orgasm gap

Mind the orgasm gap – how to get the sex you deserve

A recent survey revealed that while 95 per cent of straight men ‘usually’ orgasm during sex, just 65 per cent of straight women can say the same

Here, Kate Davies, who quit hetero sex in pursuit of better orgasms and a more fulfilling love life, reveals what sleeping with women taught her

Last week, I was out for cocktails with friends when the conversation turned to sex. It’s not something we discuss that much these days – we’re in our thirties now, so we mostly talk about how stressful our jobs are and what will happen to property prices after Brexit.

But that night, there was excitement in the air. One of my friends had just hooked up with a man she’s liked for ages and we were all dying to know how things were going. We assumed they were in the honeymoon stage – the having-sex-in-uncomfortable places period – so we were stunned when she told us they’d only had sex twice in the month since they’d got together because he kept getting nervous and losing his erection. She said, ‘I’m so sexually frustrated I’ve considered masturbating with my electric toothbrush.’ Quite a lot of information for 6.45pm on a Wednesday. The others made sympathetic noises and nodded their heads. One friend said she only orgasms half the time she has sex with her boyfriend, while another said she finds penetrative sex painful because her boyfriend’s penis is massive and he doesn’t warm her up enough first. As I sat in the corner listening to them talk, I have to admit I felt a little smug. I used to go out with men, but when I was 26, I realised I was a lesbian. Today, I’m happily married to a woman, so I’ve opted out of penis-centric sex for good.

The ‘orgasm gap’ that my friends and I were discussing that night – the difference in sexual pleasure and satisfaction between men and women – is well documented. A recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour found that although 95 per cent of straight men ‘usually or always’ orgasm during sex, only 65 per cent of straight women can say the same. Other surveys reveal similar findings: according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, 87 per cent of men come every time they have sex, but only 49 per cent of women concur. This isn’t that surprising, really, because 43 per cent of the men surveyed said they didn’t know how their partner achieves orgasm. Those numbers are in stark contrast to the statistics on lesbian sex – an impressive 86 per cent of women in same-sex relationships say that they almost always orgasm during sex. As someone who has slept with both men and women, those figures ring true. Why? Because by definition, lesbian sex centres on female pleasure. Women are willing to spend time and effort making sure their partners are satisfied – and lesbians usually know what a clitoris is.

Rachel Bloom, the creator and star of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, tweeted recently, ‘If I see one more TV show/movie where a woman cums easily from penetration without having to touch her clit I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ She’s right: we barely ever hear about clits in popular culture, but only 18 per cent of women can orgasm from vaginal penetration alone, so they’re pretty important.

Like many women, when I was having sex with men, I didn’t mind that much about coming during sex. I was more bothered about whether or not the guy I was with was having a good time. I lost my virginity to a boy who seduced me by plying me with whisky and reciting Keats poems. By the time we got round to the actual sex, he was too drunk to ejaculate. When he realised penetrative sex wasn’t working for him, he clambered off me and started to wank. And he kept wanking. For over an hour. While I knelt by the bed and watched. It was like being the only person in the audience for an experimental one-man show and being too embarrassed to walk out. At the end of this wanking marathon, he said, ‘I think you’ve broken my penis.’ I felt totally humiliated. I later found out he’d also slept with a friend of mine and had accused her of breaking his penis, too. Unlike me though, she had enough sense (and self-esteem) to walk out. Thinking back to that night (which I try not to do more often than I have to), what strikes me is how ashamed he was that he couldn’t come – so ashamed that he felt the need to blame me for it. But what he wasn’t ashamed about was masturbating in front of me. He had bought into the idea that his satisfaction trumped mine. Many of my other sexual experiences with men were similarly penis-centric, and I’m not alone.

When I asked my sexually frustrated friend whether she and her boyfriend had tried different kinds of sex – oral or experimenting with sex toys – she shook her head and said 
they tended to give up when he lost his erection. When I asked why, she said, ‘They don’t count as proper sex, do they?’ I wanted to scream with frustration.

‘He’d bought into the idea that his satisfaction trumped mine’

I never really got the point of sex until I started going out with women. I remember so clearly the relief I felt, that first time. I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I made her come, and she made me come, and it was amazing, by far the best sex I’d ever had. Because lesbian sex doesn’t usually involve a penis, it encourages you to be creative. You use your tongues and your hands, and you can masturbate in front of each other without anyone feeling threatened. You take it in turns to give each other an orgasm, rather than expecting everyone to come at the same time, Hollywood-movie style. And if you love penetrative sex you can buy a strap-on, one that’s the perfect size and shape for you. You could even buy several and switch them up according to your mood, like a Kellogg’s variety pack.

But is it any wonder so many women believe sex has to involve a penis? At school, we were taught that sex = penis + vagina and that if we weren’t careful, we’d end up pregnant or with a nasty STI. We practised rolling condoms on to bananas, but we never once talked about female pleasure for its own sake, or what good sex should feel like for women as well as men. 
It wasn’t until 2001 that there was an age of consent introduced for lesbians because of the assumption that two women couldn’t really have sex.

Writing in The Guardian, Labour MP Jess Phillips argued that sex education should teach what ‘healthy, happy sex looks like’, because at the moment, ‘girls and boys spend at least the first ten years of their sex lives focusing exclusively on what boys want.’ I couldn’t agree more. We also need to teach young people how sex works for lesbians, gay men, trans and non-binary people (rather than let them figure it out through porn); that sex doesn’t need to involve a man ejaculating to count. If we started thinking more creatively, we’d stand a much better chance of closing the orgasm gap.

In the meantime, lesbian sex isn’t just for lesbians. There’s nothing we do that straight couples can’t. Dildos and lube are for everyone and if you take the pressure off the penis, penis-owners benefit, too. If straight couples tried lesbian-style sex every now and then, everyone would have more fun.

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