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Orgasm Equality: Scientific Findings and Societal Implications

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Abstract

Purpose of Review Studies have consistently found that there is a gendered orgasm gap, with men experiencing orgasm more frequently than women in heterosexual sexual encounters. This literature review aims to highlight the current state of research on orgasm equality and to explore the reasons underlying this orgasm gap. Recent Findings Our review of recently published studies indicates that the gendered orgasm gap still exists today. Additionally, these studies underscore how sociocultural factors can contribute to the differences in reported orgasm frequency between men and women in heterosexual encounters. Summary This review suggests that our cultural prioritization of penile-vaginal intercourse over more clitorally focused sexual activities is linked to the gendered orgasm gap. Additional related contributing sociocultural factors may include women’s lack of entitlement to partnered sexual pleasure, societal scripts about masculinity, and women’s cognitive distractions during partnered sex. Recommendations to increase orgasm equality are discussed.
CLINICAL THERAPEUTICS (B MCCARTHY, R SEGRAVES AND R BALON, SECTION EDITORS)
Orgasm Equality: Scientific Findings and Societal Implications
Elizabeth A. Mahar
1
&Laurie B. Mintz
1
&Brianna M. Akers
1
#Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2020, corrected publication 2020
Abstract
Purpose of Review Studies have consistently found that there is a gendered orgasm gap, with men experiencing orgasm more
frequently than women in heterosexual sexual encounters. This literature review aims to highlight the current state of research on
orgasm equality and to explore the reasons underlying this orgasm gap.
Recent Findings Our review of recently published studies indicates that the gendered orgasm gap still exists today. Additionally,
these studies underscore how sociocultural factors can contribute to the differences in reported orgasm frequency between men
and women in heterosexual encounters.
Summary This review suggests that our cultural prioritization of penile-vaginal intercourse over more clitorally focused sexual
activities is linked to the gendered orgasm gap. Additional related contributing sociocultural factors may include womenslackof
entitlement to partnered sexual pleasure, societal scripts about masculinity, and womens cognitive distractions during partnered
sex. Recommendations to increase orgasm equality are discussed.
Keywords Orgasm gap .Orgasm equality .Female orgasm .Wome n sorgasms
Introduction
During heterosexual sexual encounters between cisgender
women and cisgender men,
1
women have substantially fewer
orgasms than men. This phenomenon has been termed the
orgasm gap. That women have fewer orgasms during
partnered sexual encounters than men has been documented
in the literature for over 20 years (e.g., [1]), although the first
use of the term orgasm gapwe could find in the academic
literature was by Wade and colleagues [2] when reporting that,
in a survey of over 800 undergraduate students, 91% of men
versus 39% of women reported usually or always experienc-
ing orgasm in partnered sex. The wide-spread use the term,
however, is likely attributed to a flood of popular press articles
(e.g., [35]) reporting a discrepancy between mens percep-
tions of if women orgasmed (85%) versus womensreportsof
their own orgasms (64%) [6]. Nevertheless, the term is now
mainly used to refer to the discrepancy in orgasm rates be-
tween women and men, although other types of orgasm gaps
also exist, including between (a) women engaged in partnered
sex versus masturbation, (b) women engaged in sex with other
women versus with men, and (c) women engaged in casual
versus relationship sex. The current paper will first review the
research findings on such discrepancies, with a special focus
on studies comparing the orgasm rates of women versus men.
Then, research that helps explain the gendered orgasm gap
will be reviewed and promising methods to close the gap
discussed.
Discrepancies in Orgasm Rates
The orgasm gap between women and men is a robust finding
in the literature. As two pivotal examples, Herbenick et al. [6]
reported that in a United States probability sample of 1931
1
The term cisgender refers to an individual whose gender identity (e.g.,
woman) matches their sex assigned at birth (e.g., female). To date, all but
one study conducted on the orgasm gap has focused on cisgender
individuals and/or has not reported individualsgender identity. For this rea-
son, we limit our review to heterosexual sex between cisgender women and
men.
This article is part of the Topical Collection on Clinical Therapeutics
*Laurie B. Mintz
mintzl@ufl.edu
Elizabeth A. Mahar
emahar@ufl.edu
Brianna M. Akers
briannamakers@ufl.edu
1
Department of Psychology, University of Florida, P.O. Box 112250,
Gainesville, FL 32611-2250, USA
Current Sexual Health Reports
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11930-020-00237-9
sexually active adults (ages 1859), 91% of the men ver-
sus 64% of the women reported experiencing orgasm dur-
ing their most recent partnered sexual event, and Garcia
et al. [7] reported that in a nationally representative sample
of sexually active adults, on average, when having sex
with a familiar partner, heterosexual men orgasmed 86%
of the time while heterosexual women orgasmed 62% of
the time. Studies published within the last 5 years that
report on frequency of orgasm by gender for partnered
sex are reported in Table 1.
2
Table 1also includes notations regarding sexual
orientation/partner gender and the context of the sex (e.g.,
relationship vs. casual sex), as both have been found to be
related to orgasm rates. As can be seen in the table, when
looking across studies, the orgasm gap is larger in casual sex
than in relationship sex. Underscoring these cross-study com-
parisons, in a study of over 12,000 undergraduates from 17
different universities, Armstrong and colleagues [15], reported
that 31% of men and 10% of women reported reaching or-
gasm in first-time hookups, while 85% of men and 68% of
women reported reaching orgasm during their last sexual en-
counter that occurred in the context of a committed sex-
ual relationship. Interestingly, however, even in the con-
text of a familiar partner, a recent large-scale survey of
2850 individuals [7] revealed that lesbian women are
more likely than either heterosexual or bisexual women
to orgasm during partnered sex, a finding subsequently
replicated in an even larger survey (i.e., over 50,000
individuals) of dating, married, remarried, or cohabiting
people [9]. A small sampled study of bisexual women
[16] may shed some light on why bisexual womens
orgasm rates are closer to those of heterosexual women
than to lesbian women. This study found that among 14
bisexual-identified women who had engaged in one-night
stands with both men and women, 64% reported fre-
quently or always orgasming when their partner was a
woman while only 7% of these same women reported
frequently or always orgasming when their partner was
aman[16]. In short, research finds that womens orgasm
rates seem to be context-dependent (i.e., sex with a man
vs. another woman; casual vs. relationship sex), with
women least likely to orgasm during casual sex with
male partners. An essential next question is the mecha-
nisms underlying this gendered orgasm gap. A review of
the literature indicates that the most robust explanations
are sociocultural. Before detailing such sociocultural fac-
tors, however, it is important to discuss and rebut bio-
logical explanations.
Rebutting Biological Explanations for the Gendered
Orgasm Gap
Some have proposed an anatomical or biological explana-
tion for the orgasm gapsuggesting that this gap exists
because womens orgasms are complicated and elusive
(see [17] for review) or in other words, that womens
bodies are simply not designed to have orgasms at the same
frequency as men(p. 1) [18]. However, based on the pre-
viously detailed research finding that womensorgasm
rates vary by context, many scholars contend that the gen-
dered orgasm gap is primarily rooted in sociocultural fac-
tors [19,20]. Bolstering this notion are findings pertaining
to orgasm rates during masturbation. One older, classic
survey [21] found that about 60% of women reported that
they usually or always orgasm when masturbating, com-
pared with 29% during partnered sex. In another now clas-
sic study, Hite [22] reported that 95% of the women in her
convenience sample who masturbated reached orgasm eas-
ily and regularly. A more recent study, conducted with a
convenience sample of over 3500 Portuguese women, re-
vealed that 92% of women who masturbated were able to
reach orgasm this way [23]. In short, womenshigherrate
of orgasm during certain contexts as compared to others
(i.e., masturbation vs, partner sex; sex with women vs. sex
with men; casual sex vs. relationship sex with men) points
to non-biological explanations for the gendered orgasm
gap. Thus, we focus on potential non-biological explana-
tions in this review. Prior to detailing such non-biological
explanations, it is important to have a basic understanding
of womens genital anatomy and sexual response.
Womens Genital Anatomy and Sexual Response
There are still many debates in the scientific literature sur-
rounding womens genital anatomy and sexual response
(e.g., if orgasms resulting from vaginal stimulation versus cli-
toral stimulation are biologically distinct; the percentage of
women who experience pleasure from stimulation of what
had been termed the G-spot) [24]. While a detailed review
of both these controversies and womens genital anatomy
and sexual response are beyond the scope of this paper, a
few key pieces of information are essential. First, womens
genital anatomy consists of highly connected internal and ex-
ternal structures. The internal structure is the vaginal canal.
The external portion is called the vulva and it includes the
vaginal opening, the inner and outer lips, the clitoral hood,
the clitoral glans, and the mons pubis. One recent study found
that only about 18% of women indicate that vaginal
2
A literature search of Google Scholar and University of Floridas OneSearch
was conducted with a particular focus on articles published since January
2015. We searched for peer-reviewed English-language articles with the key-
words of orgasm gap,”“orgasm equality,”“orgasm inequality,”“pleasure
gap,gender orgasm rate,or gender orgasm frequency.This search
yielded 83 articles. After excluding articles on irrelevant topics, we were left
with 24 articles. References of these articles were manually searched to iden-
tify additional studies.
Curr Sex Health Rep
Table 1 Descriptive results from recent research examining orgasm frequency by gender for partnered sex
Author [ref.] Men % orgasm Women % orgasm nMen nWomen Question wording Sexual orientation
and/or partner gender
Relationship to partner Sample type
Andrejek and Fetner
(2019) [8]
87.3% orgasmed 62.9% orgasmed 71 116 For participantsmost recent sexual encounter,
they were asked, during this most recent sex
act, did you have an orgasm?with response
options: yes, no, and I do not know/do not
remember
92.3% heterosexual
7.7% LGBTQ+
66.5% spousal partner
33.5% non-spousal partner
Recruited using
computer-assisted
telephone
interviews with
adults from a
Canadian city
Frederick et al.
(2018)
a
[9]
95% usually-always
orgasm
b
65% usually
-always orgasm
b
26,032 24,102 During the past month, how often did you
reach orgasm when you were intimate?with
responses reported as: never-rarely, half of the
time, or usually-always
Only heterosexual
identified
participants reported
in this table.
Participants were all married,
remarried, cohabiting, or
dating/seeing one person
National U.S.
sample. Survey
posted to major
U.S. news
website
Jones et al. (2018)
[11]
Orgasmed
80100% of
encounters
(4.80)
Orgasmed 6080%
of encounters
(3.86)
142 142 In what percent of your sexual encounters do
you reach orgasm?Response options ranged
from 1 (020%)to5(80100%)
142 heterosexual
couples in
committed
relationships
All participants were married,
cohabitating, or dating their
partner
Convenience sample
recruited through
listservs, clinical
settings, and
social media
Leonhardt et al.
(2018) [12]
87% orgasm
consistently
b
49% orgasm
consistently
b
1683 1683 Participants were asked how frequently they
generally had an orgasm in their sexual
relationship. Response options ranged from 1
(020% of the time)to5(81100% of the
time). Consistent orgasmwas
operationalized by original authors as
orgasming 81100% of the time.
Heterosexual couples Newlywed couples Nationally
representative
survey of newly
married couples
Piemonte et al.
(2019) [13]
81.9% orgasmed
c
32.0% orgasmed
c
354 1225 During [your most recent sexual encounter with a
member of the opposite gender], did you
orgasm?with response options: yes, no, and
unsure.
People who engaged in
a heterosexual casual
sex encounter
Casual sex partner Convenience sample
recruited by
undergraduate
research assistants
Struckman-Johnson
et al. (2017) [14]
86.4% orgasmed 48.3% orgasmed 119 303 For the most recent incident of sex
d
in a parked
car, participants were asked about occurrence
of orgasm with the response options: yes, no,
anddonotknow.
95.7% (n=112)ofmen
and 99.0% (n=298)
of women reported
an having an
opposite gender
partner for the
encounter
15.7% stranger/acquaintance
17.6% new relationship partner
66.4% serious
relationship/married
Convenience sample
reportingontheir
most recent
incident of sex in
aparkedcar
a
Because this article and another article by the same lead author (i.e., [10]) use different samplings of the same dataset, we only include the most recently published article in this table
b
For these studies, we report the most stringent orgasm category utilized by the original authors. In the Frederick et al. [9], this was usually-always orgasm. In Leonhardt et al. [12], the response options for
participantsfrequencies of orgasm ranged from orgasming 020% of the time to 81100% of the time; we report the percentages who orgasmed 81100% of the time.
c
Total across three studies
d
having sex while parkedis defined as engaging in masturbation (to self), genital touching (with another), and oral, vaginal, or anal sex while in a parked or non-moving vehiclewith only one
participant reporting non-partnered sex.
Curr Sex Health Rep
penetration alone is sufficient for orgasm to occur, although
reports vary depending on the way the question is worded
[25].
3
When Mintz [19] asked a convenience sample of over
500 undergraduate students to indicate their most reliable
route to orgasm,only 4% indicated penetration alone.
Forty-three percent said they most reliably orgasmed when
pairing penetration with clitoral stimulation (e.g., with hands
or vibrators), and 34% said they most reliably orgasm during
sexual activities focusing exclusively on clitoral stimulation
(e.g., oral sex, manual stimulation, vibrator stimulation).
4
Other research has similarly found that women most frequent-
ly report orgasming during sexual activities that involve clito-
ral stimulation [27] and, during heterosexual sexual encoun-
ters, are more likely to orgasm during penetrative sex when
concurrent clitoral stimulation is present [26,28]. As aptly
pointed out in a review article by Graham, although there is
substantial variability in the capacity for, and experience of,
orgasm across women(p. 265) and it is thus essential to
avoid pathologizing normal variation in the experience of
orgasm.(p. 267), there is now good evidence that many
women require clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm, and a
relatively small proportion report that they always experience
orgasm during intercourse(p. 258) [24]. This conclusion is
essential tounderstanding potential sociocultural explanations
for the orgasm gap.
Sociocultural Explanations for the Gendered Orgasm
Gap
In all sexual contexts in which women have the most orgasms
(e.g., masturbation, relationship sex, sex with other women),
there tends to be greater focus on clitoral stimulation.
Research finds that when women masturbate the vast majority
stimulate their clitoris, either alone or coupled with penetra-
tion [22,29,30]. Additionally, in casual sex, women receive
less oral sex and other forms of clitoral stimulation than they
do in relationship sex [31]. Finally, one study found that wom-
en in same-sex relationships reported more frequent orgasms
resulting from their partnersstimulation of their clitoris and
from oral sex than women in heterosexual relationships [32].
In short, these findings suggest that a likely reason for the
gendered orgasm gap is that during heterosexual sexual en-
counters, many women are not getting the clitoral stimulation
they may need to orgasm [19]. This lack of clitoral stimulation
has been theorized to be linked to several underlying cultural
factors including our cultural overvaluing of intercourse,
womens lack of entitlement to sexual pleasure, a conflation
of penetration-based orgasms and masculinity, and our lacking
sex education system.
Cultural Overvaluing of Intercourse
Scholars have implicated our cultural devaluing of womens
sexual pleasure and clitoral stimulation, and parallel
overvaluing of mens sexual pleasure and intercourse to un-
derlie the orgasm gap (e.g., [2,33]). This overvaluing of in-
tercourse is reflected in what has been termed our current
cultural script for heterosexual sex, which proceeds as fol-
lows: foreplay (just to get the woman ready for intercourse),
intercourse, male orgasm, and sex over [18,33,34]. In this
scenario, the man is responsible to give the woman an orgasm
during intercourse giving by lasting long and thrusting hard
[34].
This cultural prioritization of intercourse is reflected and
perpetuated in our language and media. We use the words sex
and intercourse
5
as if they were one and the same and relegate
everything before to foreplay,implying it is a lesser form of
sex than intercourse [35]. Recent studies indicate that media
images of heterosexual sex generally portray women
orgasming from intercourse alone, if they orgasm at all. To
illustrate, content analyses of pornography indicate that the
orgasm gap is reflected there, with only about 1718% of
women in comparison to 7678% of men shown to reach
orgasm, and most of womens orgasms shown to be achieved
through vaginal or anal intercourse [36,37]. One recent study
used content analysis to code PornHubs 50 most viewed
videos of all time and found that in the videos where women
are shown reaching orgasm, only 25% of the orgasms involve
some form of direct or indirect clitoral stimulation [36].
Additional evidence of media emphasizing intercourse is a
study that textually analyzed top articles from MensHealth,
a popular mens magazine, and discovered a focus on female
orgasms achieved through vaginal penetration [38]. Even in
instances where these articles encouraged sexual variety, they
spoke of variety almost exclusively in terms of intercourse
positions [38]. Such popular press advice runs counter not
only to research that indicates that most women do not orgasm
from penetration alone, but also to findings that combining
intercourse with other more clitorally focused sexual activities
during partnered sex is associated with womens increased
orgasm frequency [9,39]. For example, one study found that
3
Shirazi et al. [26] demonstrated that the way questions are phrased regarding
the occurrence of orgasm during intercourse modulates womens reported
frequency of such orgasms, with the highest rate of orgasm reported when
the question specifies that intercourse include concurrent clitoral stimulation
and the lowest rate of orgasm reported when the question specifies no such
concurrent stimulation, with a mid-range rate found when this was left
unspecified.
4
In this convenience sample, 19% said they rarely if ever orgasmed with a
partner.
5
Given our cultural usage of the words sex and intercourse as equivalent,
research asking about womens orgasms during sexcould lead to lower
reports oforgasms than actually occur during partnered sexual activity because
many heterosexual women exclude activities that are associated with increased
likelihood of orgasm (e.g., receivingoral sex) from their personal definitions of
sex [9,35]. Researchers are thus advised to use precise wording in their
studiesoforgasm.
Curr Sex Health Rep
women report more frequent orgasms if their sexual encoun-
ters include deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and/or
oral sex in addition to intercourse [9].
Womens Lack of Entitlement to Sexual Pleasure
Research suggests that women may set the bar for satisfactory
sex quite lowspecifically, the absence of pain and degrada-
tion rather than as the presence of pleasure and orgasm [40].
Indeed, research finds that many heterosexual women express
going into partnered sexual activity expecting not to orgasm
[41] and valuing their partnersorgasms more than their own
[42,43]. In fact, when women report on their sexual satisfac-
tion, these reports often reflect their perception of their part-
nerssexual satisfaction rather than their own [44,45].
Women prioritizing providing their partnersrather than
themselvespleasure during sexual encounters has been con-
nected with them feeling less entitled to sexual pleasure and
also less likely to communicate to their partners how they need
to be stimulated in order to orgasm, two factors positively
associated with reaching orgasm in the research literature
[9,11,46,47].
Womens lack of entitlement to sexual pleasure may be
especially pronounced during casual sex. One qualitative study
[31] found a double standard in which both men and women
question womens (but not mens) entitlement to pleasure in
hookups, while believing strongly in womens (as well as
mens) entitlement to pleasure during relationship sex. This
sexual double standard seems to translate directly to behaviors
focused on clitoral stimulation. A large-scale study [15]found
that men are more likely to engage in cunnilingusa practice
strongly associated with womensorgasmin relationships
than in hookups. In contrast, women engage in fellatio at high
rates across all contexts(p. 362). Relatedly, another practice
strongly related to womensorgasmsclitoral self-stimulation
during intercoursewas found to be more common in rela-
tionship sex than in casual sex. According to the authors, these
findings suggest that the orgasm gap is larger in casual sex
because women are less likely to feel entitled to seek their
own sexual pleasure and men are less motivated men to pro-
vide their partners with pleasure, with both resulting in less
clitoral stimulation for women.
Conflation of Penetration-Based Orgasms and Masculinity
While studies on casual sex [15,31] position men as not
caring about womens pleasure, other findings suggest that
men care deeply about womens pleasurealthough they
may be misguided about how to provide that pleasure. As
detailed above, our cultural script gives men responsibility
for givingwomen orgasms by lasting long and thrusting
hard [38]. A qualitative study found that men often felt dis-
tressed and sometimes emasculated when their female partner
does not orgasm [48]. Similarly, a recent vignette study found
that men reporting having higher sexual self-esteem and feel-
ing more masculine when they imagined that their partner
orgasmed during sex versus imagining that she did not [49].
The female partner that the men were instructed to imagine
was an attractive woman that they had had sex three times
with, so neither a first-time hookup nor a relationship partner.
Whether and how mens feelingsof masculinity would change
when imagining differing types of partners (e.g., first time
hookup, girlfriend) is an empirical question awaiting study
and could shed light on the seemingly contradictory findings
that men do not care about womens pleasure during hookups
and findings that men care so deeply about womensorgasms
that they see givingone to be a reflection of their manhood.
Regardless of the results of such future research, existing
research indicates that women are expected to protect mens
egos by orgasming during intercourse. One qualitative study
[28] found that female participants reported being concerned
that it would hurt the male partners ego if they did not have an
intercourse-based orgasm. The women in this study also be-
lieved that asking their partners for clitoral stimulation would
hurt their partnersfeelings. Given suchfindings, it is no won-
der that a majority of women report having faked an orgasm
during intercourse, with some of the most common reasons for
faking being to protect their partnersegos and to give their
partners pleasure [28,34,50]. Women also report faking or-
gasms to avoid appearing abnormal, because they, too, believe
they should be orgasm from intercourse alone [34]. A quali-
tative study found that women report feeling abnormal or
dysfunctional when they do not orgasm during penile-
vaginal intercourse [45].
In sum, several deeply intertwined sociocultural factors
related to expectations of female orgasm during intercourse
are linked to the gendered orgasm gap. Nevertheless, addition-
al sociocultural factors have been implicated in womenscom-
paratively lower rate of orgasm when compared to men.
Additional Sociocultural Factors
Two additional cultural factors that may underlie the orgasm
gap are womens cognitive distraction during sexual encoun-
ters and our lacking sex education system. Regarding the lat-
ter, the United Statessex education system often presents sex
as dangerous rather than pleasurable and particularly fails to
cover womens sexual pleasure by excluding mention of
womens external genital anatomy or womensorgasms[20,
51,52].
Women also report higher levels of both overall cognitive
distractions and appearance-focused cognitive distractions
during sexual activity than men [53] and these cognitive dis-
tractions are linked to lower levels of sexual satisfaction [54]
and orgasm [55]. One specific area of appearance-focused
cognitive distraction is womens genital self-image, with
Curr Sex Health Rep
womens positive feelings towards their genitals associated
with sexual satisfaction and enhanced orgasmic capacity with
apartner[56,57]. Another common focus of cognitive dis-
traction (for both women and men) is performance anxiety,
including worries about pleasing ones partner and about if
one is going to orgasm. While for men, there is often concern
about orgasming too quickly, for women, the concern often
focused on taking too long to orgasm [24]. Regardless of the
content of the performance-based worry, there is evidence that
mindfulness, an approach characterized by acceptance and
non-judgment of the present moment,may enhance womens
orgasmic capacity by decreasing cognitive distractions, such
as concerns about appearance or performance, during sexual
activity (p. 418) [58]. Mindfulness is useful in taking the focus
away from a performance-oriented view of sex and placing the
focus on pleasure and eroticism. Indeed, despite the focus of
this review on the gendered orgasm gap, it is essential to
underscore that pressure to achieve orgasm is linked to stress
in women [50] and that pressure to achieve orgasm (for both
women and men) makes orgasm less likely, given that orgasm
is often the result of a pleasuring/eroticism process rather than
a performance imperative [33]. Additionally, women differ
greatly in how important orgasm is to their sexual satisfaction
[24]. Thus, prior to turning to strategies to close the orgasm
gap, it is important to examine the issue of the importance of
orgasm to womens sexual satisfaction.
How Important Is Orgasm to Womens Sexual
Satisfaction?
As detailed in a seminal review article [24], women differ
greatly in how importantorgasm is to their sexual satisfaction.
Such individual differences may also be reflected in seeming-
ly contradictory research findings, with some research finding
that many women report feeling sexual satisfaction even when
they do not orgasm [50] and other research reporting that
womens orgasms are associated with increased sexual satis-
faction and positive outcomes [10,13,31]. While we do not
dispute either set of findings, we also acknowledge that it is
difficult to separate the importance women place on their own
orgasms from the sociocultural factors that underlie the gen-
dered orgasm gap. To explain, given our cultural scripts that
prioritize penetrative sex, when women are unable to reliably
orgasm through this method of stimulation, they may come
not to expect orgasms [41]andas a way of reducing feelings
of abnormalitycome to view their own orgasm as unimpor-
tant [59]. Potentially bolstering this view is the finding that
both men [44] and lesbian women are more likely than het-
erosexual women to include orgasm as a metric of their
partnered sexual pleasure [41,46]. In other words, those most
likely to orgasm during partnered sexual encounters due to
being less negatively affected by the prioritization of inter-
course are those most likely to view orgasm as most
important. While we are not suggesting that orgasm be set as
an imperative goal to achieve, that orgasm must be equally
important to all women, or that that every sexual encounter
needs to be completely synchronous (i.e., equally pleasurable
and orgasmic for both partners), consistent and robust research
findings concerning a gendered orgasm gap points to an un-
derlying societal issue to be addressed.
Recommendations for Closing the Orgasm Gap
Given that sociocultural factors have been implicated in the
orgasm gap, it is likely that sociocultural interventions could
prove useful in closing the gap. In the conclusion of a recent
study on womens pursuit of orgasm, it was proposed that an
effective societal intervention may be simply to acknowledge
that broad claims about womens biological capacity for or-
gasm are facile(p. 8) [18]. Additionally, societal-level advo-
cacy work aimed at women and men promoting clitoral
knowledge and the equal valuing of womens and mensmost
reliable routes to orgasm will be useful.
Nevertheless, such awareness raising alone is likely insuf-
ficient, given that one study found that teaching women about
their clitoris is linked to orgasm frequency during masturba-
tion but not during sex with a partner [2]. Instead, the most
empirically supported technique for women struggling with
orgasm concerns is to direct them to figure out what type of
clitoral stimulation they need via masturbation and then to
help them transfer this type of stimulation to partner sex or
in other words, helping them to engage in sexual behaviors in
which they get the same type of stimulation alone as with a
partner [33]. For women to get the same sexual stimulation
alone as with a partner entails replacing our current cultural
script for sex (i.e., foreplay, intercourse, male orgasm, sex
over) with turn-taking scripts (e.g., oral sex during which the
female orgasms followed by intercourse during which the
male orgasms; stimulation of the clitoris to prepare the woman
for intercourse, followed by intercourse during which the male
orgasms, then followed by vibrator stimulation during which
the woman orgasms) or scripts where penetration is consis-
tently paired with clitoral stimulation (e.g., via an intercourse
position which provides clitoral stimulation to the women;
using a hand or a vibrator during intercourse). The underlying
strategy in teaching individuals to utilize such new scripts is
consistent with research finding that women are most orgas-
mic when including a variety of activities (e.g., oral sex, man-
ual stimulation, intercourse) in their sexual encounter [9]. In
short, closing the orgasm gap will require teaching women
and their male partners specific skills and methods with which
to apply clitoral knowledge to their sexual encounters [60].
Three recent studies show that this method holds promise.
One study found that undergraduate women who took a
Human Sexuality course covering topics such as womens
genital anatomy and pleasure, cultural factors underlying the
Curr Sex Health Rep
orgasm gap, and evidence-based methods to enhance
womens orgasm (e.g., mindfulness, masturbation training
with transfer to partner sex via sexual communication and
new sexual scripts) showed improvements on measures of
sexual functioning, including attitudes towards womensgen-
itals, cognitive distraction during sexual activity, and entitle-
ment to pleasure when compared to students who took quasi-
control courses [61]. Another study found that women who
read a book (Becoming Cliterate [19]) combining feminist
analysis of the cultural reasons for the orgasm gap and the
same evidence-based methods to enhance womensorgasm
improved on multiple measures of sexual well-being, includ-
ing orgasm [62]. Finally, another study [63] found that men
who read a summary chapter aimed at male readers of this
same book (Becoming Cliterate [19]) showed improvement
on clitoral knowledge, sexual communication, dysfunctional
beliefs about womens sexual satisfaction, and dysfunctional
beliefs conflating masculinity and sexual performance.
Additional interventions aimed at both women and men to
close the orgasm gap should continue to be developed and
empirically evaluated.
Importantly, such future interventions and research
should be more inclusive of individuals who are transgen-
der or non-binary. We could locate only one study on or-
gasm frequency not exclusively focused on cisgender indi-
viduals. This study found that cisgender women in rela-
tionships with cisgender women orgasmed more than both
cisgender women in relationships with cisgender men and
individuals in relationships that include one or more trans-
gender or non-binary partners [64]. Additional work
should explore how the orgasm gap affects gender minority
individuals and aid in developing inclusive interventions
for these individuals.
Conclusion
Published studies, including those in the last 5 years (see
Table 1), show that we have far to go in achieving orgasm
equality. We could locate only one study in which mensand
womens rates of orgasms converged. This study [15]founda
92% orgasm rate among women and a 96% rate among men
during sex that took place in the context of a relationship
where the women received oral sex and engaged in clitoral
self-stimulation during intercourse. According to these au-
thors, This convergence suggests that a gender gap in orgasm
is not inevitable, but it is largely a consequence of the social
organization of sexuality(p. 375) [15]. We agree with this
conclusion and suggest taking it a step further. If the orgasm
gap is a consequence of our social construction of sexuality,
we have the power to deconstruct it and create a world of
orgasm equality. We hope that this review is a step in that
direction.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest Elizabeth A. Mahar, Laurie B. Mintz, and each
declare no potential conflicts of interest.
Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent This article does not
contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of
the authors.
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Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been
highlighted as:
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... In contrast, Semester at Sea respondents were very focused on maintaining communication rules regarding casual sex partners' sexual preferences, feelings about the sexual activity, and sexual boundaries. Students' expressed focus on communication may have also contributed positively to the quality of their casual sexual encounters, especially given evidence that engaging in sexual communication is one way to close the notorious "orgasm gap" between men and women (Mahar et al., 2020). ...
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When young adult women and men engage in sexual encounters, the former have significantly fewer orgasms than the latter. This gendered orgasm disparity, often referred to as an orgasm gap, is theorised to be due to a multitude of societal issues. The purpose of this study was to assess whether a Psychology of Human Sexuality university course, which covered the orgasm gap and the cultural factors responsible for it, would be effective at enhancing women’s sexual pleasure and functioning. Specifically, this study compared women university students enrolled in this course to those in a Psychology of Personality course (i.e., no sexual content) and a Human Sexuality and Culture class (i.e., sexual content but not specifically covering the orgasm gap). Participants (N = 271 women) answered pre-test and post-test questions regarding their sexual practices, attitudes towards women’s genitals, cognitive distraction during sexual activity, entitlement to sexual pleasure, orgasm quality, and partner communication during sexual activity. Students in the Psychology of Human Sexuality improved on virtually all the measures of sexual functioning from pre-test to post-test. Those enrolled in the other courses evidenced minimal or no changes. Implications and future directions are discussed.
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Research and clinical data have shown that couples with sexual problems report a lack of sexual communication. However, no published meta-analyses have evaluated the relationship between sexual communication and sexual function. This meta-analysis examines the correlation between couples’ sexual communication and dimension of sexual function across 48 studies. Sexual communication was positively associated with sexual desire (r = .16), sexual arousal (r = .21), lubrication (r = .17), orgasm (r = .23), erectile function (r = .19), less pain (r = .12), and overall sexual function (r = .35). The effect sizes for sexual desire (r = .21; r = .12) and orgasm (r = .26; r = .16) were higher for women than for men. For overall sexual function, studies with married participants (r = .47) had a larger effect size than studies with participants with multiple relationship types (r = .31) or than studies with dating participants (r = .11). Effect sizes were larger for studies conducted outside of the United States (r = .39) compared to studies conducted in the United States (r = .12). We discuss the importance of addressing the relationship between sexual communication and sexual function, as well as future directions for research in this area.
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There is a long history of survey research indicating high rates of orgasm difficulties among adults. We sought to investigate how male and female heterosexual late adolescents perceive difficulties with orgasm, whether gender differences were apparent, and how they tried to resolve these difficulties (if at all). We conducted semi-structured interviews with 53 heterosexual male and female adolescents, aged 18–21 years. Interviews were guided around the question of when sex was not as good as they thought it should be, with subsequent open-ended probes questioning them about specific difficulties around sex, including difficulty having, reaching, or timing orgasm, their feelings about these difficulties, and any efforts they took to resolve these difficulties. The majority (71%) of young women and a third (33%) of young men reported having difficulty reaching orgasm in partnered sex, whereas 38% of men also reported ejaculating too quickly. Themes that emerged included reports of not being taught about pleasure in school or at home, that sex was completed after the male partners' orgasm, and some participants resorting to faking orgasm when feeling that they were taking too long. Resolution of orgasm difficulty tended to occur in the context of communicative relationships for both the young men and women in the sample. The results of the study provide insight into issues with orgasm for young people specifically, and the role of communication in sexual problem-solving, which may be applied in sexual health education contexts, including online forums.
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There is a persistent gender difference in how positively young adults react to casual sex, with men reporting slightly more positive responses than women. Multiple factors have been studied as possible explanations for the gender difference, but nothing has completely accounted the variance between women and men's responses to casual sex. Although prior research identifies sexual pleasure as a primary factor associated with positive responses, women and men may understand or report on this construct differently due to gendered socialization, making it difficult to compare responses across groups. One measure that is less subject to subjective interpretation or response bias may be whether a person orgasms during a given casual sex encounter. In the present research, we test the relationships between gender, orgasm, and reactions following most recent casual sex encounter across three samples of young adults. Results indicate that orgasm mediates the gender difference in how positively participants respond to casual sex. Specifically, men are more likely to orgasm during casual sex, and people who orgasm during casual sex are more likely to experience positive reactions afterwards. Therefore, while gender may be one way to describe the discrepancy in how positive people feel following casual sex, orgasm explains it.
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Heterosexual women's low orgasm rates are widely acknowledged within sexuality research. However, researchers have not accounted for whether women are even pursuing orgasm (actively and purposefully attempting to orgasm) in their sexual encounters with men. Given that heterosexual sexual scripts often deprioritize women's pleasure, women may vary in their orgasm goal pursuit – whether they set orgasm as a goal and strive to have an orgasm – in any given sexual encounter, with some women being less likely to pursue orgasm than others. Across two studies, we investigated the association between women's orgasm goal pursuit and orgasm occurrence. By examining the variations in women's orgasm goal pursuit, we aimed to explain why some women orgasm in their sexual encounters and other women do not. Women who reported greater orgasm pursuit were more likely to report that they orgasmed in their most recent sexual encounter. These findings suggest that researchers should not assume that women equally pursue orgasm in their sexual encounters, and that this important individual difference can help explain differences in orgasm occurrence between women.
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