The Orgasm Gap: Why Can’t I Orgasm?
Have you heard of the orgasm gap and want to know more? Or are you here because you’re wondering, “Why can’t I orgasm during sex?” Maybe you can reach climax through masturbation, but just can’t quite get there with a partner. Let’s take a closer look at the orgasm gap, how it affects our perception of pleasure, and what we can practically do to have more orgasms!
My name’s Rachel, and I work for Knude Society, a woman-led sexual wellness company. Since pleasure is our business, I have a thing or two to say about the orgasm gap! Firstly, let’s take a look at what the orgasm gap actually is.
What is the orgasm gap?
The orgasm gap is the term used to describe the difference between the number of orgasms experienced between different groups. In 2017 a scientific study looked into the frequency of orgasms among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual men and women in the US. The research found that heterosexual women in relationships have the biggest orgasm gap compared with their heterosexual male partners, with 95% of heterosexual men saying they reached climax every time they had sex, compared to only 65% of heterosexual women.
The study also found that lesbian and bisexual women also experience more orgasms together than heterosexual women with male partners. Women also generally experience more orgasms through masturbation than through intercourse.
Why is there an orgasm gap?
There is no single reason for this discrepancy in pleasure as it’s a complex and emotional topic that can be impacted by many things. The gap in heterosexual relationships could be explained by a lack of knowledge of the female pleasure anatomy, as most people with vulvas require clitoral stimulation to climax - a recent study found that only 18% of women can reach orgasm from penetrative sex on it’s own.
Since female pleasure is broad, and different types of sex can lead to more orgasms, this may also be one of the reasons why lesbian and bisexual couples reach climax more frequently than heterosexual women. On the flip side, when heterosexual, penetrative sex is given the spotlight as the most common or real type of sex, other people's own, unique experience of pleasure is sidelined.
Silence, stigma, and female health
The lack of knowledge of female pleasure, along with the awkwardness of discussing and asking for what feels good, is symptomatic of something much larger. We can make a joke about how some men don’t know where the clitoris is, but there is a wider issue when it comes to our bodies. For a long, long time there’s been a lack of education when it comes to female health - and this in turn is made worse by the stigma that surrounds our reproductive health.
Take, for example, a condition like endometriosis, an often invisible, chronically painful condition that is estimated to affect 10% of women worldwide. For years endometriosis went unacknowledged and undiagnosed, and the pain and symptoms women experienced were put down to bad period cramps or PMS. Historically, this lack of awareness of female anatomy has meant that for a long time, not only has our pleasure gone unrecognized, but also our pain.
Living with less
I have to acknowledge that as someone who identifies as a woman, I myself find I am willing to accept less as the “norm”. I find myself “pushing through” and “getting by” in a number of aspects of my life, probably a lot more than my male partner or male friends would do.
Taking a step back, I can acknowledge that this is something I have unwittingly accepted as normal given the society we live in, and that this in turn contributes to the orgasm gap because I’m less likely to say to a partner “that didn’t feel good”, “that’s not really working for me” or “can we try this?” This is of course not mine, or any vulva owner’s fault - when we learn to live in a world where our experiences aren’t always recognized
Closing the orgasm gap
Understanding the orgasm gap is a great first step in acknowledging inequality, but what can we actually do to make female pleasure a fairer experience? If I am honest, thinking about the number of people that need to be educated on the workings of the vulva makes me feel a bit overwhelmed. When there is a lack of sex education, and our culture continues to reinforce heterosexual penetrative sex as the pinnacle of all pleasure, how can we begin to move forward?
For me, it helped to start thinking smaller. I gave myself a pep talk and reminded myself that I can take some power back by acknowledging that my own pleasure has worth, and knowing that every time I masturbate or talk to my partner about my pleasure, I am working against those societal structures, and ensuring that female pleasure is not something that is sidelined, forgotten or simply ignored.
I urge you to do the same: open up the conversation where you can, and don’t be ashamed to give a voice to what you want when it comes to pleasure. Talking about sex can be daunting, but it can also be extremely liberating.
Remember pleasure is very individual and if you’re in the camp wondering “Why can’t I orgasm?” Getting there might take more than a quick conversation with your partner (although this is a great starting point). I’d encourage you to remove the pressure of achieving climax every time you have sex, there are many ways to enjoy pleasure, and while we want to achieve equality when it comes to orgasms, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to enjoy sex, as long as you enjoy it!
Tell your partner if you experience pain during sex - if sex is uncomfortable, we can create negative associations with it, and that, in turn, can make it harder to enjoy sex in the future.
At the Knude Society, we’re on a mission to reclaim real pleasure. I am of course going to recommend our toys, lubes, and bundles to help you explore pleasure alone or with a partner! Readers of this article can get a 15% discount by using the code “NATURALCYCLES” at checkout.
However, this sexual revolution doesn’t require sex toys. It needs you to say to yourself and the world “my pleasure is important”, in whatever way you can, big or small. However you do it, make sure you do. We’ll be there shouting it from the rooftops with you!
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