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Orgasm Equality: Scientific Findings and Societal Implications

Abstract

Purpose of Review

Studies have consistently found that there is a gendered orgasm gap, with men experiencing orgasm more frequently than women in heterosexual sexual encounters. This literature review aims to highlight the current state of research on orgasm equality and to explore the reasons underlying this orgasm gap.

Recent Findings

Our review of recently published studies indicates that the gendered orgasm gap still exists today. Additionally, these studies underscore how sociocultural factors can contribute to the differences in reported orgasm frequency between men and women in heterosexual encounters.

Summary

This review suggests that our cultural prioritization of penile-vaginal intercourse over more clitorally focused sexual activities is linked to the gendered orgasm gap. Additional related contributing sociocultural factors may include women’s lack of entitlement to partnered sexual pleasure, societal scripts about masculinity, and women’s cognitive distractions during partnered sex. Recommendations to increase orgasm equality are discussed.

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Change history

  • 22 January 2020

    The original article unfortunately contained mistakes. In the table, “95% usually always orgasm<Superscript>2</Superscript>” was not changed to “95% usually-always orgasm<Superscript>b</Superscript>”.

Notes

  1. 1.

    The term cisgender refers to an individual whose gender identity (e.g., woman) matches their sex assigned at birth (e.g., female). To date, all but one study conducted on the orgasm gap has focused on cisgender individuals and/or has not reported individuals’ gender identity. For this reason, we limit our review to heterosexual sex between cisgender women and men.

  2. 2.

    A literature search of Google Scholar and University of Florida’s OneSearch was conducted with a particular focus on articles published since January 2015. We searched for peer-reviewed English-language articles with the keywords of “orgasm gap,” “orgasm equality,” “orgasm inequality,” “pleasure gap,” gender “orgasm rate,” or gender “orgasm frequency.” This search yielded 83 articles. After excluding articles on irrelevant topics, we were left with 24 articles. References of these articles were manually searched to identify additional studies.

  3. 3.

    Shirazi et al. [26] demonstrated that the way questions are phrased regarding the occurrence of orgasm during intercourse modulates women’s reported frequency of such orgasms, with the highest rate of orgasm reported when the question specifies that intercourse include concurrent clitoral stimulation and the lowest rate of orgasm reported when the question specifies no such concurrent stimulation, with a mid-range rate found when this was left unspecified.

  4. 4.

    In this convenience sample, 19% said they rarely if ever orgasmed with a partner.

  5. 5.

    Given our cultural usage of the words sex and intercourse as equivalent, research asking about women’s orgasms during “sex” could lead to lower reports of orgasms than actually occur during partnered sexual activity because many heterosexual women exclude activities that are associated with increased likelihood of orgasm (e.g., receiving oral sex) from their personal definitions of sex [9•, 35]. Researchers are thus advised to use precise wording in their studies of orgasm.

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Correspondence to Laurie B. Mintz.

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Elizabeth A. Mahar, Laurie B. Mintz, and each declare no potential conflicts of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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The original version of this article was revised: In the table, “95% usually always orgasm2” was not changed to “95% usually-always orgasmb”.

This article is part of the Topical Collection on Clinical Therapeutics

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Mahar, E.A., Mintz, L.B. & Akers, B.M. Orgasm Equality: Scientific Findings and Societal Implications. Curr Sex Health Rep 12, 24–32 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11930-020-00237-9

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Keywords

  • Orgasm gap
  • Orgasm equality
  • Female orgasm
  • Women’s orgasms