What is the orgasm gap?
The orgasm gap refers to the imbalance between the number of orgasms a person with a penis has on average during partnered sex compared to the number of orgasms a person with a vulva has. In other words, when two people with different genitalia have sex, generally only one person will have an orgasm — the person with the penis. This is sometimes referred to as orgasm inequality.
So why aren’t vulvas receiving the same love that penises do? VUSH’s sexpert, Steph, is here to unpack the orgasm gap and prove that the problem is not the vulva itself, but rather how we treat and understand pleasure for vulva owners.
Why does the orgasm gap exist?
There are five main reasons why the orgasm gap exists:
1. Misunderstandings around pleasure for vulvas
Sex between a vulva owner and a penis owner is often centred around vaginal penetration, neglecting the clitoris and the rest of the vulva. Many people assume the vagina is the main sex organ, but in actual fact, the clitoris is the most sensitive and erogenous part of the body for a vulva owner. The clit is even more sensitive than the vagina or penis! Sex should always include clitoral stimulation — many people find it hard to orgasm without it (despite all the movies or porn videos that depict orgasm after 30 seconds of penetration alone). This could be contributing to why vulva owners aren’t having the orgasms they’re capable of.
2. Fake orgasms
Sometimes people don’t have real orgasms during partnered sex because they fake them! While we don’t support faking your orgasms here (you deserve the real deal), we understand there are many complex reasons why you might be inclined to do so — for example, you’re worried you’re taking too long to finish, you’re not enjoying the sex, or you’re concerned you’ll hurt your partner’s ego if you don’t orgasm. Here are some reasons and ways to stop faking orgasms.
3. Socialisation and gender roles
Most of the research on the orgasm gap has been done with cis-men and cis-women. Unfortunately, many of us were brought up with underlying gender norms that predominantly saw women as passive and men as dominant. While this pervasive messaging is slowly fading away, it still exists in subtle forms and can translate into poor communication and an imbalance of pleasure in the bedroom.
4. Sex is defined by penile orgasm
Sex between cisgender, heterosexual couples is often defined by the penile orgasm. Vulva owners, think about your past sexual experiences with penis owners — Did it end after they had an orgasm? How many times did you have sex, and is that calculation based on how many orgasms they had? When sex is centred around intercourse and defined by penile orgasm, pleasure for vulva owners can be forgotten.
5. Disconnect between penis and vulva
There is a common belief that vulva owners are hard to please. However, studies show that when people with vulvas masturbate or when two vulva owners sleep together, they have orgasms — it’s only when a vulva owner sleeps with a penis owner that the orgasms suddenly disappear. So, why are cis-het women having the least orgasms? The problem doesn’t necessarily lie with penis owners, but it does suggest there might be a disconnect between different types of genitalia.
Are the vulva and the penis really that different?
Despite the orgasm gap between these two types of genitalia, the vulva and the penis are not as different as you’d think. The clitoris and the penis actually have a lot in common — they're homologous structures, which means they’re essentially just different versions of the same thing.
Here are four facts about the vulva and the penis:
1. Different arousal time
The one major difference between the vulva and the penis is the time they each require for arousal. Vulvas generally take longer than penises to become fully aroused. Because there are many parts to the vulva, it requires a bit more attention to warm up. A vulva can take up to 40 minutes to reach its fully aroused state. An aroused vulva looks slightly darker and puffier due to blood flow, and the vagina becomes lubricated.
2. The clitoris is made for pleasure
Did you know the clitoris is the only part of the body that is solely dedicated to pleasure? Aside from intercourse and fertilisation, the penis is used for urination, and the vagina functions as a baby canal or passage for menstrual blood to leave the body. The clitoris, however, has no other function than to make a vulva owner feel good. Use it for what it’s made for!
3. Equivalent erectile tissue
The clitoris is the equivalent to the penis when it comes to erectile tissue. It even becomes engorged with blood when aroused and gets erections! The clit becomes increasingly sensitive when erect. A clitoral erection involves the entire clitoris, including the internal wishbone-like structure which is shaped similarly to a penis.
4. Similar head and shaft
The penis and the clitoris really are made of the same parts — they both have a shaft and a head. The head of the clitoris (the clitoral glans) is the external part that you can see and touch directly. This is the most sensitive part, which is similar to the head or tip of the penis. The shaft is the internal part that connects to that external part and extends into two legs (the crura). Similarly to the shaft of the penis, the clitoral shaft likes to be stroked, which is why stroking the labia can feel nice for some!
How can we close the orgasm gap?
Here are our top four tips for closing the orgasm gap and prioritising pleasure for vulva owners:
1. Learn about the vulva
Do you know all the different parts of your vulva? Take a mirror and have a look next time you’re aroused — knowing the signs of your own arousal means you can ensure they are present next time you have partnered sex. And remember, if you don’t have a vulva but sleep with someone who does, take a minute to learn about how their genitals work! Learn more about vulvas by reading our blog on vulva anatomy, pleasure, and care.
2. Include clitoral stimulation
Make sure you don’t miss the clit (spoiler alert: it’s not that hard to find!). Clitoral stimulation is the fastest and most reliable way to orgasm for a vulva owner. Never jump straight into intercourse — foreplay should always come first. Whether it’s a hand, tongue, or toy, the clit can be stimulated in a number of ways. Try rubbing, circling, tapping, stroking, figure eight or pulsing motions, licking, sucking, and gyrating or grinding. Have sex the way you touch yourself during masturbation!
3. Add a sex toy
Take charge of your own pleasure by bringing your beloved sex toy into the bedroom next time you’re with a partner. Sex toys aren’t just for solo play! No matter what type of sex you’re having, there’s a toy out there that could take it up a notch. Enhance vaginal penetration by using a clitoral vacuum stimulator at the same time, or try mutual masturbation with one bullet vibrator each. To read more about how to use toys with a partner, read our blog.
4. Practice sexual communication
Take all the knowledge you’ve learnt in this article and translate it into your sex life. It’s okay to ask for new things! Your partner should want you to have the best possible orgasms — sometimes it takes changing things up to get there. To read more about sexual communication, read our guide to asking for what you want.
Read more from VUSH Stimulation:
To give the clitoris some more love and help close the orgasm gap, learn about it on our blog! Read our reasons to masturbate or learn how to use a bullet vibrator or how to use a clitoral suction vibrator.