In short, the author suggested that the very real and well-documented “orgasm gap” is not due to gender differences in anatomy or psychology… but due to “the patriarchy.”
Ever heard of a thing called patriarchy? It’s a handy, fancy name feminists (we beautiful, beautiful people) have invented for systems of power (= societies) that favor men.
Patriarchy, or a system that privileges men, is like food for our brains and hearts and social experiences: We ingest it in our homes, in public space, in school, in pop culture, in relationships, through the media. We digest it, and it becomes the building blocks of our thoughts, our behaviors, our beliefs about what is right and wrong.
It also structures sex.
We fuck until you come, I do not come, you do not ask if I would like to come or if you can help make me come, and then we’re done fucking, because you have decided we are done fucking, and everyone is supposedly happy.
Here, supposedly, is what you consider sex: We make out, you play with my boobs, I blow you, you do not go down on me even though I ask [*insert some bullshit on how “I only go down on women I’m in love with. Now put it in your mouth.”]. Penis goes in vagina, penis moves in and out of vagina, penis causes air to enter vagina and makes a lot of funny farting sounds, someone actually farts and pretends it is a funny vagina farting sound but it was totally a real fart, penis ejaculates.
That’s not the patriarchy. That’s you choosing to have sex with assholes. You know what you could have done instead of sucking his dick and having bad sex with him? Set some boundaries. Set some standards and expectations. For example, you could have told him:
- “Oh, okay. I respect that – but, see, I have this thing where I only go down on guys who go down on me.”
- “Okay. It sounds like we might be rushing into things, physically. Maybe we should slow down and wait until we are both ready."
- “What a funny coincidence! I only go down on guys I’m in love with, too!”
Like, the patriarchy didn’t say, “You must give men unreciprocated blow jobs.” You willingly gave that blowjob, knowing you wouldn’t get one in return. (Blowjob is totally gender-neutral, right?) That was a decision you made. Put the blame where it belongs.
I’ve previously written to men that they need to take accountability for their decisions. Taking accountability is what marks the difference between boys and men; girls and women; children and adults.
And, given the deeply intimate nature of sex, I would say that sexy-time is probably one of the most important times for you to have and exercise agency.
Now, sexual agency doesn’t just mean saying no to things you don’t want. It means telling your partner what you do want. It means setting expectations, boundaries, and, yes, standards, for yourself and your partner.
As I wrote in The Stanford Kink Klub Has The Healthiest Sex on Campus – Here’s Why,
There's a pretty wide range of desires in the community... and if you don't establish consent ahead of time, there's a decent chance someone's going to be hurt, violated, or worse.
AND, if you've got some obscure kink, and you don't tell your partner about it... they aren't going to read your mind and magically know how to get you off. You have to tell them, or you will never get what you want. Read more >
The point is: agency. There’s so much research about how important and empowering it is to have agency in our lives. For example, people are happier when they make less money but have more autonomy and agency at work, than when they make more money but have less control.
Elderly people who live in nursing homes that allow them to make their own decisions about when to eat dinner or watch a movie are happier, healthier, more pro-social... and actually live longer than elderly residents whose decisions are made for them. (To learn more about this, I highly reading anything by Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer -- especially Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility.)
And, finally – people who tell their partner what they want/expect sexually are more likely to get what they want/expect sexually.
So this is the part where you’re going to say, “Yeah, but because of the patriarchy, men don’t care about my pleasure. That’s the problem.”
To which I say… who are these guys?
Without going into detail about something that is personal to me, I will say that every guy I have ever dated was very eager to please me. Long before I was ready or interested in doing anything to please him. Like, I dated a wonderful guy once. One of the first times we made out, he told me,
“I love kissing you, and when you’re ready, I really want to give you an orgasm.”
Similarly, once I was cuddling with a guy I had only ever cuddled with. We’d been just cuddling for… I dunno. Hours? Cuddling, talking, laughing. It was extremely intimate. And then the guy got all serious. I was like, “What’s up?”
And he was like, “I…. I….”
"Just say it!"
“I really want to go down on you.”
I told him no, definitely not. Not now, maybe not ever. He responded not by trying to put my hand on his dick or convince me to change my mind... but by pulling me closer and just holding me there.
The point is… These guys really cared about pleasing me.
Moreover, many of my guy friends have confided, “I love giving girls orgasms.” For them, being a good partner – giving the girl as many orgasms as possible – makes them feel sexy. Pleasing the woman turns them on. And, obviously, this can be “problematic” – done incorrectly, it can make women feel pressured to “perform” their pleasure for the man’s enjoyment, which is the opposite of the point and can actually interfere with her ability to orgasm.
But anyway, we don’t have to focus on my anecdotal experiences. Let’s look at some numbers. If men didn’t care about female pleasure because of the patriarchy, why would She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, by Ian Kerner, have sold over 250,000 copies? Not to mention the success of Open Her: Activate 7 Masculine Powers to Arouse Your Woman's Love & Desire, by Karen Brody, and even Make Her SCREAM: Last Longer, Come Harder, And Be The Best She's Ever Had, by Amber Cole.
Also, if men didn’t care about the female orgasm… then why do pornos features women screaming in “ecstasy” pretty much continuously? You can even buy Female Orgasm Sound Effects on Amazon! (Side note: as a psychologist, I don’t think porn is good, and I recommend that people avoid it – ethically, it’s coercive, and socially, it has negative sexual and emotional consequences. But that is a story for another day.)
Clearly, lots of guys do care about female pleasure -- the patriarchy be damned!
So maybe part of exerting control and agency over you sex life… is picking better partners. If a guy doesn’t care about your pleasure, he is an asshole. If an orgasm is all you’re after, there are much faster, simpler ways to do it. Get a vibrator. Get a sex machine!
But if intimacy, human connection and orgasm are what you’re looking for... don’t hook up with assholes. If the guy "ejaculates and goes straight to sleep," you won't get any of those things. Hook up with someone who thinks about someone other than himself. Maybe get a boyfriend (or girlfriend).
This leads me to my next point:
If you’re going to blame someone for the orgasm gap, and it’s not yourself/your own lack of agency… blame it on hookup culture.
Certain feminists love talking about how sex is so empowering to them. Lots of women participate in hookups these days, so they must enjoy it, right?
Well, no. Wrong. Some of them do. A lot don't. A 2008 report on 152 female undergraduate students found that 74% of women had either a few or some regrets from uncommitted sex: 61% had a few regrets, 23% had no regrets, 13% had some regrets, and 3% had many regrets (Eshbaugh & Gute, 2008). Only 23% of women who participate in hookup culture have no regrets.
“The notion of sexual liberation, where men and women both had equal access to casual sex, assumed a comparable likelihood of that sex being pleasurable,” Kim Wallen, a professor of neuroendocrinology at Emory University recently told the New York Times. “But that part of the playing field isn’t level.”
Another study of 24,000 students over five years found that only 40% of women had an orgasm during their last hookup involving intercourse, while 75% of women had an orgasm the last time they had sex in a committed relationship.
Then there's the fact that “no strings attached” (NSA) sex is, biologically, somewhat of a myth. According to research by Justin Garcia, Director of Education & Research Training at the Kinsey Institute, at least 50% of women and 52% of men who participate in hookup culture would like to stimulate a longer-term relationship. Perhaps they participate in hookups hoping to trigger a deeper interest in their partner.
And the strategy wasn’t completely unsuccessful. Almost 1/3 of the casual hookups in his study turned into more stable relationships.
Makes sense, right? With orgasm – or even just cuddling! – you get a flood of oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Moreover, any kind of sexual stimulation drives dopamine release in the brain, which makes it hard to keep it casual.
Why? Evolution has left us with three distinct systems governing romantic attachment:
- Lust (the system that drives us to desire a partner – characterized by sex hormones like testosterone)
- Love/romance (the system that drives us to focus on one partner – characterized by pleasure, reward and even addiction hormones like dopamine)
- Attachment (the system that keeps us together so we can have babies –characterized by opiates and oxytocin)
Although the systems are separate (you can love one person but lust after another), the mixing of these different hormones can definitely cause confusion.
But, speaking of these hormones – the fact that love and attachment are associated with so many positive feelings and hormones… wouldn’t it makes sense for people to want to be in relationships, instead of casual hookups?
Also worth noting: in many committed relationships, there is an inverse orgasm gap: some women are capable of having two, or three, or more orgasms per the male’s one orgasm.
After all, research shows that men and women in committed relationships have better (and, often, more) sex. As explained above, this is especially true for women. Like it or not, it is generally harder for women to have orgasms than men. (One of the rules of scientific thinking that radical feminists don't seem to get: you can't reject ideas just because you don’t like them or don’t want them to be be true.) There’s a good reason for this, evolutionarily.
For men, it makes sense to just orgasm all the time, whenever possible. The male orgasm is necessary for reproduction. Men evolved to have orgasms easily. Men who didn’t orgasm easily (or at all) didn’t have as many babies.
For females, though, orgasm is not necessary for reproduction. Therefore, there was little selective pressure for the female orgasm, which is purely for fun. In fact, anthropologist Elisabeth Lloyd argues in The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution, that the female orgasm, like the male nipple, is vestigial.
Additionally, because reproduction is such a costly investment for women, women evolved to be more selective regarding mating and sexual pleasure. (This is reflected by the fact that women are much less likely to find men attractive than vice versa – in fact, according to OKCupid data, women find most men unattractive.)
Many women in Taylor’s study admitted to using alcohol to feel comfortable engaging in casual hookups. One woman even admitted that she often gave guys oral sex and walked away with nothing because “by the time she got back to a guy’s room she was starting to sober up and didn’t want to be there anymore.”
Is this an example of the patriarchy? No, not so much. This is an example of a woman who was afraid to exercise sexual agency and say, “You know, actually, I changed my mind. Let’s go back to the party.”
Instead of exercising agency over her own sexuality, she sucked dudes’ dicks to "get out of" having sex with them. This is the opposite of “liberating.” This is the opposite of “empowering.” This is a very clear example of a girl letting herself be used by men for sexual pleasure for no good reason.
Unless the blowjobs are somehow coercive, this is not the patriarchy’s fault. This is the girl’s fault. And blaming it on anyone but herself is why some people have the wrong idea about feminism.
Again, I digress.
The point is, in spite of what certain feminists might claim that casual sex is all liberating and stuff, research shows that hookup culture is bad for most women.
But. Blaming hookup culture is also excusing yourself from taking accountability. Because hookup culture is something you choose to participate in.
The patriarchy isn’t forcing women to participate in hookup culture. Mindless compliance with perceived social norms is a much more likely culprit. Exercise agency! Think about what you really want. Set boundaries. Set standards for yourself (e.g., I’m not going to give blowjobs to get out of sex anymore; instead, I’ll just tell the guy I changed my mind or I only want to cuddle. It’s not rude for me to change my mind – it’s rude for him to be anything but understanding and supportive about it).
And, if you're tired of lame, male-centric sex, set clear standards and expectations for the guy! Before hooking up with your Tinder date, let him know, “I come first.”
Or, “I only have sex after X dates.”
Or, "Let's do this quid pro quo. If you want me to do something to you, you have to do it to me, first."
Or even, “FYI, I don’t really enjoy sex without, like, thirty minutes of foreplay. I'm bringing a timer -- so I hope you like lots of foreplay.”
That way, the guy knows what you expect from the hookup before you even arrive. If he’s totally not into the female orgasm, he can let you know, “Hey, actually, something just came up.” And you will have dodged a bullet.
(It's funny, too, how it's not hard to imagine a guy bailing if he decided he didn't want to hook up with a girl... But so many girls in the aforementioned studies have such a hard time bailing that they will engage in unwanted sexual activity because they think that's a better alternative than just saying, "I changed my mind," or, "Something came up."
If you feel like men have all the power in the sexual relationships, then you are doing it wrong. You, not the patriarchy, and not hookup culture, are the problem. Feminism is about empowering women. Obviously, there is systematic and institutionalized sexism in our everyday lives. But, at least in our sexual lives, we are already in a position where we can take control.