You’ve heard of the gender pay gap, and we've previously written about the health research gap, but did you know there is also a lack of equality in the way women and men experience pleasure? This is often known as the orgasm gap, but, as we know, orgasms aren’t always the end game of every sexual encounter, so some people (including us) prefer to call it the pleasure gap!
But why does this gap exists and how can we close it once and for all? We’ve looked into the recent research and have some suggestions on how you can ensure you’re living your happiest, healthiest and most fulfilled sex life.
What is the pleasure gap?
The pleasure gap - or orgasm gap - essentially highlights the disparity between the amount of pleasure men and women get out of sexual encounters and spoiler alert: women are getting a lot less! Here are a few key stats that illustrate the issue at play.
A 2017 study found that heterosexual women were the least likely demographic to orgasm during sex. Men having sex with men came (literally) out on top, as they reported climaxing during around 85% of their sexcapades - although men having sex with women claimed similar figures. Women having sex with women achieved orgasms 75% of the time, whilst women having sex with men came last (again, literally) only reaching orgasmic bliss 63% of the time. This gap only widens when we look at the first time a couple gets down to it - 80% of men say they orgasm the first time having sex with a new partner, whereas that number is halved for women at 40%.
Why does the pleasure gap exist?
Those figures might make you think that the pleasure gap exists because women just naturally orgasm less than men, but another study indicated that it’s less of an issue with the female body and more about the sexual interactions we have with partners. The research found that 39% of women said they orgasm every time they masturbate, whereas only 6% said they had the same track record when having sex with a partner.
We’re totally capable of reaching a climax when we’re left to our own devices, but this gap appears when partner play is involved - so why is that?
Lack of understanding about the female body
Firstly, there is a huge lack of knowledge about the female body and the way we reach pleasure. That goes for our partners - particularly men - but we also rarely truly understand our own bodies either. In a recent UK survey, only 37% of people (of all genders!) could correctly label the clitoris on a diagram. That’s bad enough but when you hear that only 51% could identify the labia, it’s clear we have a real problem with female anatomy.
With 8,000 highly sensitive nerve endings, the clitoris is the epicentre of female pleasure. Less than 19% of women say they can come from penetrative sex alone, so it’s clear that we have to get clitical if we want to reach orgasms - which makes the fact more than half of us still don’t know where it’s located!
Prioritizing male orgasm
Even though only a tiny amount of women can get off through penetrative sex alone, culturally we still put it on some kind of pedestal - along with male orgasm.
For the vast majority of people, when you say ‘we had sex’ they will immediately think you mean penetrative. This hetronormative and narrow idea of what sex is and should be makes it very difficult to speak out if that’s not what you’re into. There is a whole world out there of exciting sexual experiences that are more likely to pleasure women - from oral sex to sensual massage - but these all too often get put in the bucket of foreplay and aren’t centred in the conversation about ‘actual’ sex (probably because they are more likely to be pleasurable for women over men!)
Likewise, male orgasm is perpetually portrayed as the crescendo of any sexual act. The message in movies (both pornographic and mainstream blockbusters) is that when the man finishes the sex finishes - and that’s the end of that! We need to see more inclsuive portrayals of sex that included a focus on female pleasure - and hopefully, that will start to trickle down to our IRL sex lives too.
Shame is a huge barrier to unlocking female pleasure - as some of us are still too embarrassed to communicate our wants and needs. In 2022, you might not think this is still an issue, with podcasts like “Guys We F***ed” and “F**ks Given” breaking taboos and pumping empowering conversations about female pleasure into our Airpods.
However, whilst the incredible sex-positivity movement has gathered pace in the last few years, many of us still grew up in an era where women were slut shamed for being sexually active, especially if they (shock, horror!) dared to enjoy it and talk about it. This has made it very difficult for some of us to communicate our sexual desires effectively and feel comfortable having autonomy over our sex lives. It’s no wonder then that so many of us are leaving sexual encounters so dissatisfied.
How can we close the pleasure gap?
Get to know your body and mind
We often talk about sexual experimentation with partners, but what about experimenting and exploring yourself? Masturbation is a super important part of healthy sex life as it gives you the opportunity to get to know your body and mind intimately.
Try watching different kinds of ethical porn to identify what turns you on and then experiment with different ways of masturbating to discover what ticks your boxes physically. This will help you build up a picture of your perfect route to pleasure, which you can then share with your partners!
Don’t be afraid to communicate with your partner
Our partners are not mind readers, and whilst it would be lovely to think they all came with prior knowledge of our intricate, intimate areas work - that’s not the case. Every person is unique so the best way to get what you want in the bedroom is to communicate effectively and ask for it.
If you find talking about sex hard, this might feel uncomfortable at first, but there are ways to ease it in to the conversation. Why not play a game where you both write down things you’d like to try, or invite them to watch you masturbate so they can witness first-hand (so to speak) what works for you?
Show some self-loveAnd we’re not talking about masturbation this time! Being able to embrace your sexuality and put your pleasure on top of your priority list is all rooted in self-love and self-worth.
If you believe that you deserve the best in life, you will feel more comfortable demanding more from your sex life and taking ownership of your orgasms. Everyone’s route to self-love is different but you could practice some power poses or positive affirmations or even write a love letter to yourself to remind you that you are worthy of the best sex ever!!