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The Orgasm Gap in Heterosexual Couples

The pleasure gap is an issue affecting many heterosexual couples. When one of the partners experience fewer orgasms during sex, the gap grows. To close the pleasure gap between men and women, it’s important to rethink heterosexual sex.

It would be impossible to find someone who doesn’t enjoy orgasms. Whether you’re having sex with a partner or masturbating, an orgasm is a natural ending of an act. Unfortunately, many people struggle to reach an orgasm. Recent studies show that more men than women orgasm during sex, which is why the pleasure gap is so significant.

What is the pleasure gap?

The pleasure gap is when one of the partners in a sexual relationship reaches fewer orgasms than the other. In heterosexual couples, this gap is widest, meaning that 95% of men say they climax always or most of the time, while only 65% of women say the same.

This gap looks even more significant when compared with lesbian couples. 86% of women in lesbian relationships experience orgasms. In most cases, the female orgasm is more complicated than the male orgasm, which means women need more time to fully engage with their sexuality. Researchers agree that the pleasure gap is not as much about anatomy and body complexity, as it is about the way we perceive heterosexual sex.

The reasons behind the gap

Focus on the male body

For ages, sex was about reproduction and male pleasure. Only recently have the media and health care professionals started focusing on female pleasure. But the problem remains because many of us don’t learn about sex in school. Instead, too many young people learn about sex through pornography, which is often misleading, especially when it comes to the female body.

The majority of pornography focuses on the male orgasm and the penis. Male ejaculation is often the anticipated culmination of the film. We bring these distorted ideas about sex to the bedroom and forget about women.

Lack of foreplay

Typically, a woman needs 20 minutes to get aroused and be ready for intercourse, and men usually don’t need that much time. The average length of a sexual encounter for heterosexual couples is 19 minutes. If extended foreplay is not part of a couple’s sexual practice, the woman is barely turned on while the man is already finishing.

Foreplay can start before you take off your clothes. Partners can stimulate each other by flirting at the dinner table, giving massages, or sexting before meeting each other. There’s no right way of having sex—playfullness and experimentation can help you in finding your sweet spot.

Only penetrative sex

We are used to the image of typical sexual intercourse: vagina and penis. A recent study showed that it’s usually not enough to climax for a woman. Only 25% of women reach orgasm during vaginal penetration. In the history of sex movies  heterosexual sex has mostly been depicted as vaginal intercourse, but most women can’t reach climax from that alone. As long as we don't address this issue, we can’t expect to close the pleasure gap.

Most female orgasms come from clitorial stimulation. A clitoris has around 10 000 nerve endings, making it one of the most sensitive organs in the human body. This is also the only organ that is solely built for pleasure. In heterosexual relationships men often forget about the clitoris, making it more difficult for their partners to reach orgasm.


Psychological reasons

Each person is different, and each person experiences orgasm in their own unique way. Women usually take longer to reach climax, and might not get there for psychological reasons. A study on women and their difficulties in reaching orgasm showed that women with a negative body image tend to struggle more.

Other common psychological reasons why you might be struggling to climax:

  • The shame of having sex—this often manifests in people who have grown up in conservative religious families where sex was demonized. You might feel ashamed and dirty for engaging in sexual activities, or you might feel as if you are disappointing someone.
  • Past trauma—if you have ever experienced sexual assault, rape, or another situation where your body was used without your consent, it can cause you to detach psychologically from your body whenever you have sex.
  • Poor relationship with your partner—if you often fight with your partner or your partner abuses you in any way, you might struggle with relaxing during sex. While you can try to set your mind on having sex, your body may rebel by contracting the muscles and and not secreting lubricating fluids, which often leads to pain.

There are many other reasons sex can become an ordeal, such as anxiety, stress, and recent childbirth. Concerns about self-image, family dysfunction, or financial worries can reduce a woman’s chances of experiencing pleasure from sexual activity. Also, women who perpetual feels stressed tend to have a lower sex drive.

Physical reasons

If a woman can reach orgasm on her own, she should be able to climax with the partner too. If a woman feels a lack of sexual desire, can’t climax on her own, or experiences pain during intercourse, it might mean she has orgasmic dysfunction.

Orgasmic dysfunction can manifest for both psychological and physiological reasons. Some of the physical conditions that lead to difficulties in reaching orgasm include:

  • Gynecological surgeries such as hysterectomy
  • Medication such as hormonal birth control or antidepressants
  • An unhealthy lifestyle—alcohol, smoking, and drugs are linked to sexual dysfunction in both men and women.
  • Menopause—during this time, a woman’s estrogen levels drop, making it more challenging to become aroused and achieve orgasm.

Closing the gap

The pleasure gap between men and women in heterosexual relationships has a long history and it can take time to overcome. Before you judge your sexual partner, it’s essential to get to know your own body better and determine what works best for you. Here are a few ways how we can go about closing the orgasm gap.

Sex is more than penetration

If we only engage in penetrative sex, we are missing out on hours of pleasure and orgasms. Sex can start with flirtation—meaningful glances, light touches, compliments can create a pleasurable atmosphere of anticipation.

Sex is about creating intimacy and giving and receiving pleasure. The focus needn’t be solely on penis and vagina. The whole body, female or male, can contribute to sexual pleasure—why miss out? Give yourself time to enjoy intimacy. Sex is not a race, and setting limits on experimentation or time diminish opportunities for pleasure.

Include sex toys

Using sex toys can be a fun way to learn more about your body and rejuvenate your sex life. You can use them in masturbation, but you can also incorporate toys into your sex life. There are plenty of options for women, men, and couples, so you both could enjoy some playful fun.

Communicate your needs

We can talk for hours about our relationships, but when it comes to sex many of us shut down. We are afraid to offend our partners by telling them what we really want in bed. Unfortunately, if you don’t communicate your needs to your partner nothing is likely to change. If your sex life doesn’t improve, you’ll may get frustrated, and your partner will end up feeling more inadequate.

Tell your special someone what you like. You can show each other how you want to be touched, kissed, and caressed. It’s not only educational but also arousing to see your loved one enjoying themselves. Let your partner know that your orgasms are as important as his or hers, and sex doesn't have to stop when only one of the partners reaches climax.


Spark sexual energy

When a couple has been in a relationship for many years it is easy to fall into a routine. A wild sex life is replaced with grocery lists, kids, household chores. But when we reach a higher level of intimacy with our partner, our sex life should also improve.

Imagine coming home after along day at work and grabbing a quick bite while binge-watching TV in your pajamas—it is no wonder the sexual energy fades. But it doesn't have to be this way. You can fan the flames of desire every now and then, which will only enhance your relationship. You can agree to go on a date—dress up, and have a few drinks. Send sexy text messages during your lunch break, kiss your partner so you both feel dizzy.

Don’t focus on the orgasm

Sex isn't about who will be the first to climax. Sex is an intimate game, and while orgasms can be breathtakingly spectacular, they are not the only prize. Pleasure and intimacy throughout the entire encounter are much more important for creating a sense of closeness and trust. And guess what, when you focus on being in the moment, you have a much better chance of having an orgasm.

When we concentrate only on the genitals and try to push ourselves to orgasm, we tend to scare it away. An orgasm is a full-body experience, and for a woman, it’s highly linked to her psychological state. When a woman is able to relax and open herself to pleasure instead of forcing it, orgasm comes naturally.

Reach out for professional help

Some people find it helpful to reach out to a sex therapist. If you struggle to climax, although you used to before, or if you never or rarely reached orgasm, a sex therapist may be able to help.  Orgasmic dysfunction is commonly treated by:

  • managing stress
  • dealing with past trauma and body-image
  • eating a balanced diet and engaging in more physical activity
  • getting off medication

Orgasms and the menstrual cycle

Orgasms are a part of sex, but they shouldn’t be our primary focus. Creating intimacy, making room for playfulness, and knowing the limits and desires of your body lead to good sex for both men and women. Sometimes orgasms can be leg-shaking and sometimes they are subtle, but all of us want to feel pleasure and enjoy ourselves while having sex.

Did you know that your sex drive has a lot to do with your menstrual cycle? Check your WomanLog to see which days you’re likely to feel most sexual—and let your partner know by synchronizing your devices.

You can track your period using WomanLog. Download WomanLog now:

Download on the App Store

Get it on Google Play

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