DETROIT – When you hear the phrase 'gender inequality,' perhaps the gender pay gap or the career glass ceiling comes to mind. But there is another exceptionally large -- and rarely spoken of gap -- the so-called 'orgasm gap.'
It may sound like a headline from a magazine cover at the grocery checkout lane, but the 'orgasm gap' is a serious medical issue. It's also the topic of a new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior titled "Differences in Orgasm Frequency Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Men and Women in a U.S. National Sample."
In the study, researchers from Chapman University, Indiana University and the Kinsey Institute analyzed the sexual behaviors of more than 52,000 adults -- heterosexual, gay, bisexual, and lesbian -- to see who is having the most orgasms and, perhaps more important, why.
I sat down with two local experts to discuss what the study found. Dr. Phillis Mims-Gillum is a certified sex counselor and Ob-Gyn at Henry Ford Hospital. Dr. Kenneth Peters is the chairman of urology at Beaumont Health.
Both found the study had very interesting data.
"This study did a good job talking about the difference between heterosexual men and women," Mims-Gillum said.
"A couple things that really stood out is, as you might expect, that men, whether heterosexual or homosexual, were more likely to have an orgasm than a woman," Peters said.
The proportion of people who said they usually or always experienced an orgasm during sexual intimacy demonstrated a huge gender gap.
Heterosexual men experienced orgasm 95 percent of the time, while heterosexual women only experienced orgasm in 65 percent of encounters.
Some of the reasons for this orgasm gap are ingrained early on.
"We're taught culturally that men always orgasm and women are there to service men, and if you orgasm, that's a plus for you, but it's not a necessary thing," Mims-Gillum said.
"I think a message to men is that you can do better," Peters said. "Communicate to your significant other and find out what it is their needs are and then really make it a mission of yours to please them like they are trying to please you."
Mims-Gillum offered some detailed advice.
"We always think about sex as intercourse and penetration, but in this study, they talked about how the majority of the women, probably less than 50 percent of the women, have orgasms with penetration alone. So you have to look at not just intercourse, but outercourse - all of those other things: kissing, snuggling, cuddling, all those things that get you aroused and excited," Mims-Gillum said.
In the study, women who orgasmed more frequently were more likely to have longer-duration sex, engaged in deep kissing, manual stimulation and oral sex.
"It's not just oral sex, but the idea that you're focusing on other areas of the vulva and not just on the vaginal area," Mims-Gillum said.
Sexual orientation also affected the likelihood of orgasm when sexually intimate.
Among gay men, 89 percent said they usually or always experienced an orgasm. For bisexual men, the figure was 88 percent. In lesbian women, 86 percent usually or always had an orgasm, and in bisexual women, the number was 66 percent.
Notice -- there is still a significant gap between lesbian women at 86 percent and heterosexual women at 65 percent.
"What it really says is that when heterosexual women have less orgasms, there's opportunity to make that better," Peters said.
In other words, the percentage of orgasms for lesbians compared to straight women shows that women can have more orgasms.
"You still can have pleasurable and enjoyable sex without penetration. You can have pleasurable and enjoyable sex just connecting with your partner in other intimate ways," Mims-Gillum said. "I think that as women, we have done a disservice to ourselves actually in receiving the orgasms that we want. We perform in a manner that indicates pleasure or maximum pleasure, kind of like the 'Harry Met Sally' let-me-smack-the-table-and-wave-my-head-around, but we present that and then the signal becomes when he's done, it's done."
Added Peters: "This is an important study because it creates a conversation like we're having right now, and it's a conversation that you hope couples will have, whether it's in a gay or straight relationship, to improve their sexuality."
The study also addressed the fact that some women do fake orgasms. The main reasons were to protect their partner's self-esteem and to simply end the encounter. Interestingly, men were aware of this, but did somewhat underestimate how often it occurs.
The experts say if couples are experiencing issues, they shouldn't be afraid to seek help.
"If you are uncomfortable or unsure about whether or not there's a problem, that's a good time to talk to your physician or your health care provider," Mims-Gillum said. "No matter who you are, no matter who you love or how you love, at the end of the day, it's about fulfilling sexuality."