A Call for Orgasm Equality – An open letter.
I have a new book, Becoming Cliterate. I’m passionately committed to the goal of this book, which is closing the gender-based orgasm gap (the research finding that women are having fewer orgasms than men) and empowering people-with-clits (who I call women in the book) to orgasm. I’m thrilled that the book has gotten beautiful endorsements (from notables such as Ian Kerner, Paul Joannides, and Eve Ensler) and praise in media outlets I respect greatly, such as the New York Times and Bustle. I’ve also gotten very positive reviews in the respected feminist magazines Bust and Feministing. Yet, both point out I shouldn’t have equated having a clitoris with being a woman. They’re right—gender isn’t dichotomous. Making an error isn’t always pain-free, yet one of the things I cherish about being human is the ability to learn from each other. So, in all future letters, I’m going to be as clear as possible about who I am addressing. Sometimes it will be “people-with-vaginas,” such as when I’m talking about the ins-and-outs (pun intended) of sex. Sometimes it’ll be “women” (as in the third to last paragraph below) when I’m referencing studies that use this language or talking about societal gender roles. Feel free to call me out if I get it wrong but please be nice. It’s hard for anyone to grow when hiding in a hole of shame.
Speaking of holes, a major premise of Becoming Cliterate is that our culture pays too much attention to the place that babies come out and penises go in (our vagina)—and not enough to the rest of our vulva. As I point in Becoming Cliterate’s chapter on language, by calling everything “down there” a vagina, we relegate our most important sexual organ, the clitoris, to nameless invisibility. Likewise, in our culture, we equate sex with penile-vaginal intercourse—and by doing so, don’t count the way that the vast majority of people-with-clits reach orgasm. In Becoming Cliterate, I tell readers that while language reflects culture, language also shapes culture—and I suggest we alter the way we talk about sex. I also say we need to change the way we have sex.
Here’s the foundation of that change: Understanding that only about 5% to 15% of people with vaginas orgasm just by having something thrust in and out of it. According to a landmark study, when clit-owners pleasure themselves:
Only 1.5% do so solely by putting something inside their vaginas.
Instead, the vast majority (86.5%) do so by stimulating their vulva and clit.
Still another 12% sometime or always simultaneously touch their clit and vulva and insert something into their vagina.
Want more evidence? Check out the awesome OMGYes, where you’ll see information on how people-with-clits masturbate. You’ll also likely learn a trick or two for yourself.
And, here’s the result of all this clit-focused self-pleasure: Orgasms! When people-with-clits masturbate, about 94% reach orgasm. That’s a much higher rate than when getting it on with people with penises, where depending on the context, only about 4% (hookup sex) to 64% (relationship sex) have orgasms.
What accounts for this disparity in orgasm rates during self-pleasure vs. partner-sex? It’s because when people with vulva’s and people with penis’s get it on together, they put their main focus on putting one inside the other, and forgo the importance of clitoral stimulation. A study conducted by a popular woman’s magazine found that in heterosexual encounters involving intercourse, 73% of our orgasm problems are due to not enough or not the right kind of clitoral stimulation.
The solution, then, is straightforward. As I say in Becoming Cliterate, “The most crucial action needed to orgasm with a partner is to get the same type of stimulation you use when pleasuring yourself.” The Feministing review called the idea of asking your partner to touch you the way you touch yourself “brilliant and weirdly under-utilized advice.”
Why is this advice so under-utilized? A lot of reasons. Studies show that women think it will be perceived as pushy to say what they need in bed. Interestingly, though, another study showed that men found this to be a turn-on. Still, two other reason women don’t ask for what they want sexually is lack of training in sexual communication and socialization to care more about being sexually desirable for others’ than on our own desires (i.e., the whole “if it’s good for him, it’s good for me” mentality that Peggy Orenstein describes). All of these reasons help explain why, in another study, women’s knowledge of their clitoris increased their orgasm rate in masturbation but not when having sex with a partner.
So, dear people-with-clits, I highly recommend you get to know what you need and then show/tell/ask your partner to touch you this way during a sexual encounter (or do it yourself). This is the most essential step to orgasm equality.
Still, if it was that easy, there wouldn’t be an orgasm gap. That’s why I’ve written a book with strategies on how to get the job done, so to speak. I’ll also try to write a few more of these letters to get you started.
With care and concern for your pleasure,