How to improve your bad hookups

Fixing the pleasure gap, one orgasm at a time

These tips can help you close the orgasm gap in your relationship.
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Recently, I wrote a Journal feature about the orgasm gap: the proven phenomenon where women are less likely to orgasm during partnered sexual activity than men, especially during sex with men. The purpose of my article was to highlight the sexual experiences of female-identified Queen’s students. This led me to the ultimate conclusion that women at Queen’s having casual sex with men were missing out on a lot of pleasure.

Because the orgasm gap is more likely to affect cisgender women in sexual relationships with cisgender men, this article does focus on certain combinations of partnerships above others, with language specific to cisgender individuals.

Same-gender pairings typically have high partnered orgasm rates nearly equal to orgasm rates during self-pleasure. Additionally, very little clinical research has been conducted concerning orgasm rates for trans people during partnered sex. As a result, this article is pretty heteronormative. However, heteronormativity is a huge reason the orgasm gap exists: people having predominantly mixed-gender sex do need this advice the most.

Using information from a previous interview conducted with Caroline Pukall, a professor in the Queen's psychology department who primarily researches sexual function, dysfunction, and sexual health, I drew up a beginner’s guide to partnered pleasure for anyone trying to close the orgasm gap in their own relationships. With some attention and open communication, you can ensure everyone benefits from sex.

Penetration doesn’t equal pleasure

When it comes to classic views of what it means to have sex, the first image that might pop into your head is penetration. However, this narrow view of sex excludes all the other acts that encompasses partnered and individual pleasure.

If you spend your time working up to penetration instead of paying attention to the other things that can be pleasurable, there’s a chance that one person—most likely a woman if her partner is a man—won't be as satisfied.

According to Professor Pukall, understanding that penetration is more pleasurable for the person penetrating than the person being penetrated is a great first step to increasing pleasure during sex.

“Penis-in-vagina intercourse [...] will benefit the man, but doesn’t necessarily benefit the woman,” she said in an interview with The Journal. “We know that [this type of] intercourse is not the most reliable way that most women attain orgasm.”

In fact, only about 25 per cent of women can reliably experience orgasm from intercourse alone. What that means for casual sex is that penetration shouldn’t be the only thing you focus on.

Foreplay can be main play

Another common belief about mixed-gender sex is that certain forms of pleasure are part of foreplay: the build-up to the main event of penetration. However, most of the things we see as foreplay—oral and digital sex—are typically the most pleasurable for women.

“The more common ways for female-bodied individuals to achieve orgasm is through clitoral stimulation, [...] external stuff,” Pukall said. Knowing this, the solution to the orgasm gap is fairly simple. Stop seeing penetration as the “goal” of sex, and start enjoying all the fun stuff that can happen before or instead of it. Even when penetration is going to be a part of sex, make sure everyone involved gets the pleasure they desire at some point.

“Do what she likes that will bring her to orgasm before or even after intercourse happens,” Pukall said. “[Then] each partner leaves that situation having had a satisfying orgasm experience.”

Communication is always key

At the end of the day, the orgasm gap exists in part because, when it comes to casual sex, it can feel awkward to bring up your preferences. If you’re about to have sex with someone you barely know or don’t have a strong relationship with, asking for pleasure might be the last thing you want to do.

However, according to Pukall, both members of a sexual relationship need to communicate in order to have the experience they want.

“If the goal is pleasure, then people have to start getting used to asking for it, and having those somewhat explicit conversations,” she said. “Empower yourself in order to talk.”

Do you like oral sex? Tell your partner. Hate being tickled in that one spot? Tell your partner. Know there’s something specific that will enhance your sexual experience? Tell your partner. Open up a dialogue about what pleasure means to each of you, and create an experience that will leave both of you happy with the outcome.

This advice might seem simple, but we’ve spent a lifetime being conditioned to think of sex in a very specific, linear context. Media, porn, and peers have taught us to have sex a certain way, and going against that conditioning can feel awkward. However, if you want to ensure that both you and your partner(s) are having equal amounts of fun, keep these tips in mind.

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