When it comes to orgasming, it's definitely not an even playing field for women who sleep with men. Men consistently have more orgasms during sex than women. In fact, according to Cosmopolitan's Female Orgasm Study in 2015, only 57 percent of women were orgasming most of the time when they had sex, compared to 95 percent of their male partners. This depressing phenomenon has come to be known as the orgasm gap. And there's no doubt that the orgasm gap is alive and well, but new research shows there's another added layer — men aren't recognizing the female orgasm in the first place.
Looking at self-reported data from 1,683 newlywed heterosexual couples, researchers from Brigham Young University first noticed the difference in orgasm rates between men and women. While 87 percent of the men consistently reported orgasm, the same was true for only 49 percent of women, which is less than half of the male percentage.
Now, that's already deeply unfair. But what was even more worrying is that a huge chunk of the men couldn't identify the female orgasm (or the lack of it) in the first place. Nearly half of all men in the study — 43 percent — misperceived the number of times that their wives orgasmed. There was a discrepancy between how many times the women reported that they orgasmed and the number that the men reported that their partner had orgasmed. That's a lot of men getting it very wrong.
"I think the biggest surprise was just how prevalent the misperceptions were," Nathan Leonhardt, a research assistant and one of the study authors, tells Bustle. "We expected that there would be some degree of misperception. But finding that 43 percent of newlywed husbands misperceive how often their wife is orgasmic means this is a noteworthy issue that needs to be addressed." It definitely does.
The Faking Cycle
So how does simply not orgasming lead to men misperceiving how often their partner orgasms? Part of it may just be male bravado and assuming that they're doing such a great job that their partner must have finished. But there's also a lot of pressure for women to have an orgasm so they don't look "difficult". Leonhardt pointed to the fact that men feel more satisfied when their partner orgasms, so women may be faking it to bring a their partner pleasure.
Plus, we're just socialized to do it. As women, we're conditioned to be people-pleasers and not be too demanding. It only makes sense this could carry over into our sex lives. "Many women assume that it’s 'too much trouble' to explain to her partner what she needs him to do to give her an orgasm," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, tells Bustle. This can lead to them faking orgasm. "She may worry that it will take too long and that many men can’t be bothered to give her that much time and attention. Men rarely fake orgasm — they aren’t wired, either internally or societally to disregard their needs in the way that same way that women often are. They are going to tell you exactly how they need to be touched and stimulated in order to come." It would be amazing if, as a society, we could get on board with women being just as vocal about their needs.
How To Close The Orgasm Gap
In order to close the orgasm gap, it's important to know what you want in the bedroom. And in order to stop men from misperceiving, it's important to ask for it and be honest about whether you're getting it.
"The vulnerability and intimacy of the sexual relationship can make it scary to open up about how things are actually going," Leonhardt says. "Generally, both partners care about each other, want to please each other, and it can be uncomfortable telling a partner that things didn’t go particularly well in a sexual experience. But if both partners (1) are comfortable with their own sexuality, (2) are able to accurately communicate their feelings about the sexual experience, and (3) are attentive to their partner’s sexual desires, the couple will likely minimize misperceptions and both partners will likely experience higher sexual fulfillment."
Of course, if you're not used to speaking up in bed it's often not something that just happens overnight. Start by figuring out what you really want in bed, which might mean some time on your own first. Experiment a little bit to find out what arouses you and brings you to climax. Browsing porn or erotica, trying a new sex toy, or even a new masturbation technique are all ways you can explore your body and find out what turns you on.
The orgasm gap is still around and, as long as men are totally missing whether or not we're orgasming, it's going to stick around. Don't be afraid to be vulnerable, honest, and direct about what you need. Your partner should want to please you, so it's a win-win.