The Orgasm Gap: Biological Or Psychological?

When it comes to talking about an issue, I generally avoid the kind of crisis fear-mongering you’d see on a CNN special report, a Fox News segment, or an Alex Jones podcast. More often than not, those who resort to fear-mongering are a few steps too close to fitting their heads for tin-foil hats.

However, I’m about to bring up an issue that I believe really is a crisis. It does warrant a little fear-mongering, if only because it directly affects the erotica/romance industry, of which I’m trying to be part of. That’s because it involves orgasms.

Usually, my posts about orgasms are of the fun, positive, sexy variety. That’s to be expected. It’s not hard to make a discussion about orgasms fun. Unfortunately, it’s also not hard to make that discussion dire because when a significant portion of the population isn’t having them, then I consider that to be a big problem.

This isn’t just the sexy musings of an aspiring erotica/romance writer. This is a real issue. There really is an orgasm gap, so to speak. Men, not surprisingly, don’t have a hard time achieving orgasm. Thanks to an unfiltered imagination and internet porn, an orgasm for a man is as routine as a morning cup of coffee.

For women, however, it’s a very different story, one I wish were relegated to the kinds of sexy novels I write. The data doesn’t lie. Women are having a harder time taking a trip to O-town during intimate moments with their male lovers. Regardless of whether you’re a radical feminist or a douche-bag frat boy from an 80s teen movie, we know that’s not fair. Given the universal joys of orgasm, that kind of disparity just isn’t tenable.

Why is this an issue though? Why does this orgasm gap even exist in the first place? Evolution has given both genders a wonderful incentive to have sex, make love, and everything in between. What’s keeping us from enjoying it?

By and large, there are two major theories to explain this injustice. One theory says this gap is primarily due to biology, which is bad news for women because it means the gap is impossible to close. The other says the cause is psychological, which is somewhat less dire because it means the gap can be addressed, albeit with expensive therapy.

Most of the time, when there are two competing theories about why something exists, the truth often lies somewhere in between. In some instances, though, such as the case of creationism and evolution wherein one is definitively right and the other is a religiously-motivated fever dream, the truth is not so balanced.

So with respect to the orgasm gap, which theory is correct? I’m not a scientist and am woefully unqualified to be one. Thankfully, there are some scientists out there who value equal access to orgasms as much as I do and they have done research on this. These people are the true heroes of the erotica/romance world. So what did their research find?

Well, a recent TED talk by Peggy Orenstein does a nice job of summing up these results. I’m not saying her talk is definitive. These TED talks never are. However, her conclusions have some pretty powerful implications and not just for our collective sex lives.

There’s a lot to unpack here. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, it reveals some major flaws in the proverbial narrative that is our intimate lives.

Parts of her talk definitely resonated with my own personal experience. I remember sex ed when I was in high school. Since my community wasn’t run by uptight religious zealots, I had the good fortune of receiving a fairly comprehensive education about sex, especially compared to Texas standards.

They were pretty thorough, talking about everything from contraception to childbirth. When it came to certain body parts, though, I do recall a distinct difference. Descriptions about male anatomy and how a penis works was fairly concise. Most of my male classmates didn’t learn anything they hadn’t already found out and were fairly assured that their manly bits were operating fine.

When the time came to discuss female anatomy, however, I sensed a distinct shift in mood. Everybody, girls and boys alike, shifted like they were trying to hide a nasty fart. The intricacies of female genitalia wasn’t so much about their beauty or aesthetics. It mostly boiled down to the idea that blood and babies come out of it. That’s about it.

On a personal note, I’ll just say I learned about the existence of the clitoris from “South Park.” What’s that say when a comprehensive sex education program from a major school overlooks something that can be gleaned from watching “South Park?” I’ll give everyone a minute to stop banging their heads against their desk.

Then again, self-image is something every teenager struggles with. I certainly did, but I had a damn good excuse because of my horrible acne problem. It’s one of those things that improves with maturity. Sure, some people mature faster than others, but most of the time, it’s women who do the maturing so how does that orgasm gap not disappear?

This is where the psychology, it would seem, overpowers the biology. Make no mistake. Our thoughts and attitudes can influence our bodies. Anyone who has tried to sleep the night before midterms knows this all too well. Then, there’s the attitudes that we, as a society, collectively impose on each other.

In this case, it’s an attitude we impose on women. Whether by the spirits of angry Puritans or the agendas of old men who vomit uncontrollably at the thought of their daughters having sex, we tell women that they’re not supposed to enjoy sex that much. They’re told the orgasm disparity is normal.

There’s supposed to be this orgasm disparity between men and women. Somehow, this disparity is supposed to keep society intact so that people don’t waste too much time enjoying orgasm. This is where Orenstein gets really personal when she recounts the woman who says:

“I guess we girls are just socialized to be these docile creatures who don’t express our wants or needs.”

The girl who said that claimed to be this fiery, assertive woman. That should reveal just how powerful these attitudes can be.

It’s not just one type of attitude either. Orenstein points out how girls see their vaginas with shame while boys let their dicks hang with pride. Being proud of a body part tends to affect it. I used to play baseball. This works with arms. It works just as well with genitals, if not more so.

However, I think Orenstein overstates genital attitudes in some areas, ignoring the fact that men will shave their balls and undergo circumcision to avoid being aesthetically unpleasing. That’s something that affects both genders more than she lets on.

That said, I agree with her wholly when she brings up one of the most telling details about the orgasm disparity. When same-sex partners are involved, that gap disappears quicker than a cold beer at a Red Sox game in July. This is where the biology theory starts to fall apart.

Now it may seem obvious on some levels, the idea that same-sex lovers can climax at the same rate. It makes intuitive sense. They’re two people working with the same equipment, so to speak. Naturally, they would know how to make that equipment perform.

I don’t doubt that’s part of it. I also think there’s more to it and Orenstein seems to agree.

“Girls’ investment in their partner’s pleasure remains regardless of the gender of the partner. So in same-sex encounters, the orgasm gap disappears. And young women climax at the same rate as men. Lesbian and bisexual girls would tell me that they felt liberated to get off the script — free to create an encounter that worked for them.”

How telling is that? Put women in a situation where certain attitudes about sex and female pleasure don’t apply and they can enjoy a trip to O-Town as much as any man. As an erotica/romance writer, it brings tears of joy to my eyes.

So the orgasm gap disappears with same-sex partners. That’s all well and good, but what about the women out there who can’t get too horny around other women? What about the women who actually want to share the joy of orgasm with men? Well, Orenstein gives hope to those women too when she cites surveys done in cultures that aren’t haunted by the spirits of angry Puritains.

Consider a survey of 300 randomly chosen girls from a Dutch and an American university, two similar universities, talking about their early experience of sex. The Dutch girls embodied everything we say we want from our girls. They had fewer negative consequences, like disease, pregnancy, regret — more positive outcomes like being able to communicate with their partner, who they said they knew very well; preparing for the experience responsibly; enjoying themselves. What was their secret? The Dutch girls said that their doctors, teachers and parents talked to them candidly, from an early age, about sex, pleasure and the importance of mutual trust. What’s more, while American parents weren’t necessarily less comfortable talking about sex, we tend to frame those conversations entirely in terms or risk and danger, whereas Dutch parents talk about balancing responsibility and joy.

Let’s all take a moment to thank the Dutch. Let’s also take a moment to understand what this reveals.

Again, no theory is truly definitive, but Orenstein lays out fairly concisely how the orgasm gap is largely a psychological issue. Men define satisfying sex by their orgasm. Women define it by the ability to please their partner, which sets the bar low and ensures an unequal outcome.

That means we, as a society, should set new standards and I can say with a fair amount of certainty that men are all for that. How do I know this? Well, let me let all the women out there on a little secret about us men that really shouldn’t be a secret.

We WANT you to have orgasms when you have sex with us.

It’s true. Men really do want the women they have sex with to orgasm. Most of the time, they don’t want women to just lie there and act like a glorified barbie doll with a pulse. They actually want their partners to feel pleasure.

It shouldn’t require a real stretch in logic. Men understand that if women feel a lot of pleasure during sex, then they’ll want to do it more often with them. More sex makes us happy. We have a powerful incentive to make sure you women share in the joys of orgasms. The problem, albeit a sexy problem, is that it requires a mutual effort.

I believe we can close that orgasm gap for coming generations. I can only do so much as an erotica/romance writer, but we collectively can do so much more. When the day comes where men and women can expect to have an equal potential for orgasms during sex, then we will have achieved true equality. I look forward to that day.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Orgasm Gap: Biological Or Psychological?

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