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Scheduled 'Trysts' and Patient Exploration: How You Can Bridge the Orgasm Gap

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Let's talk about sex.

Yes, this does involve the proverbial birds and the bees, but it's an aspect of the conversation many women and health professionals say does not receive the attention and awareness it deserves. We're talking, of course, about the so-called pleasure gap between men and women.

Studies have shown that while men in heterosexual relationships climax around 80% of the time during sexual encounters, that percentage drops significantly for women having sex with men.

So, what can be done to help close that gap?

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No time for sex? Make it

Scheduling a time to have sex might sound unsexy, but that’s exactly what Laurie Mintz recommends. Mintz, the author of Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters — And How to Get It, says these “trysts” are just one of many tools available for bridging the persistent pleasure and orgasm gap between men and women.

Mintz joined LAist’s public affairs show AirTalk, which airs on 89.3 FM, to discuss this gap and how women and their partners can address it. She says understanding female anatomy and exploring together what feels good is the best place to start.

Mintz, a professor of psychology at the University of Florida, says that when she taught a segment on the orgasm gap, many of her students related deeply to the statistics. Some even felt that something was wrong with their bodies.

"From what my students have taught me, they are using porn as a role model — and even mainstream movies, which show women having fast and fabulous orgasms from thrusting alone,” Mintz says. “And in the absence of sex ed that corrects that, these young people are getting their ideas from watching online media and getting wrong ideas.”

Contrary to these messages, most women cannot orgasm from penetrative sex alone, and require stimulation of the clitoris, which is packed with nerve endings. But Mintz says many people don’t understand the importance of the clitoris, or other ways that female and male pleasure are different.

Dr. Sherry Ross, the author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period says women’s orgasms can sometimes be a little less straightforward than men’s.

“Our main sort of erogenous zone really tends to be above the shoulders,” Ross says. “More begins mentally for a lot of us. And mental confusion, and what's happening around us with life and stress and work and financial issues — it can interfere with ‘getting there.’”

Take your time to explore

Typically, women also need more time to reach orgasm during partnered sex. Ross says the average time for men is around five minutes, while the average time for women hovers around 14. Understanding this difference, she says, can ease any frustration that comes with these mismatched speeds.

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Interestingly, research indicates that both men and women take the same amount of time to orgasm when masturbating: about four minutes, according to Mintz. During masturbation, she says, we are less in our head about how we look, or whether we are taking too long. So it can be a great way for women to explore their bodies and understand what makes them feel good — knowledge that’s valuable both alone and with a partner, Ross says.

“Masturbation is beautiful. It's a beautiful, easy thing. You can create the mood and environment,” Ross says. “But with a partner, there's a different pressure. And it sometimes can really be debilitating sexually. So it's just being in that relaxed place with your partner and moving freely through it as if you were by yourself, as if you were masturbating.”

Desire can take different forms

Many people think of desire simply as horniness or arousal, but Mintz says you can want sex even if you’re not actively horny.

“It's called responsive or receptive desire,” Mintz says. “And it's, ‘I'm interested in sex in my head, maybe because I'll feel closer after, [or] I know it'll be good when it gets going.’”

Planning for sex in advance goes along with receptive desire, she says. It can also be helpful for women who are leading busy lives and may not necessarily feel aroused at a given moment.

“You can prepare in your mind and your body, and you set aside time for a sexual encounter, even if you're not horny,” Mintz says. “As long as you're getting good, consensual touch, you're taking the time, you're mindful.”

Sometimes, this can also help with arousal non-concordance: when the body and mind are not quite in sync arousal-wise. Genitals can be prepared for sex while we don’t feel interested at all, vice versa.

“Arousal concordance is intimately connected with what I was suggesting for diminished desire: using your brain and [letting] the touch lead you to arousal versus waiting till you're horny to have sex,” Mintz says.

Doing your best to ease any pressure on yourself can also go a long way, Mintz says.

“But the other thing I really, really want to emphasize is there's so many ‘shoulds’ when it comes to women's orgasms, that are false,” Mintz says. “You ‘should’ orgasm from penetration — even though 96% of us don't. You ‘should’ squirt even though most don't, you ‘should’ have multiple orgasms.”

It’s more important to just enjoy the pleasure whichever way you experience it, she says. Desire and pleasure vary a lot by person and based on factors like menstruation, medications, stress and pregnancy. Plus, every woman’s nerves are positioned a little differently across the vulva, Ross says. That’s why it’s important for partners to communicate frequently about what works sexually and what doesn’t, whether it’s a vibrator or a different intensity of touch.

“You really must feel confident and comfortable and empowered to say what you want,” Mintz says. “Because your pleasure is equally important as your partner's pleasure.”

Listen to the conversation

Women's Health Series: Pleasure Gap
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