The Pleasure Gap
Let's talk about how we close it!
Scrolling through my newsfeed in early January, I came across an article about a New York sex toy brand called Dame Products – specifically that they had been blocked by the MTA from displaying their new ad campaign in NYC subways. The rationale for the ban was that the campaign was too sexual and featured sex toys. Displayed below are the ads. Too sexual!? I beg to differ. However, the point of this article is not to debate the MTA’s policy. Rather, after digging more into the story I learned a lot more about Dame’s mission of, ‘closing the pleasure gap’. One stat stood out in their story - 91% of men said they "usually" or "always" orgasm during sex, while only 39% of women said the same. In many respects, this wouldn’t shock most of us but it really did get me thinking. In a world in which the gender gap is on notice across, work, politics, healthcare and more – should we not talk more openly about the pleasure gap too?
Let’s get statistical for one minute. The stat above shows a 52% gap, however, this only focuses on the narrow definition of heterosexual sex. Two further studies help explain the gender orgasm gap further – a lesbian vs straight sex study showed that lesbian women have significantly more orgasms than straight women (for men, sexual orientation had no effect on orgasm rates). Another study showed that women masturbating alone orgasmed significantly more than when having sex with a male partner. This shows a significant gap in pleasure when focusing on heterosexual sex. Please don’t misread the context of this article, it is by no means placing blame on straight men, or male anatomy – in fact, many of the reasons behind the pleasure gap are cultural and need examining.
One of the main issues has to do with the perceptions of female pleasure. Exasperated over time, the imagery we see most commonly across media is the portrayal of women having toe clenching orgasms from penetrative intercourse. We tend to see penetrative intercourse as the definition of sex while clitoral stimulation is seen as a precursor, a piece of foreplay. The focus of a woman’s genitalia when discussing sex is often focused on the vagina, the part that helps most men orgasm rather than the clitoris. Considering a vast majority of women need clitoral stimulation to achieve an orgasm, it seems we as a society have placed too much value on penetrative intercourse.
A secondary but equally important cultural barrier we face is the simple ability to talk more about sex. When we acknowledge that sex is a healthy part of our lives and we begin as a whole to start talking more openly about it, we all become more comfortable in expressing what makes us feel uniquely good. Sex education has historically not been focused on pleasure, however, opening up the conversation on a societal level will hopefully filter down into women discussing it more with their partner. What helps give one woman pleasure can be totally different to another, so communication is vital. Your partner should care about what gives you pleasure and with that in mind should be open to having those conversations at the very least.
CLOSING THE PLEASURE GAP
Yes, we know we always bang on about knowledge equaling power but, in this case, clitoral knowledge is key. Men and women need to identify that clitoral stimulation is key to the female orgasm for over 90% of women. In fact, very few women can orgasm without any form of clitoral stimulation. Beyond understanding this, we need to actually apply it. As discussed, most view penetration as sex but in that case to find a level of pleasure equality we need to redefine sex to include clitoral stimulation on an equal level to penetration. We are all unique and we all have our unique touchpoints that help bring us pleasure. Through self-exploration, we can gain a better understanding of what brings us pleasure and in turn, communicate this with any partners we have.
I’d like to caveat at this point that there are alternative reasons that could be attributed to the pleasure gap and we wouldn’t want to define something so personal to these broad cultural arguments made above. However, in our view, till we openly start discussing sex as a community, when we don’t act as if it’s a taboo topic and in turn, we don’t ban inoffensive subway ads such as Dame’s, we make it far harder for women to talk about what gets them off. So, in the spirit of the orgasm, we all need to feel more confident in prioritizing our needs at least as equally as our partners… besides, sex (the new clitorally equal definition) is good for our health!