We already know that society doesn’t reward men and women equally for their efforts (UK women still earn, on average, 82p for every £1 earned by a man).
But inequality doesn’t end in the boardroom – it extends all the way to the bedroom in the form of the orgasm gap.
Much like its financial equivalent, the Big-O gap describes the lesser reward that women get from the same work: for every sexual encounter. men orgasm on average 87% of the time, while women are left at 65%.
Unlike the gender pay gap where society blames everything from women’s lack of ambition, to raising children and women choosing poorly-paid jobs – what reason can possibly explain this 22% gap in orgasms?
It’s important to note that orgasms rates also differ depending on your sexuality, with heterosexual men orgasming most regularly, followed by gay men, bisexual men, then lesbians, bisexual women – and finally hetero women.
So, What Is Holding Women Back?
Lisa Williams, co-author of More Orgasms Please: Why Female Pleasure Matters, says these findings point to a specific problem when men and women interact – one that disproportionately impacts bi and straight women.
It certainly isn’t our anatomy, according to Williams, who says women are able to orgasm as quickly as men when they masturbate. “It can take as little as four minutes for a woman, which is the same as men, but there is a perception it’s going to take about 40 minutes during sex.”
“Women are bought up to not really voice our needs, to not be difficult or demanding...”
Many women do take longer to reach climax during sex, as opposed to on their own. Williams says this is for three main reasons: feelings of shame, poor body image, and a lack of bodily knowledge.
“Women are bought up to not really voice our needs, to not be difficult or demanding, to not be a show off and to not be sexual. Then when we grow up and get to the bedroom this is obviously going to have an impact,” she says.
“The other big thing is body image – women are very self conscious. They may like parts of themselves and not other parts. Even when they’re in bed they’re still thinking about their own bodies – how do I look from this angle? Are my boobs as perky as Love Island contestants? Can he see my stretch marks?”
Williams says this heightened awareness during sex has been scientifically proven to make it harder to orgasm because you’re focusing too much on worrying, which makes it harder to be in the moment.
Another problem is women’s lack of bodily knowledge, part due to societal shame around self-pleasure, and partly to poor sex ed, which impacts both genders. But for women, masturbation is not the same rite of passage.
“Men are doing this everyday, for many women they aren’t,” says Williams. “Statistics from the Eve Appeal [the gynaecological cancer charity] revealed lots of women think the vagina and the vulva are the same thing and they menstruate out of the same hole as they urinate. If we’re dealing with that level of body knowledge then how are we meant to know what pleases us?”
Which Way To Progress?
Women need to become more familiar with their own bodies and what they like, encourages Williams – and this can include trying sex toys. Then, when they get into a sexual situation with a partner, they can be less afraid to say what they do and don’t enjoy.
“Don’t be worried about coming across as demanding, women are conditioned to feel this way,” she says. Of course, no one should feel compelled to have an orgasm – many people have a fulfilling experience without reaching this point – and indeed some people are anorgasmic (or unable to orgasm).
But it’s a shame that so many are missing out if they don’t need to be. “It’s not the most important gap in the world for women, but it’s a big shame. Especially as it would not be that difficult to close the gap. This is a basic thing about women putting themselves first,” she says.
“Men and women biologically experience orgasm in very similar ways and you don’t get men saying they don’t need an orgasm. So it seems strange women are willing to tolerate it.”
Lisa Williams is author of More Orgasms Please: Why Female Pleasure Matters and is part of The Hotbed Collective.