Heterosexual women continue to lead the pack in orgasm disparity. How come? Ongoing research has led experts to diverse answers in resolving this persisting orgasm gap. While not nearly enough research has been done on the subject in direct relation to the queer community, we can learn a lot through more recent findings that both lesbian and bisexual women have a slimmer gap than their heterosexual counterparts.
“Differences in Orgasm Frequency Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Men and Women in a U.S. National Sample” was published in February of 2017 in Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study surveyed more than 52,000 people, including 340 lesbian women, 1112 bisexual women, and 24, 102 heterosexual women. Of the participants, Ninety-five percent of heterosexual men reported usually or always experiencing orgasm during sexual intimacy. Heterosexual women reported 65 percent. Bisexual women reported 66 percent and lesbian women reported 86 percent.
The survey found that, among women who received oral and manual stimulation during sexual activity, 86 percent reported usually or always reaching orgasm—compared to the 35 percent of those who had only vaginal-penetration.
Surveys conducted by the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior in 2010 also found that “women are more likely to orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts and when oral sex or vaginal intercourse is included.”
Slate’s Christina Cauterucci summarized, “This breakdown indicates that female genitals are not to blame for the orgasm gap. You could say that straight women are least likely to achieve orgasm during sex, but it’s just as true to say that if you have sex with a straight man, you’ve chosen the demographic least likely to make you come.”
In our mainstream culture, sex is defined under the terms of penetrative sex and leaves much to be desired regarding inclusivity, as well in the bedroom. And valuing vaginal-penetration and climax more than clitoral is not a new phenomenon.
In neurologist Sigmund Freud’s 1905 book, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud examines his theory of sexuality in relation to childhood and development. In it he views women’s pleasure as inherently tied males’ and deems the clitoral orgasm as “infantile” and “immature” in comparison to the vaginal orgasm. Freud writes,
“With the change to femininity, the clitoris should wholly or in part hand over its sensitivity, and at the same time its importance, to the vagina.”
Over a century after its publication, the implications of a superior form of women’s orgasm continue to inform our societal view of women’s pleasure and sexual normalcy.
In an article for alternet.org, sociologist and author Lisa Wade explained, “The focus on men’s internal wants and sensations also draws our attention to his satisfaction. Thus his orgasm, but not necessarily hers, becomes a critical part of what must happen for a sexual encounter to be successful and fulfilling. This is part of why intercourse, a sexual act that is strongly correlated with orgasm for men, is the only act that almost everyone agrees counts as “real sex,” whereas activities that are more likely to produce orgasm in women are considered optional foreplay.”
The documentary Orgasm Inc. debuted in 2009 and followed director Liz Canner as she explored women’s pleasure in relation to profit and societal stereotypes.
Charletta is introduced as a clinical trial test subject for Dr. Stuarts Malloy’s invention, The Orgasmatron. Charletta reports having trouble achieving orgasm and begins the trial with 10 other women.
She initially told Canner, “It has taken me a long time to get to a place where I wasn’t humiliated, so that I could come here and do this and even talk to you like this… I feel like I’m well on my way to being healed and being more healthy and normal.”
In the film, her surgical procedure takes 40 minutes—20 longer than expected, and while the benefits were unknown, the risks included shock, paralysis, epidural hemorrhage, and cerebrospinal fluid leak
Upon her second visit, Dr. Malloy concluded that the trial was unsuccessful and removed the device. Charletta confided to Canner that she was ultimately okay with the results and proposed there are other ways of achieving orgasm than “sexual intercourse” anyway. The revelation came as a surprise to Canner, and she asked Charletta if she could achieve orgasm through other means.
“Yes, I can. I am not without orgasms. I can have orgasms. It’s just not the normal situation where two people get together and they have sexual intercourse and each has an orgasm. And that’s why I say, maybe that’s not real. Maybe that’s just what the movies tell us is real.”
Comprehensive sexual education is severely lacking in the United States, and it leads people to rely on what they see in pop culture. This makes sexual education events invaluable in picking up where public school health left off, especially when learning about pleasure.
In an effort to celebrate women’s pleasure and educate folks on both the orgasm and the clitoris, Vibrant—an inclusive sex toy retailer in Denver—hosted an Orgasm Day celebration earlier this year. The event included a “clothes on” orgasm workshop led by licensed clinical professional counselor and the resident sexologist at Vibrant Dr. Laura Deitsch, a BedPost Confessions performance, and a sex toy pop-up shop.
In speaking about the goal of the event and the implications of media perceptions in the bedroom, Deitsch said,
“I think that we are all somewhat subject to the culture in which we live, and we end up internalizing these expectations regardless of whether they could logically apply or not.”
Expectations like a female-bodied person should always achieve orgasm through penetration by male-bodied penis, and that there is a definition for a successful sex session and an unsuccessful sex session.
“First of all, if we’re in a queer relationship, then there may not be a penis or there may be two penises. And where does the female orgasm come in in that definition of sex? It sets up this false expectation and false narrative around what sex is. When somebody buys into that narrative, female-bodied people are more guaranteed to be disappointed. It opens the door for there to be shame, lack of self confidence, harassment, feelings of inadequacy, and that you’re somehow doing something wrong,” said Deitsch.
She cited a current client whom she is working with who is in her late thirties and recently came to the revelation that she is allowed to adapt the definition of sex to meet her needs. “What’s important to me is that people understand that we’ve been fed some inaccurate information and we’ve internalized it… and it wreaks havoc in our psyche.”
Deitsch focuses on education to close the orgasm gap. She teaches communication techniques, how to release shame, how to work around trauma, and how pleasure manifests in different bodies.
Athena Lund is a sacred intimacy coach in Boulder who has identified these different bodies into nine classifications of vaginas. A woman can be a sheep, cat, buffalo, bear, wolf, antelope, deer, fix, dancing woman, or a combination. Classification depends on the depth of the vagina, the taste, the scent, the distance between her vagina and her clitoris, her lubrication, the location of g-spot, the temperature of fluids, the types of positions favored, how long it takes to orgasm, and the sort of orgasm she could have.
Since its discovery, the pleasure of women has taken a very turbulent journey. Alfred Kinsey wrote about the clitoris in his 1948 book Sexual Behavior In The Human Female. “Intercourse is not the best means of pleasure for women… the clitoris is the center of female pleasure.” The full anatomy of female clitoris wasn’t discovered until 1998— it is often mentioned that this was 30 years after man landed on the moon.
While we have come a long way in learning about the clitoris scientifically, there is so much room to grow in teaching and speaking about it socially. Luckily, local events like Orgasm Day and national projects like Cliteracy aim to educate on the nuances of female form and pleasure.