Hello Joyful people!
Welcome to The Pleasure Gap blog.
My name is Rachel H.P, I am the founder and director of The Pleasure Gap. I am psyched to be here, as this post means The Pleasure Gap is finally launching. This has been a project in the making and a faraway dream for many years, and now that it is finally coming to fruition it’s almost hard to believe.
All great stories start with the “why”. So Today, for our first-ever post, I want to share with you the story of the orgasm gap in our society.
This is also the story of how The Pleasure Gap came to be.
The orgasm gap, much like the wage gap, refers to a disparity between men and women in social outcomes. Whereas the wage gap refers to men getting higher wages for the same job done, the orgasm gap refers to men having more orgasms than women in heterosexual sexual encounters.* The orgasm gap is a well-documented phenomenon that has come up over and over in research in the past twenty years. No matter how the researchers choose to address the question- whether asking about orgasm rates in the last sexual encounter, in the previous month or year- the results always show a huge disparity.
*When I say “men” and “women” I use those words to refer to cisgender men and women, as unfortunately the research into transgender people’s sexuality is almost non-existent.
This disparity is not natural. It is one of the many ways in which women are held back in a patriarchal society. The factors involved in holding women back from loving their bodies and fulfilling their pleasure potential are complex and myriad. Some of the biggest factors are: sexual double standards that punish women both for sexual activity and inactivity; the silencing and obscuring of the truth surrounding women’s bodily functions, anatomy and physiology; the over-valuing of men’s satisfaction, achievement, comfort and fulfillment and under-valuing of women’s; and sexual objectification and violence against women. These factors affect the way women perceive themselves as sexual beings and what they feel they can rightly expect and claim from sexual encounters.
Some people who hear about the orgasm gap say that it is only natural, as women’s bodies are much more complicated than men’s, thus they naturally have more difficulty achieving orgasm. However, when we dive deeper into research we find out that this explanation doesn’t hold up. If it were simply a matter of biology, then women would have as much difficulty reaching orgasm during masturbation, right? If it were a matter of biology, then the same gap in orgasm rates would appear between men and women in solo sex (i.e. masturbation). But that’s not the case. When women masturbate, they experience orgasm at the same rate as when men masturbate, and they’re getting there just as quickly- on average 4 minutes.
Another revealing part of the research shows us that women who have sex with women have significantly more orgasms than women who have sex with men. And the most revealing is the research that asks women who have sex with both men and women about their orgasm rates- revealing that women consistently indicate higher orgasm rates in sex with women compared to sex with men. These are the same women- with the same bodies, minds and ideas- who have sex with both genders and come up short in their interactions with men.
So clearly, if women orgasm just as reliably and quickly in masturbation as do men,
and they are much more likely to orgasm when they have sex with women,
then the issue lies not in biology, but somewhere in the heterosexual partnered dynamics.
Meaning: the problem is not in women’s physiology! While the female body- especially the vulva- is complex and unique, it is not at all too complicated for orgasm, but rather the opposite. The vulva- the outside, visible part of female genitalia most often referred to as “vagina”- contains the only human organ whose sole purpose is to provide pleasure (at least as far as science is aware)- and that is the clitoral glans.
(By the way: if you’re wondering why I’m calling it the “clitoral glans” and not the “clitoris”, or if you’ve no idea what I’m even talking about- check out this blog post: It’s Not All Vagina Down There)
If the problem isn’t biological, then it’s clearly socio-cultural. It’s a messed-up state of affairs, but I believe we are on the right path for change. The fact that we can name, address and discuss the orgasm gap in our culture suggests that we are well on our way to fixing the issue, because the first step in addressing any problem is recognizing that it exists. However, there’s still a long way to go for #OrgasmEquality.
For some of you, learning about the orgasm gap is a big surprise. Some of you, like myself years back, might have been carrying the burden of thinking you are the only one out there that struggles to achieve orgasm in partnered sex. For those of you, I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with you!
The problem is the culture, not you.
For others, this is no news at all (duh! No kidding, men are having more orgasms than women!) and you’re just happy anyone’s talking about it.
Either way, the next step is- what can we do about it?
But before I address the remedies for this social illness, I want to dive deeper than the orgasm gap.
Beyond Orgasm Disparity
In my opinion, the term “orgasm gap” is not nearly comprehensive enough to encompass the full picture of the current state of sexual inequality and pleasure disparity in our culture. Yes, women are having less orgasms than men, especially when they’re having sex with men. But that’s not the only inequality in the sexual realm.
Compared with men, women experience more sexual shame, more negative consequences for their sexual activity, more body-shame and more sexual pain. They are subject to more sexual objectification, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. They have less power in the dating and sexual arena, are less likely to feel comfortable communicating their needs and boundaries, and more likely to rate their satisfaction according to their partner’s pleasure instead of their won. They are also more likely to be blamed for anything that goes wrong in sex, and to carry the burden of fixing it and (implicitly) of fixing themselves.
Women don’t need fixing! It is our culture that needs fixing.
We follow extremely outdated gendered sexual scripts that leave women dissatisfied and men confused. We are presented with sex all around us but are deprived of the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about sex that affect our health, wellness and relationships.
In order to achieve true gender equality we need to recognize the full picture of sexual inequality. True gender equality includes addressing all the above mentioned inequities. This is why I prefer the term “the pleasure gap” to “the orgasm gap” as it frames “pleasure” front and center as the goal to strive for and as a barometer for measuring success. That’s because when we reach that point in which women experience as much pleasure as men- both in the sexual realm and otherwise- that would mean we’ll have also eradicated the disproportionate burden of the other ailments that now befall women: pain, assault, double standards and shame.
How The Pleasure Gap Came To Be
I founded The Pleasure Gap because I wanted to help other women like myself who struggled achieving sexual pleasure and who felt like there’s something wrong with them.
I first became interested in sex education at the age of seventeen, when I consulted a sexologist for the first time. I had been sexually active for a couple of years, and was very enthusiastic about sex, but whenever I became intimate with guys I couldn’t fully enjoy myself and “get off”. It just wasn’t working for me- neither in casual hookups nor with “serious” boyfriends. The few sessions I had with my sexologist were very illuminating but I couldn’t afford to continue sessions due to the cost. However, I became fascinated with the field of sexology. The idea of helping people with their sex lives became a real possibility, something which stayed in the back of my mind for years to come.
Left alone with my insecurities, fears and conflicts (which, as you can imagine for a teenager, did not start nor end with my sexual difficulties) and with no one to talk to besides a trusted friend (who herself suffered from similar conflicts); it took many years until I experienced my first orgasm, and even longer until I had one with a partner.
During those years I was continuously frustrated over my inability to achieve pleasure and orgasm. The more I tried and the longer I struggled with it, the more frustrated I became and the more difficult it was to form intimate connections. I felt like a failure, like a I wasn’t worthy of love and appreciation if I couldn’t enjoy sex. So I continued having sex and pretended to enjoy it. Needless to say, this negatively impacted my relationships and my self-image- issues I carried with me into adulthood.
When I learned about the orgasm gap, something just clicked for me. I realized that my sexual issues weren’t my own personal failing, but rather a manifestation of larger patriarchal patterns that hinder women’s capacity for pleasure and orgasm. I started doing self-reflection, reading feminist texts and speaking to other women around me. And the more I did that, the clearer it became that I wasn’t alone, that many other women were dealing with the same issues as me.
I continued exploring the intersection between gender and sexuality at university, where I got a degree in gender studies with a focus on human sexuality, and continued to unpack my own sexual experiences, values and behaviors. I intended to continue on the academic path to ultimately become a professor. But the more I educated myself on all the obstacles to women’s pleasure, the more invested I became in affecting change. I realized that if I wanted to help women, I needed to step outside of the confines of academia, where I could only reach a very limited number of people.
I wanted to help spread the sense of freedom and power I found in my studies to as many women as possible and help them realize the extent of their own power and capacity for joy. That is why I eventually founded The Pleasure Gap.
I named the business The Pleasure Gap because I wanted to frame the conversation around the social obstacles that stand in women’s way to pleasure. I chose the word pleasure instead of orgasm, to frame the conversation more broadly. I think that pleasure is a better measure for satisfaction than orgasm is, as we can have an orgasm without enjoying it. As the fantastic sex educator Emily Nagoski says:
“Pleasure is the measure of sexual wellbeing.”
(Check our her groundbreaking book: “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life”, in which she tells women they are perfectly normal and can “cum” exactly as they are. It is my all-time favorite.
What Can We Do About Pleasure Inequality?
In public discourse, the word “equality” is often misconstrued as meaning “same”. This is a common misconception, one that social justice activists often have to contend with and clarify.
Just recently I was told by a guy: “the problem with you feminists is that you want to be equal, but you aren’t. You have a uterus, and men don’t, and that’s just it!”
He is right, of course. we will never be equal in the sense of sameness. Equality is not about making everyone the same- what would be the fun in that? Equality is about affording men and women equal opportunities.
When I talk about #PleasureEquality, I don’t mean that men and women should always experience the same amount of pleasure or reach it in the same way. I mean that women should have equal access to pleasure and satisfaction. The way girls are raised in this culture makes it extremely difficult for them to experience pleasure and satisfaction when they become young women.
So in order to advance pleasure equality, we need to devise specific strategies for addressing the specific obstacles to pleasure that women face, and to help tear them down.
These strategies include advancing sex-positive, evidence-based sex-education that teaches women the truth about their bodies, pleasure and desire. It includes advancing sex-positive, feminist perspectives that challenge sexist double standards, heteronormative sexual scripts and the idea that men’s pleasure is more important than women’s.
This is what I want to offer women through my work:
the information that they should have been taught at home and in school;
the empowering perspectives and tools needed to achieve sexual wellness and sexual agency,
so they can define what sexual wellness means for them and be confident in taking action to achieve it.
Everything that The Pleasure Gap does is designed to advance this goal: our blog, workshops, coaching and advocacy. I want to meet women where they’re at and allow them multiple paths to sexual wellness, hopefully saving them years of feeling like they are inadequate- a feeling I was all too familiar with.