What All Partners Can Learn about Orgasms from Queer Couples

Why do heterosexual women climax less often than their lesbian and bi peers?

According to a 2024 study published in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science, 65% of heterosexual women, compared to 95% of men, report experiencing orgasm when having sex, which reveals a significant contrast in orgasm rates between heterosexual women and men. However, this gap diminishes substantially when considering lesbian women, among whom 86% usually or always experience orgasm during sex. Additionally, the orgasm gap almost completely disappears when women engage in masturbation or self-pleasuring involving clitoral stimulation. Therapists working with clients need to feel more comfortable in speaking wtih their clients about their sexual behaviors and fantasies in order to support diverse definitions of pleasurable sexual experiences and to encourage more agency around speaking about each of their sexual and erotic needs. As we celebrate Pride, it’s time therapists and clients become more curious about the underlying factors contributing to the orgasm gap between queer and heterosexual women. This curiosity to ask more directly about clients’ sexual challenges and interests allows for increased erotic intelligence both in the professional and layperson population. It can also hopefully facilitate female-identifying clients to feel more sexual confidence to explore their needs when it comes to reaching orgasm.

The Orgasm Gap

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The concept of the ‘orgasm gap’ stems from previous research highlighting the statistic that heterosexual and gay men experience orgasms more frequently than women during partnered sexual encounters. Additionally, this term can also speak to the difference in reported orgasm rates between lesbian and heterosexual women.

According to Grace Wetzel, one of the study’s authors, “there is nothing inherently biological” about why an ‘orgasm gap’ exists. In other words, the majority of women have the physical ability to climax during sex, yet, heterosexual women don’t report having orgasms in partnered encounters nearly as frequently as men.

According to the 2024 study by Kate Dickman et al., orgasm frequencies vary not based on gender but based on sexual orientation. The study shows a notable 21% disparity in orgasm rates between straight and lesbian women, whereas the gap between straight and gay men is only 6%. Continuously, bisexual women also report low rates of orgasm that more closely resemble the rates of straight women. However, one of the study’s most intriguing findings, was that 64% of bisexual women experience orgasm when their partner is a woman compared to 7% when their partner is a man. Therefore this study suggests that the difference in orgasm rates may be due to the gender or the partner during sex and/or what kinds of sexual activities in which they participate.

Social Scripts and How They Affect Orgasms 

Given that the traditional scripts about sex involve “foreplay,” vaginal intercourse, and the man’s orgasm, clitorial stimulation is often overlooked in media, conversation, and education about sex. Research indicates that breaking away from these predefined scripts can result in increased sexual satisfaction and orgasm rates. Additionally, when women experience fewer orgasms, they may begin to devalue them during sexual encounters. This study underscores the inadequate focus on clitoral pleasure when cis women engage in sexual activity with men, especially considering that many women do not achieve orgasm through penetration alone. How can women effectively communicate their needs, and how can men and partners ensure their female counterparts experience equal pleasure? What changes occur when traditional sexual scripts are discarded?

What We Can Learn from Queer Couples

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In 2003, The Gottman Institute conducted a groundbreaking 12-year longitudinal study on gay and lesbian couples, one of the first of its kind. The study revealed that during conflicts, gay and lesbian couples exhibit more positivity, are better at comforting each other, and demonstrate greater kindness compared to heterosexual couples.

Additionally, queer couples were found to use fewer emotionally manipulative and hostile tactics, which researchers interpreted as indicative of greater fairness and power-sharing dynamics within these relationships. The research also showed that the Gottman Method Couples Therapy was twice as effective and required half as many sessions for gay and lesbian couples compared to heterosexual couples. Based on both research studies, queer couples serve as exemplary models for effective communication, innovation, exploration, and mutual satisfaction in sexual encounters.

While queer couples enjoy advantages like increased orgasm rates and more equitable power dynamics, they also encounter distinctive challenges. Queer individuals may face higher rates of prejudice, contend with greater internalized shame, and may find self-acceptance more difficult. However, there are many lessons we can extract from queer relationships to benefit our own intimate relationships in general.

Lessons to increase pleasure:

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  1. Center female pleasure during sexual encounters, which involves expanding beyond penetrative sex alone.
  2. Take some time by yourself to learn what you like and don’t like.
  3. Explore the use of toys and engage in sexual activities that focus on clitoral stimulation, ensuring comfort and consent throughout the experimentation process.
  4. Gently massage the surrounding area of the clitoris as an alternative to direct stimulation, recognizing that direct contact may feel overwhelming or painful for some individuals.
  5. Be mindful of erogenous zones such as thighs, neck, nipples, and breasts during sexual activity, paying attention to their stimulation both leading up to climax and throughout the experience.
  6. Incorporate lubrication to enhance smoothness and comfort during stimulation, facilitating a more pleasurable experience.
  7. Communicate your needs to your partner and listen to what your partner needs in and out of the bedroom