For those of you who don’t know what the female orgasm is, you’re not alone. Most men assume that no woman has ever faked an orgasm, and most women have never orgasmed — you do the math. I first became aware of this epidemic through conversations with my female friends in college. They described their sexual experiences with men the way I talk about a phone call with my mom: 10 minutes of “ok ok ok bye.” This echoes in the way society treats women in general, dissuading them from speaking out and being vocal about what they want. Male expectations continue to limit female expression, creating a detrimental power dynamic that has become innate to the female identity. You don’t have to be an expert to see that this problem goes deeper than a few exasperated “omigods.”
Sex in America has traditionally been intertwined with marriage, allowing men to use the advantages they have in social, political and economic spheres against female sexuality. According to Frances Rosenbluth, a political science professor at Yale University, the origin of marriage was not based on love — rather, it was a contract used to maintain the male-favored hierarchy of society. It was not until the 1960s sexual revolution challenged these values that women gained some sexual agency. By trying to maximize the pleasure of men, society normalizes sexual discomfort for women. While it might be difficult to believe that this statement applies to you, your sexual partners or your friends, consider the numbers.
A recent study with 2,000 participants reported that 30 percent of women experience pain during intercourse — and those are just the ones that tell their partner when it happens. Bad sex for men is boring. Bad sex for women is physically painful. But let’s assume that you, your sexual partners or your friends have been the lucky two who have evaded the statistic and focus on what can happen during sex without pain: pleasure.
In the famous scene from the romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally … ,” Harry tells Sally that he knows that no woman has ever “faked it” with him. He knows they haven’t. With pity in her eyes, Sally slowly puts down her napkin, takes one last look at the sweet innocent man and fakes an orgasm in the crowded restaurant. For the Harrys of the world, the reality that their sexual prowess isn’t all that is hard to swallow. They become defensive, even angry, at the assumption that they are not, in fact, a god of the bedroom, but rather a mere mortal. They blame it on female anatomy — women are hard to please, their bodies too complex, their biology impossible to figure out. I say that these people are lazy. This mindset, in Sally’s words, is an “affront to all women.” It teaches women that asking for what they want, the same thing that men demand, is too much. More importantly, it teaches women that their desires are a burden and an inconvenience.
In fact, the research done on the sexual pleasure of lesbians completely uproots the notion that the female orgasm is a myth. Lesbians consistently report to orgasm upwards of 75 percent of the time, the same rate of cis women who can’t orgasm during penetration. This proves that the female orgasm isn’t as elusive as you think — when stimulated properly and given the opportunity to communicate effectively, women can easily close the orgasm gap.
So if an overwhelming majority of women aren’t orgasming, why do they pretend that they are? Most men believe that the responsibility falls on the woman to communicate her needs. Let’s unpack that. Women feel pressure to meet the expectations of sex that have been determined and defined by men, which means that sexual norms aren’t necessarily inclusive of the needs or wants of women. In addition to the fact that there is less research about pleasing cis women than cis men, the information that does exist privileges male pleasure — i.e. porn, magazine articles and medical research. What’s more, the portrayal of female pleasure in Hollywood misconstrues reality. Somehow the addition of lights, cameras and 20 or so sweaty crew members raises the orgasm rate from 25 to 100 percent. I guess movie magic really does exist. My friends say that they fake it because they want to spare their partners’ feelings and because “at least they’re trying hard.” Clearly not hard enough. All of these factors contribute to a phenomenon where women are discouraged from asking for what they want in any environment, sexual or not.
The macro implications of this are substantial. The reasons why a woman “fakes it” are the same as the ones that deter her from asking for a promotion. It’s the message that women are not worthy enough of sexual reciprocity, aren’t important enough to get equal pay, are not powerful enough to have proportional political representation. All this normalizes the notion of expecting and asking for less.
So here’s what can be done. Take notes, Harry. Making sure both parties in a sexual encounter feel genuine pleasure is sure to make the experience better for everyone. The key to more frequent and real orgasms lies in elevating the female voice. Communicate. Let her know that her experience is just as important as yours. Multiple studies have found that women who are secure and confident within their sexual relationships, as well as women who have partners with good sexual technique, orgasm more frequently than women who don’t feel this way. A world where a woman’s feelings are valued just as much as her male counterpart’s? Yes, yes, YES.
Olivia Drubner is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .