What is the orgasm gap?
The orgasm gap refers to the difference between sexual satisfaction of men and women. Specifically, it refers to the difference between orgasm frequency: men orgasm 95% of heterosexual encounters, whereas women orgasm only 65% of heterosexual encounters. Although some argue orgasm should not be the main goal of sex, others argue that bringing up this exact argument is a strategy to disavow this form of gender inequality. And no, it is not just a natural difference, and women are not necessarily hard to please. Research has shown that lesbian and gay couples have a far more equal orgasm distribution. We believe that indeed, the frequency of reaching a climax is not necessarily causally related to sexual satisfaction. One might orgasm often but not enjoy the communication style of their sexual partner(s), and therefore be less satisfied. One might never reach a climax, but still enjoy sex highly and love their sexual partner(s) deeply. Still, we believe the orgasm gap is important to dive into for it can be an important indicator of sexual pleasure, equality and wellbeing. Therefore, in this blog post, we dive (deep) into the orgasm gap: explained!
Cultural Ignorance of the Clitoris
Psychologist and researcher Laurie Mintz argues that one of the reasons for this form of gender inequality is our cultural ignorance of the clitoris (2018). In her book ‘Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters and How to Get It’, she explains how is very common to mislabel women’s genitals by the one part, the vagina, that gives only men reliable orgasms. So let’s start saying vulva instead of vagina and let’s start talking about the clitoris! If you think about it, it makes sene that the vagina is not the most sensitive part for most women, for it is also the birth canal. Although some women indeed experience orgasm from penetration or inside vaginal stimulation alone, for most women, outer clitoral stimulation is necessary. Moreover, many sexuality scholars emphasize there is no such thing as a distinct vaginal or a clitoral orgasm, for it is the clitoris that is stimulated from the inside too. Up until 1960, we did not know that the clitoris is actually quite a big organ, and it is not only located on the outside of the vulva. About 90% of the organ is on the inside of the body, and the part we can see and touch from the outside is only the tip of the whole organ. Some therefore compare it to the tip of the penis. Here, we would not care only about the tip, would we? Australian Dr. Helen O’Connell was the pioneer who started researching the whole clitoris, for she wondered why it was left out of her education. Even though she was the first to research the whole clitoral organ, the knowledge did not become widespread due to the lack of interest in female pleasure, prudishness, focus on sex as reproductive act instead of pleasurable act and the male dominance in the medical world. Want to know more about the clitoral organ? Watch this video!
As philosopher Nancy Tuana stated in her work the speculum of ignorance, doctors very well knew that the female body had not been studied enough but did not care enough to do so (2006). Therefore, feminist activists, scholars and writers started to take back autonomy over their own body and started criticizing the medical dominance by examining and spreading knowledge about their own bodies. They were literally spreading their bodies to get to know themselves and encouraged others to do so too. Although this movement started in the 1960’s, only recently have school books finally started to display the whole clitoral organ (RTLNieuws, 2021). Who said the Netherlands was such a sexually liberated and emancipated country? In stark contrast is the great amount of knowledge that has been produced, spread and taught about the male body. Although steps are being made, still, no depiction of an erect clitoris can be found in the books. In contract, pictures of erect penises and non-erect penises can be found. Just like the penis, the clitoral organ has erectile tissue that grows when aroused. So why it it not being displayed? Are we still so focussed on reproduction, although we have way more sex for fun than for reproduction? Are we still so afraid to talk about female pleasure? And what are the consequences of our cultural ignorance of the clitoris?
Consequences of sexual inequality
If you have had heterosexual sexual encounters, you might recognize the following. In an Instagram reel, a man wondered why ‘women always get so horney after sex’. Most people reacted shocked: he really did not know? Probably, they argued, he believes the sex is done when he is finished. His definition of sex is probably focussed on penetration, which is exactly the act that gets men to climax but does not get most women to reach an orgasm. Therefor, many women are still horney after sex with a man and are less satisfied. Unfortunately, lack of pleasure is not the only problem. Many women still believe it is ‘normal’ to experience pain during the first time having penetrative sex or even after the first time. Because we are not taught about clitoral erection, and have learnt much more about male erection and pleasure than female erection and pleasure, women experience pain more often during sex than men. In a big research in the Netherlands it was found that 27% of women experience pain when having sex (Rutgers, 2017). Knowing more about female arousal could help reduce those numbers. Sex is much more than penetration. Men, and women, should learn to take the time to really explore female pleasure. Like well-known Dutch sexologist Ellen Laan said: ‘fingers are way more efficient. Luckily, men have fingers too.’ So why don’t men use them?
Moving past taboo about female sexuality
A study done this very year has dived even deeper into the underlying mechanisms of the orgasm gap (Andrejek et. al., 2022). During in-depth interviews, the researchers found that both male and female interviewees described men’s climax as natural and obvious, whereas women’s orgasms were described as unnecessary and secondary to emotional connection. An orgasm was seen as a requirement to maintain men’s self–esteem and masculinity. ‘Our findings point to the fact that men and women’s limited expectations for women’s orgasms have less to do with women’s inherent inability or lack of desire to orgasm but to the norms of heterosexuality and gender that limit and confine expectations along gender lines‘ the researchers commented. Moreover, interviewees defined sex as only penile–vaginal intercourse, with the penis being the primary focus. Sexual acts that prioritize clitoral stimulation, such as oral sex, use of vibrators and manual stimulation were described as more time consuming and extra work for couples. The female orgasme was viewed as challenging and unnecessary. Many female interviewees were shameful about using practices other than vaginal intercourse to come, such als oral sex or vibrators, which was seen as unnatural or even dirty. ‘We still must move past a taboo about women’s sexuality’ the researchers wrote. ‘Discomfort with their own sexual pleasure and embodied shame lead women to rein in their sexual appetite. Women as a group feel less entitled to the types of sex that lead them to orgasm, relative to men. Even in the most private, intimate settings, our findings show that gender and heteronormativity shape how individuals act.’
In this blog, I have written most about heterosexual relations, cisgender people and the causes and effects of the orgasm gap. Even though gay and lesbian sexual encounters are much more equal when it comes to orgasm frequency, sexual education is still very heteronormative and cisnormative. This means we learn much more about heterosexual relations and cisgender relations than gay, lesbian or queer relations. This can be detrimental to queer knowledge, acceptance, tolerance and wellbeing. And, as we have read, it can even be one of the causes of the orgasm gap, for heteronormativity often favors penetrative sex. Moreover, white bodies are overrepresented in educational illustrations as opposed to bodies of colour. Although feminism and feminist knowledge has been very important for women’s rights and in this case female pleasure, we acknowledge how feminist scholars and activists have lacked intersectional focus. In the coming blog posts, we will be touching upon many different topics and will be reflective of what certain knowledge can do and what it can not, what is offers and what it lacks. I hope this blog post has contributed to the understanding of the orgasm gap and sexual inequality predominantly in heterosexual sex. Please let us know what you would like us to cover next!
|Mintz, Laurie B. (15 May 2018). Becoming cliterate : why orgasm equality matters — and how to get it. ISBN 978-0-06-266455-6. OCLC 1041864181.|
Tuana, N. (2006). The speculum of ignorance: The women’s health movement and epistemologies of ignorance. Hypatia, 21(3), 1-19.
Andrejek, N., Fetner, T., & Heath, M. (2022). Climax as Work: Heteronormativity, Gender Labor, and the Gender Gap in Orgasms. Gender & Society, 36(2), 189–213. https://doi.org/10.1177/08912432211073062
Come as you are is a very easy to read book on sexuality and especially female pleasure. We would definitely recommend it! And don’t forget to come as you are 😉
Becoming cliterate is the book we have referred to in this blog post. Do you want to know more about why orgasm equality matters – and how to get it? Go ahead and give it a read!