Orgasm Equality: Another Gap Between The Sexes
by Isabel Oberlender
The topic of orgasm equality entered the global sphere in July of 2015 after rapper Nicki Minaj told Cosmopolitan in an interview that gender equality must exist in realms beyond the pay gap or the glass ceiling: “I demand that I climax. I think women should demand that,” she said. "I have a friend who's never had an orgasm in her life. In her life! That hurts my heart....We always have orgasm interventions where we, like, show her how to do stuff.” After the release of her interview, feminist and entertainment media celebrated and praised Minaj as orgasm equality was established as a valid women’s cause. Amy Schumer, a well-known comedian, went on to say, “Don’t not have an orgasm. Make sure he knows that you’re entitled to an orgasm,” in the August 2015 issue of Glamour. Whether or not every person, female or not, believes women are entitled to climax during every sexual encounter, orgasm equality is a very interesting topic to consider.
Although the ability to reach an orgasm during a sexual experience is not an urgent issue on the feminist agenda or a necessarily cultural topic, sexuality is a universal and relevant concept to the human experience regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or religion. As a proclaimed feminist and individual who believes in justice, I feel that a woman’s right to have pleasurable intimacy is just as important as a man’s.
The issue of orgasm equality might stem from the fact that some men believe that their female partners climax more than they actually do. According to research conducted by the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, 85% of men think that their partners had an orgasm during their last sexual encounter when only 64% of women report actually having one. The statistics vary between heterosexual and homosexual couples as a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that lesbians had around a 75% orgasm rate. In the same study, men, regardless of sexual orientation, all reported around an 85% orgasm rate. Jessica Valenti, of The Guardian, noted that another study concluded that 75% of men reported always having an orgasm during sex in her article “Women Deserve Orgasm Equality.”
Why must this be? Women are in fact just as capable of achieving orgasms as men. Patricia Valoy, of Everyday Feminism Magazine, believes that the media is to blame for orgasm disparity between heterosexual couples. In her article “In Pursuit of Sexual Pleasure Equality,” Valoy stated, “With the media suggesting that male pleasure defines sex, it’s no wonder so many of us still believe that female sexuality is subdued and that what makes sex ‘good’ is having a male partner who’s satisfied – regardless of your needs. Heterosexual intercourse is considered over when the man reaches orgasm. That’s it. That’s the end. If the female orgasms, it’s just a bonus.” The article continues with multiple examples of this assertion in popular movies. Valoy concluded by stating, “If society and media is teaching us that men want sex more than we do, then it goes that their sexual pleasure is also more important, because, supposedly, ‘we don’t even care about it.’ And there’s a reason for this cultural framework.”
While researching for this article, I decided to conduct some exploration of my own. I asked some of the women in my community varying in age, race, and overall background whether they knew what orgasm equality was and if they thought it was important. Many of my informal interviewees were not familiar with the movement or term and found it very hard to talk about the matter. It became increasingly difficult to retrieve an answer in regard to whether each woman found orgasm equality to be important. At the moment I grudgingly ended my search for answers on pleasure equality, something became very clear to me: in my opinion, communication is most likely the largest factor in the orgasm gap. Even in the 21st century, the female orgasm is treated with indifference and viewed as taboo. To remedy this issue, I agree with Jessica Valenti that communication is the answer.
In the second half of her article in The Guardian, Valenti conjectured that to ensure orgasm equality for all, young people must be informed on both safety and pleasure when being educated on sex. Kendall McKenzie, a sex educator based in New York, told Valenti, “Talking about pleasure helps people make healthier decisions about sex, feel entitled to positive sexual and romantic experiences, and be more empowered to talk with their partners about boundaries and consent.” Another interviewee, educational psychologist and professor of human sexuality at Hunter College Kathryn Stamoulis, noted that, “Young people know that pleasure is one of the main reasons people have sex. When adults or educators try to hide or avoid this fact, they are lying. This can lead to distrust, and young people won’t feel comfortable asking questions or reaching out for help.”
Communication very well seems to be the cause - and the solution - of the orgasm gap. The media has relentlessly portrayed that a man’s orgasm is more important than a woman’s and without proper access to sex and pleasure education, many women accept this idea. As a woman, I ask you to recognize the importance of your pleasure and your happiness. Contrary to what is commonly depicted in the media, sex does not have to end after your partner has climaxed. Even if you don’t consider achieving an orgasm an important part of sex, I ask you to place the same value on your comfort and pleasure as you do your partner’s. Just as sexuality is a universal concept, the importance of a woman’s needs is as well.