WOMEN know all about the gender pay gap. We also know from bitter, dishwasher-stacking experience that women still do more of the unpaid housework.
But are you aware that things are as unequal in the bedroom? Yes, there’s an orgasm gap – and surprise, surprise, we’re on the wrong side of it.
A Public Health England survey last year found that almost half of women aged 25 to 34 do not have an “enjoyable” sex life, while in 2017 a study found that only 65 per cent of straight women “usually orgasm” during sex, compared to 95 per cent of men, and 86 per cent of lesbian women.*
Increasingly, researchers are looking into what’s been termed orgasm inequality.
“The research shows the biggest gap exists in hook-up or casual sex and gets smaller in relationship sex, but it never closes altogether,” says Laurie Mintz, a professor of psychology at the University of Florida.
“In studies I’ve conducted, 55 per cent of men orgasm during first-time hook-up sex compared to just four per cent of women. It’s a huge gap.” So what will it take for us to get equality between the sheets?
Sex ed revisited
“THE number one factor driving the orgasm gap is that women are not getting the clitoral stimulation they need,” says Laurie, who’s also the author of Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters And How To Get It.
The clitoris is the female pleasure centre, with thousands of nerve endings (twice as many as the penis, FYI).
And while only the tip sits outside the body, the whole organ is shaped like a wishbone and can actually be up to five inches long, extending up inside the pelvis and around the vagina.
“Research suggests that when women pleasure themselves, the majority touch their external clitoris, and almost all reach orgasm this way,” says Laurie. “Very few women orgasm from penetration alone.”
According to Dr Catherine Hood, a consultant in psychosexual medicine at London’s St George’s Hospital, there is no single best position for female orgasm, but some will be better than others for clitoral stimulation.
Very few women orgasm from penetration alone.
“What’s best for you will depend on your anatomy – and his anatomy,” she says.
For example, the distance between the clitoris and the vaginal opening may affect how likely someone is to orgasm through penetrative sex – and for some women this may just not be possible.
And you can call off the search for your G-spot (a cluster of nerve endings believed to be particularly pleasurable), because this is largely considered an urban myth by scientists.
It’s been suggested that what some women call their G-spot is actually their internal clitoris.
“IF I’ve got a patient who’s struggling to orgasm, the first thing I ask is whether they can get there alone,” says Dr Hood.
“It’s still a bit of a taboo topic and some women feel they shouldn’t masturbate, especially in a relationship.
"But I always encourage them to try, because if you don’t know yourself it’s going to be much more difficult for your partner.”
There are female-friendly online resources that can help you discover what turns you on. For instance, Omgyes.com offers short videos and interactive graphics designed to teach practical techniques for a one-off payment from £39.
Plus, proceeds go towards funding research in the field, too. But even when you know what you like, many women don’t feel able to ask for it.
“Research shows that if you teach women about their clitoris, the frequency of their orgasms increases during masturbation, but not with a partner. Women think it’s too pushy to say what they want,” says Laurie.
If you don’t know yourself it’s going to be much more difficult for your partner.
According to sex educator Kim Loliya, aids such as vibrators can be helpful. “But while women will use these on their own, many are reluctant to introduce them into partner sex,” she says.
To tackle this stigma, brands are designing less intimidating products with female pleasure – and partner sex – in mind. Check out Smile Makers, which also has a quiz on its website to help you choose a product best suited for you (and your other half).
If you’re still struggling to get there, it’s worth visiting your GP, who will be able to help you rule out any underlying issues that might be affecting your ability to achieve orgasm
FEELING self-conscious is a serious and widespread problem when it comes to female sexual pleasure, says Dr Hood.
“To reach orgasm, two things have to happen: you need to be physically aroused, and you also need to be in the moment.
"Physically, an orgasm is an uncontrolled contraction of the uterine and vaginal muscles, but psychologically it’s a moment of losing control. And this letting go can’t happen if you’re thinking about how you look.”
There are no simple answers to improving body image and self-esteem, but if this is something you struggle with, one practical step is to be mindful of who you follow on social media.
A study by body image researchers in 2016 looked at how women felt after viewing pictures of attractive celebrities and peers on Instagram, and found it significantly increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction.**
AS Love Island’s Maura Higgins found out this summer, there’s still a sexual double standard when it comes to female pleasure.
“Women who talk about enjoying sex worry about being slut-shamed, or if they don’t enjoy sex they may feel pressured to have it,” says Laurie, adding that it’s difficult to have an orgasm if you’re worrying about being judged.
“Women need to give themselves permission to enjoy sex,” agrees Dr Hood – and this doesn’t mean only focusing on reaching climax.
“It’s like waiting for a bus – the more you look down the road, the longer it takes to arrive. Instead of focusing on that end point, enjoy the intimacy and follow the pleasure.”
Let’s talk about sex
EXPERTS agree that the key to better sex is communication, which is easier said than done when it’s such a sensitive topic – and when fragile egos are involved.
"But being frank takes the pressure off both of you", says Dr Hood.
“Otherwise, the responsibility is on the man. Whether or not you orgasm becomes a badge of his ability, which isn’t fair. Focusing on how you feel is better than anything that sounds like blame,” says Kim.
“Rather than saying: ‘You always do this,’ say: ‘When such and such happens, I feel…’ Also, state your needs in simple terms, such as: ‘I need more time.’”
It’s also important to say when something’s not working. “Women often put up with sex they’re not enjoying, but it gets trickier to address as time goes on,” says Kim.
“This usually leads to a couple no longer having sex and then it becomes difficult to reconnect, because the man feels rejected without explanation.”
Finally, try not to resort to faking it. “It’s important to look at why a woman feels they have to fake orgasm,” says Kim.
“It’s usually not just ideas from porn or Hollywood – it’s worries such as a preoccupation with seeming normal. It’s dangerous in the long run because it erodes trust.
"If your partner finds out, they’ll be devastated. Being honest in the short-term could save your relationship in the long-term.”
- *Chapman University, Indiana University and the Kinsey Institute **Flinders University
- For more information visit Smilemakerscollection.com
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