The Orgasm Gap: Why Is The “Big O” Still Such a No-Go?

The Orgasm Gap: Why Is The “Big O” Still Such a No-Go?

What’s all this talk about the orgasm gap? What is it? Do I have one? How do I close it? If you aren’t familiar with the current state of female orgasms, you aren’t alone. What makes you stand out is that you’ve taken the first step toward expanding your horizons and pursuing the knowledge that will improve you and your partner's sexual pleasure in myriad ways. Nice work!

The Orgasm Gap isn’t a one size fits all sort of problem, but in general, a national study from 2010 found that 85% of men climaxed the last time they had sex compared to just 64% of women, an orgasm gap of 21%. “There are a host of cultural problems contributing to the orgasm gap,” psychologist Laurie Mintz, author of Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters—And How to Get It, wrote in Psychology Today.

“We have a double standard that judges women more harshly than men for casual sex. Sex education generally doesn’t focus on pleasure. Most of us have little training in sexual communication, yet good sexual communication is key when it comes to female orgasms. This is because there are differences between women in terms of what they need to orgasm—and what one woman needs to orgasm can vary from one encounter to another.”

Now that we have some of the basics out of the way, let's dive a little deeper into the tips, tricks, and possible solutions to this orgasmic negligence. 

The Problem Gap
A 2016 British survey—one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of sexual behavior in the world—found that the most common orgasm-related problem for women was difficulty achieving orgasm with their male partners; men’s biggest problem was orgasming too quickly.
The Frequency Gap

The orgasm gap is even wider regarding the frequency of climax: According to a 2016 study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, 95% of heterosexual men in the U.S. reported they usually or always orgasmed during sex, compared to 65% of heterosexual women. A study of 800 college students found an even wider gap of 52%. Less than 40% of women said they usually or always have an orgasm during sex compared to 91% of men who said the same.

The Commitment Gap

The orgasm gap appears to be larger among people having casual sex compared to people in long-term relationships. The likelihood of a man reaching orgasm doesn’t change based on his relationship status, but women are six times more likely to climax with a long-term partner than with a brand-new partner. Women who have prior sexual experience with their partners—even if they’re not in a long-term, committed relationship—are more likely to climax than women hooking up with someone for the first time.

There are many reasons this may be the case, according to psychologist Justin Lehmiller, author of Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. People in long-term relationships are able to learn what their partner likes, Lehmiller wrote in a 2013 blog post. The more experiences a woman has with a male partner, the more he learns how to please her. And behaviors most closely linked to female orgasm—such as oral sex—are more likely to occur in a relationship than in a one-off hookup.

The Reason for the Gap

The precise reason for the orgasm gap isn’t known, but research suggests two main factors may be in play: one evolutionary and one sociocultural. Orgasms may come more easily to men because they’re a biological necessity to facilitate reproduction, David Frederick, an associate professor of psychology at Chapman University, said in a 2017 interview with CNN. For women, there’s no clear tie between orgasm and procreation.

Socioculturally, “women have higher body dissatisfaction than men, and it interferes with their sex life more,” Frederick told CNN. “This can impact sexual satisfaction and ability to orgasm if people are focusing more on these concerns than on the sexual experience.”

A 2010 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found exactly that. “Several aspects of body image, including weight concern, physical condition, sexual attractiveness, and thoughts about the body during sexual activity predict sexual satisfaction in women,” the authors concluded.

“There is more stigma against women initiating sex and expressing what they want sexually,” Frederick told CNN. “One thing we know is that in many couples, there is a desire discrepancy: One partner wants sex more often than the other. In heterosexual couples, that person is usually the man.”

The Perception Gap

In 2009, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found a 27% orgasm gap between men and women. But it also found a huge disparity in the perception of orgasms, at least among men: 85% of men said their partner during their most recent sexual encounter reached orgasm, far higher than the 64% of women who said they climaxed. The disparity can’t be explained by sexual orientation either; 92% of men and 98% of women in the study said their last partner was someone of the opposite sex. So either men think too highly of their sexual prowess or their female partners are convincingly faking it.

Faking It

Speaking of faking it, there’s a gap there too: In a survey of 2,000 people in the U.S. and U.K., researchers found that 68% of women and 27% of men had faked an orgasm at some point. The results were even starker when broken down by sexual orientation: While 68% of straight women reported faking an orgasm, considerably fewer gay women (59%) reported doing so. For men, the inverse: 48% of gay men have faked it, but only 25% of straight men.

There’s a frequency gap here too: 95% of men in the survey said they never or rarely fake it, while 66% of women said the same. More than 10% of women said they always or almost always fake orgasms. One area where there’s not much of a gender gap: How women and men feel about faking it. Approximately 20% of both women and men feel either guilty or ashamed about faking orgasms, while about half of both genders feel neutral about it.

The Anorgasmia Gap

In a 2017 study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, more than a third of women reported that they don’t usually orgasm during sex. This condition, called anorgasmia, is often categorized into three main types: primary, in which a person has never successfully reached climax; secondary, in which a person used to be able to reach climax easily enough but no longer can; and situational, in which a person can orgasm only under specific conditions.

Anorgasmia is far less prevalent in men than women, but it does exist. Research on male anorgasmia isn’t common, but a 2015 study found that the prevalence of primary and secondary anorgasmia in men under 65 was less than 5%. The study’s authors acknowledged that the issue is likely underreported, though.

Alone vs. Together

In a study of 800 college women, researchers found that women reached orgasm much more frequently during masturbation than sex. Nearly 40% of the women said they always have an orgasm during masturbation compared to just 6% who said they always orgasm during sex with a partner.

Why? Well, at least in part due to the lack of a penis, according to psychologist and sex therapist Laurie Mintz. “Culturally, we overvalue penetrative sex,” Mintz wrote in Psychology Today. “Our cultural hyper-focus on the importance of putting a penis in a vagina is screwing with women’s orgasms. We use the words ‘sex’ and ‘intercourse’ synonymously, and relegate clitoral stimulation to ‘foreplay.’ You don’t have to look far to see media images of women having mind-blowing orgasms from intercourse alone. No wonder most women say this is what they want.”

The Age Gap

As women get older, both the quality and frequency of their orgasms may improve. A recent study showed that 61% of women age 18 to 34 reached orgasm the last time they had sex, while 65% of women in their 30s and 70% of women in their 40s and 50s did. 

Why this happens is another matter, but Debby Herbenick, a research scientist at Indiana University, suggested in an interview with Woman’s Day that it may be because older women are more sexually experienced, have more confidence and aren’t afraid to say what they want in the bedroom. Women in long-term relationships also report more frequent orgasms, so that may tie into the age factor as well.

The Lesbian Orgasm Gap

Perhaps the biggest orgasm gap is between people of different sexual orientations. In a 2017 study, 65% of heterosexual women said they usually or always have an orgasm during sex (the lowest of all orientations studied) compared to 86% of lesbian women.

The Lesbian Orgasm Gap - The Sequel

Straight men, of course, reported the highest rates of orgasm (95%), but gay women were nearly the same as gay men (89%) and bisexual men (88%). The takeaway: When women have sex with women, they orgasm about as much as men.

How to Close the Orgasm Gap: The Clitoris

How might we begin to close the orgasm gap? “The number-one reason for the orgasm gap—and it’s not the only one—is our cultural ignorance of the clitoris,” psychologist Laurie Mintz said in a 2019 interview with NBC News. 
In a 2015 survey published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 36% of women reported that clitoral stimulation helped them orgasm during sex, while only 18% said they orgasmed from intercourse alone.

How to Close the Orgasm Gap: The Clitoris Part 2

In a 2012 study published in the American Sociological Review, researchers found that women were more likely to reach orgasm when they received oral sex and when they received direct stimulation of the clitoris, the nerve-rich part of the vulva with 8,000 nerve endings in the tip alone.

A 2015 survey of women ages 18 to 40 found that many respondents attributed their difficulty orgasming during straight sex to either not enough clitoral stimulation (38%) or not the right kind of clitoral stimulation (35%).

How to Close the Orgasm Gap: The Clitoris Part 3

Sigmund Freud theorized that there were two types of orgasm: vaginal and clitoral. He popularized the myth that the vagina is central to female pleasure, which Alfred Kinsey disproved in 1953. Kinsey found that women orgasm easily and reliably from direct clitoral stimulation when masturbating. Similarly, researcher Shere Hite determined in the 1970s that 95% of women orgasm easily within minutes when they masturbate. 

How to Close the Orgasm Gap: Oral Sex

The results of a 2017 study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior indicated that straight women and gay and bisexual men and women are more likely to orgasm when they receive oral sex. Only straight men saw no link between oral sex and frequency of reaching orgasm.