What is the orgasm gap and how can we close it?

When it comes to climaxing, why are heterosexual women drawing the short straw?

Do you remember the last time you orgasmed during sex? According to research, if you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship, this question may leave you scratching your head. This is thanks to ‘the orgasm gap’ – a term that has been coined to describe the discrepancies in orgasms during sex.

Now, orgasms alone don’t define satisfying sex, but there’s no denying that orgasm for those with vaginas tends to be less prioritised. One study into the orgasm gap by the International Academy of Sex Research found that 95% of heterosexual men usually orgasm during sex compared to just 65% of heterosexual women. Other studies concur, with the gap widening during one-night stands compared to sex in a long-term relationship.

So, what’s happening here?

“The two main things to look at with the orgasm gap are what’s happening physically, and what’s happening contextually/psychologically,” sex and relationship therapist Tabitha Bast explains. “Sex is often seen just as PIV (penis in vagina) sex in heterosexual encounters, which, for many women who need clitoral stimulation either directly or indirectly, literally doesn’t hit the spot. When we dismiss everything else as foreplay, we end up rushing through a whole smorgasbord of pleasure.”

With so many of us seeing penetration as the ‘main event’, we can easily dismiss other acts with potential for pleasure. This is a cultural issue, and we only have to look at mainstream media to notice it. When did you last see a sex scene where a person with a vagina climaxed outside of penetration? Recognising that sex can encompass a range of activites could be a big step forward.

Noting the numbers regarding orgasms during one-night stands, Tabitha says: “Orgasm is about the brain, not just the body! If you don’t trust the person you’re naked with, that’s a massive barrier to pleasure. Saying that, an end to violence against women and girls would be the most useful move for closing the orgasm gap: there needs to be enough safety for everyone to take fun risks together.”

There are certainly wider societal issues that need to be addressed, but is there anything we can do on an individual level?

“Women knowing about their own bodies is a good start, and men knowing about women’s bodies is a good second start,” says Tabitha.

Educating ourselves about anatomy, and the clitorus in particular, can help us understand what feels good for those who need this type of stimulation to orgasm. Not sure where to start? We love Kama, an app with an inclusive approach to sex education that has pleasure at its heart.

Communication is another tool to utilise, according to Tabitha. Not just about what feels good and what doesn’t, but being honest about how we’re feeling.

“If people are trying to fake being super cool and confident when they’re actually unsure and anxious, that’s not conducive to good sex,” Tabitha says.

“There’s an unhelpful myth that men should automatically know how to please their partners, and actually how one person orgasms is not the same as the next. The vast majority of people – whatever their gender – want their partners to have a good time, to be desired, and intimacy and connection, even in a one-night stand.”

So, if you’re not feeling sexually satisfied, an honest conversation is a great first step. Taking the pressure off can also help, with Tabitha recommending we focus on pleasure more widely, without trying so hard to ‘finish’.

“Slow everything down and take turns sometimes, don’t always focus on mutuality,” Tabitha recommends. “Schedule time in bed naked together at least twice a week, to touch and talk; focus on an environment of closeness and opportunity, and playfulness.”

And if you’re going through a dry patch, you’re not alone. But keeping that part of your relationship alive doesn’t have to be hard.

“Let your partner know you desire them as an invite, not a demand. If you keep a closeness and attraction always bubbling, it’s easier to get into actual sex – resentment and irritability are huge passion killers.

“Sex isn’t a performance; the idea an individual is ‘good in bed’ is super unhelpful. Sex is a conversation, a dynamic, it is the interplay, and the relationship between the paticipants.”

It’s easy for us to forget what sex is about at its core – connection. Whether we’re connecting with ourselves or a partner, we deserve to feel seen and to feel pleasure.

To find out more, visit Counselling Directory or speak to a qualified counsellor.

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