The Orgasm Gap and Why it Matters

Sex & Relationships

July 30, 2021

*First published in the Gratefull Company’s August 2021 Digital Newsletter

You may have heard about the gender pay gap and efforts to close it. However, you may not have heard about another important gap – the orgasm gap.

What exactly is the orgasm gap? It refers to the fact that in heterosexual sexual encounters, men have more orgasms than women. In one study, 91% of men said they usually or always experience an orgasm, whereas only 39% of women do1. This orgasm gap seems to be particularly pronounced in hookup and casual sexual encounters2. However, this gap exists even in committed relationships3.

 So why does the orgasm gap exist?

There are many potential reasons. In our culture, men’s pleasure and orgasm tends to be prioritized above women’s and we tend to overvalue penetrative sex. Think about it – everything before penetrative intercourse is called “foreplay”. However, what most people with vulvas actually find most pleasurable involves stimulation of the clitoris, not penetration. This could be why women are more likely to experience orgasm in same-sex sexual encounters and when they are masturbating on their own – the focus is on clitoral stimulation. If we viewed the clitoris as important as the penis in sexual encounters, we would call intercourse “postplay” after the main event – clitoral stimulation!

So how do we close the orgasm gap?

Knowledge about the clitoris is key. Stimulation of the clitoris is very important to pleasure for most people with vulvas. We have a mistaken belief that penetration is the way that people should orgasm. In fact, a very small percentage of people with vulvas reliably orgasm from penetration alone (only between 3-18%)4. Next, we need to apply this knowledge, which means seeing clitoral stimulation as equally important as penetration. We also need to acknowledge that sexual activity does not occur in a vacuum – there are several factors that contribute to sexual health beyond just knowledge of the clitoris. Factors like body image concerns, stress, and mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety which are disproportionately experienced by women can also contribute to the orgasm gap.

To sum up, there are many factors that contribute to the orgasm gap and it’s not a simple fix. However, educating yourself on the clitoris and challenging your views on the importance of penetrative sex is a good step forward toward orgasm equality for all!

1Wade, L. D., Kremer, E. C., & Brown, J. (2005) The incidental orgasm: The presence of clitoral knowledge and the absence of orgasm for women. Women’s Health, 42, 117-138.

2Mintz, L. B., (2017). Becoming cliterate: Why orgasm equality matters – and how to get it. New York, Harper One.

3Armstrong, E. A., England, P., & Fogarty, A. C. K. (2012). Accounting for women’s orgasm and sexual enjoyment in college hookups and relationships. American Sociological Review, 77, 435-462.

4Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Arter, J., Sanders, S. A., & Dodge, B. (2017). Women’s experiences with genital touching, sexual pleasure, and orgasm: Results from a U.S. probability sample of women ages 18 to 94. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 44, 344-356.

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