There's A Depressing Reason For The "Orgasm Gap" Between Heterosexual Women And Men

It ain't everything, but it's not nothing.


Dr. Katie Spalding

Katie has a PhD in maths, specializing in the intersection of dynamical systems and number theory.

Freelance Writer

A woman and a man in bed; the man is asleep while the woman looks dissatisfied.
"Was it as good for you as it was for me? Because sucks for you if so." Image credit: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

Women have got the wage gap and the pink tax; are way more likely to die from things like car crashes or medical negligence; and to top it all off, often don’t even get to orgasm the frustration away with any reliability. There’s already plenty of research on the so-called “orgasm gap” – the depressingly large chasm between the frequency at which men and women manage to get their rocks off – but a recent study throws a whole new confounding wrench in the sexual works.

“Research on goal pursuit has found that the strength of our effort is determined by how much we value the result and how much we expect it to be achieved,” said Grace Wetzel, a Rutgers social psychology doctoral student and first author of the new research, in a statement


“So, if orgasm is important to women, and if they believe it is possible to have one, they will pursue it more strongly,” she explained. 

That’s right: according to the findings, women aren’t just getting underserved in the pleasure department. In fact, the situation is actually so bad that they’re sometimes not expecting – and therefore not even trying – to orgasm at all.

“Across two experimental studies, we examined how heterosexual women vary their orgasm goal pursuit across sexual encounters,” notes the paper. Participants were tasked with reading a selection of vignettes describing hypothetical sexual encounters – some with details on the time constraints of the nookie, and others describing the selfishness of their imaginary partner.

Both of those factors had previously been identified by women in the study as being reasons not to chase an orgasm – the latter, in fact, was only highlighted by women as having ruined their fun time in the past. 


Indeed, the study reports, “women who read that a hypothetical sexual encounter would be ‘quick’ reported less intent to pursue orgasm than women who were told they could ‘take their time’ or received no time information.” Meanwhile, “women who read that their hypothetical sexual partner seemed selfish reported less intent to pursue orgasm than women who were given a non-selfish partner or no partner information.” 

Now, it goes without saying – although the researchers do make sure to say it – that achieving orgasm is not the be-all and end-all of having sex. However, when heterosexual women report climaxing approximately one-third as often as their partners, Wetzel believes the findings from the new study have important implications for the health and satisfaction of those relationships.

“We know there are contextual, societal and personal factors that likely create barriers that prevent women from feeling able to actively pursue orgasm,” Wetzel said. “We can use the information from this research to create sexual environments where women’s orgasm can feel more feasible.”

The real kicker in the conclusion is that, for most women, it’s not even that difficult to improve your odds of achieving orgasm. While most research – and, uh, extra-curricular viewing – tends to focus on the pleasure given by vaginal penetration, there’s plenty of evidence that clitoral stimulation and better sexual communication both improve women’s chances of orgasm.


For heterosexual men who want their partners to reach that peak – and anecdotally, at least, quite a few of them do – Wetzel has some advice. Tell your partner that you want her pleasure to be a priority, she said, without putting pressure on her to achieve orgasm; together, those simple changes might increase the chances of your partner chasing, and therefore getting, that volcanic wave between the sheets.

“As we now understand, women pay attention to environmental cues and cues from their partners when deciding whether orgasm is ‘worth pursuing’ during a sexual encounter,” Wetzel advised. “We should not ignore that.”

The research is published in the Journal of Sex Research.


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