Study confirms the “orgasm gap” is more social than biological

sex researchers consistently find that men have far more orgasms than women when it comes to heterosexual sexual encounters.

This is known as the gender gap in orgasms or the orgasm gap. There are many myths and assumptions about why women are less likely to orgasm. Some of the more popular ones are that it takes women too much time to reach orgasm, women don’t really care about having an orgasm, and it takes more work to get a woman to orgasm and it’s harder to to please her.

But are female orgasms really too much work, and if not, why is this belief so widespread?

Insights from the “Sex in Canada” project.


Along with sociologists Tina Fetner and Melanie Heath, I recently published a study that challenges these assumptions about women’s ability and desire to orgasm.

We used data from our nationally representative Sex in Canada survey to find that there is a gender difference in orgasms—86 percent of cis men reported having an orgasm in their most recent heterosexual sexual encounter, compared to 62 percent of cis women.

What narrowed the gap in our sample? oral sex.

The notion that women generally need some form of clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm has been documented by a number of sex researchers, but it’s unclear why the gap remains despite knowledge of the importance of clitoral stimulation for women.

To understand this discrepancy, we conducted in-depth interviews with adult men and women across Canada to examine the underlying beliefs and feelings that keep couples from engaging in the types of sexual activity that make it more likely for women would achieve an orgasm.

The role of gender essentialism

One of the prevalent myths that helps perpetuate the orgasm gap is that there are inherent gender differences in why men and women have sex. Women are expected to naturally desire emotional connection and men are expected to naturally need physical relaxation.

So feeling emotionally connected to your partner and whether the female orgasm is mutually exclusive. This way of thinking is not new or isolated to the bedroom.

Social scientists call these explanations “gender essentialism”—the belief that there are natural, biological, and physical differences between men and women.

Gender-essentialist beliefs have been used to justify a variety of gender inequalities, such as those that seek to reinforce traditional gender distinctions that women belong in the home and men in the workplace.

If we take essentialist beliefs at face value, it would seem that women simply don’t want orgasm as they need emotional connections about sexual pleasure. But is it really the case that women don’t want to have an orgasm during partner sex with men?

Our research suggests that these beliefs about women’s orgasm have less to do with women’s inherent inability or desire to orgasm and more to do with the way gender norms shape and limit expectations.

An episode of “Vagina Dispatches” addresses the orgasm gap.

The role of heteronormativity

The orgasm gap isn’t just about gender, it’s also about heteronormativity. Our participants defined “normal sex” as penile-vaginal intercourse. This definition means that our participants see sex as centered on stimulation of the penis and not the clitoris.

Our study shows that the heteronormative conception of “regular sex” leads to other sexual practices that prioritize clitoral stimulation—such as oral sex—as alternative sexual practices to the main event.

It also means that other sexual practices can feel like extra work, disconnected, time-consuming, and challenging, even though they increase women’s chances of reaching orgasm.

Bad feelings about potentially great sex for women

Piotr Powietrzynski/Photodisc/Getty Images

A corollary to the belief that sex is about an “emotional connection” for women, and the definition of what “having sex” means as penile-vaginal intercourse, is that it limits the types of sexual practices that women engage in participate, and these beliefs shape the feelings women have toward other types of sexual practices.

For example, some of our participants described other sexual practices, particularly oral sex, as unnatural, bad, or dirty.

Our participant Kathy put it succinctly: “I don’t do oral sex. It can be very comfortable, but it feels wrong, I just feel dirty.”

Women’s bad feelings about engaging in the types of sex that could bring them more physical pleasure demonstrate the strength of the sexual double standard, in which women are judged more harshly than men and taught to self-regulate their sexual desires and behaviors .

Put sex on the agenda for gender equality

Beliefs about women’s bodies, what women expect from sex, and what it actually means to have sex all help to justify why women don’t achieve orgasm from sex with men.

Fights for gender equality have attacked and refuted many gender-essentialist beliefs, and yet the long-standing orgasm gap shows how gender-essentialist beliefs still have a stronghold in the realm of heterosexual sexual encounters.

The orgasm gap highlights the ways in which gender inequality surfaces in even the most seemingly private and personal encounters in heterosexual relationships.

As with other gender differences, it is important to continue to transcend individual explanations and understand the gender difference in orgasm as a form of gender inequality.

This article was originally published on The conversation from Nicole Andrejek from McMaster University. Read the original article here.

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