Research reliably shows that straight women statistically have fewer orgasms than any other demographic. That holds true in both casual hookups and long-term relationships.
“The lay public widely recognises the orgasm gap between women and men as variously innate and biological-determined. But our study shows that socio-contextual factors — namely entitlement — play a crucial role in understanding gender inequalities in sexual pleasure,” Verena Klein, the study’s lead author and a Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, told PsyPost earlier this month.
According to the study, men are generally perceived as being more entitled to orgasms and sexual pleasure than women ― a perception that’s shared among men and women.
The same male privilege that pervades in so many areas of our lives — social, economic, institutional, cultural ― plays out in the bedroom, too, Klein told HuffPost.
“I think that people believe men have more of a right to experience an orgasm and that’s rooted in gendered power inequality,” Klein said. “Those masculine cultural ideals that shape the way people think about and have sex are internalised by both women and men.”
The study consisted of five online surveys. In the first, Klein and her colleagues asked just over 200 respondents whether they thought women or men were more likely to be the receiver or the provider of sexual pleasure in heterosexual interactions. The participants were also asked who had “more of a right to experience an orgasm,” and to take into account the general consensus of their friends when answering the question.
By and large, the participants indicated that men were more likely to be the receiver of pleasure and women more likely to be the provider, regardless of whether it was in a long-term relationship or a hookup.
As for the second part of the question, respondents said that men were more entitled to an orgasm, at least during a hookup. In a surprise to Klein and her team, participants perceived that women were more entitled to experiencing orgasm than men when in a long-term relationship.
Janet Brito, a sex therapist in Honolulu, Hawaii, who’s unaffiliated with the study, wagered a guess at why that might be: Once the relationship has been established, couples may feel more free to let cultural scripts assigned by sex and gender fall to the wayside ― specifically, the “men are more entitled to orgasm” belief.
“When safety and security is established in long-term relationships, it allows women to feel more confident expressing their needs and makes men more open to negotiating,” Brito said. “It’s possible that in long-term relationships, the couple may have figured out how to balance sexual power.”
In the second survey of 223 people, Klein and her colleagues asked participants to read an anecdote about a sexual encounter where neither the man or the woman achieved orgasm: Who needs to and has more of a right to orgasm in this scenario, they were asked.
“Almost three quarters of participants chose to prioritize the man’s orgasm,” the researchers said in the paper.
The man in the hypothetical situation was perceived as being more “disappointed,” “frustrated,” “unsatisfied” and “deprived” than the woman.
“Interestingly, we did not find gender differences in most of the studies,” Klein told HuffPost. “Both female and male participants were more likely to view men as being more entitled to orgasms. The results indicate that both women and men are likely to buy into this dynamic, with women also accepting the idea that they are less deserving of sexual pleasure.”
However the researchers phrased their questions, men’s pleasure came out on top: In the third questionnaire, the researchers asked 151 people: “Please think of a sexual encounter between a woman and a man. Imagine that only one of them could have an orgasm: Who should have the orgasm?”
66.2% of the sample picked the man over the woman.
In both cases, the doctor was considering prescribing a new antidepressant which came with an unfortunate side effect: Taking the medication would result in a loss of ability to orgasm.
“Would you advise him/her to take the drug?” the researchers asked.
The participants were more likely to advise “Jasmine” to take the drug than they were “Michael.” (Women respondents were more likely to push the medication in general.)
For their final survey, the researchers analysed open-ended responses from participants about why men are perceived as being more entitled to sexual pleasure.
“We asked respondents directly,” Klein said. “The most common themes in their open-ended responses were, ‘men orgasm more easily, whereas women’s orgasm means work,’ ‘men are in control,’ ‘sexism,’ and ‘entitlement or deservingness.’”
While it’s not addressed in the study, some may be wondering: Could people’s over-valuation of the male orgasm have something to do with concerns over “blue balls”? Blue balls, known medically as epididymal hypertension, is a painful ache thought to occur when a man gets sexually aroused but doesn’t orgasm, but it’s not dangerous and it’s something men can relieve on their own through masturbation. (And for what it’s worth, women have their version of blue balls ― it’s sometimes called “blue vulva.”)
How Couples Can Work To Close The Orgasm Gap In Their Own Relationships
Kimberly Resnick Anderson, a sex therapist and assistant professor of Psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine who is unaffiliated with the study, said she wasn’t surprised by the its findings.
“Thousands of male clients I’ve spoken with about sex feel like if they don’t have an orgasm, sex doesn’t ‘count.’ Most women feel like they ‘had sex’ whether they experience orgasm or not,” Resnick Anderson told HuffPost.
Many throw in the towel and deprioritise women’s sexual pleasure because they believe, like those who participated in the study, that “men orgasm more easily, whereas women’s orgasm means work.” There is some truth to that, Resnick Anderson said.
“One reason men ‘expect’ to have orgasms is because their capacity to experience orgasm is much more reliable than women,” she said. “Up to 70% of women cannot reliably climax from intercourse alone without some sort of supplemental stimulation.”
“Studies suggest ― and my clinical experience supports this idea ― that women often need to be both physically and emotionally aroused to orgasm,” she said.
Of course, that’s not always the case for women, but overall, “the female sexual response is generally more complex than male sexual response,” she said.
Complex, but worth exploring with your partner if you want to keep them satisfied. The elusive female orgasm probably wouldn’t be so elusive if it was equally valued and men were willing to learn the exact ways their partners bring themselves to climax.
While many of Resnick Anderson’s women clients go along with the idea that male orgasm is the be-all and end-all goal of sex, when they’re in her office, they openly complain about the orgasm gap.
“They report feeling pressure to ensure their male partners have a ‘good time,’ and good time is definitely code for orgasm,” the sex therapist said. “‘I feel like it’s my job, my responsibility, to get him off’ is something I hear regularly in my office.”
To combat those feelings, Resnick Anderson often encourages couples to take the focus off of orgasm (and sometimes even penetrative sex).
“Then, we can discuss preferences and comfort with a range of sexual activities,” the sex therapist said. “This can help recalibrate the sexual dynamic, negotiate expectations, and reduce resentment on both sides.”
And women can and should recalibrate their expectations around sex, whether they’re in a long-term relationship or not.
“Social norms permit men to have agency over their bodies, own their sexual pleasure, and seek our sexual pleasure simply because they are men,” Brito said.
Women, too, should feel entitled: Approach sex with your own needs and desires at the forefront, both sex therapists said, and you’re well on your way to closing the orgasm gap in your own life.