The Gender Orgasm Gap

A couple of weeks ago, I read this super-interesting post by Kate Sloan on the gender orgasm gap, and I’ve been thinking about it off-and-on ever since. In part that’s because I’ve somehow ended up in my own orgasm gap experiment; I recently went 10 days without coming, which you can read about here, while Livvy has been enjoying daily orgasms for the last three weeks, thanks to Tabitha Rayne’s ’30 Day Challenge’ – often with me lending a hand, alongside various other body parts.

However, Kate’s post also made me scroll back through my own experiences over the last 14 years. Not to figure out whether I think the gender gap is really ‘a thing’ – clearly it is – but to help provide context and data for the instinctive response I had to what she wrote.

What was that response? I guess the best way to describe it would be a mix of sadness and frustration. Sadness because orgasms are wonderful, and even though there’s much more to sex than whether or not you get off, it would be great if everyone who wants to come when they fuck was able to do so. And frustration because…well, because as guys there is both a huge and a hugely limited amount we can (should!) be doing to help enable and facilitate that.

That last bit is what I want to talk about in this post. To do so, I’ll lean quite heavily on my own sexual history, for a couple of reasons*.

  1. To put it bluntly, I’ve fucked a lot of women. Far more, I imagine, than the average woman has talked to about the specifics of her orgasm. That gives me access to a whole bunch of rich, largely qualitative data on how, why, and when y’all come during sex – and, of course, when you don’t. A lot of the anxiety associated with orgasm stems from having no tangible benchmark for your own experience – it’s what makes people wonder “am I normal?” or “is this how I should be doing it?”, when the answer to both questions is almost always “yes”.
  2. Especially over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to have a bunch of really communicative, clued-up, sex-positive partners. As a result, I’ve had so many conversations with women about how to make them come that I’ve learned to see it as a basic, healthy part of getting to know someone sexually. More to the point, it’s shown me just how much variety there is out there, in terms of the relationship women have with their orgasms, and where that fits in to how they approach partnered sex in a wider sense.

Unsurprisingly, that variety extends beyond physical considerations. I see it in the way they talk to me about their orgasms and in how they want me to address the subject with them – not everyone finds it easy to have those conversations. It can also have a real impact on how comfortable they are proactively centring any form of sex around their own pleasure, as Kate Sloan alludes to in her post:

“I’m trying to play the role of a ‘cool girl’, which includes being undemanding about my own sexual needs and just rolling with whatever my partner wants to do [. . .] The truth is, it’s not hard for me to come with new partners; it’s hard for me to feel brave enough to make sure I come.”

I’ll bet a lot of women read that and nodded their heads in silent recognition – because I certainly did. And yes, for many people of all genders, sex is easier when someone else makes the decisions; but for women brought up in a world that doesn’t exactly go out of its way to celebrate and amplify female pleasure, it’s not always easy to be direct and upfront about what you want. Not least because in doing so you risk being seen as sexually aggressive or promiscuous; a ‘man-eater’ or a ‘nymphomaniac’, rather than merely someone confident enough to vocalise your desire.

Which is not to say that there aren’t plenty of women out there more than willing to do exactly that. I’ve had partners take my hand and show me just how they want to be touched within five minutes of getting into bed together – or tell me in explicit detail what turns them on and what gets them off before we’ve even got that far. It’s not a function of whether they’re dominant or submissive, vanilla or kinky; they’ve just realised that sex works better for them if they’re clear with the men they fuck about how their bodies work, and what gets them wet – or gets them off. I love it when that happens, and I imagine most guys feel the same way. Or at least I hope they do.

Like most things when it comes to human sexuality and sexual behaviour, it’s a pretty broad spectrum, which is great – but it doesn’t half make things hard sometimes! We should be eager to make you come – but not too eager, in case you’re self-conscious about all that attention. To do that, we can ask what makes you feel good, as long as we avoid appearing either clueless or pushy; or we can wait for you to take the lead and show us how to touch you…just not in a way that makes us seem as lazy or passive.

Throw in the fact that some women come at the drop of a hat – from clitoral or vaginal stimulation – while others find reaching orgasm frustrating or difficult, and this whole area can be a real minefield for men, especially with new partners. I 100% get why it’s good to demystify the female orgasm; to present it as something straightforward and everyday, rather than fiendishly complicated or elusive. However, there are also dangers inherent in oversimplifying things. When first thinking about this post, I asked Liv how often she comes when we have PIV sex, and her answer was illuminating in a way that even I – after 2+ years of fucking her – hadn’t anticipated:

“My orgasms through penetration are really different from clitoral orgasms – they’re slower to build and slower to fade away, which I suspect is why it took me so long to recognise them as orgasms! I occasionally worry that I’m ‘wrong’ to call them orgasms at all as they are so different from the clitoral ones, which are the more full body stereotypical porn-type orgasm. But there’s definitely a build up to a peak with delicious pleasurable release afterwards so I don’t think I am wrong…

Anyway, some can be pretty small (?15%), most are bigger (80%, although this still covers quite a wide spectrum!!) and then the few squirty ones are the biggest (?5%)! But I have the internal ones every time, whereas the big punchy clitoral type orgasms happen maybe 60% of the time, with extra stimulation. Having more than one clitoral orgasm is rare; having more than one peak in the penetrative orgasm is very common! Interestingly, having a big clitoral orgasm can really dull the other types – it’s somehow slower to reach the highs with penetration if I come too early in other ways!”

In other words: it’s complicated!

Boo-fucking-hoo, I hear you cry, and it’s absolutely true that we’re not the ones suffering here. Men complaining that it’s tricky to talk to women about their orgasms goes up there on the shortlist of suuuuper-first-world problems, so that’s not what this post is trying to do. Instead, what I want to emphasise is that this particular gender gap will only get closed if we all get better at communicating when it comes to sex.

My view is that each of us is ultimately accountable for our own orgasm – it’s neither fair nor realistic to pass that responsibility on to someone else. We can – and should – expect our sexual partners to be attentive, communicative, unselfish, and respectful in bed, but they are only ever going to prioritise making us come to the extent that we allow and ask them to do so. If we’re not open to letting them do that, we risk coming away largely unsatisfied.

ALL THAT SAID, as guys we’re letting both ourselves and our partners down if we fail to recognise the impact of cultural and social conditioning on that whole conversation. As Kate says:

“…the orgasm gap exists primarily because our culture still overvalues penile pleasure and undervalues clitoral pleasure.”

I’d actually go a step further than this. It’s not just clitoral pleasure, but female pleasure – and sexual agency – in a wider sense that’s undervalued, which directly contributes to the issue I alluded to earlier: most women are simply not brought up to expect orgasm equality in sexual encounters with men, and are too often shamed for demanding it. A lot of guys will point out (not unjustifiably) that they don’t bear individual responsibility for this problem; however, I would argue that as men we ought to shoulder collective responsibility for addressing it. Or at least for creating the conditions in which it can be broken down and seen off.

What does that mean in practice? Well for starters it means not getting butthurt if the conversations we initiate go wrong. I’ve certainly been guilty of that in the past, so I know that dealing with bruised feelings isn’t easy. If someone clams up when you try to focus on their pleasure, or shuts you down when you talk to them about it, there’s a temptation to back off and steer well clear of the whole subject, rather than risk getting shot down again. That was the case for me with one semi-casual ex, and all it led to was several months of us fucking, her not coming, and me feeling shit about it. What I only realised much later – when she told me – was that she’d felt shit as well, and had only reacted in the way she did because she felt too awkward and nervous to do something about it. She’d wanted me to dig a little deeper – to understand where she was coming from, and maybe put myself out there a bit, rather than shy away – and I failed to do that.

I’ve also learned that there are plenty of ways to centre female pleasure without focusing directly on orgasm. Kiss her! Fuck her hard! Or talk to her. Just asking “what can I do to make you feel good?” or “show me how you like to be touched” is low-key enough that it doesn’t put immediate pressure on your partner to come like a steam train – it’s exploratory rather than goal-orientated, and even allows them to shift the spotlight back onto you (“sucking your cock makes me feel good” etc) if they’re not comfortable with that sort of attention.

Once you’re having those sorts of conversations, the main goal as a guy should be to anticipate and proactively deal with the issues your partner might be worrying about as they try to express what they want. You can do that by asking what toys she likes to play with, for example, so she knows you’re not the kind of dick whose ego can’t handle her whipping out a massive dildo and coming with that inside her, rather than your cock. Another option is to think about the things that make you insecure about sex, or the bits of your body you don’t like, then talk about them calmly and openly with your partner; not only is it a natural way of building intimacy, it’ll make it a helluva lot easier for her to do the same thing, and to relax enough into whatever you end up doing together.

Finally, make it damn clear how much you enjoy making her happy! Stimulating your partner is not a chore, it’s a fucking privilege, and the more enthusiastically you communicate that, the more likely she is to believe it. And the clock should never be ticking; I know from experience how many women worry that they’re taking too long to come, so as guys, it’s our job to make sure they know that it doesn’t matter whether it takes two minutes or two hours – the payoff is just as worth it for us as it is for them.

If for whatever reason – tiredness, tipsiness, or just a temporary mental block – it doesn’t happen, that’s fine too; we’re not investing the time because we expect a cookie (or reciprocity) at the end of it, we’re doing it because turning them on turns us on too. It’s hot, they’re hot, and we want them to be in absolutely no doubt on that front.

The gender orgasm gap is not a simple issue, nor one that men can ultimately solve. However, we ought to be doing more to ensure that the women we love and the women we fuck feel empowered to start closing it – both in their own sex lives and beyond.

*With very, very few exceptions, I only fuck women, so this post is necessarily heteronormative. I’m talking about the gender orgasm gap from the perspective of a cishet man, and everything I write should be read with that in mind.

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