There's a legit explanation for the orgasm gap — and it's not exactly what you'd think.
The study examined whether women in heterosexual relationships were more or less likely to have orgasms if they perceived their partners as sexually selfish, aka. uninterested in female pleasure and preoccupied with using women to just get off. Many women saw sexual selfishness as a typically male attitude, aligning with other traditional gender roles.
The study results were depressing, but also fairly predictable: women were scared to ask their partners for extra attention in bed if they perceived them as sexually selfish, and as a result were less likely to have orgasms.
The Australian study followed two different sets of women in heterosexual relationships, both of which included more than 320 women. The first group of subjects was culled from a previous study about sexual attitudes and sexist stereotypes. The study measured women's level of internalized sexism using the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, which asked women to agree or disagree with such statements as "A good woman ought to be set on a pedestal by her man" and "during sex, men only care about their own pleasure."
Next, participants were asked how often they had orgasms and whether they reached orgasm via oral stimulation, penetration, etc. Then the researchers assessed participants' "willingness to ask for pleasure." Finally, the Australian researchers compared these women's broader opinions with the data collected about their personal sex lives.
(Mic reached out to the authors of the study and will update when we hear back.)
After crunching the numbers for hundreds of women and how often they reached the big O, there proved to be a clear correlation between male partners' selfishness and how often the women had orgasms.
"This perception of men as interested in their own sexual pleasure would then predict decreased willingness to ask a partner for sexual pleasure," researchers wrote in the abstract for the study published by the Archives of Sexual Behavior, "which in turn would be associated with less frequent orgasms."
However, the study does raise the question: What would have happened if the male partners were included in the study? Are these women really having sex with assholes who don't care about their desires? Or has internalized misogyny taught women to expect all men to be selfish so they shouldn't bother communicating their desires in the bedroom?
New York cognitive therapist Chamin Ajjan believes women internalize messages they've heard since childhood discouraging them from speaking up. "Sex is another form of communication," Ajjan said in a phone interview. She thinks many women avoid conversations about sex for fear of being labeled a bitch or a slut, or maybe even making their partner feel emasculated. "It's not about criticism, [it's] about growing together and learning from each other," she said. "If you look at sex as being a duty you're less inclined to feel entitled to pleasure." And women aren't the only ones suffering from stereotypes in the bedroom.
Women aren't the only ones suffering from stereotypes in the bedroom. The idea that most men are aggressive and goal-oriented in the bedroom is also harmful to men and women. "Men, just like women, suffer from stereotypes," Ajjan said. "Women have sex drives too... and men can be emotional [during sex] as well." She warned that failing to communicate openly about desire can lead to resentment and harm the relationship.
"I would encourage women to feel they have a right to their sexuality... and have a little faith in their partners," Ajjan suggested. "Starting that conversation is empowering... there can be lots to gain for both partners."