women feeling pressure to fake orgasms undoubtedly contributes to a widening orgasm gap, as men think they’re doing a much better job than they actually are.

59% of men and 45% of women could not accurately label a vagina.

In part, the lack of education is contributing to the orgasm gap. In a YouGov poll, 59% of men and 45% of women could not accurately label a vagina. Whatsmore, current sex education doesn’t focus on pleasure, nor does it promote communication with sexual partners.

Although it’s a notoriously accepted social fiction that men don’t know where the clitoris is, more than clitoral stimulation is seen as foreplay when really, it’s the main event for most women. As such, a step to closing the orgasm gap would be to have everyone hold clitoral stimulation and penetration in equal regard.   

Double standards on women also contribute to the orgasm gap. Misogynistic stereotypes make it hard to be mindful about the experience because there are so many other things to worry about – will he tell his friends? Am I too frigid? Or am I being slutty? Am I doing something wrong? Consciousness of the male gaze also could be contributing to the orgasm gap – when you’re worrying about how you look, it’s pretty hard to get lost in an orgasm.

The problem isn’t women’s ability to orgasm.

Dr Laurie Mintz teaches the psychology of human sexuality at the University of Florida and has stated that when masturbating, 95% of women orgasm; in first time hook-ups with other women, 64% of women achieve orgasm, and in first time hook ups with men, only 1% achieve orgasm. She concludes, ‘This tells us that the problem isn’t women’s ability to orgasm. It’s our cultural scripts for heterosexual sex.’

Whatever the cause it’s undeniable that the orgasm exists, and that there needs to be some kind of conscious cultural shift.

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Lily Webber

Lily Webber is an English Undergrad at the University of Durham. She is also co-editor of Sex, Love and Gender section for The Bubble, and her interests include inter-sectional feminism, mental health, music and films.

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