The Orgasm Gap Is Real, Y’All—Here’s How To Beat It

Because orgasm equality is a thing.

We’re fighting for equal pay, equal rights and equal representation—but we’re not fighting hard enough for our right to come just as much as dudes! Orgasm equality is just as important as any other equality, but the trash patriarchy is literally screwing us over with its obsession with ho-hum P-in-V sex that does nothing for many folks. We chatted with badass sex educator and honorary nasty gal Dr. Laurie Mintz about her new book, Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters—And How To Get It (HarperOne, $26.99, out now), which shows us why the clit is queen and the key to getting off more often. This read’s for anyone with this magical bit of anatomy, whether you’re a cisgender lady, trans woman, trans man or non-binary person—but especially to clit-owners sleeping with cis dudes in hetero settings ‘cause, like, that shit is dire ATM. Did you know that partnered women have one orgasm to their male partner’s three? Or that only 4% of girls come the first time they sleep with a hook-up? Yikes. Read on for how the hell this happened, why it’s bad for feminism—and how we can close the damn gap.

(Photo: Instagram/niamhcoughlantattoo)

What is orgasm equality and why is it important?

It’s a really simple concept—it’s that women and men have the same rate of orgasm during partnered sexual encounters, and it’s really important because it’s not happening now. There is a huge orgasm gap between women and men. So basically we’ve got this huge societal inequity in the bedroom and it needs to be fixed. It’s important to close the gap because sex is a really important part of life and we should be getting pleasure equal to our partners’.

So fighting for orgasm equality is a feminist act.

Orgasm equality is a feminist issue, absolutely. Because it’s not this isolated thing—it relates to other inequalities across the board. Even some women who are really out there advocating for equality mute their own voice in the bedroom. It’s the place where, in a way, feminism hasn’t really gotten through yet.

Is the orgasm gap mostly happening in cisgender hetero pairings between cis men and cis women? Is there a lot more orgasm equality in the queer and trans communities?

I really struggled with the language when writing Becoming Cliterate, because I try to be really inclusive when I teach my class, talking about people with penises and people with vaginas [rather than men and women], but the truth of the matter is that the orgasm gap is mostly a cisgender, heterosexual problem: it is when cisgender men have sex with cisgender women that this usually occurs. When women have sex with women, there is no orgasm gap, and it’s pretty clear why: when there isn’t a penis involved, we don’t make it a priority. Penetration is only included if the women find it enhances their pleasure. I also think having a clitoris teaches you to ask how someone wants hers to be pleasured because every woman is different.

How was the orgasm gap created?

This is not new. There has been this long stretch of silencing of women’s sexuality, except for one very, very brief period in history from the sixties to the eighties where at least some of the population were talking about women’s sexual pleasure and the clitoris. The number-one lie about getting laid—that women should orgasm from intercourse—goes way back in history, but I always like to start with Freud. Interestingly, there’s documents that state he actually knew that this wasn’t accurate, but he basically said that once women reach puberty, the sensitivity of their clitoris should be handed over to their vagina. It’s ridiculous: there’s no evidence for it, but it really set up this dichotomy between women who could orgasm from intercourse vs. clitoral stimulation. And it’s been perpetuated through the years, even through science, even though [renowned sex researchers] Masters and Johnson, who were the first scientists to say, “There’s this great organ, the clitoris! It’s the centre of women’s sexuality!” Even they perpetuated it by, in their studies, only recruiting women who could orgasm through intercourse.

So how do most people with clitorises get off? What is society trying to sweep under the rug?

 There’s such clear research that when women pleasure themselves, only 1.2% solely put something inside them; another 12% put something inside at the same time they’re touching their clit. But the rest of the women only focus on their clitoris. So they know how to bring themselves to orgasm through self-pleasure, but suddenly, when a penis is involved, they think it’s going to work differently, and that intercourse should be prioritized. Women’s problem in partnered sex with men is that they stop focusing on what they know works for them. There’s a disconnect between how they pleasure themselves and how they expect to achieve orgasm with a male partner.

Society is totally gaslighting us!

The orgasm gap is so ingrained in our culture thanks to the covert and overt ways that women are portrayed in culture, and socialized. We use language that prioritizes men’s pleasure. We use the term sex and intercourse interchangeably. We slut-shame. We objectify women’s bodies, which leads to body shame. The way we show sex is in porn and mainstream movies and TV doesn’t teach people about women’s pleasure. In mainstream movies sex scenes, for example, every time I get so angry because as soon as he puts in his penis, she’s like, “Ohh, ohh, ohhh!” then it’s all over.

What are some of the biggest lies the movies and TV tell us about orgasms?

 The notion that, as soon as the mouth goes to the vulva, she’s just screaming. The average woman takes at least 20 minutes to get into it. There’s very little build-up: two people look at each other, rip their clothes off, there’s a teeny bit of sex and they’re both screaming. There’s clear research we need more warm-up than that.

Even the bare mechanics don’t make any sense. Dudes just stick the d in immediately—that shit would hurt!

When a woman is aroused, her vagina gets wider in the back, and longer. Some women need lube, too, besides spit, which is a terrible lube, anyway, as it dries quickly.

Lube gets such a bad rep in film and TV, too: it’s only ever seen in comedies, as a punchline about dried-up grannies.

If you have intercourse before your vagina is ready, or you put lube on: it’ll be too dry, and, if you’re not excited enough, the cervix won’t pull up enough and the man can hit it, which can be really painful. There is so much wrong with what we see, and that’s what people today have been raised on. They’re amazed at some of the basic stuff I teach them because their sex ed models have been “two minutes, stick it in, and everybody’s happy.” Instead of in pain.

What does porn teach us?

Big penises! And the petite and evenness of vulvas and inner lips! First of all, this whole thing about our society’s obsession with big dicks: that really perpetuates the orgasm gap because that implies that that is the source of our pleasure. We need to really stop making big-dick jokes because it perpetuates male insecurity and the orgasm gap; let’s start joking about men’s fingers and tongues instead! The inner lips of women in porn are so petite and even—some of them have had labioplasty, some of them were chosen for that. Because of porn, we’re seeing women’s genitals. In the old days, we never saw them unless we were lesbians or looked at our own, which too few women do. So now we’ve got all these unrealistic images, and because of that, there’s a new frontier of body image issues. Women feel embarrassed about their genitals, and you’re certainly not going to have an orgasm if you think you look or smell funny.

One of my favourite fun facts from the book are that everyone has different clit placement and some people’s clits are literally too far away to ever climax through intercourse alone.

People are really relieved when they hear that this may be a biological impossibility for them. There’s a huge correlation between how their mothers orgasms and their daughters orgasm; it’s an inherited, biological thing.

How else does body image play into the orgasm gap?

 You cannot have an orgasm while you’re up in your head, and women are constantly up in their head, thinking about how they taste, smell, feel; a lot of that is is thinking that they are not looking good enough, not looking thin enough, and an orgasm requires to completely let go of your thoughts, to be mindful, to focus completely on the sensations. You cannot have an orgasm while holding your stomach in—and I know this from experience because I spent several of my college years trying! You just have to let go. All this idealized imagery of women’s bodies, women’s vulvas, it all plays into this insecurity, and you cannot relax. For whatever reason, men—even though of course their body images and self-consciousness affects them—are more able to let go and focus on the moment and the sensations than women are.

How does slut-shaming make it harder for people to come?

Slut-shaming as a double standard is so insidious, and so prevalent in our culture. It’s almost impossible to live in our culture and not absorb that into our subconscious. How can you have a really enjoyable sexual experience when you have these sex-negative attutudes: when you think sex is bad, when you think you’re slutty for having it? It just creeps into our encounters, especially around casual sex, which is part of the reason why the orgasm gap is so big in casual sex.

Back when I was sleeping around, I def had some dudes low-key slut-shame me, whether it was asking how often I did this, insinuating I was sex-crazy or kink-shaming me.

Yeah, it’s like, you’re having sex with me and you’re slut-shaming me at the same time?! Like, really? There are two people in this encounter!

Language is another way we create the orgasm gap. How did that happen? We don’t even use the right word for the puss!

Ugh, that one drives me up the wall. The language we use, unconsciously, reflects culture, and it perpetuates culture. When we call everything in our genitals a vagina, we are talking about the one area of our genitals that gives men the most pleasure, not women. It makes everything down there a hole.

I recently also wrote a blog for Psychology Today that was headed, “Dear People With Clits.” And I got an e-mail yesterday that the editors of the site changed the title of the post. Today I did a search of the site and there’s tons of posts with the word “penis” in the title. Even the word is taboo still.

People are definitely trash when it comes to using their human words. Constant texting makes it worse, it seems, and then their hein communication skills collide with the delicate intricacies of banging strangers and telling your long-term partner to use your damn clit, please.

People are so uncomfortable with the topic of sex. We have sex all around us, yet we are uncomfortable with having honest, conversations about it, and we are most uncomfortable having conversations with the person that we’re doing it with! It’s insane. People can’t read minds, even though the media perpetuates this idea that everybody knows just what to do. But in real life, you’re not going to get your needs met unless you communicate what they are. And, yes, it’s uncomfortable because we’ve been raised that way, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fix the problem and learn to talk about it.

A lot of youngs seem pretty eager to make their clit-owning partners come, offering to help out or asking what they can do or putting off their own O for yours. Is this legit on the rise?

There’s some men who don’t give a rat’s ass about female pleasure, but I say, if you find one of them? Run. The vast majority of the young men I talk to, they actually care and want to know what to do, but they’ve been trained on the same porn and images that the women have. So they don’t know what to do, and they want direction. I think we are making progress with men; I think there’s hope. I really think there’s hope.

There’s also the issue of the fact that no-one is showing them up close and personal what to do. Why is there still so much shame around masturbation and sex toys in this post-Sex and the City world?

The myth is out there that a vibrator is going to replace a man, and that if you use it, you’ll get dependent on it. Its, like, no. It’s a tool to help women orgasm, nothing more. And it works! It works really well. And if that’s the case, why not incorporate it into partnered sex? I can’t tell you how many women I’ve worked with in my private practice who say they can’t orgasms so I tell them to get a vibrator and then there they go! “Oh, no, this is a bad way!” It’s another one of those ways we characterize women’s orgasms as good or bad, the right way or the wrong way.

And the press is so eager to herald any new kind of orgasm, and yammer on about all the different types you should be trying to check off your list: clitoral, vaginal, blended, g-spot, c-spot, urethreal, anal.

Some people say that this is great science, learning about women’s bodies—and I agree with that—but the way it comes across in the media, the focus on all these different kinds, is a different-equals-deficit model, i.e. if there are different kinds, then we have to prioritize which one is better than the other. “Which one is the best one to achieve?” “Oh, anyone can have this one!” It is so harmful because we don’t talk about men’s orgasms this way: hand orgasms! intercourse orgasms! Why is it women’s orgasms we have to make into these different kinds?

“Here is my dainty lady collection of exotic orgasms that I keep in my curio cabinet!”

 “We’re always discovering these new things but not just any discoveries, but a discovery you should apply to your sex life because then you’ll have the best and the right kind of orgasms!” And we don’t see that around men’s orgasms!

Are we making any kind of progress in accepting all kinds of pleasure? Are more youngs getting vibrators? I know most of my friends have one. My own is 14 years old this year; I figure when it turns 15, I’ll send a tweet of thanks to the stern German manufacturers.

What I find is they often need someone to buy it for them, or encourage them to get their first one. I tell people to buy their friends vibrators. A lot of my students have heard about them, but they’re afraid to buy them ‘til I go over the research about how they’re not addictive, how good they are. Some encouragement is needed but because there are so many myths out there about what they are and what they do, and how effective they are: you’ll never enjoy sex with a partner, your clit will go numb forever and all that kind of crap.

Why is masturbation still so taboo?

It’s female sexual pleasure when a penis isn’t present. And the religious shame and the negative sexual messages that parents give. I have a client I am working with right now and I am trying to get her to masturbate as part of her treatment because it’s a cornerstone of sex therapy and we’re having to work so hard to get over how uncomfortable that idea makes her because of everything she was told growing up. Some of my most enlightened, liberal friends are uncomfortable with this stuff sometimes.

Is there also a sense of shame if they can’t get there? Sex without an orgasm is still a great time, whether it’s connecting with a nice person or your partner, or just the pleasure of getting railed. I always hated that Sex and the City scene where they questioned what the point of sex was if you didn’t come.

Goal-oriented sex, with the goal of orgasm—usually the male orgasm, or they do it at the same time, which is another one of those crazy things that annoys me in media and porn—is another problem. The idea that you must have an orgasm—“am I gonna come am I gonna come am I gonna come” is the same thing as “oh, I’m taking so long” or “my stomach is pooching.” You’re up in your head, and you’re focused on worrying. And being up in your head is antithetical to having an orgasm; you really just can’t do it, no matter what the worry (a task you have to do, your poochy belly, a phone call you have to return). This is why mindfulness is really the key: being completely in the moment. Your head and your body are in the same place. You can’t not be mindful in your daily life and then hop in bed and be. It isn’t even just about being in the moment, but about being able to draw yourself back to the moment. Everyone’s mind is going to wander, but it’s about being able to bring yourself back to your body.

And how do you tell your partners what you want? That’s super-scary for a lot of people.

Everybody’s afraid until they do it—and find out how successful it is. Whatever’s comfortable for you, although one of the most effective things is for people to talk about it outside the bedroom, and then bring it in. Sometimes people are so uncomfortable talking about it that they just need to start by sharing resources [like articles, books, blog posts]: anything it takes to break the ice.

So how can we all become cliteracy advocates?

Talking about it. People need to know about the orgasm gap; they need to know about their clitoris; they need to know what works for them. We need to break the silence—we just need to be out there, saying the word clit, talking about oral sex, talking about what gets us off, stop using the terms sex and intercourse interchangably. That language change is really important. Change really happens on an individual level, then on a global level, so the key is individual women finding out what they like and learning the skills to bring it to their own sexual encounters.

It’s also important to call out lies. We’re starting to tell people to call out racism, sexism, homophobia. Don’t just laugh at jokes. Don’t be a bystander. Get out there and actually say something. The same is true about falsehoods around sexuality. When you see it, label it and educate people.