Unsealed Section: ‘In my two-year relationship, I’ve only orgasmed twice’
In the two years she’s been with her partner, Cameron* says her experience in the bedroom has been far from equal.
“We have sex regularly, but while he has orgasmed almost every time, I can only recall having experienced it twice,” she tells 9Honey.
Where concepts like the gender pay gap commonly orbit our consciousness, Cameron’s sexual experience illuminates that women are losing out on more than the 30 cents to the dollar. She’s one of the many women experiencing the “orgasm gap”.
While it remains difficult to quantify, the orgasm gap seems to continue the trend of thirds: in heterosexual relationships, women report experiencing as little as one orgasm for every three from men.
While these results paint a dire pleasure picture, a 2016 study of 52,500 people saw statistics improve moderately, with 95 per cent of men usually or always reporting experiencing a gratifying finish, compared to 65 per cent of women.
The gap decreases for heterosexual couples in committed relationships, narrowing to 17 per cent, and continues to close further among homosexual women, with 86 per cent of lesbian women reporting finishing.
Miranda* refuses to fall victim to the orgasm gap, telling 9Honey she has a rule for sexual encounters: “I refuse to not orgasm.”
“I will make men study what’s going on down there with a PowerPoint before touching me – it’s a geography lesson,” she explains.
For Elaine, being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has seen her experience of the orgasm gap change dramatically.
“Pre-MS, I had partners who didn’t know what they were doing, and I was really shy and didn’t know what I liked for myself,” she says.
“They never asked if I finished, they never carried on after they had finished, and they never actively sought pleasure for me once they finished, unless I asked for it.”
After being diagnosed with MS in her early 20s, Elaine said understanding her condition helped her navigate her sexual experiences.
“I learned that because MS affects your central nervous system, it can also affect your sex life. It can diminish the effect of stimulation, you can be too fatigued, and so on,” she explains.
“Post-MS, everyone I’ve slept with has been aware of my diagnosis, but not always aware of the impact it can have on sexual function. Those that DO know, though, tend to see it as a challenge.”
We sought the help of three sexologists to explain why women are only orgasming one to every three times their male counterparts are.
Sexologists Isiah McKimmie, Vanessa Thompson and Nikki Goldstein answer the F-A-Qs behind the G-A-P.
What is the orgasm gap?
Nikki: “It’s the idea that women orgasm significantly less than their male counterparts in hetero relationships. Basically, men are having more orgasms than women when they are sexually intimate.”
Why does it exist?
Isiah: “Not so long ago in Western culture, women were seen as being devoid of sexual desire and unable to experience pleasure. Even today, women can be more focused on ‘just getting it done’, so they don’t get the pleasure they need to reach orgasm. Also, women tend to take longer than men, often leaving them feeling like they’re ‘taking too long’ and they (or their partners) can feel inadequate and give up on their own orgasm.”
Nikki: “There are a number of reasons, mainly falling under our society’s patriarchal attitudes when it comes to sex.
Vanessa: “A lot of men also don’t know what to do or where to touch to assist a woman to orgasm, and a lot of women don’t know either.”
When did the gap become a ‘thing’?
Isiah: “The term itself is relatively new. However, the orgasm gap has been around for a while. It’s only relatively recently that female pleasure (and orgasm) was considered important in sexual encounters at all.”
How do I know I’m experiencing it?
Vanessa: “If your partner is experiencing more orgasms when you are intimate, than you are likely experiencing the gap, but I honestly don’t think it matters if you’re experiencing it or not. If you’re not happy with your level of sexual satisfaction you should address it.”
Nikki: “We should also be aware orgasm isn’t the be all and end all – great sex can be achieved through what you value, whether that’s praise, intimacy, attention, or any other more emotional factors that contribute to a wonderful experience.”
Do we have any concrete data on it?
Isiah: “On average heterosexual men receive three orgasms for every one that heterosexual women receive. That’s 200 per cent more, or a gap of 66 per cent, making it one of the greatest gender inequalities our society faces. For women in long-term committed relationships, that number goes up and they report reaching an orgasm as often as 86 per cent of the time but that’s still a significant gap.”
How do we combat it?
Isiah, Nikki and Vanessa share their top tips for overcoming the orgasm gap.
One: Decide that your pleasure is important
Isiah: “Pleasure is your birthright. You deserve to enjoy yourself sexually. Your enjoyment during sex is just as important as your partner’s.”
Nikki: “We have to get out of our own heads, and get more in touch with being in the moment. This counts just as much in the bedroom.”
Three: Empower yourself by choosing empowering sexual beliefs
Isiah: “We get to decide that we’re going to be sexually empowered and liberated women. We get to examine our attitudes and beliefs about sex.”
Four: Learn to ask for what you want in bed.
Rebecca: “Even if some women do know what their body needs in order to orgasm communicating this can be difficult. Sex is pretty tricky to talk about for a lot of people. Learn to share with your partner what you want and don’t want.”
Five: Educate yourself
Isiah: “None of us are born knowing everything about sex. Although sex is natural, it’s also a SKILL that we learn. So actually educating ourselves on sexuality, pleasure, sensuality, embodiment and orgasms is incredibly helpful in helping us enjoy ourselves more in bed.”
Unsealed Section: ‘Sex toys aren’t meant to replace your partner’
From Samantha in Sex and The City handing out advice in a department store, to Fifty Shades’ Christian Grey and Anastasia experimenting with them at, well, every opportunity, toys — the adult variety — have graced our TV and cinema screens alike.
But when it comes to bringing them into our own bedrooms, a sexual stigma lingers.
“People fear that a sex toy is like a third party, a possibility for a partner to be completely replaced,” Dr Nikki Goldstein tells 9Honey.
Dr Nikki, an expert in human sexuality, started examining the science of adult toys when she left her career as a family mediator behind.
“Working as a mediator, I was always helping couples separate, and move apart from one another,” she said.
“I wanted to look at ways to bring people together, and remind them about the fun and passion they brought into each other’s lives.”
Studying human sexuality closely, Dr Nikki discovered a salient topic that arose was this inherent fear of “replacement” around integrating sex toys into a relationship.
The sexual unknown, she highlights, is the source of the problem, where an absence of discourse and education has perpetuated negative stereotypes about the use of sexual aids.
“By making them taboo, people thought it would make the product more exciting, but in reality it made the everyday person so uncomfortable to talk about it. It made people fearful of a very normal thing,” she explains.
“We should be taking away the taboo around them and see these products as a normalised sexual practice. Everyone who’s having sex should be encouraged to want to enhance it, not shamed or embarrassed.”
Dr Nikki explains that since opening her own shop, her customers have a healthy curiosity when exploring ways to integrate toys into their relationship.
“People come to me believing in this myth that the sex they’re having will be ruined by these products,” she said.
“But when I explain to them that they should be seen as an aid, not a replacement, they open up a lot more. It’s simply a matter of integrating something new, and removing the psychological stereotype by using more accessible and encouraging language.”
Put simply, when undressing the taboo around sex toys, Dr Nikki stresses: “The simple thing to remember is that they’re just meant to be a bit of fun for everyone.”
For the curious but timid, Dr Nikki shares a few ways sex toys are beneficial to your sex life:
An object of communication
Between the guaranteed good vibrations and new platform for pleasure, introducing a sex toy into the bedroom, and focusing on them as an aid and not a replacement, ultimately serves to spice things up.
Dr Nikki stresses patience and clarity – two values intrinsic to any healthy relationship – if you’re talking about them for the first time.
“You never know how someone will react when you bring this up, so be gentle, reassuring and patient,” she says.
“Whatever your partner’s reaction is, you should always come back to the fact that this isn’t a replacement, it’s about having even more fun on top of what’s already going down between you.”
Spice things up
“Talking about introducing a toy in the bedroom is one of the best catalysts for curiosity” Dr Nikki says.
“It sparks a conversation in a way you don’t typically tackle head on.”
Discussing topics like fantasies, ideas you’ve picked up from girlfriends, and ways to explore, Dr Nikki highlights, are various ways just the mention of a toy can open a whole new dialogue between couples.
“Plus, nothing is more fun or tantalising than the talk building up to it,” she laughs.
Hidden health benefits
“The best way I’ve found to de-stigmatise something, is to explain to people why it’s healthy for them,” Dr Nikki says.
Pivotal in strengthening and exercising the pelvic floor muscle, the use of sexual aids have been found to promote blood flow, tighten pelvic floor muscles and intensify female orgasms as a result.
“We also don’t talk enough about women who suffer from sexual pain,” Dr Nikki highlights, explaining the use of sex toys, can help women who suffer from sexual pain, such as endometriosis or vaginismus, to still engage in a form of mutually pleasurable intercourse with their partner.
A sexual alternative
Because of their health benefits, sex toys have helped couples often unable to participate in regular penetrative sex still enjoy their partner’s physically.
“Same-sex couples can’t always achieve what is our conventional perception of sex – toys can allow them to enhance sexual pleasure, and make for a more inclusive sexual experience.”