Let’s talk about sex! National Orgasm Day is July 31, which celebrates and raises awareness for issues around sexual climax. Among those issues, one of the most significant is the orgasm gap. As published by Archives of Sexual Behavior, a study in the US of over 52,500 adults, including those who are lesbian, gay and bisexual, shows that 95 percent of heterosexual men, 89 percent of homosexual men and 88 percent of bisexual men usually or always orgasm during sex compared to 86 percent of homosexual women, 66 percent of bisexual women and 65 percent of heterosexual women. Evidently, there is a huge gap of sexual pleasure between men and women, creating an orgasm inequality. While a healthy, great sex life isn’t only measured by the number of orgasms, it is quite concerning and highlights the misogyny of our society, in which expectations about physical intimacy cater to men’s needs and pleasures.
Many factors contribute to the orgasm gap, but the overarching problem is the lack of knowledge around pleasuring women that our society and culture has failed to accept and teach. This dates back to the medieval period, where it was a common misconception that a woman having an orgasm was necessary in order to produce a baby, which led to many harmful ideas surrounding both the nature of sex and sexual assault. It was also thought that the female reproductive system was exactly like the male reproductive system, but inverted, according to JR Thorpe for Bustle. This perception was problematic because it was believed that women ejaculated the same way men do, ultimately resulting in the idea that sex could only be experienced for reproduction, not pleasure. So, very early on, society’s understanding of female pleasure was skewed and incorrect, and has continued to affect women today. It’s now known that women are able to have multiple orgasms, of different types as well, invalidating the idea that women only orgasm through penetration or for reproduction reasons.
Another facet of today’s society that strengthens the misunderstanding of women’s orgasms is mainstream media and pornography. Sites like PornHub can create an illusion of what a woman’s orgasm looks like when, in most cases, these women are faking it. With a statistic gleaned from the University of Quebec’s analysis of PornHub’s 50 most viewed videos, Cosmopolitan writes, “According to Mail Online, scientists discovered that women were only having real orgasms 18 percent of the time. This meant that the remaining 82 percent of the time they were faking.” So, people who watch porn will have a misconstrued idea of what causes the female orgasm and what it looks like — all of which contribute to the orgasm gap.
The lack of sexual education and information on female genitalia bolsters the failure of society to teach equal sexual pleasure. Nancy Tuana, a professor of philosophy and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University, found that the “vast majority of [her] female students have no idea how big their clitoris is, or how big the average clitoris is or what types of variations exist among women.” Tuana puts this in contrast to her male students, “who can tell you the length and the diameter of their penis both flaccid and erect.” However, when it comes to women’s genitalia, a study by YouGov showed that nearly half of those surveyed “could not identify or describe the function of the urethra (58 percent), labia (47 percent) or vagina (52 percent).” This lack of understanding of the female anatomy was apparent in both men and women, as roughly half of both men and women surveyed were unable to label each feature of these anatomical features. How is it possible that almost everyone on the planet has seen and knows most functions of a penis, but can barely understand or even point out any part of the vulva? It’s because of the media normalization of male pleasure as more valuable than female pleasure and the lack of sexual information provided by our educational systems. In America, only 13 states require sex education to be medically accurate, and only 25 actually require sex education in public schools. This statistic is quite concerning when only half of our states require sexual education at all, not to mention that those who do probably neglect to seriously discuss pleasure, instead choosing to focus on abstinence or contraceptive use. Hence, the lack of knowledge regarding pleasure, especially female pleasure, contributes to the ignorance that our culture and society has toward female sexual health and the overall lack of respect for our bodies, deepening the orgasm gap even further.
While this ignorance doesn’t apply to everyone, I am criticizing our society in general for creating a misogynistic and ignorant culture that doesn’t respect or accept female bodies and the pleasure they deserve. I’m criticizing the culture that has taught men to think that they occupy only the receiving end of pleasure and that hasn’t encouraged men to learn more about female sexuality and pursue equality in bed. It’s this culture that refuses to normalize conversations about sex, allowing the orgasm gap between men and women to fester.
So, when July 31 comes along, I encourage you to think and reflect about the orgasm gap — because even if you haven’t realized it, it affects you.
Willa Scolari is a junior majoring in psychology.