A 2017 study in Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 95 percent of straight men but only 65 percent of straight women usually or always orgasmed over the past month. Now, that's some serious BS. I get that orgasm doesn't always have to be the goal of sex and people can have great sex lives without orgasming, but that applies to people of all genders equally. So why are women the ones getting the short end of the stick?
To educate people on why this "orgasm gap" exists and how to close it, the sex toy startup MysteryVibe started the Close the Orgasm Gap Campaign, which includes billboards and posters in London as well as the site closetheorgasmgap.com. "I wanted to do something really publicly visible around the orgasm gap because I believe pleasure is such an important issue when it comes to equality, and yet as a society, we aren't talking about it," Stephanie Alys, Co-Founder & Chief Pleasure Officer of MysteryVibe, tells Bustle. "With discussions of the pay gap on the rise, this seemed like a great opportunity to raise the orgasm gap, too."
Alys added in a press release, "When it comes to the orgasm gap, there’s a lot of work to be done — not just in raising awareness, but in exploring the reasons why it’s so hard for women to demand orgasms during sexual relationships."
And it really does seem to be an issue of demanding — and getting — orgasms from partners. Most women have no problem orgasming through masturbation. Sex researcher Shere Hite reported in The Hite Report that 95 percent of women she interviewed who masturbated “could orgasm easily and readily, whenever they wanted.” But when another person enters the picture, it's another story.
What's going on? MysteryVibe's campaign calls attention to three sources of the orgasm gap in particular.
Ignorance About Female Anatomy
Perhaps the biggest source of the orgasm gap is the expectation that women orgasm through vaginal penetration, when really, the clitoris is the key to female orgasm. Only about one fourth of women regularly orgasm through penetration, according to an analysis of 32 studies in Elisabeth Lloyd's The Case of the Female Orgasm. "One of the things that frustrates me around this is that in many instances we still conflate the word 'sex' with 'penetration,'" Alys tells Bustle. While vaginal penetration makes a nice addition for many women, most find clitoral stimulation, whether that's through oral sex, fingering, or a toy, to be the most reliable route to orgasm.
As MysteryVibe's campaign points out, 25 percent of men can't even identify the clitoris on a diagram, citing a study in Women Health. One way to close the orgasm gap is to spread the word: The clitoris is the round hooded bud at the top of the labia, and it's essential for most women's orgasms.
Female Masturbation Stigma
It's taken as a given that men will masturbate, with male masturbation treated as a joke in movies like American Pie. Female masturbation is not as normalized and in many instances even shamed. When it's depicted on screen, it tends to be for the male gaze. Perhaps this is why, despite the fact that most women orgasm easily through masturbation, not all women masturbate. Indiana University's National Survey Of Sexual Health And Behavior found that 20.1 percent of American men but only five percent of women masturbated more than four times a week. It's totally women's choice if they want to masturbate or not, but it's important that they feel they have a choice, rather than be shamed out of it. It may be especially helpful for a woman who wants to orgasm more to masturbate so she can figure out what gets her off and teach her partners to do it.
Pressure To Fake Orgasms
Over three quarters of women have faked an orgasm, according to a 2017 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. And the most common reason they did it was to please their partners. Before we go condemning women for being deceptive, we should ask ourselves why so many felt the need to do so. Another 2014 study in the Journal of Sex Research perhaps shines light on that: Men said they felt more masculine if women orgasmed during sex with them. It's no wonder they feel so much pressure. Women's partners need to make sure not to make women's orgasms about them. They should make an effort if the woman wants it, but it should always be for her.
The orgasm gap is a problem that can be addressed on both the individual and societal level. On an individual level, women can advocate for their own orgasms, regardless of what it takes to reach them, and their partners can ask them what works best and put in the necessary attention. On a societal level, we need to broaden our definition of "sex," educate people on how the female body works, and view women as equally capable and deserving of pleasure.