THE ORGASM GAP
By Chloe French
Illustration by Elsa Pearson
DISCLAIMER: 'Male' and 'Female' in this article refer to assigned genders.
Along with the plethora of other injustices women already face in their daily life, it turns out we’re hard done by in the bedroom, too.
This may come as a surprise to the lucky few, but for many of us, a male orgasm in the bedroom is a given, whilst our own orgasm is just a bonus. In fact, a recent study found that 95% of heterosexual males orgasm every time they engage in sex, whilst heterosexual women lagged behind with a meagre 65% achieving reliable orgasms. Thankfully, queer women are doing considerably better with 86%, but why the gap? It does appear that as soon as a heterosexual male enters the mix, things start to go a bit wrong, but surely it runs deeper than that.
The female orgasm is considered a shadowy, spectral thing. Hard to come by and difficult to define. Even in today’s society, what comes to mind when we speak about the female orgasm is that scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ The fact that a fake orgasm is the most notable representation of female pleasure in popular culture is worrying, and it highlights the ignorance at the root of the orgasm gap problem.
Like most of the social issues we face, orgasm inequality is spurred by ignorance. From sex education classes to Pornhub, sexual intercourse begins with an erection and ends in male ejaculation. Penis-vagina penetrative sex is put on a pedestal, and our orgasms are expected to just happen magically with little clitoral stimulation. The dreaded ‘did you come?’ question will have many of us rolling our eyes, but why do so many think women can come from penetrative sex alone? Mainstream porn leaves many of us envious and confused when a female performer exclaims she is ‘cumming’ after a few minutes of aggressive penetration, when in fact only 18% of women can come from vaginal penetration alone. The rest of us 82% need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm.
It’s the age old question which has baffled men for centuries, ‘where is the clitoris?’ Despite being a large internal and external organ with over 8,000 nerve endings (that's twice as many as a penis), the clit is left out of sex education classes and, as a result, is left unstimulated in the bedroom. This considered, it is perhaps all the more tragic that when shown a diagram of the female vulva, only half of men could identify the vagina. If they can’t even identify our vagina, what hope does our clitoris have?
The point I am trying to make here is not one that accuses men of being terrible in bed and ignorant of women’s bodies, because that simply is not productive. Instead, I argue that whilst ignorance and gender politics inevitably widen the gap, the root of the orgasm gap is the lack of sex positive, pleasure oriented, educational sex education. Perhaps if the female orgasm, and how to achieve it, was included in our sex education, many of us wouldn’t have turned to the toxicity of mainstream porn for enlightenment. School sex ed, or lack thereof, has a lot to answer for, and its scaremongering, medical tendencies make sex a taboo, leaving the female orgasm practically unthinkable. Rather than pleasure, sex education is centred around menstruation, pregnancy and STDs, the actual sex act is neglected and only the aftermath is detailed.
Another fact which is often neglected is simply how different every woman’s body is, there is no ‘Make Her Cum Every Time with this Simple Trick!’ as some male health articles promise. What feels good for one woman may feel ticklish or have the opposite desired effect for another, and whilst one woman may cum in seconds, others may reach their peak after what feels like hours of deep breathing and concentration. None of these differences are wrong, and what drives you to orgasm one day may feel completely wrong the next. All of this is totally normal. But once we know what makes us tick, it will be far easier for us to ascend to orgasm in the bedroom.
Consider self-exploration and masturbation a personalised sex education. Playing and figuring out what feels good will make orgasm a personal, healthy experience rather than a point we have to achieve to satisfy our partner's masculinity. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but self-exploration is key in finding out what feels good for you, and once you hold the key, you can direct your way to orgasm with a partner!
That’s not to say that your male partner can’t make you orgasm, but perhaps it shouldn’t be something we expect to just magically happen, or something we pressure ourselves into. There is inevitably a sexual double standard here. Women are scarcely allowed to mention their sexual pleasure, yet, are expected to orgasm from penetrative sex alone. And, as many women know, feeling pressured to orgasm only makes matters worse.
So, with the key to every womans orgasm being beautifully unique, how do we close the gap?
There is no single answer to undo years of sexual repression. But, education, sex positivity and masturbation seem like a pretty good place to start. If we all know more about what makes up our vulva and which parts feel good, then we have a far better chance of ascending to a higher orgasmic plane. Perhaps once we are taught that the complex beauty of the female orgasm is something just as normal as ejaculation, we’ll stand a better chance of actually routinely achieving them in the bedroom. What's more, rather than seeing an orgasm as something a male should give us, it can become something you can give yourself.
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