Long Reads

Why we need to close the orgasm gap

Posted by
Stylist Team
Published

Why are women having fewer orgasms than men? Cherry Healey and Anniki Sommerville investigate…

Feminism is riding an exciting wave at the moment, but there seems to be one area that the waters haven’t quite reached yet: sex.

Women have become masters of faking it. But why on earth do we do it? We complain at a restaurant if a meal isn’t cooked properly, we take a jumper back to the shop if it falls apart and if a project at work isn’t going well, then we try something different to make it a success. But if sex doesn’t hit the spot, many of us simply lie back and think of dinner. After all, who wants to be ‘difficult’ in the sack?

Statistics show that around 50-65% of women have faked it at some point but, after talking to friends and hearing from the listeners of our sex and relationships podcast The Hotbed, I’m actually surprised by how low that number is. You might even be reading this right now and thinking about a time you pretended to be enjoying sex, and then made a noise to make it sound like you were having an amazing, mind-blowing orgasm, when in fact you felt so far from climax that it was just a dot on the horizon. I know many women who have done this, but I want to know why. Why do these amazing, forth-right women, some who run their own companies and have no problem asking for what they want in the boardroom, have so much trouble asking for what they want in the bedroom?

Why do amazing, forth-right women have so much trouble asking for what they want in the bedroom?

I don’t want to point the finger but you know what I’m about to say: porn. Porn is not the only culprit, but it’s a pretty obvious place to start. In conventional porn the women rarely cums and I would say a genuine orgasm is about as rare as a snow leopard in a supermarket. The more my eyes open up to the orgasm gap, the more I am vexed by the ridiculous, fake screams of a woman pretending to have an orgasm. And if you’re a man watching that, or worse, a young boy learning about sex via porn, then you’re going to be very disappointed to learn that less than 25% of women can climax with penetration alone. Even if they can, it is highly unlikely to happen within a four minute time frame.

I have a friend that masturbates pre-sex to the point of orgasm, so that she takes less time to cum. This means her boyfriend doesn’t have to make such a big effort, and she doesn’t feel like she’s taking up too much of his time. Points for efficiency.

This example, I think, really hits the nail on the head. Throughout history women have been told to sit down, calm down and be quiet. They have been warned not to be dramatic or hysterical and in Victorian times, at the extreme end of the spectrum, they were given a hysterectomy if they displayed signs of lust. The lesson is clear: don’t take up too much space, time or airwaves. Be attractive to look at and attentive to your man. 

Of course, this doesn’t exactly encourage women to openly express what they want in the bedroom, and god forbid they take up actual real time to get a slice of the good stuff.

Sadly all of this means that women jump onto the Good Ship Shut Up at an early age. At school, girls are often ahead of boys - partly because they have more confidence to put up their hands and ask questions and admit they don’t know the answers to everything. If you see a bunch of four-year-old girls, you’ll often notice just how differently they behave to their male counterparts. They’re fearless, unafraid to ask for what they want, and are very physical too (that’s until the culture around them takes effect).

So where does all that undiluted chutzpah go? Where do girls learn to suppress their curiosity, quieten their voices, put more importance on their outfits than their activities, and hide their wants in case they’re deemed ‘a bit much’?

Well, the answer is all around us. 

In porn, a genuine orgasm is about as rare as a snow leopard in a supermarket

When I was growing up, almost every book, film and TV show reinforced the message that if a woman wanted to avoid being rejected, then she needed to adjust her behaviour to remain acceptable. She needed to dial it right down, please. A good example of this is the Disney Princess. She’s at the extreme end of the ultimate female - always beautiful and demure, always attractive to the dreamy Prince, and always getting in a little muddle and then being saved by a man. She’s overwhelmingly passive. This is changing with heroines like Moana, but the overriding narrative is often one of a woman working very hard to please the world around her.

This also happens in the office, where women are labelled as bitchy if they assert their authority, or speak up in meetings, or challenge the status quo. The overriding message is still that being passive and liked is more important than anything else.

I could go on of course, but let’s talk about sex baby.

If you’re part of the Fake It Brigade, don’t beat yourself up. It’s not another thing to feel bad about, or add to that never-ending to-do list, but perhaps ask yourself why. Is it because you don’t want to rock the boat? Is it because you’re afraid of what your partner might think? Is it the imagery you’ve been fed about sexual pleasure - how we watch porn films and see women writhing about like mad simply when a member of the opposite sex drops his pants?

Perhaps it’s all of the above. But if a woman can take charge of her sexual destiny, then that’s a pretty powerful thing. Forget mindfulness, meditation, yoga classes or spa days – an orgasm can offer up all of those wellbeing benefits in one powerful punch. And don’t be afraid to explore your body and find the things that turn you on, then talk to your partner. Get into the mindframe that you deserve to have the time you need to get there - there is nothing more obstructive to an orgasm than feeling like someone is wishing you would hurry up.

Remember, the majority of women don’t have an orgasm from penetration alone, although porn would have us believe otherwise. If you’re faking it, then you might also be perpetuating the notion that women don’t need clitoral stimulation or foreplay, or that they’re frigid if they don’t orgasm at the sight of a naked male torso.

So, demanding a real orgasm is a feminist issue. Never apologise for taking time, never feel that there is a countdown clock above the bed and never apologise for wanting a real, thigh shaking orgasm. You’re worth the real deal. 

This article was originally published on 19 March 2018

Listen to Cherry Healey, Anniki Sommerville and Lisa Williams on The Hotbed podcast for more frank discussions about sex and orgasms. Subscribe on iTunes here or Acast here, and follow the team on Instagram here

Images: Matheus Ferrero / Meng Yiren / Getty