The Orgasm Deficit: Why Are So Many Women Not Experiencing Orgasms?

Written by on May 15, 2015 in Conscious Living, Relationships & Sex with 1 Comment
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By Heather Wood Rudolph | Cosmopolitan

Brittany* will never forget her spring break trip during junior year in college. She was headed to St. Augustine, Florida, with a group of friends. By coincidence, her ex-boyfriend from high school was going to be there too.


“I knew we'd hook up, and so did everyone else. I even Brazilian shaved for the first time. After dinner, all our friends just disappeared to give us privacy. We went back to the hotel room pretty quickly after that,” she says. “At first, I was nervous and tense. I was not prepared for him to give so much attention to the area, but I guess I just hadn't thought that far in advance yet. And then the sensations became more intense than I'd ever felt, and before I knew it, I was having an orgasm. It was such a surprise, I actually cried a little because I was so overcome by the sensations.”

It was her first orgasm — and also her last.

Brittany, who is now 29 and married, hasn't been able to achieve orgasm in nearly 10 years. She's tried with different sex positions, oral sex, and masturbation, and nothing has worked.

“I've been close a bunch of times, but I'm either too obsessed with getting there that I can't relax, or I wind up overstimulated and just lose it,” she says. “I can still remember what it felt like all those years ago. It's like this high I can't get back.”

The latest data from the Kinsey Institute indicates that 20 to 30 percent of women don't have orgasms during intercourse. But the number is likely much higher, says Carol Queen, staff sexologist and researcher at Good Vibrations, a feminist adult toy shop and education center in San Francisco. “The statistic my colleagues and I have been citing lately is that roughly 70 percent of women rarely or never have orgasms with intercourse. That makes it the norm,” she says. “I think most people have no idea so many women have this problem.” Though this number does not come from a scientific study, she says there's a general consensus among her peers in the sexual health community about how high it is.

Compare that with the fact that 75 percent of men climax every time they have intercourse. Men who can't sustain an erection or achieve orgasm during sex have been given a medical diagnosis: erectile dysfunction. And it affects a lot of them – approximately 20 to 30 million in the U.S. But while the FDA has approved 26 sexual enhancement treatments for men, it has developed zero for women.


The scientific and scholarly communities routinely issue reports on the causes of erectile dysfunction – from age to stress to what a man eats. But although there have been some studies on women who don't have orgasms during intercourse, there has not been a single research study on women who don't have orgasms at all. And conversations with experts and anecdotes from women indicate that there is, in fact, an orgasm deficit, it affects more women than you might think, and it's not just related to intercourse.

Elisabeth Lloyd looked into the number of women who aren't having orgasms at all with her book The Case of the Female Orgasm, and her research puts the number at 11 percent. And Queen says she hears about this all the time from women of all ages, with the proportion of young women being the highest.

Because there's little data related specifically to women who don't have orgasms at all, it's hard to know if it's always been an issue or if it's getting worse. But experts suggest that there's now so much pressure on women to have an orgasm that it becomes the goal of the entire sexual encounter, and then this focus actually backfires. Are women simply unable to quiet their minds and let their bodies react? Or is this orgasm deficit owed to something else entirely?

I've never had an orgasm. Yes, I know, quite a statement and quite a problem!

“The two most important things that can happen to you in a mainstream movie are being killed and having an orgasm,” wrote Roger Ebert in a 2011 essay on the fantastical nature of orgasms on film. “Sometimes in facial close-ups it's hard to tell one from the other.”

red-tent-250x250And, in fact, looking at media and entertainment, you'd never guess women aren't having orgasms — or that this is an actual problem. Women are spontaneously climaxing on talk shows. On cable TV, orgasms seem to be effortless even under the most ridiculous circumstances. For example, the first time Brody and Carrie have sex on Homeland — in a cramped car in the parking lot of an AA meeting — they both come. And advertising has been making women seemingly climax in ridiculous scenarios for years. A girl hasn't been able to eat a hamburger in a Carl's Jr. ad since 2005 without looking like she's having an orgasm.

This is before you factor in porn, which Queen says just makes things worse. While some porn is produced as sex ed, most porn “leaves out significant parts of the sexual response cycle and arousal process,” she says. “It's also a performance medium, which may mean people act out arousal and orgasm instead of experiencing and naturally depicting it. It's like learning about love from a romantic comedy, and of course some of us do that too.”

Women today not only feel like everyone is having sex, but everyone is having the best sex ever, which apparently means ending in a mind-blowing orgasm. As a result, it's difficult to turn off the thought that you should be having orgasms or to stop wondering when it's going to happen.

And a lot of women are wondering. Readers of Cosmopolitan.com write in on a weekly basis asking questions about love, sex, and relationships, and one of the most common topics is women's difficulty with orgasm, often with the underlying tone of something being wrong with them. Here are just a few of the queries related to the orgasm deficit:

“I can't come. Me and my boyfriend have tried everything. But after a while I just get uninterested, sore, and tell him to have his way.”

“Me and my boyfriend have started having sex. He's my first and I've been faking my orgasms so I don't hurt his feelings. Is there anything I can do or say that could subtly get me to the Big O without him knowing or hurting his feelings?”

“I never had an orgasm. Yes, I know, quite a statement and quite a problem. I've never been in a relationship, but did have sex with people I loved. But I always faked it. I've tried on my own and even though I enjoy it, again, I can't orgasm. And oral — it's more like, why bother? I'm a normal 22-year-old, I'm healthy and I think I'm normal down there. So, I don't get it, why can't I?”

“I have had four sexual partners and till now not even one of them have made me have an orgasm. I have not even been close. We've tried many positions but nothing works, and this has always been the main reason for my breakups. What can I do? The problem is obviously me.”

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  1. iam.omshanti@gmail.com' Barbara H says:

    I’m glad to see such an article as WAY TOO much is being placed on having an orgasm, rather than the pleasure of being intimate. And it’s interesting to read that new research shows that many women do not have orgasms.

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