The Happy Trail

No More Coming Second: How to Close the Orgasm Gap 

Image: Reading a page of cliterature at a bookstore in Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Kiki Fang

By Kaya Heimowitz

  You read the title of the column and now you’re thinking, “What’s the orgasm gap?” Well, it’s a phenomenon that’s been studied for decades. There is a noticeable difference between the number of orgasms (if any) reported by cishet women and cishet men when they have sex. So it’s not only true that men tend to make more money than women, they also come more than women. 

While the majority of research has focused on the orgasm gap as it pertains to men and women, it is not only cishet men and women who report these gaps. More inclusive research has started to show that the orgasm gap affects all of us. 

  The different gaps are identified in the paper “Differences in Orgasm Frequency Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Men and Women in a U.S. National Sample.” The biggest gap is between cishet men and cishet women, where cishet women orgasm less frequently than their cishet male partners while having sex. The paper references a national survey of sexual health and behavior, which found that “91% of men and 64% of women aged 18-59 reported orgasm during their most recent sexual event.” That’s a pretty big orgasm gap. Lesbian women have reported the smallest orgasm gap between partners and also orgasm more often than cishet women. However, cishet men tend to orgasm more frequently than all other groups and significantly overestimate how often their female partners orgasm. Typical. The paper ultimately communicates that in every sexual relationship pairing, one partner tends to orgasm more frequently, and thus, there is a pleasure gap between partners. 

  The orgasm gap is also often referred to as the “pleasure gap” because there is more to pleasure than just having orgasms. To better educate the Puget Sound community on the pleasure gap, I interviewed Eliza Koch (‘24), an aspiring sex therapist, who wrote a thesis for her Gender and Queer Studies minor called “Pleasure as Power: The Pleasure Gap as a Tool of the Sexual System of Oppression,” which examines the ways in which patriarchy devalues women’s pleasure and teaches them not to advocate for themselves. Koch explains the pleasure gap as an “undervaluing of certain groups of people’s pleasure that results in things like lower rates of orgasm.” 

  When asked what creates this pleasure gap between partners, Koch responded that on a societal level, “we tend to undervalue women’s pleasure. And this shows up in things like what we define as ‘real sex.’” People tend to think of so-called “real sex” as penetrative sex between a cishet man and a cishet woman. However, as Koch explains, “This creates some pretty big issues, especially for, you know, queer folks who don’t have sex that way. And it can also create a lot of shame for people who don’t find pleasure in that typical penetrative sex.” It is a known fact that people with vulvas tend to need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm. The pressure put on having “real sex” prevents people from exploring other types of sex that may result in experiencing more pleasure. 

  It is a good idea to ask yourself where your knowledge about pleasure and sex comes from. Chances are most of it didn’t come from a classroom. Movies, tv shows, porn, and even gossiping with friends have helped us all construct narratives about what sex is and what it isn’t. These create “sexual scripts” that we feel like we have to play out when we have sex. Koch says that one of the most common sexual scripts is that you start by making out, then you get aroused, and then foreplay occurs (which in this script could include anything from fingering to oral sex to using sex toys: essentially anything not traditionally defined as “real sex”), and all of this leads to a grand finale of penetrative sex (which puts pressure on orgasming with penetration). This script is limiting for both heterosexual and queer people. Koch says that one of the reasons lesbians have the smallest orgasm gap is “partially due to, they might use different scripts. So yeah, like a turn-taking model is much more common in lesbian relationships.” Taking turns rather than putting pressure on coming together can make sex more equitable. So take some time to start redefining “sex” and “pleasure” for yourself and how you communicate it with your partner or partners. 

  On an interpersonal level, a lack of communication between partners prevents both people from experiencing the pleasure they deserve. As Koch puts it, “The best thing you can do with a partner to make sure they feel good is to ask them how to make them feel good.” And that means that the best thing you can do for yourself is to communicate about what will make you feel good to your partner. 

  Communication between partners has a role in both long-term relationships and hookups. The orgasm gap tends to be bigger for hookups than other relationships, partially because people can write it off as ‘it didn’t matter that they didn’t finish or that they faked an orgasm because it’s a one-time thing,’ but it does matter! Tn her book, “I Didn’t Know I Needed This,” Eli Rallo writes, “fuck to finish or not at all.” That doesn’t mean you should put pressure on yourself to finish, rather it means that it is important to prioritize pleasure, which you can do by communicating. Asking, “Does that feel good?” is vague and leaves little room for actual communication. Instead, communication can look like asking, “How can I make this better for you?” or having an open discussion with someone you trust, or a brief quip like “A little to the left.” 

  If you are interested in reading a pop-culture book about pleasure (note that it predominantly caters to women), then Koch recommends reading “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski. If you are interested in reading a book catered towards men that focuses on more of the how-to aspects of pleasuring women, consider reading “She Comes First” by Ian Kerner (pictured above). These are both available at Collins Memorial Library and the Tacoma Public Library (I checked). And there are hundreds more books and articles out there for you to discover!

  So go out and figure out how to have the sex you want to have! Try new things, stand up for yourself, communicate with your sexual partners, rewrite your sexual scripts, have fun, explore your bodies, and stay safe!