*While this piece includes research it is also fueled and funneled through my personal experiences & lens. I never ever, ever claim there are one size fits all solutions to anything. So please always read with an open mind, take what you need or nothing at all. It's all up to you*
Last year I was at an event where I found myself meeting a group of eight other women, all outspoken, confident and leaders in their respective fields. We got onto the topic of sex and orgasm when one of the women said "I don't think i’ve ever had one" another followed with “I think maybe I have.." and a chorus of “mmm, yeah””me too” "I'm not sure" erupted through the group. As someone who experiences multiple orgasms and a variation in types of orgasm I assured the women that if they'd had one, they'd know about it.
Apart from being shocked that out of a group of nine females I was the only one who could say with one hundred percent certainty I regularly orgasm I was also devastated that we live in a culture which (for the most part) accepts this as normal, a culture which uses female bodies as its money making centre piece but does not prioritise female pleasure... that our connection to our bodies, our ability to confidently function within them, our ability to seek, demand and achieve pleasure are so muted that many women are not experiencing the full tapestry of pleasure yet are accepting this as par for the course. I went home disappointed but hopeful and determined to help shift this any way I could.
There is an orgasm gap between heterosexual men and women. According to sexologist Tanya Koens "the orgasm gap is the frequency with which hetero men have orgasms during sex vs hetero women. Tanya explains that 95% of straight men always orgasm during sex, compared with 89% of gay men and 86% of lesbian women. Get to the amount of straight women having orgasms during sex, though, and that number drops sharply. Only 65% of straight women always have an orgasm during sex, and that number goes even lower when looking at the statistics of casual hookups – on a first time hookup, the gap is 80% of men to only 40% of women" You can read more about that here
So why aren't straight cis women having orgasms? There is a plethora of information floating around about this issue and i've read a fuck load of it, I am also a cis woman who has mostly slept with men so I want to share my personal reflections here as well as some ways in which I believe we can combat this issue.
"Porn and culture"
In my opinion porn culture has a lot to answer for.. Take a geeze at a mainstream porn site, most titles include shit like "watch this milf/teen/lesbian get fucked" and go on to show a woman being roughly penetrated with little to no clitoral stimulation. Most (more likely to be ALL) top rated scenes are aimed at men, most scenes include little to no foreplay, the foreplay they do include is mostly fellatio, clit flicking/slapping or women touching themselves in ways that are not sensual for most of us but rather pleasing to the male gaze. I have heard many women in the adult industry discuss ways they must move in order to "get the shot" and that these are generally not ways in which women experience pleasure.
In a culture which gives little to no useful sex or pleasure education in schools and the home: porn becomes young peoples first sexual education. We begin to emulate and expect the same earth shattering response as the actors in the clips which negates the fact that each body is supremely different and hey, whats happening in the footage actually doesn't feel that great. Not to mention the implication of unhealthy power dynamics, the lack of intimacy, sensuality and gentle touch WITH HANDS (which can be extremely arousing and help women to self lubricate. Whether this be an issue of biology, psychology, social conditioning or a combo of all three is up for debate) When we begin imitating people imitating pleasure we can lose sight of what feels good to us as individuals, when we are focused on how we look instead of how we feel we are disconnected from our own authentic pleasure, when we are more concerned with appeasing male desire we can get lost in the performance.
Young boys and men are also negatively impacted by porn culture. Over consumption can affect an array of things such as brain function, sexual sensitivity, hardness of erections ability to connect intimately with partners, it can increase violent thoughts, influence authentic sexual desire, increase insecurity around penis size and sexual stamina. The list goes on. (Here is some more info on that topic)
Porn and entertainment have created a culture which over values penetrative sex while undervaluing foreplay and physical touch that is non penetrative or involving of genitals. One of my most recent stand out sexual experiences began with almost fifteen minutes of non (typically) sexual touch; gentle kissing, touching of various parts of my body such as neck, heart space, arms, stomach, legs. It was a total practice in surrender to pleasure and experiencing my body as an entirely erogenous zone rather than the porn zones: tits, ass, pussy. Dismantling the notion that we only have these three erogenous zones is difficult when as a society we are often still too awkward to openly discuss pleasure and anatomy with our kids and when our main sources of sex ed tell us otherwise.
We can also thank history and culture for creating and maintaining gender imbalances regarding casual sex between hetero men and women, this is an obvious one which i'm sure we've all experienced to some extent Women are critisized far more than men for having casual sex partners or even just enjoying sex more than is perceived as "normal". I view this as an extension of the Madonna Whore complex. While Sigmund Freud is ultimately trash, he did develop the theory which I believe is still prevalent in our society and culture "a theory to explain men’s anxiety towards women’s sexuality, suggesting that men cast women into one of two categories to allay the uncomfortable dichotomy of fear and desire: the Madonna (women he admires and respects) and the whore (women he is attracted to and therefore disrespects). The Madonna-whore complex views women’s desirability/licentiousness and purity/maternal goodness as mutually exclusive traits. Love is seen as clean and virginal whereas sex is viewed as dirty and shameful. Because healthy sexuality is sublimated, it is rerouted towards the secrecy and debasement involved in pornography where the concept of slut is outwardly despised and privately craved. This dichotomy may contributes to many relationship issues, where men generally seek to maintain the image of their romantic partner as Madonna, but may seek the whore in the form of an affair in order to achieve both opposing idealizations that are difficult to project onto the same woman (Landau et al., 2006)' You can read more on that here
The above can cause a feeling of shame in women who want to be more sexually fulfilled, while for many this may not be conscious it can manifest as an inability to fully let go in sexual encounters thus stifling our ability to orgasm.
"The clit flick"
I'm in bed with a dude, we kiss briefly before he haphazardly tries jamming two fingers in with full ferocity. He obviously thinks five seconds of this is sufficent foreplay so tries to ram his half flaccid penis into me. "Uhmm i'm not ready, i'm not even wet" I say with a perplexed look "oh..ok..sorry" he replies and begins slapping what I assume he thinks is my clitoris. I look on in dismay but am also not shocked by his incompetence.
Man.. How can a society so utterly saturated in pornography be so fucking clueless about female anatomy?
We should be aware that the clitoris is the only organ which exists solely for pleasure, it contains 8,000 nerve endings (double the amount contained within the penis), it extends internally almost like its hugging our vaginal walls. It is a majestic and beautiful part of cis female anatomy.
Here are some other fun facts because the clit deserves far more attention than it receives:
Up to 75% of women need clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm which means most women cannot cum from penetration alone (so hey jack hammering and doggy usually ain't gonna cut it fellas) and most orgasms we do have are due to the clitoris, even anal, as the pressure from penetration can still stimulate the internal part of the clit which is also responsible for nice sensations in our labia.
Cis women get clitoral boners. The more aroused we become the harder the lil lady gets. So yeah, lady boners are a thing.
As mentioned above our clitoris' are much larger than just the external pea, it can be up to about 4 inches in size. The same as some penises.
Hitting, slapping, pinching, dry poking/rubbing can be extremely painful for some women. 8,000 nerve endings, man, take it easy.
The clitoris continues to grow throughout our lifetime!
You can read my previous post on the clitoris here
“I’ll have what she's having”
A cis womans ability to orgasm during penetrative sex can be directly linked to the distance between her clitoris and vaginal opening, the further apart these two are the more difficult it can become for the woman to orgasm from penetrative sex. Some women, simply due to the structure of their anatomy, will not be able to cum from penetration, there is nothing wrong with this it just means that they will need simultaneous clitoral stimulation - but this is not common knowledge and so can begin the spiral of frustration, shame, defeat and often... a plethora of fake orgasms. The more we fake orgasms the more defeated we can feel by the prospect of having a real one. I believe this willingness to regularly fake orgasms is an issue of socialisation and gender norms. Historically and still in many arms of modern culture little girls are sociaslised to be more empathetic, nurturing and eager to please than young boys. In the article "lets talk about the orgasm gap, baby" the author says "Women are often viewed as good listeners and care-givers because we are socialized by our families, our teachers, our coaches, our churches, popular culture, and our employers to be such. Of course, this is not universal for women, but it is a trend. Men, in contrast, are socialized to be powerful, to take action, to win, and to be right. This means that women are overwhelmingly socialized to be empathetic in their relations with others, while men are not"
Even in some of self proclaimed "progressive" and "sex positive" circles on social media I have seen people perpetuating this narrative.. It is my opinion that this isn't helpful to anyone, that it is in fact really problematic. If we are socialised to believe that we must be more caring, more giving, more willing to please in our daily lives how can we expect to shift that thinking in the bedroom?
A study showed that men and women take the same time to orgasm while masturbating (approximately 4 minutes) so the argument that women just physically respond differently and need longer to orgasm than men is redundant. We have equal orgasmic potential so I would argue socialisation has changed cis hetero womens ability to feel worthy of seeking and experiencing it with a man.
In Michael Kimmels lecture “Boys will be boys: deconstructing masculinity and manhood” (which you can find in our resources page here) he discusses hook up culture in America, he retells the account of one young woman who - despite knowing she wasn’t going to orgasm - continued to receive cunnilingus until faking an orgasm because she didn’t want to hurt the males feelings. A woman who was aware of her body and how she was feeling still faking an orgasm so the man felt good? Why didn't she ask him to try something different, something that she enjoyed more? If she wasn't enjoying the encounter why didn't she stop? There is a subtext here that disturbs me: Young women are conditioned to put male pleasure (and happiness) above their own. Women are pleasers, while men are more deserving of pleasure.
And i'mma be frank: It’s time to fuck this old school thinking right off.
Shifting social conditioning, particularly related to gender, is a big one. It can be terrifying for those who are comfortable in their roles, who feel safe knowing they can blame their behaviours and abilities on biology: "I am just a man which is why I need to XYZ" "I am just a woman which is why I need to XYZ" These responses have been used to defend all types of fuckery in our society but I believe in many aspects they are a cop out.
This is as much about "femininity" as it is about "masculinity", it's all well and good to tell women to be more empowered in the bedroom, to ask for what we want, to feel worthy of pleasure, but we must simultaneously be teaching boys about our bodies, genuine pleasure and consent. We must be teaching boys to be as empathetic and nurturing as girls, while teaching girls to be strong, capable and deserving of good things: so all genders can experience fulfilling pleasure in all aspects of life.
"I am not here to please you. I am your equal, we are here to please each other"
I implore women to be more forthcoming in what we need to experience pleasure, I challenge women to stop faking orgasms: If something doesn't feel good, if you are becoming frustrated, if you need him to be more patient/slow/gentle/fast, if you need more pressure, less pressure, more rythym --- I challenge you to voice this (if you feel safe to do so).
Seek help, talk openly, MASTURBATE MORE.
Discover what feels good for you. I challenge women to be more vocal in our day to day lives and in the bedroom. Envision a time you have had unfulfilling sex with a man, what would have happened if you spoke up? A moment of awkwardness will pass but open communication with lovers will make the experience better for both of you. It is ok to say no, to ask for something, to say "stop, change, slow down, do this differently."
If we continue to fake orgasms men will never learn how to help us achieve real ones.
Know that you are not alone, know that nothing is wrong with you if you cannot orgasm from intercourse. Find the ways you can feel pleasure and focus on that. You are worthy.
I implore men to be humble, open your minds and hearts. Tune into your lovers, read our body language, ask for consent: "Can I touch you here, Can I kiss you there? Can I have sex with you? Do you like this?" Don't only wait for verbal cues, read our body language. Do not over consume porn, do not treat us like things for your pleasure: We are not fuck dolls; Not in a one night stand, not in a casual hook up - not ever. We deserve and have a right to reciprocity in every situation.
Our orgasm is as important as yours.
It will take bravery, self reflection and awareness to dissect, dismantle our thinking and make these huge but necessary shifts in our culture, and I argue few personal journeys will be as worthwhile.