Everyone deserves a fulfilling sex life, but recent studies suggest that not everyone is experiencing one. Get Your Marriage On interviewed sexpert Sheila Gray Gregoire on the podcast. Sheila is the creator of a research-based orgasm course and author of several best-selling books about marriage & sex.
Sheila recently surveyed over 20,000 women about their sex lives. From that enormous sample, the study found that only 48% of the women reach orgasm regularly and 11-12% of women never reach orgasm at all. In contrast, 95% of men always or almost always reach orgasm during sex. The gap in frequency of sex resulting in orgasm for men and women is called the “orgasm gap.” Along with Sheila, we’re on a mission to help close this gap between husbands and wives looking for more fulfillment in the marriage bed.
What’s Your Definition of Sex?
If you were asked “Did you have sex last night?,” what types of activity would you consider to be “sex”? Most people envision intercourse: a penis being inserted into a vagina, penetrative sex. Although that definitely is sex, Gregoire explained that this mindset is unsatisfactory and too limited for most couples. It’s because there’s more to sex than just a penis in a vagina.
Statistically, men will almost always reach climax with penetrative sex but only a third of women will. Many couples have the attitude that penetrative sex tends to be the goal and anything outside of that is a bonus. Because of this, Laurie Mintz, a psychologist and professor on human sexuality at the University of Florida, believes the orgasm gap is a cultural problem. She states that as a culture we overvalue penetrative sex and relegate clitoral stimulation to foreplay rather than sex. Studies show that more than half of women that reach orgasm claim clitoral stimulation is how they climax. Mintz explains that in order to close the orgasm gap, clitoral stimulation side by side with penetration should be at the core of your sex life not as foreplay.
Pop Quiz! How Well Do You Understand Female Anatomy?
In order to have proper clitoral stimulation, you need to understand women’s anatomy. YouGov, an international research data and analytics group, found that among both genders there is a lack of knowledge surrounding the anatomy of female genitalia. A group of people in Great Britain were issued a survey where they were asked to label a diagram (like the one shown below). Even though they accepted answers that were descriptive but not necessarily the correct anatomical term, half of the survey takers were not able to identify or describe the urethra (61% of men, 55% of women), the labia (52% of men, 43% of women) or the vagina (59% of men, 45% of women)! The clitoris was the only part of female genitalia that most people were able to label correctly (69% of men, 71% of women).
Knowing your own anatomy and your partner’s anatomy will increase pleasure and help in cultivating a positive sex life for both partners. Women, a great way to do this is by using your husband’s hands to explore your body. Learn what feels good and what doesn’t. Try new methods in your exploration. Maybe manual stimulation or receiving oral sex needs to be a regular part of your sex life.
Intimacy: The Foundation for Great Sex
Clitoral stimulation is not typically something you just jump right into. This is likely why it gets grouped into the foreplay category too often. Often times women need more than penetrative sex and clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm. This is where intimacy comes into play.
Intimacy is about a willingness to know and be known. It’s about being really close to someone and loving them in spite of their flaws. This can be a roadblock for a lot of men and women. You’ve been married for quite a while and you both have routines, habits, and a way of doing things. If you haven’t kept intimacy at the forefront of your brain it can be a struggle to reimplement it into your marriage without feeling uncomfortable. True intimacy takes courage and risk to love and receive another person’s love.
To help ease this discomfort, let’s take a look at the five love languages, developed by Dr. Gary Chapman:
- Acts of Service
- Receiving Gifts
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
- Words of Affirmation
Do you know what your spouse’s love language is? If so, begin by being conscientious about loving them in the ways they like to receive love. For instance, if your spouse responds well to acts of service, start performing acts of service to show them his or her importance to you. If you don’t know what their love language is, make a date of it! Search for a free Love Language Quiz online, take and share your results. This can be a great communication tool to work out some kinks that may be hindering your sex life and improve intimacy.
Intimacy outside of the bedroom increases satisfaction inside the bedroom for both males and females. When your spouse helps you feel important and understood, sex becomes an intimate joining of two people. When you don’t feel important to or understood by your spouse, sex can be a very hurtful event where you feel used. Sex shouldn’t be just another obligation to meet.
Other Factors that Hinder Female Orgasm
Her Mental Load
While understanding female anatomy and developing deeper intimacy are key components of closing the orgasm gap there are many other factors that can hinder a woman’s ability to reach orgasm. Here are just a few:
Women carry the majority of the mental load for families, typically. They are in charge of remembering all the little things, “we are almost out of milk, I need to add it to the grocery list” and the big things “the mortgage/rent is due on the 1st, I need to make sure we have enough money in the account to make the payment”. It can be hard for women to put their mental load aside and truly be present when things are pressing or time sensitive and she doesn’t want to forget them. Men’s workload is usually left at work and when he gets home it’s easy to be present. That’s usually not the case for women.
As husbands’ step in and take on some of her mental responsibilities, they might be surprised at just how much more present their wife is. Her head must be present or her body won’t be. Gregoire stated, “the number one reason women say they have no libido and that they can’t reach orgasm is exhaustion. So, if you can take care of the exhaustion part, then, you’re so much further ahead”.
Remove the Pressure to Orgasm
This can be tricky. For some, pressure is okay, and for others it’s not. Women feel pressure to orgasm for different reasons. They might feel that if they don’t reach orgasm their husband will feel like a failure or that they themselves are a failure. Time adds pressure too! If it takes them a while to reach orgasm they might feel like a burden to you. Husband’s, voice to your wife that it’s okay for them to take their time. Pressure to reach orgasm can become stressful, all consuming, and counterproductive.
Some women know when they won’t reach climax, if they voice this, listen! It’s okay if she states that an orgasm is not likely to happen. She might have a lot on her mind and can’t easily transition to “sexy” mode this time. On the other hand if your wife never orgasms then that’s something that needs to be addressed. Just accepting that she isn’t going to orgasm during sex shouldn’t be something you just take as it is. Climaxing regularly is something to work towards. Gregoire said “If you have sex with someone for like five years and she never reaches an orgasm, that’s just not right. We should be doing something about that.” All women are capable of orgasm.
Identify and Remove Marital Blocks
Women who struggle to reach orgasm usually resort to physical fixes, such as:
- Where should your husband be touching you?
- What toy should you bring to the bedroom?
- Should you try a new lube?
- What about new positions ?
While all of those things can be helpful, they aren’t usually the first solution to the problem. Difficulty to orgasm usually has more to do with where she is mentally and the quality of the relationship than what is happening physically. Are there trust issues? Are one of you struggling with unwanted pornography use? Is there an unresolved concern in the past getting in the way? What about communication? How do you solve disagreements? Are there leftover hurt feelings that need to be addressed? All of these things can affect whether or not a woman is able to orgasm. Taking the courage to speak up and work through issues as an intimate team can help you draw closer together and lead to a much richer relationship.
Overcoming Poor Body Image Issues
A study was done in Switzerland with 1000 adult women ages 30-79. Of the 1000 women 73% of them fell within a normal weight range and yet 70% of the women claimed to be dissatisfied with their body. When the majority of women are dissatisfied with their body it only makes sense that it affects performance in the bedroom.
Jennifer Gunsaullus, PhD, Sociologist, and intimacy coach said “At the core of body image concerns is shame implanted in us from societal messages, and carrying any shame into the bedroom can negatively impact sex. The less comfortable you are with your body, the less likely you will be to get naked, or want to have someone see you naked. You may limit the sexual positions you’re willing to engage in, depending on how you think your body looks doing them, and also more likely to only have sex in the dark or under the covers. Negative body image can serve as an ongoing distraction during sexual encounters because you’re experiencing sex as an object instead of a subject, making the interaction less present, intimate, and pleasurable. Carrying shame could also make you feel less worthy of receiving pleasure from another”.
Overcoming body image issues takes time! Women have had a lifetime of society and the media telling you how their bodies should look. A recommended way of overcoming body image issues is to start tracking when negative thoughts occur about your body and how they make you feel. Ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way?”. Coach Gunsaullus said, “… it can be helpful to have a partner who is just as committed as you are to changing your story about your body. This doesn’t mean that they are there to constantly give you compliments when you say bad things about yourself; but it does mean that they can be there to help you notice when you’re spiraling with negative thoughts, and kindly remind you to have a choice in reframing your perspective. And they can also remind you that they love you and respect you and are very attracted to you. It’s then up to you to start slowly accepting those statements as truth.”. Be patient as you work through this, it takes time.
Understanding One’s Upbringing and Past Events
For various reasons women sometimes view sex as “dirty”, “bad”, or even traumatic. This could be due to their upbringing, lack of sexual education, religious teaching, or past events. There are many factors that impact women’s sexual mentality. It takes time, practice, communication, and effort to overcome events or mindsets. If either of you have experienced sexual trauma a sex therapist may be beneficial to you in your sexual journey to fulfillment.
In the end, being present and knowledgeable is the most effective way to close the orgasm gap. Husbands, listen to your wife, don’t pressure her and be patient as you both learn. You never want to rush her or make her feel like she is taking too long to orgasm. Learning female anatomy better can only be beneficial. Wives, delegate some of your mental load. Find ways to mentally prepare for an intimate evening with your spouse so you can be fully present mentally. Learn to live in the moment without judgment against your body or abilities. Together communicate any pressures you may be feeling and resolve any marital blocks that may be entering the bedroom.
You are not alone in this struggle. Hopefully, you have gained some insight into how you can help bridge the orgasm gap within your own marriage. For more information on The Orgasm Gap view our podcast with Sheila Wray Gregoire “Closing the Orgasm Gap”.
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Bedsider. Is Negative Body Image Killing Your Sex Life? An Intimacy Coach Shares What to Do about It. 12 July 2019, www.bedsider.org/features/1272-is-negative-body-image-killing-your-sex-life.
Broster, Alice. “What Is The Orgasm Gap?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 31 July 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/alicebroster/2020/07/31/what-is-the-orgasm-gap/?sh=d793afa60f8e.
Journalist, Victoria WalderseeData. “Half of Brits Don’t Know Where the Vagina Is – and It’s Not Just the Men.” YouGov, 8 Mar. 2019, yougov.co.uk/topics/health/articles-reports/2019/03/08/half-brits-dont-know-where-vagina-and-its-not-just.
Leith, Alex. “The Orgasm Gap.” Durex UK, Durex UK, 20 Feb. 2018, www.durex.co.uk/blogs/explore-sex/the-orgasm-gap.
Mintz, Laurie. “The Orgasm Gap: Simple Truth & Sexual Solutions.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 4 Oct. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/stress-and-sex/201510/the-orgasm-gap-simple-truth-sexual-solutions.