The Pleasure Gap: Why ‘Cliteracy’ Matters

On the blog, by Denise Mills

The pleasure gap: the fact that men are having way more orgasms than women, is strongly discussed in Dr Laurie Mintz’s delightfully titled book ‘Becoming Cliterate’. Mintz, a female psychologist with a penchant for the f-word, states that around 57% of women are orgasming most or every time they have sex, compared to 95% of men. The book explores the obvious question: why the flippin’ hell does that happen?

The answer, of course, is basically just one big clusterfuck of societal issues: porn; the media; lack of education;  lack of communication; and (surprisingly) the language we use around sex.

Porn tells us that a good thrusting should absolutely get a woman screaming with pleasure – a firm penis is the all-powerful tool which gets the job done. Coupled with the lack of education on sexual pleasure (since sex education at school centres around protection from disease) young men are taking their cues from porn and perhaps thinking they’re doing a great job. “One of the ideas I’m hoping to wipe out,” says Mintz, “Is that the bigger the penis and the harder the thrusting, the better the orgasm.”

Of course, there’s also the common problem of women not wanting to speak up on such matters, which compounds the issue. Somehow we’ve been conditioned to treat the male ego with more respect than our own wishes and desires. (As an aside: I guess this has been passed down subconsciously over thousands of years, through women watching their mothers and the fact that we once had to play “nice” for survival, back when we were financially dependent homemakers/child-rearers and unable to get our own jobs. Also, I’m pretty sure eras such as the 15th to 18th century witch hunting days – when fitting a very narrow norm was imperative lest you be burnt, drowned or hung – didn’t help matters.) Then there’s the ‘faking it’ just to appease, which is clearly counterproductive.  

The media, movies and magazines play their part through their depiction of women as always trim, taunt and terrific, leading many of us to think we’re disgusting if we’re not a size 10 or less, or if we have rolls when we sit, a pinch of cellulite or whatever. It’s quite normal in movie-land for women without an inch of body fat (yet with gravity-defying boobs, of course) to play the love interest of a much older man who is by no means her aesthetic equivalent. And I’m not saying he needs to be, either – but in the words of Mintz: “It’s impossible to have an orgasm when you’re sucking your stomach in.”

The most interesting contribution to “the pleasure gap” is the language we use. Who’d have thought that the word “foreplay” could be a negative thing? As Mintz points out, the term “foreplay” is defined in Merriam-Webster as “erotic stimulation preceding sexual intercourse”, or “the action or behaviour that precedes an event”. But since studies show that only 4% of women orgasm through intercourse alone, she argues that clitoral stimulation should absolutely be part of what’s defined as “sex” rather than just a precursor to hurry up and get to the “main event” of penetration. Mintz explains that the vagina itself has very few touch-sensitive nerve endings, whereas the overwhelming majority of nerve endings that women need to orgasm are in the clitoris – it’s simply a matter of biology. That means that “foreplay” for many women is the big show itself. “What would the world be like if men’s orgasms were ‘just foreplay’ and women’s orgasms were the main event?” Mintz ponders.

The solutions the author offers are plenty (including taking matters into your own hands – pun completely intended), but communication, education and using language differently certainly rank highly on her list.

We can’t stop other people watching porn, we can’t change what movies are made and we may not be able to get schools to discuss pleasure in addition to disease. But we can start by valuing our own pleasure just as much as our partner’s. We can start talking about all sexual activity as “sex” (not foreplay as separate to intercourse), as well as speaking up about what we do and don’t like. We can also stop ourselves when we default into just going along with things, or when we’re body shaming ourselves or others. We can make a vow to ourselves to never “fake it” – because what good does that do anyone?

Perhaps even when it comes to “cliteracy”, we can go back to the good ol’ Tolstoy quote (with a slight gender amendment): “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing herself”.

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