Are you making your partner orgasm?
In this week's column, Anouszka Tate looks at the orgasm gap. And no, that's not how many hours you can go without looking at PornHub.
When a person has an orgasm their heart beats faster, their breathing gets heavier, and their body experiences a sequence of contractions. Orgasm is, of course, so much more than that too, but the point is that the biological markers of earth-shattering climax look much the same in men and women.
And yet in hetero partnered sex men get to get off a lot more. Culturally, how much of a right we think we – and others – have to that same physical experience is wildly different.
A 2017 study* found that 95% of straight men orgasmed every time they were sexually intimate over the past month. The figure for straight women was a measly 65%. This, my friends, is the orgasm gap.
I spoke to fellow sex writer Susannah Weiss for my podcast Project Pleasure, and she summed it up well with this anecdote: “A guy friend once told me a female friend of his ‘expected to climax every time’, and it was ‘way too much pressure.’ Imagine if women were like ‘ugh he wants to cum every time we have sex! So much pressure!’”
The elusive female orgasm has long been made out to be a chore. A stat that’s lazily wheeled out every time any magazine ever writes anything to do with sex is that women take around 20 minutes to ‘warm up’ to orgasm. 20 minutes?? A lifetime! What a bore! Men can be ready for action and get off within minutes!
When masturbating or having sex with other women, 95% of women easily reach orgasm in an average of four minutes.
It’s not a woman’s capacity for sexual pleasure that’s the issue here. The issue is a society that refuses to teach us about the vulva and the clitoris, and the fact that that’s where the pleasurable nerve endings are for people with vaginas. (The clitoris and the head of the penis begin life as the same organ as an embryo develops!)
Nefariously spreading the idea that women take forever and are a bloody nuisance gives men an easy out for not bothering in the first place, and makes women feel like bothersome troublemakers for believing they deserve basic equality.
So let’s start from scratch, because I appreciate it’s not your fault that you’ve been taught that penetration is the holy grail of sexual interaction regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Or that within that script orgasm is the main goal. (More on that in a bit).
The word vagina actually comes from a Latin root word meaning ‘sheath for a sword’. Basically, women’s anatomy is defined in relation to what it can do for men. The vagina is the internal canal; it’s the bit that works best in the eager eyes of a pleasure-seeking penis. Given our clitorises don’t directly pleasure men, they’re left out of the definition. Cool.
Sophia Wallace, an artist behind a brilliantly named ‘Cliteracy’ exhibition, succinctly points out that “a man would never be expected to get off through sex acts that ignored his primary sexual organ”. But that’s exactly what we’re asking of women when we expect them to orgasm through penetration. We then make them feel broken, or like their sexuality is wrong, when they don’t.
So here’s the kicker: it might feel like something ‘extra’ or ‘different’ to have to play with the clit during sex given that doesn’t directly stimulate you, but guess what? We’re already doing the ‘extra’, ‘different’ stuff that doesn’t necessarily directly stimulate us by having penetrative sex. We’ve been making sure you orgasm without guarantee of getting the same back for years!
And that’s ok. Equality in the bedroom doesn’t need to come from having an orgasm from the same sex act. Equality in the bedroom comes from all parties knowing they have a right to experience pleasure in the way that feels best for their body.
There is nothing wrong with how you orgasm. There is also nothing wrong with how your partner orgasms. What is wrong is assuming that the same thing that gets you off, should get them off too.
It’s this assumption that everyone should orgasm from penetration that can lead to a cycle of faking orgasms.
Every woman is different, and there are myriad reasons why they might fake an orgasm, but right up there is the fact that women are socialised to protect the male ego at all costs. Men are manly when they ‘give’ a woman an orgasm because it proves they’re excellent lovers. Women I speak to seem to want to have vaginal orgasms because that’s what will make their male partner and their strong, pleasure-giving penis appear most masculine.
So you can see how when women are conditioned to value a man’s experience over their own, and no one knows bloody anything about the human body, we’re left with a right mess that isn’t necessarily your or my fault, and yet we’re the ones left to deal with the fall out when we’re alone together.
One of my favourite things in the world (and by that I mean the thing that really exasperates me) is when a guy breathlessly tells me, with great conviction, “I’m going to make you cum” while he’s pounding away like a jackhammer on speed. With all due respect mate, no you’re not because you’re miles away from my clitoris.
I now know that making me orgasm in this moment is important to you. Good intentions, fair play, kudos to you, etc etc …but now I’m under pressure. I can either stop you in your flow and give you a biology lesson to explain that this is analogous to me poking your arm and expecting you to cum from it, likely leaving you embarrassed and uncomfortable, or I can make you feel good about yourself and this encounter by pretending.
For all the above reasons, anecdotally I would suggest that women will generally choose the socially rather than the physically comfortable option. Communicating about how your body likes to be touched from as early on as possible makes finding yourself on either side of this scenario far less likely. A mutual understanding of what sex is and what it means to each of you will help break the vicious cycle of putting on a show.
Also up there with reasons someone might fake an orgasm is that an orgasm seems to be how we mark sex as completed. Ticked off. A success. Now for all that I’ve just banged on about how we all deserve orgasms, I really don’t think giving so much weight to this celebrated climactic ending is the best idea.
I’ve always been able to orgasm extremely quickly. If it were some sort of extreme sport I’m backing myself for under a minute on a good day. But I started to wonder if I’d almost become so good at knowing what gets me off that I’d become lazy. In a roundabout way being able to orgasm so reliably meant sex became boring. I wanted to explore other sensations to make sex a whole full sensory experience – a journey with unexpected twists and turns rather than a blinkered mission with a single outcome. Otherwise it could quite literally be over within minutes.
I think this can often be what trips up couples in long term relationships. Knowing exactly what buttons to press to get your partner off means they become the only buttons you press. It’s routine. It’s reliable. You know it means you’ll successfully achieve the goal of sex: orgasm.
So what if orgasm isn’t the goal of sex? What if the goal of sex is to be present, hearing soft breaths, and responding to the pressure of a touch in the moment rather than desperately willing those touches to lead to climax in two / five / ten minutes time?
What if removing orgasm as the goal meant you spent more time savouring things you know for absolute certain aren’t going to lead to orgasm, but feel just as titillating, sensual, or carnal in their own delicious way? (Ie. when I know no one’s expecting me to orgasm from penetration, I can genuinely enjoy the incredible sensations it does give me).
There’s an age old saying that ‘nice guys finish last’. In my humble option, I don’t give a shit who’s first or last. Sex isn’t a competition. It’s not you versus your partner. You’re in it together. A blanket rule like ‘nice guys finish last’ suggests the whole thing can’t possibly continue once an orgasm has been achieved. Please, by all means, cum first. But then continue exploring. When orgasm isn’t the goal of sex, it isn’t the end of sex either – it’s just one of many wacky, wonderful things that happen throughout.
* Archives of Sexual Behaviour
This needs to be a mutually pleasurable experience; I want to help answer your questions too. What are you confused, curious, or concerned about? Ask me a question in the comments below or on my Instagram page, and I’ll do my best to answer in my next column!
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