Sex & Relationships

Pillow Talk: The orgasm gap



One day each spring, you’ll find a diagram of a vagina in a large lecture hall on campus: PLC 180. The diagram is an intricate, detailed look at female anatomy with each part neatly labeled.

But, what the professor leading the lecture wants to focus on most is the clitoris. It’s an organ, she says, that serves only one purpose: orgasm.

The class is Philosophy of Love and Sex, and the professor is Bonnie Mann.

Four years ago, I was in that class, looking up at that vagina. I remember the same feeling in eigth grade, when my teacher spent a whopping 30 seconds discussing the clitoris and its pleasure-inducing powers: a little giddy, a little excited. That day in eighth grade, was the first time someone said aloud the name of that part of my body — a part that I knew so well, yet no one seemed to discuss.

I felt a similar rush in Mann’s class five years later, but this time I was hopeful, too. Hopeful because I knew from talking to female friends throughout my life — from middle school on — that many didn’t know what an orgasm was. But maybe, I thought, this diagram could help.

My friends were far from alone. According to the National Survey of Sex and Sexual Behavior, women orgasm only 64 percent of the time — despite the 85 percent of men who believe women orgasm from vaginal penetration alone. To make matters even worse, a study that involved almost 13,000 undergraduates and was conducted by researchers from Stanford University and Indiana University a few years ago, found that college women were half as likely to have orgasms than men were, both in casual hookups and long-term heterosexual relationships.

What’s happening here? Why are women orgasming so much less than men?

Perhaps it has to do with the G-spot. According to a review published in Clinical Anatomy this October, the G-spot orgasm is a myth and the only way a woman orgasms is through clitoral stimulation. Perhaps this is exactly what helped widen the gender gap: the amount of attention spent on the G-spot that could have been spent on the clitoris.

That’s one way to look at it. According to Mann, another might be the effect of our culture’s obsession with male heterosexual sexuality.

“Culturally, we are very entrenched in male desire,” Mann said. “All that time spent as adolescent girls looking in the mirror, putting on makeup…women’s sexuality gets tied into the power of allure, and they don’t have a lot of practice in being centered in their own bodies when it comes to their own sexual pleasure.”

Mann may have a point. After all, my friends may not have known how to have an orgasm, but they knew how you were supposed to give one. And to be fair, if a woman doesn’t know how to have an orgasm herself, chances are that her partner doesn’t know, either.

Lauren Stewart, a GTF in the women’s and gender studies program, sees part of the problem as a lack of attention to women’s bodies — particularly in heterosexual relationships.

“We have this idea that the grand finale is his orgasm,” said Stewart. “If she orgasms? Great. We really hope it happens. But it doesn’t have to.”

Hopefully, one day, Mann won’t have to pull the diagram up. But until then, show away. Because we all have a right to come.

Follow Katherine Marrone on Twitter @kmarrone1


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Katherine Marrone

Katherine Marrone

Katherine Marrone is the sex and relationships writer for the Emerald. A feminist and activist, she likes writing about gender issues and social justice.