According to the authors of a sad new study, when it comes to climaxing, straight women are the least lucky in bed. They report having fewer orgasms than heterosexual men and gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals of both sexes. But there is a silver lining to the study’s findings: Straight women who do orgasm have several things in common, the authors say, and taking a cue from these ladies may boost a couple’s odds of achieving dual satisfaction.
The researchers, from Chapman University, Indiana University, and the Kinsey Institute, asked more than 52,000 adults across the United States how often they reached orgasm during intimacy. The results, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, revealed that across all sexual orientations, men were more likely than women to respond with “usually” or “always.”
Straight guys led with a 95% performance rate, followed by gay men (89%), and bisexual men (88%). For women, 86% of lesbians said they usually or always had an orgasm during sex, followed by 66% of bisexuals and 65% of heterosexuals.
When asked if they had an orgasm every time they had sex, 75% of men said yes, compared to just 33% of women. But before you blame biological differences, consider this: Among lesbian women, 59% reported reaching the Big O every time.
So what explains the so-called orgasm gap between men and women—especially straight men and women? The study authors speculate that social stigma about women expressing sexual desire, along with the pressure on men to take the lead during sex, may prevent heterosexual couples from exploring activities that specifically feel good to the woman.
Lesbian women, on the other hand, are more likely to engage in manual or oral stimulation. But even when the study controlled for the frequency of these acts, they still had more orgasms than straight women. It may be that they simply have a better understanding of what gives their partners pleasure, the authors say, or that they’re more likely to take turns satisfying each other.
The authors do have some pointers, however, for anyone feeling particularly orgasm-starved. When they looked specifically at women who climaxed during their last sexual encounter, they found three common themes: In addition to vaginal intercourse, these experiences were likely to include deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and/or oral sex. This finding suggests three easy (and fun!) things couples can try.
In general, women in the study who had frequent orgasms were more likely to have longer sex, be more satisfied with their relationships, ask for what they want in bed, express love during sex, and praise their partners for something they did in bed, compared to those who had fewer.
Sexually satisfied women were also more likely to engage in adventurous acts—teasing their partners with flirty calls or emails, wearing sexy lingerie, trying new sexual positions, experimenting with anal stimulation, acting out fantasies, and incorporating “sexy talk” into their lovemaking. These acts can have ripple effects, says lead author David Frederick, PhD, assistant professor of health psychology at Chapman University; they can make men feel more desired, thereby ramping up their motivation to please their partner.
But couples don’t have to get crazy kinky, says Frederick. “I wouldn’t suggest that every person should try every act of sexual variety,” he told Health in an email, “but choosing some acts that you are interested in sampling from that menu of variety could boost satisfaction.” (That’s true not just in sex, but in relationships too, he adds: Couples who try new things together generally feel their bond strengthen.)
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It’s normal to feel slightly uncomfortable or nervous when experimenting, adds Frederick—but as long as you’re both interested and intrigued by an idea, and you’re comfortable communicating openly about it, it may be worth a try.
And if you want your guy to do something differently, just ask. “One of the best ways to do this is to provide positive reinforcement for behaviors you like,” says Frederick. “Telling your partner, ‘I really love when you…’ and ‘it really turns me on when…’” If something he does is a major turn-off, he suggests pairing a negative with a positive: “It feels a little uncomfortable when you …, but it feels amazing when you …”
Oh, and one more thing: The study found that 41% of straight men said their partners usually or always had an orgasm, while only 33% of straight women agreed that was true. In other words, while it may be tempting to fake it for your partner’s benefit, doing so may only widen the gap.