Have you ever heard of the orgasm gap? Even if you are familiar with the term, you might not discuss it with your friends or even your partner, but it may still be present in your own sex life — especially if your sexual partners are male. The orgasm gap, also called the pleasure gap, is defined by Psychology Today as "the fact that in heterosexual sexual encounters, men have more orgasms than women." Though often blamed on an alleged "biological difference," it's clear the orgasm gap is a product of our cultural views which prioritize male pleasure over female pleasure. Studies have also shown that women have more orgasms masturbating than with partners, and lesbian women have significantly more orgasms than straight women. This solidifies the fact that there is a huge problem with the way society sees men versus women and not with women's bodies.
The issue with the orgasm gap is pretty clear: male-attracted women deserve to enjoy sex and orgasm as much as our male partners. But discussing the orgasm gap with a partner can be uncomfortable and even invalidating, especially for those who aren't used to prioritizing their own pleasure. POPSUGAR spoke to Todd Baratz, a certified sex therapist and licensed mental health counselor, who shared some insight into how exactly we can close the orgasm gaps in relationships — starting with the relationships we have with ourselves.
1. Learn How History, Culture, and Politics Have Fueled Your Understanding of Sexual Pleasure
"Anxiety about prioritizing your pleasure is part of the orgasm gap," Baratz told POPSUGAR. It reflects shame connected to "what it means to prioritize your pleasure and want more sexually." Our outdated gender roles play a heavy part in this, as Baratz shared that cisgender women are socialized to believe that their pleasure isn't as important as their cis male counterparts. "It's easy to default to the values implied in the orgasm gap," he said. "So the first thing you want to focus on is understanding yourself, your sexuality, and how politics, history, and culture have shaped it. Then you want to share what you learned about yourself with your partner."
To really dig into this, reexamine gender and social constructs that you may have been taught growing up — i.e. how you were expected to act in a certain situation; morals you were expected to uphold; things that were thrust upon you by society, pop culture, and politics — and really ask yourself what you want. Breaking free from things you were taught from an early age can be extremely difficult, especially when there can be a lot of shame and guilt associated with sex and owning your sexuality, but taking a step back to reevaluate it is key in understanding your sexual needs.
Baratz explained that while there isn't an order to whether you should talk to your partner or focus on learning what you like first, "it never hurts to know yourself first." So if you don't already masturbate, Baratz advises you to start! (If you haven't masturbated a lot in the past and feel intimidated, check out our best tips for getting the job done.) Plus, if you do choose to focus on yourself first before bringing the issue to your partner, you can also immediately bring up specific things you like in order to enhance and prioritize your pleasure going forward.
3. Talk About Sex With Your Partner
"Talking about sex — no matter what the issue — is important if you want to experience arousal, pleasure, and an orgasm. Period," Baratz said. "Start talking about sex right from the beginning of your relationship. And if you haven't — start now! It's never too late." Making this a habit will ensure you and your partner are both on the same page and getting what you want.
4. Push Through the Discomfort of Discussing Your Pleasure
Number three is much easier said than done, right? It's normal to feel weird about talking about pleasure with your partner if you've never done it before! How do you even bring it up? What do you say? "You [might] feel anxious or uncomfortable if you've never talked about sex or your pleasure openly," Baratz explained. "Push through it — obviously only if you feel safe to do so. But it does require action, verbal communication, and some level of risk." Only you can voice your needs.
5. Let Go of Myths About How You Should Orgasm
"You don't have to come at the same time as your partner," Baratz told POPSUGAR. "You can [also] use your own hands — your partner doesn't need to be the one to get you off. Focus on bringing the exact same movements, rhythms, and types of touch that you employ during masturbation to partnered sex." Basically, forget about those perfectly rehearsed movie sex scenes where the couple orgasms at the exact same time. That's now how things are in real life, so experiment, explore, and learn what works for you.
Getting to know your body and having ongoing communication with your partner(s) is the ultimate way to close the pleasure gap. "You can work on teaching your partner and yourself all at once, but it has to start somewhere," Baratz said, adding that, above all, the most important aspect in all of this is to "make sure you are with a partner who is safe and caring."