The gender pay gap is a path of frustration well-trodden when thinking about the disparities between how men and women experience the world, and a tangible example of how challenging simply existing in a female body can be. And whilst there are endless widely reported examples of the contrast between how men and women are treated that shock (or don’t at this point) us on the daily, new data goes as far as suggesting women are actually experiencing less benefits than men in the bedroom too.
A study of cis heterosexual couples showed that 95% of men reported reaching orgasm during their latest sexual encounter, whilst only 65% of women did from their last experience.
Hello, pleasure gap. A study of cis heterosexual couples showed that 95% of men reported reaching orgasm during their latest sexual encounter, whilst only 65% of women did from their last experience. Women also reported less satisfaction and pleasure from sexual activity, with further research finding that cis heterosexual women are the least likely demographic to orgasm during sex. Yikes. So, why is this happening? Truth is, as much as we’d like to believe female pleasure is accepted in society as a normal part of adult life, the stigma of sexual desire in women is alive and (un)well, with films and pornography placing emphasis on the male experience above all else. Add to this the baffling confusion that surrounds the clitoris being some sort of mystifying and hard to locate (?) hotspot, with attempts at working with it often feeling more disappointing than finding out someone’s had the last Greggs sausage roll, we have the perfect storm for a world in which female pleasure is seriously neglected and noticeably absent from the conversation.
Writer Katherine Rowland spent five years researching and speaking with 120 women from all walks of life about sexuality, desire and everything in between, before releasing her book The Pleasure Gap in 2020 which aims to dismantle the claims that women are less sexually driven than men once and for all. Rowland sat in on psychotherapy sessions, delved into the world of ‘female Viagra’ and interviewed women from 22 to 72 before concluding: lowering sexual desire is a normal consequence of experiencing lacklustre sex.
The pleasure gap is neither medical malady nor psychological condition but rather a result of our culture’s troubled relationship with women’s sexual expression.Katherine Rowland
“I spent most of my life with no sense of what I want,” one straight woman in her late 40s told Rowland. Another, also in her 40s, reflected that she and her husband “did sex the way [she] thought it was supposed to look”. However, she said: “I don’t know how much I was really able to understand and articulate what I wanted.” A dwindling enthusiasm for sex that many explain away as a biological difference between the sex drives of men and women is a product of a society in which women’s pleasure is not prioritised, or at times even acknowledged, creating a catch 22 cycle in which women don’t feel comfortable, or even worthy of, communicating their sexual needs and wants, and thus become turned off from sexual exploration, new experiences and advocating for their pleasure.
The message ingrained in the minds of many women is: it is not possible for me to ask for what I want, and better to fake an orgasm than communicate feeling a lack of pleasure during sexual experiences with a man.
Rowland’s studies expose that women are settling when it comes to sex, largely because of a society that perpetuates the belief that orgasms are male territory and dismisses the needs of women’s bodies when it comes to pain, pleasure and even legal rights too. The message ingrained in the minds of many women is: it is not possible for me to ask for what I want, and better to fake an orgasm than communicate feeling a lack of pleasure during sexual experiences with a man. A 2010 report uncovered that 80% of heterosexual women fake orgasm during vaginal intercourse about half of the time, and another 25% fake orgasm almost all of the time. For many, our energy feels best placed sheltering the male ego from the truth than in time educating both ourselves and our sexual partners about what feels best.
So how do we go about closing the pleasure gap?
It’s certainly no easy feat, and there’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all answer when it comes (oi oi) to something as personal as sexual intimacy, but not settling for sub-par sexual experiences by opening up communication with sexual partners is an important place to start. Knowing what turns you on, off and everything in between is not only important for your own solo pleasure but removes the guesswork when engaging with a partner too. 95% of people reliably experience orgasm during masturbation, making it the perfect means by which to learn about what you want from partnered experiences too. Don’t put pressure on yourself, have fun and explore what pleasure looks like for you without any societal expectations.
Toys can be a great addition for both solo and partnered play and can bring the vibe (if you get our drift…) to the next level in enhancing pleasure. Nearly three out of four women say they can’t orgasm from penetration alone, making clitoral stimulators a great choice during sex to help your body sink into those feel-good feels with more ease.
Desire and increased sexual pleasure come more naturally when we’re able to lean into what being erotic means for us, rather than forcing feelings that aren’t there, be it an orgasm or sex with someone you don’t want to/feel ready to sleep with. Author Katherine Rowland goes on to say: “Women push themselves toward physical encounters that they either do not want, or for which they have not allowed desire to adequately develop.”
I came away with the impression that sexual healing had little to do with tricks or techniques, and almost everything to do with the mind, with sensing an internal flicker of I want that – and feeling empowered to act accordingly.Katherine Rowland
Mindfulness is a helpful tool to harness in many aspects of life but particularly when reconnecting or (connecting for the first time) to our sensual selves, helping us feel present in the moment, notice and enjoy sensations as they happen and allow ourselves to simply *FEEL*. Cutting the thinking during a sexual experience is easier said than done, especially when with a new partner, but focusing on being there in the moment and ditching your to-do list or the email you forgot to send will all help move towards experiences that get you feeling all the good sh*t. Try scanning the body, focusing on the five senses and what you can notice in all parts of your body for the ultimate sexual, sensory experience.
And finally, reaffirm to yourself that you deserve pleasure! So much of our socialisation prioritises the experiences of men and taking back the control to embody what it means to be sexually satisfied is nothing if not progress. Get yourself a new underwear set, a fresh mani/pedi and moisturise your limbs to high heaven before taking your new sexually ready and deserving-of-pleasure self into the bedroom. Sexual self: activated.
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