Many women are familiar with the frustration of finishing a sexual encounter without actually finishing. This disparity between men and women’s sexual satisfaction, colloquially known as the ‘orgasm gap,’ refers to the fact that men are far more likely to orgasm than women in heterosexual encounters. In a recent study from The American Association of University Women examining 800 college students, 91 per cent of men reported that they usually or always experienced orgasm during sex, while only 39 per cent of women could say the same. The orgasm gap is not an individual problem, but rather a function of western sexual culture.
Mayte Parada, a sexologist and postdoctoral research fellow in McGill’s Department of Neuroscience and Psychology, looks at intimacy to explain why heterosexual men are the most likely to experience orgasm, followed by gay men, lesbians, and, lastly, heterosexual women.
“One of the theories [of why] lesbians are more likely to experience orgasm [than heterosexual women] is because they have more of a connection with their partner and are more comfortable communicating what they like and don’t like,” Parada said.
A paper published by Meredith Chivers, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Queen’s University, reaffirms the importance of having an intimate connection. Chivers explained that communication between heterosexual partners can increase a female’s likelihood of a to experience orgasm. Chivers said that, for many women, sexual pleasure requires more than just physical stimulation.
A recent study from McGill’s Laboratory for the Biopsychosocial Study of Sexuality investigated the orgasm gap further. Researchers found that the subjective experience of orgasmic pleasure and satisfaction depend more on psychological and psychosocial factors than on physical ones. These could include the quality of a couples’ relationship and their emotional intimacy.
Despite these recent scientific endeavours, the physical mechanics of female pleasure remain shrouded in mystery. In fact, the female orgasm remains one of the most poorly understood sexual responses, since past sex research predominantly focuses on male sexuality. For example, labs previously only used male rats when conducting sex research, until they realized that the findings in males were not representative of the female population.
“Researchers are still studying what purpose [orgasm] serves in women,” Parada said. “If people are enjoying themselves and communicating, orgasm doesn’t have to be the be all and end all.”
According to Parada, the orgasm is a poorly-understood sexual response because it actually isn’t that important for sexual satisfaction.
“A lot of people […] don’t have sex just for orgasm,” Parada said. “Different phases of sex are what people are aroused by, and the activity itself [is] what people [find] most enjoyable.”
Regardless of the emphasis on orgasms, the topic of sex and promiscuity is still extremely gendered and worth exploring from a female perspective. Even though society is becoming more progressive and permissive, topics of sex and its idiosyncrasies are still difficult for some people to discuss without embarrassment, ignorance, or cultural taboo coming into play. As a result, women can find themselves with a shortage of opportunities to learn about sexual pleasure.
“This stuff is important to research and know about,” Parada said. “Because, without sex, we wouldn’t be here.”