Why do we pretend the female orgasm is an elusive mystery?

Damaging stereotypes limit the types of sexual pleasure that women should have

It’s time to throw gender scripts out the window and allow women the same sexual rights we do men

Dear Roe,

I can't orgasm with my partner. I'm very sensitive to pressure and rhythm and need it changed in specific ways in order to bring me to orgasm. But it's difficult to explain this to a partner in the moment in a way that's effective. It would be easier for me to help bring myself to orgasm, but I don't hear about women doing this, so I often fake with partners. Do I need to work harder on communicating what I like, or is it normal for women to need to bring themselves to orgasm?

Our culture has many, many inequalities when it comes to sex and gender. One of these involves normalising men’s masturbation and orgasm, but shrouding women’s sexual pleasure in shame and silence. We pretend that the female orgasm is an elusive mystery, constantly highlighting how difficult it is to achieve, how some types of orgasm aren’t “legitimate” – and we are still reluctant to acknowledge that women masturbate.

This trope that claims men masturbating is natural and healthy but women masturbating is somehow odd, unnatural and sexually deviant is based in misogynistic ideas of gender and sexuality. “Boys will be boys” they say, but “good” and “ladylike” women don’t masturbate. These damaging stereotypes also limit the types of sexual pleasure that women should have. While men are allowed to enjoy pleasure for its own sake, it’s assumed that women’s pleasure must be linked to and even dependent upon their partner – and that men are somehow failing if women need some extra stimulation during sex.



Unsurprisingly, pornography perpetuates these ideas, and not just because it’s socially acceptable for men to masturbate to it, while women’s enjoyment of pornography is often overlooked. In porn, partnered sex often involves men masturbating to orgasm in front of their partner, and the lesson we absorb is that men deserve to orgasm, no matter who gets them there. Women, however, shouldn’t ever need to touch themselves.

Let’s stop the madness here. Stimulating yourself and bringing yourself to orgasm is perfectly normal, and can absolutely be a sensual and pleasurable aspect of partnered sex. This doesn’t mean that your partner is failing you sexually, or that his contributions aren’t a deeply appreciated part of your enjoyment. On the contrary, it means that together, you are heightening the experience.

You’ve figured out the toughest part: you know what makes you orgasm. What you’re doing now is not letting yourself do that, purely to save the male ego. No more. It’s time to throw gender scripts out the window and allow women the same sexual rights we do men. If your partner is any kind of man worth having, he’ll feel honoured to have been a part of the process.