Mind the ‘orgasm gap’

A still image of Meg Ryan during the "fake orgasm" scene in When Harry Met Sally. A new U.S. survey reveals what's being called an "orgasm gap."

A large sex survey of Americans has found that most women don’t reach orgasm when they have sex, even if their partners think they do.

About 85 per cent of the men in the survey of 5,865 people between the ages of 14 and 94 said their partner had an orgasm during their most recent sexual encounter. Only 64 per cent of women reported reaching orgasm.

“It’s unclear what that orgasm gap is, whether that many women are faking — are pretending to have an orgasm — or not,” says Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, and one of the authors of the report. “I think both sexes really need to better communicate about sex.”

The study also found that fewer teenagers are having sex than one might think, and that people in their 80s are engaging in a variety of sexual activities, including masturbation.

Among the 50 women over 80 in the study, 100 per cent reported they have not masturbated with a partner within the past year, according to Herbenick. Some of the women were married, some were widowed, some had romantic partners or “friends with benefits.”

“It showed that for some people sexual activity can occur throughout life, and there’s not a pure stopping point, just like there’s not a pure starting point,” said Herbenick.

She pointed out that it’s important to be careful about data with the small numbers of people over 80 in the statistical survey.

“It’s like seeing on TV an 80-year-old who finishing their first marathon. That’s great for that 80-year-old, but does that mean that every 80-year-old should take up running? I think the same is true for sex. For so many people, stopping or slowing down sexually is actually a nice part of aging for them,” said Herbenick.

Among the study’s other findings:

About 40 per cent of women aged 20 to 49 and of men aged 25 to 59 have had anal sex.

More than 80 per cent of women and 85 per cent of men had received oral sex, but in the past year, more than half of women and men aged 18 to 49 engaged in oral sex.

Women over 50 were more likely to reach orgasm when having sex with a new acquaintance.

Although uncommon among 14- to 15-year-olds, in the past year 18.3 per cent of 16- to 17-year-old males and 22.4 per cent of 16- to 17-year-old females performed oral sex with an other-sex partner.

Partnered sexual behaviour was reported by fewer than 50 per cent of adolescent participants even at age 17. For example, 40 per cent of 17-year-old males reported intercourse in the past year, but only 27 per cent reported intercourse in the past 90 days, indicating they have had sex, but aren’t having it on a regular basis.

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