This piece discusses sex in depth. I advise my family to not read it. Continue at your peril.
I have had sex with about 40 men in my life so far. Sadly, only a few of them could make me orgasm; I remember all three of them fondly. A couple of others allowed me the time and space for my vibrator. When I realized how rare these men were, far greater questions hit me. Did I pick the wrong guy 37 times? Or put simply: is there something terribly wrong with me?
It turns out that I am not alone. My experience is so common that there’s a statistic in social science dedicated to it: the orgasm gap. As I dug into the research on this, I came across an incredible book, “Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters and How To Get It", by Dr. Laurie Mintz. Dr. Mintz is a professor of Psychology at the University of Florida and what I’ve learned from her has blown my mind many times over. I was lucky to interview her for the Misseducated podcast, which you can listen to here.
This article summarizes the most important things I’ve learned on how we can help cis-women have more orgasms and create a more equally pleasurable world. I focus on heterosexual relationships because as we’ll come to understand, lesbian and bisexual women tend to have more orgasms than straight women. There is a lot that straight women can learn from the LGBTQ+ community; I credit my gay male friend, Reece, with teaching me everything I know about butt stuff, which I’ll also explore (it’s more important than you might think).
I hope you find this article helpful, enlightening and yes, orgasmic. If you do, please consider sharing it with a like-minded friend.
What is the Orgasm Gap and How Big Is It?
The orgasm gap, or “pleasure gap”, refers to “the unequal frequency in achievement of orgasm during sexual encounters.” According to Wikipedia, this gap is unidirectional: “Currently, across every demographic that has been studied, women report lower frequency of reaching orgasm during sexual encounters with men.” Hence the hundreds of times my male partners have ejaculated, while I lay on the bed staring up at the ceiling.
The “with men” part is what needs to be emphasized here. Orgasm inequality does not affect all types of relationships. It comes in varying degrees. According to the International Academy of Sex Research in 2017, quoted in the Guardian, “95% of heterosexual men said they usually or always orgasmed when sexually intimate, followed by 89% of gay men, 88% of bisexual men, 86% of lesbian women, 66% of bisexual women and 65% of straight women.”
Only 65% of straight women? What the flying fuck is that all about? Great. So basically, the more keen I am as a female to have partnered sex with a male, the less likely I am to orgasm with them. Also, lesbians are doing something right. If heterosexual females were orgasming 86% of the time, I can tell you that the world would be a very different place.
Dr. Mintz shares an even more depressing version of this statistic: “55% of men versus 4% of women said they usually reach orgasm during first-time hookup sex!” It seems we have a problem on our hands, indeed. Hookup sex is notoriously fast and impatient. And as we’ll see, when a measly attempt is given to female pleasure, it’s often lumped into “foreplay”, a more dangerous word than it first appears.
Is It Really As Bad As It Seems?
65% of straight women orgasming sounds alarmingly low. But when I brought this topic up over dinner with friends, we were surprised that it was that high. As we shared our own experiences, we began to wonder: which women did they interview for that study? Where are they in the world, and how can we meet their male partners?
As I mentioned, only 3 out of my 40 male partners had been able to make me orgasm, which rounds up to 8%. They were longer-term partners, so maybe I’ve orgasmed 45% over all the times I’ve had sex? That’s still a heck of a lot lower than 65%. This inequality is preposterous to me because it’s common knowledge that most female humans can orgasm multiple times in a single sexual setting. Given this alone, the world should be in a surplus of female orgasms! Heck, every heterosexual couple should have female orgasms coming out of their ears!
The good news for you smart and willing men out there is that we can solve this problem. And also, let’s be real: based on how few men can make their female partners orgasm, being able to do so would give you a huge competitive advantage. So what can we do about this?
How to Close The Orgasm Gap
1. Focus on the clitoris.
“78% of women’s orgasm problems are caused by not enough or not the right kind of clitoral stimulation.” (Mintz)
Okay, I’ll admit it: I’ve never had an orgasm from vaginal sex. It’s estimated that only 18.4% of women can orgasm from vaginal penetration alone. And as Dr. Mintz shared in her TED Talk, only 4% of women consider it their main route to orgasm. The rest of us have other ways that we reach orgasm; we’re focusing on our clitoris, playing with toys, and living our best lives.
Most of us females quietly know that the clitoris is important to our pleasure, especially from our masturbation. And yet, that’s not how female orgasms are portrayed in wider society at all. Porn videos of heterosexual couples focus almost exclusively on the female having a grand old time because she has a penis inside of her. I’ve learned that this, my friends, is a lie. As Dr. Mintz explains, “The idea that we should orgasm from intercourse is the number one reason for the pleasure gap…We’re doing too much of what we consider “fucking” (a.k.a intercourse) and not enough other sexual activities.”
I have struggled with this. For years I thought something was wrong with me because the penetrative part of whatever I was doing with a male partner just wasn’t that pleasurable. Now I know the truth:
Vaginal sex is the reliable way that males reach orgasm, but not females!
My favorite example of this comes from lesbian sex. As Dr. Mintz writes, “When two women get it on, they mostly focus on stimulating each other’s clitorises; penetration (e.g. a strap-on or dildo) is a totally optional activity, only incorporated if one of the women finds it enhances her arousal and orgasm.” That is mind-blowing. Penises are great for a bunch of other things like feeling dominated (which I find hot) and conceiving children. But penises will not help female partners have more orgasms or help us get equal pleasure for equal measure.
This news might be disappointing to some men. For much of your life, through porn and otherwise, you’ve probably been told your penis is super important to a female’s sexual existence, and that it has magical powers. Indeed, finding all this out might be a little ego-shattering for you. However, I’d encourage you to see this as a blessing. In the book “She Comes First” (subtitled “The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring A Woman), Ian Kerner shares,
“In letting go of intercourse, we open ourselves up to new creative ways of experiencing pleasure, ways that might not strike us as inherently masculine, but that ultimately allow us to be more of a man. Sex is no longer penis-dependent, and we can let go of the usual anxieties about sex, stamina, and performance.”
Until now, men have been set up to fail when it comes to the idea that their penis should be responsible for female orgasms. And I agree, that’s completely unfair. Embracing the clitoris gives men the opportunity to let go of this and increase their chances of truly knocking their partner’s socks off.
2. Redefine what we mean by “vagina” and “sex”.
“In our culture, it’s not “sex” unless intercourse happens and the male has an orgasm. Let that sink in for a moment.” (Mintz)
For the vast majority of my life, I referred to my entire genital anatomy as my “vagina”. I had never stopped to think about what the word meant. It turns out that the vagina is only the inside tract part of a female’s genitals that leads up to the uterus, which you can see in this awesome 3D model by Pussypedia. Additionally, these diagrams from Planned Parenthood do a decent job of explaining this in 2D, although I’m pretty sure no one’s anus ever looked like that…
The vagina is only the inside tract. It is not the vulva i.e. the entire external bits of a female’s genitals, of which the clitoris is a part. As Dr. Mintz shares: “We label women’s genitals by the one part (the vagina) through which most men reach orgasm…It’s cultural privileging of the male experience.”
Discovering this made me want to rip my hair out. The language I’ve used my whole life around my own body only describes the part of me that is essential for male pleasure and men reaching orgasms. Meanwhile, my language barely recognizes my organs which are essential to my pleasure. To address this, we must start by using the term “vulva” in our day-to-day language. We can also nickname the clitoris “Cleo”, as Dr. Mintz recommends, to bring these important parts of the female anatomy into our consciousness.
Some people are already talking about the clitoris in a big and beautiful way. I want to shout out the Clitorosity movement and artists like Sophia Wallace of “Cliteracy”, who are bringing the words and the anatomy of female pleasure to the public.
It turns out that I’ve also been using the word “sex” incorrectly all along. I used to say, “I had sex with them” to only describe when a male’s penis entered my vagina. That was until I recently slept with a woman and I realized: if neither of us has a penis, does that mean we’ll never have “sex”? Dr. Mintz addresses this when she takes issue with the typical script of heterosexual encounters:
“First there’s “foreplay”, then there’s “sex” (intercourse), during which the male has an orgasm, and then the action stops. Where in this familiar sequence of events is the female orgasm?...It’s crucial to understand that this “appetizer” is the main course for many women—it’s the way they orgasm! Despite this, oral sex isn’t often considered to be sex.”
Additionally, she shares,
“68% of women said it counts as sex when a partner gives them oral sex, but only 33% of men said it counts when they give a partner oral sex.”
Oral sex is sex, my friends. This is another way in which our language has to change. In a world of orgasm equality, foreplay is not just a necessary set of steps to get a male ready to enter the vagina and have an orgasm. It is the main course for any female in a sexual encounter.
So, firstly, we need to make sure that it lasts long enough and is varied enough to enable the female to orgasm. And then we also need to change our language to say that any kind of sexual pleasure and stimulation counts as “sex”, whether that’s oral sex, clitoral stimulation, intercourse with a penis, or penetration with a giant rainbow dildo. All “sex” needs to be equal in the eyes of pleasure when it comes to our language, otherwise female orgasms will never be.
3. Transfer your masturbation techniques to partnered sex.
“The most crucial action needed to orgasm with a partner is to get the same type of stimulation you use when pleasuring yourself.” (Mintz)
This tip sounds incredibly obvious, and yet in my sexual history, I have rarely done this. I have a bunch of ways I typically reach orgasm through masturbation, but somehow when it came to having intercourse with a partner, I often did none of those things. Why is that? As Dr. Mintz confirms, “The most striking thing about female masturbation is how likely it is to produce orgasm and how little it resembles, mechanically, the stimulation received from intercourse.” The idea here is that we females can do more to teach males about how we orgasm on our own through masturbation so that our male partners can replicate those techniques.
However, I want to go a step further than Dr. Mintz here, because I’ve found an even more useful way that my male partners can help me reach orgasm. It’s not just about men learning how to use a vibrator, for example, though that is a good first step. As someone who has explored my own body a lot, I have discovered several things I like that are very hard for me to perform on myself. Without going too much into the dirty details, they mostly involve squirting and butt stuff. This is where my male partner can really come in handy (no pun intended).
I dedicated this piece to the man who had given me the most orgasms because he was in a league of his own. And he knew one thing that I think a lot of men could benefit from:
Understand that your main value-add as the male is to do things your partner likes but that she finds challenging, if not physically impossible, to do to herself.
As an equivalent in the male experience, let’s think about blowjobs. Straight men love blowjobs, and yet they’re something that would be weird and uncomfortable, if not impossible, for a man to perform on himself. This is the same for females. When it came to my partner who gave me the most orgasms, he had a technique that I’ll call “Eating Out and Staying For The Three Course Meal”. Firstly, he’d eat me out like his hunger for me could never be quenched. Then he’d combine it with a tiny, gentle amount of butt stuff. And voila! I orgasmed like clockwork. Maybe other women don’t like having fingers in their butts. In that case, I’d encourage them to figure out what they do like, and what they want their partner to do to them. Rinse, then repeat.
Still, this opens up another can of worms…
4. Consider trying anal stimulation.
I’m obviously biased on this specific topic, and I’m also aware that I’m sharing this publicly on the internet. But for the sake of orgasm equality, maybe airing the dirty laundry of my personal life is worth it? Well, here we go.
I wouldn’t have included anything on this topic, if I hadn’t come across this great article by Mona Chalabi, based on data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior:
What’s surprising about this graph is that the share of women who orgasmed after receiving anal is high up where we should be, in the low 90%s. That’s right bang on where we want to be in terms of orgasm equality. Yet what’s sad about this finding is that only 31 respondents who were women shared that they had received anal. Meanwhile, in the vaginal sex camp, 730 respondents were reaching orgasm a disappointing 65% of the time. Surprise, surprise.
This finding about women orgasming from receiving anal sex could signal several things. Firstly, it could be true that receiving anal sex, combined with other types of stimulation, is an underrated way for females to have more orgasms. On the other hand, which is my hunch, is that the 31 respondents who know they enjoy receiving anal sex are curious cats like me, and they have probably tried enough weird stuff to know what they like, such as other types of clitoral stimulation and kinkier shit, and that those things aren’t listed here.
I will be a data point of one here and say that receiving anal sex as opposed to receiving vaginal sex is a more reliable route for me to reach orgasm. This is partly because clitoral stimulation is also easier in terms of the angles of anal sex than vaginal sex. And as I mentioned previously, I’m grateful to have learned all about butt stuff from my amazing gay male friend, Reece.
Still, what bothers me about encouraging heterosexual couples to have anal sex is just how it’s viewed in society today. In heterosexual relationships, anal sex is overhyped in our culture in a way that I find pretty disgusting; it’s essentially just another route for straight men to dive deep into toxic masculinity by dominating their female partners in an extreme way while leaving many women feeling pressured to receive anal sex to please their partners in the process. It’s a script we’ve heard so many times before, and I’m tired of it.
I took issue with this in a piece I wrote called Anal Equality. The article summarizes that the vast majority of straight men who are keen to have anal sex (history of abuse aside) would never take as much as a finger up the bum in return. I am against this and I believe that a straight couple should only consider exploring anal sex if the female partner is genuinely curious about trying it, and if the male partner is willing to explore butt stuff themselves. And as I’ve written about pegging my boyfriend, it’s not as scary as it sounds. The prostate for men exists, and it's not gay to have it stimulated. In fact, I’ve heard it’s pretty darn pleasurable.
5. Unlearn all that body shame.
“A woman who dislikes her own naked body is not going to feel open and free during a sexual encounter…It’s impossible to have an orgasm while trying to hold your stomach in”. (Mintz)
I included this quote about trying to hold your stomach in because that’s exactly what I tried to do during sex in my late teenage years. It turns out I had a huge mental barrier on my path to pleasure. To overcome it, I had to learn to love my body and accept myself just as I am. When any of us are in the moment, it’s impossible to be present and receive pleasure if we’re constantly wondering how our partner is judging our genitals.
For us females, Dr. Mintz offers us some hope in this regard: “Research shows that men have more positive attitudes towards women’s genitals than women do!” Just take the male artist Jamie McCartney, who created a project in 2006 called “The Great Wall of Vulva”. He documented the variety of vulvas from over 400 people in physical molds as a kind of homage to the female body. Here’s a sample of the molds he took, though it’s kind of concerning to me that none of these vulvas have pubic hair on them:
Art projects like this can help us realize that however floppy our labia look, they’re beautiful and normal in their own little way. And if you’re hooking up with a guy, he probably isn’t nit-picking about the tiny details of how she looks. And if he is, well…girl, run! Meanwhile, any sane man is probably just excited that he gets to be around you and hook up with you. In my personal experience, I’ve found that I’ve often judged my own body in a much harsher way than my partner ever would (and as a woman who doesn’t own a razor, I wouldn’t ever sleep with a guy who would judge me for having body hair anyway).
6. Recognize that our right to pleasure is equal as well.
“Your orgasm problem is a cultural problem.” (Mintz)
While I believe in the importance of my pleasure, my actions in my love life have often said otherwise. For years, especially when I was with a male partner, I didn’t insist that I needed to orgasm too. I didn’t have that level of entitlement in my mind. Subconsciously, my thought process was often along the lines of,
“Well, we don’t have time for me. It’s okay, though. I don’t mind giving him what he needs, and then we can move on and sleep and cuddle or whatever. Hopefully, I can come next time. I’ll just let this one go.”
I’m still not sure exactly why I thought this. As I explored in another piece, Why I Don’t Swallow Cum, it took me over a decade to realize that pleasing men is not the sole purpose of my existence in partnered sex. This is where the patriarchy frankly sucks for women. Like many people who have been socialized as a woman, I’ve been raised to be the best people pleaser I can be. Now an adult, this has manifested in me being a giant, generous human doormat, not speaking too loudly or hogging any conversation for longer than my fair share.
When it comes to sex, all the ways I have been socialized as a woman have done nothing but rob me of the pleasure that I deserve. Both men and women have to understand that women don’t just exist to pleasure men. Now that we know vaginal sex is not a reliable way for females to reach orgasm, it makes sense that we should split sexy time equally between stuff to pleasure her, and stuff to pleasure him. Women need to be more selfish. Men need to be more patient. When our pleasure is stunted, our lives are stunted too because of it.
Previously, when I was with a male partner, and I thought it would take me too long to orgasm with them, I gave up and thought there was no point in trying. Why would I ever propose such a hideous thought? Even if the destination of orgasm isn’t reached, surely the beauty of the journey is still worth it? I’m learning that I need to stop worrying about whether or not I will orgasm, and simply enjoy the ride. Why can’t I just let a guy eat me out for half an hour if he wants to? What about being raised as a woman makes me spiral into guilt, instead of letting myself sit back and enjoy something? Female orgasms do not need to be the final destination or the stamp of approval. As a woman, I am learning to enjoy pleasure for pleasure’s sake.
It comes down to making a small change in our own lives. As individuals, we can’t control the weather, house prices, or if Trader Joe’s will have the Scandinavian Swimmer candies (my favorite) in stock. But we can control whether our current lover boy splits his time equally with us, and we take a turn for our pleasure in bed.
7. Switch things up.
I thought I had my masturbation techniques down. But in “Becoming Cliterate”, Dr. Mintz shares some helpful ways to train the organ between our ears (our brain) and explore the less-chartered ways we might reach orgasm. She shares a long list of fun things to help us get in the mood, including using candles and music, taking a bubble bath first, having a glass of wine or beer, and trying moaning and groaning. In this way, Dr. Mintz encourages us to try coming on our own in ways that we haven’t before.
“If you’ve been pleasuring yourself while naked, try doing so partially clothed—and vice versa. If you’ve been touching yourself through your panties, take them off. If you’ve been pleasuring yourself with your panties off, put them on and try touching yourself through them.”
What’s interesting to note is that simply adding more sex acts can also increase a female partner’s chance of orgasm. Mona Chalabi shares this finding in her article:
The more sex acts a couple performed, the more likely the female partner was to orgasm, with five sex acts allowing the female to reach orgasm around 89% of the time. By sex acts, they don’t mean different positions for vaginal sex. They mean foreplay, anal stimulation, oral, toys, fingering, and masturbation. Add a vibrator or a butt plug and take it away. There’s a huge correlation between more sex acts and the percentage of women who can reach orgasm. So, spice it up and make it varied!
8. Speaking of vibrators…
“Do carpenters become addicted to power tools? No, power tools just get the job done faster. Many women really love their vibrators, but that’s a personal preference, not an addiction.” (Mintz).
Who says you can’t cheat on this test? Vibrators are a sure-fire and easy way for many females to reach orgasm. In fact, for many women, using a vibrator is the first way they ever find their route to orgasm in the first place. We can close the orgasm gap with a little help from the crave bullets (Thank you Ti Chang and team), the rabbits, the dames (Thank you Alex Fine and team), and the lionesses (Thank you Anna Lee and team) of this world. Still, Dr. Mintz shares a myth we have to bust about them:
“Myth: If women enjoy vibrators in partner sex, men are left out. Truth: Absolutely not. Vibrators provide only one thing, intense stimulation. They can’t kiss women, embrace or massage them, warm the bed, tell jokes, say “I love you”, or do anything else lovers provide to support and enjoy each other. Vibrators don’t replace men. All they do is provide especially intense erotic stimulation.”
Again, another path to female pleasure runs through using vibrators. And if you’re a male equipped with the skills of positioning the vibrator gently in the right spot for the right amount of time, then Bob’s your uncle.
9. Stop judging other women.
One important thing we can also do as females is to start being supportive rather than judgmental about our female friends who are having sex. If you catch yourself judging another woman for having casual sex, pause and consider whether you would judge a man for doing that exact thing. Dr. Mintz addresses the cultural specifics of this issue: “We have a double standard that judges women more harshly than men for having casual sex. This leaves many women feeling conflicted about the sex they’re engaging in. It’s hard to have an orgasm when you’re guilt-ridden or ashamed.”
If you come from a purity-driven or conservative-ridden culture, you will unfortunately have more to unlearn in this regard. But as I covered in my piece “On Not Judging Other Women”, oftentimes, when we are critical of other women it is a sign of us alienating our own needs. Is your single-pringle female friend out and about and having the time of her life around town, while you’re going through a boring sex stage with your boyfriend? Or maybe you’re secretly jealous because your vulva hasn’t seen the light of day in 6 months? Don’t blame your friend, or yourself, for that! We’ve all been there. If you find yourself judging a female friend for the sex she’s having, it’s time to take a good, long, hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself:
“What do I want? Am I horny as fuck? Do I think my worth goes up or down depending on how many people I’ve slept with? If so, why? Am I ashamed of masturbating? Or watching porn? What is it to me if my female friend is enjoying herself?”
That ain’t your friend’s fault. You should probably be happy for her.
10. It helps to sleep with the same person multiple times.
“In one study, 63% of men and 84% of women said they’d prefer a committed sexual relationship.” (Mintz).
A challenge I have come across with a lot of my male partners is that I don’t feel comfortable enough to orgasm in front of them. Orgasming in front of someone is a beautiful but very vulnerable thing to do. I also mentioned that I don’t shave, so there’s a lot to overcome mentally about whether this person I’m having sex with wants to get dirty down there. As a result, unfortunately, orgasming on a one-night stand for me without using a vibrator is basically out of the question.
This is not entirely my fault. Research has shown that “women having sex with a hookup partner for the 3rd-5th time are 40% more likely to orgasm than from a first-time hookup.” Additionally, “hooking up 6 or more times doubles the likelihood of orgasm over a first encounter.”
This makes a whole lot of sense to me. This isn’t to say that one-night stands are bad in any way. It’s great to have a fun, late-night frisk once in a while and I’m personally a huge fan of spontaneous quickies. But it’s understandable that the more comfortable and safe I feel with a partner, the more likely I am to orgasm with them. And that takes a bit of time.
The world is, undeniably, still not a safe place for a lot of women and many men. As I’ve written about my experience overcoming PTSD and extreme trauma, it is unsurprising that being touched by a man I don’t know still scares the shit out of me for the most part. Men who have experienced assault also may not want to be touched in certain ways, even if those ways could lead to more pleasure. In this sense, I encourage everyone to use their judgment and find a partner or partners who you can build a loving, trustworthy, and deeper connection with.
Conclusion: Do whatever you can to reduce the deficit.
In terms of orgasm equality, females in recent decades are way behind males. In my own sex life, I now employ the phrase “twice or more”. I try to orgasm at least twice in a sexual encounter so that I might have a chance of tipping the scales and changing the course of our history in a tiny way.
I shared this thought with one of my female techie friends over dinner. Then she said to me,
“But Tash. Why can’t it be 4x?”
4x? I thought to myself. She was right. Why can’t it be 4x? The most I’ve been able to orgasm is 6 times in a single sitting.
Ultimately, we live in a world today where women have a lot more resources, jobs, and education than they used to. We have more leeway to demand what we truly deserve: equal pleasure for equal measure in the bedroom (i.e. more orgasms). The point of this article is to say that not only can it be done, but the men in our lives have an important part to play in helping us build a world of pleasure justice.
Perhaps it is not just more orgasms that females need. Perhaps we need more willingness from male partners to hold us, to see us, and to witness us in our full glory of sweat, juices, and fluids. Just as our male partners deserve to be seen, held, and witnessed in return. In a world which constantly seeks to distract us from ourselves, perhaps the most profound thing we can do is make good, sweet, and equally pleasurable love to each other.
Best of luck to you!
Enlightening. I'm honestly a prude about discussing sex this way, but you frame it in a necessary and intriguing way.