Women aren’t having as many orgasms as men, research finds
It's time to close the orgasm gap—we need orgasm equality and we need it now!
While most of us have heard of the pay gap, there’s another gap that you may not have heard of: the orgasm gap. My knowledge of this sexual gap and orgasm equality comes from my work as a sex researcher, educator and clinician.
I teach Psychology of Human Sexuality to hundreds of college students a year. As a teaching tool, I anonymously poll students regarding their sexual experiences and compare the results to published research.
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Both my students’ answers and the research show that college women are having far fewer orgasms than college men. However, lest one think that this problem solves itself post-college, research also finds an orgasm gap between women and men in long-term relationships.
One study of people who were engaged, living together or married found that 95% of heterosexual men and 65% of heterosexual women usually or always orgasm during sexual encounters.
Such statistics—coupled with hearing about orgasm disparities when working with clients in my private psychotherapy practice—spurred me to write a book on orgasm equality, aiming to expose, explain and close the orgasm gap, both culturally and in individual bedrooms.
Achieving orgasm equality
Perhaps you’re wondering why closing the orgasm gap—and achieving the opposite, orgasm equality—is important. It’s because when half the population is consistently having more of something than the other, we’ve got systemic inequity.
It’s also because behind the statistics are real people and real pain.
As a sex educator and therapist, I’ve had women tell me they feel broken. I’ve had loving men distraught that they can’t please their partner. I’ve talked to countless women who, in an effort to appease their partners ego’s, consistently fake orgasm.
On the brighter side, I’ve seen the joy that women feel when they orgasm more consistently. I’ve been told by several women that once they feel empowered to orgasm in the bedroom, they feel more confident and effective in all other spheres of their lives. And, orgasms have clear health benefits, including lowering stress and enhancing sleep.
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So, why are men getting more of these powerful sexual climaxes than women are? Some say it’s because women’s bodies are complicated, making their orgasms elusive.
Yet, given that women orgasm easily when alone and that women have more orgasms when with other women than with men, this argument doesn’t hold up. To understand the cause of the orgasm gap, then, an important question is what masturbation and sexual encounters between women include that may not be occurring during heterosexual sex.
The answer is a focus on clitoral stimulation for pleasure and orgasm, rather than just as a lead-up (aka, “foreplay”) to a main event (aka, penetration which, tellingly, in our culture we call “sex.”)
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During heterosexual sexual encounters, the entire event often revolves around intercourse—despite the fact that only 15% to 18% of women orgasm from penetration alone and only 4% say it’s their most reliable route to orgasm.
To close the orgasm gap, we need to consider both clitoral stimulation and penetration to be equally important. We need to consider both as sex.
4 tips on how to have more orgasms
Still, knowing about women’s need for clitoral stimulation isn’t enough to close the orgasm gap. Studies find that learning about the clitoris increases women’s orgasm rate during masturbation but not during partnered sex.
Below are a few other tips that could help women orgasm as frequently as men during sexual encounters—and how to bring them into your own bedroom.
- Communicate your sexual needs: Women who communicate their sexual needs, before, during and after a sexual encounter are more orgasmic. Sexual communication is the bedrock to make your bed rock (sorry, had to!) Try opening up a conversation today. (The communication chapters in both of my books have more insights on sexual communications skills.)
- Incorporating lubricants and/or sex toys: While sex educators and therapists recommend using vibrators and store-bought lube, many users fall prey to myths about them, such as if you’re aroused you won’t need lube and that vibrators will desensitize your clitoris or threaten partners.
The truth is many women need added lubrication, no matter how turned on they are, women who use vibrators have more frequent orgasms, and that a male partner’s endorsement of vibrator use is related to his partner’s satisfaction. So, get yourself some lube and a vibrator and tell your partner you want to use them during your next encounter.
- Slowing sex down: Many women, especially busy moms, rush through sex, treating it like a chore on their to-do list. It takes time to build arousal, especially when tired and stressed. Take the time you need!
- Mindful sex: Women tend to get distracted during sex, thinking about how their body looks or something else entirely, like an email they have to send. The antidote to this is mindfulness—a total immersion in one’s body sensations in the moment. Mindfulness is sex’s best friend. To have mindful sex, first learn and practice mindfulness during your daily life and then apply it to sex.
A note on orgasm equality
We are still plagued by many gender-based societal inequities including the pay gap (women earning less) and the housework gap (women doing more). The orgasm gap, however, is one inequity that you can work on solving in your own life. And hopefully, there’s a happy ending in your future!
Frederick DA, John HKS, Garcia JR, Lloyd EA. Differences in Orgasm Frequency Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Men and Women in a U.S. National Sample. Arch Sex Behav. 2018;47(1):273-288. doi:10.1007/s10508-017-0939-z.
Smith GD, Frankel S, Yarnell J. Sex and death: are they related? Findings from the Caerphilly cohort study. Bmj. 1997 Dec 20;315(7123):1641-4.
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