Sex and the Orgasm Gap

A recent comprehensive survey of the sexual practices of men and women in America  – sponsored by the condom maker Trojan – contains some shocking news. Anal sex is sharply on the rise, and not just among gay men, but among heterosexuals, too – including women.  And a rather high percentage of young teenagers – for example, 30% of 14-16 year olds – are engaging in oral sex.  The survey also found that at least 41 different sexual positions are now commonly practiced in bed – and indeed, elsewhere.

Holy tantra, you might say.

But the survey also reveals another stunning – but perhaps not so surprising  – statistic.  While a whopping 85% of the men surveyed said that their last sex partner had enjoyed an orgasm, only 64% of the women said they’d “gotten off.”  In other words, it appears there’s still a big “orgasm gap” between men and women having sex.

Are readers as shocked as I am to learn that some women might be faking their orgasms just to please their men?  Either because they love them, and don’t want them to feel bad, or because they know that men with bolstered egos will treat them better?

As we all know, faking is a time-honored female tradition.  And for feminists, of course, it’s a reflection of just how much male sexual standards and needs still oppress women.  Women, they insist, shouldn’t fake: they should simply demand better sex.  But anyone
who’s seen the movie When Harry Meets Sally knows that there’s probably a hidden comedian – and possibly, a future diva  – inside every woman who fakes convincingly.

But there’s another possible explanation for the climax gap.   Men simply over-reported the incidence of female orgasm to survey researchers because they didn’t want to appear unable to “satisfy” their women.  And, in fact, either level, 85% or 64%, is still on the high side historically. Remember that in 1976, the famous Hite Report, found that only 30% of  women were achieving orgasm duriung interocurse.

No pun intended, but you’ve come along way baby.

Keep in mind, though, the difference being measured here isn’t actually a difference in satisfaction levels during sex, or even male and female orgasm levels per se.  It’s simply the difference between what men are reporting and what women are reporting.  And that’s where the fiundings of the latest study seem to require much deeper investigation.

For example, for those who still find the traditional feminist view of the orgasm gap so compelling, consider this: a number of major national surveys conducted in recent
years indicate that almost as many men report faking orgasms – 30-50% – as women do.  And with expanded condom use, men can do that more easily than ever before.

It could be that men fake for the same reason women do:  to keep their partner’s vanity intact.  But there’s also the recent and apparently growing problem of male impotence – re-branded as “erectile dysfunction” – which has spawned a multibillion dollar prescription drug industry.   Some men, especially older men, may be taking longer
than women to achieve an orgasm, and are increasingly starting to fake theirs, too.

There’s also the issue of prostitution, a largely (though not exclusively) male-serving industry.  One in ten men admit to paying prostitutes for sex, but some researchers believe the figure is actually much higher.  Sex workers are paid not only to pleasure their clients, but also to appear pleased by them:  it not only keeps them coming – it keeps them coming back.  Would male respondents have included them in their answers perhaps?

It’s unlikely that many prostitutes would have made it into the female survey pool, and this could be boosting the male numbers also.

But there’s actually a fourth possibility that the sex survey seems to have largely glossed over.  It could be that a large and growing number of men are also having sex with other men, and are including this sex – and its more easily observable outcome – in their orgasm rate.  Naturally, man-on-man sex wouldn’t appear in women’s orgasm rate because the sex wasn’t with them.  So it could be that the sex study is reporting orgasm rates based on entirely different population samples, in fact.

But there’s also a problem with this hypothesis.  About 8% of the men and 7% of the women in the survey reported that they were gay – rates that are consistent with past surveys.  And, in theory, each gender had the same opportunity to report same-sex partners in their survey responses.

So, for same-gender sex to affect the orgasm gap, we would have to assume that men are doing it – and doing it far more to completion – than women are.

There may be good reason to believe that, in fact.  Why?  For one thing, because a lot of men having same-gender sex don’t necessarily identify as “gay” or even “bi.”  They may be living and acting in the straight world but still engaging in male sex covertly, or “on the down low.”  And women, however eager for sex they may be – and they’re certainly far more eager than commonly thought, according to nearly all surveys – are still less prone to have casual gay or bi sex than men.  This is especially true of gay women, surveys show.

So, would increased same-gender sex by men – especially higher than average
casual sex – account for such a sizable orgasm gap across both genders?  You would think so.   But apparently, the researchers who conducted the study don’t.  The percentage spread – 21 points – is simply too large, they say.

Personally I favor a multi-causal explanation.  Women are still faking at higher rates than men, men are prone to exaggerate their prowess, they’re still doing it big-time with prostitutes, and to top it all off – no pun intended – they’re also having tons of sex on the side with other men. So, add it all up and there’s your 21 percent.

Perhaps, with all the new sexual experimentation reported in the survey, we should just be glad that dogs and horses can’t talk, and leave it at that?

STEWART J. LAWRENCE is a Washington, DC-based immigration policy specialist.  He can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com.

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com