Squashing the gendered script on pleasure.
The one big barrier to closing the orgasm gap is gendered sexual scripts, so maybe the Barbie movie can teach us a thing or two. When it comes to partnered sex, societal expectations for men and women mean we are still sticking to roles that prioritize male pleasure and disregard female pleasure.
During masturbation, women reach orgasm almost always, with clitoral stimulation key to climax. However, during sex with men, clitoral stimulation often goes out the window, and they only orgasm 65% of the time, in comparison to straight men’s 95%. This is called the orgasm gap.
One study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 2023 suggests that gendered scripts are perpetuating the gap, keeping women from expressing themselves and men from creating space for that expression. We fall into a portrayal of men having high sex drive, dominance, and easy orgasms and women with no interest in pleasure, lack of initiative, and harder orgasms. Years of scientific and social research have proven that these stereotypical ideas are not true … but the script still writes itself into our beds.
Furthermore, the study of over 500 heterosexual women and men shows there are still gaps in clitoral knowledge, with only 50% of questions related to the clitoris correctly answered. The good thing? It does show that clitoral knowledge has a significant effect on women’s orgasm rate solo. So, us talking about the clitoris all the time is working! But how can we change the rate of orgasms with a male partner, too?
How to bridge the orgasm gap.
Surely, at some point, something’s got to give, and these gendered sexual pillars will break under the weight of clitoral knowledge. Here are some tips for men and women to build new and better pillars that are strong enough to bridge the pleasure gap.
1. Keep learning and be curious.
For women who have sex with men: Keep discovering yourself via self-pleasure. Think about stimulating your clitoris in different ways, exploring penetration alone, and understanding what things turn you on the most or the least.
For men who have sex with women: Learn about the clitoris (and beyond) with some pleasure-positive sex education. Share with your pals that, if we’re making comparisons, it’s the clitoris and the penis, not the penis and vagina; that the clitoris has 10,000 nerve endings and the penis has 4,000; that penetration isn’t the only way to have sex.
2. Go off-script.
For women who have sex with men: Don't fake orgasms to fulfil a role, seek real ones! Tell them what you like, what you really really like. Seriously. Ask them to touch you in a certain way, to try a different position, or if you can stimulate your clitoris whilst they penetrate you. And not just during sex. If you find it too easy to fall into the gendered script in bed (we mean, old habits die hard), try communicating in a neutral space instead. Eg. ‘You know, last night was fun; I’d love to try doing *insert what gets you off* with you next; it really turns me on.’
For men who have sex with women: Create opportunities for women to express what they want, ask them what type of stimulation they enjoy, and encourage them to show you. Don’t assume that women do not want to talk about sex or pleasure or that the female orgasm is more complicated than yours (it’s not). Practice sexual communication that makes space for intimate exploration and understanding, and not just when you’re having sex.
Ultimately, the orgasm gap is not only a women’s issue; we have to work together to tear up the sexual scripts of the past if we want to close it. Having more open conversations about pleasure, societally and personally, is a great place to start. Like in Barbieland, it's not about flipping the script, but squashing limiting beliefs about how we should all act.
The Barbie monologue but make it about the orgasm gap.
It is literally impossible to enjoy sex as a straight woman. You are so beautiful, and so sexy, and it kills me that you don't think good sex is pleasure, but absence of pain. Like, we're able to orgasm when we masturbate, but somehow that does not translate into partnered sex with a man.
You have to be sexy, but not too sexy. And you can never say you are trying to be sexy. You're sexual libido can't be too high, or too low - just right. You have to feel a desire, but you can’t ask for sex because that’s too crude. You want to orgasm, but feel too much pressure to orgasm.
You have to be experienced, but you can't have too much sex. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your sex life ever again. You have to be really into it, even when your hormones are telling you otherwise. You have to pretend menopause doesn't exist, which is insane, but if you experience it, you're assumed to no longer be a sexual being.
You're supposed to be orgasmic, but not so orgasmic that you learn to come alone or with a vibrator that you threaten men because you're supposed to come exactly like the women in films. But always be naturally lubricated and always be the one to take contraception. But never ask them to wear a condom. So find a way to feel safe but never actually be completely comfortable to enjoy it.
Sex is more than penetration, sex feels great with lube, sex is better when we communicate, sex goes way beyond the genitals, sex is about all the senses, sex includes both partners' pleasure…
It can be orgasmic. It's just we don't realize it and nobody gives you a good sex education or tells you about the clitoris! And it turns out that not only do you have so much pleasure potential, but also you deserve pleasure.
I'm just so tired of ignoring the fact that we don't orgasm as much and pretending that every single other woman hasn't faked an orgasm. And if we all just took a moment to break these gendered sexual scripts, maybe, just maybe, we will bridge the orgasm gap.