As we celebrate Pride this month, Swell is delving into the joys and struggles of living a queer life in America. Below, a deep dive into the reasons why many queer women may enjoy sex more than straight women.
Time and time again we see the same old tropes around male and female sexuality. We’re told that men simply have more desire than women. Women wind up with libidos that are DOA and, according to conventional wisdom, that’s OK. “No worries that you don’t want to have sex,” they say. “Women are just not as sexual as men.”
And yet, lesbians and bisexual women ARE having orgasms. Much more than straight women. As a bisexual sexologist whose libido is very much alive and well, I’ve come to find the data around the desire and orgasm discrepancies in the straight and queer communities to be revelatory. The stats are evidence of deeper reasons why straight women often report low sex drive or feelings of obligation when it comes to having sex with their male partners. A 2014 study by the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that lesbians had orgasms 75% of the time during sex, compared with 61% for heterosexual women. In 2017, similar research from The Kinsey Institute found that lesbians reported coming 86% of the time during sex, as opposed to 65% for straight women.
Could it be that low desire in women might not be the central problem here? Could it be, as sex researcher Katherine Rowland has found, the kind of sex they’re having? Could it be the poor sex education we have to offer women (and the men who have sex with them) about the female body? What about female desire? We know very little about female desire other than the (false) idea that it is “less than” male desire.
Whatever it is, we’re seeing that not only are queer women having orgasms, they’re also enjoying sex in ways that a large portion of heterosexual women are not (pleasure isn’t just about orgasms, after all). A recent Public Health England survey of more than 7,000 women reported that 50 percent of respondents aged between 25 and 34 did not enjoy their sex life. The number drops to 29 percent for older age brackets, suggesting that women who get to know their bodies later in life have better sex.
It’s time we stop subscribing to ridiculous gender roles that have nothing to do with actual biology or real pleasure and figure out what the hell is going on here. All women deserve vibrant and fulfilling sex lives. In order to get them, we need to understand what queer women are getting that straight women are not.
Our Damaging Focus on Intercourse
Queer women have more orgasms than straight women. While this dynamic exists for a myriad of reasons, it is centered around a simple fact: Straight women often view penetrative sex as “real sex” and everything else as extra, but not necessary. “Many cis women do not have orgasms through penetration alone and so it’s not going to be as sexually satisfying as other activities like oral sex or using toys,” says Pam Shaffer, MFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Cis men perceive penetration as the ultimate way to achieve orgasm but it’s not a two-way street, which leaves their cis female partners unsatisfied.”
There are two main kinds of desire: spontaneous and responsive.
The clitoris is the center of female orgasm. The vast majority of female orgasms are clitorally-based in some fashion. The external clitoral glans—that little nubbin you see at the top of the labia—has more than 8,000 nerve endings. Meanwhile, it gets no (or very little) love during penetration.
It’s time we debunked the sexual hierarchy and gave people proper sex education so that they can know what brings them pleasure. This means giving young women and girls the tools they need to understand their bodies. Namely, information and sexual autonomy.
Moushumi Ghose, MFT, a licensed sex therapist, points out that the P-in-the-V understanding of sex doesn’t work for queer identities. “Queer and lesbian women do not identify with this and are left without a roadmap to find their partners and their sexuality, which often leads to more sex education and better understanding about sex, and their bodies.” Hence, more orgasms for queer women.
What We’re Learning About Female Desire
When it comes to female desire, we knew basically jack shit for a long time. Luckily, science is beginning to come around, but here is the thing: Understanding female desire is complicated by our social perception of sexuality. As sex therapist and neuroscientist Dr. Nan Wise points out in her new book Why Good Sex Matters: Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, and More Purpose-Filled Life, cis men and cis women don’t have more or less desire, they often have different kinds of desire. There are two main kinds of desire: spontaneous and responsive. Spontaneous desire is when you get turned on randomly, without any form of sexual stimuli. This is also known as plain old horniness.
“It takes a level of owning one’s identity to come out as gay, and that could translate into owning and communicating what you want in the bedroom.”
Responsive desire is a bit more complex. Responsive desire is when your desire and arousal kick in only after you’ve been exposed to sexual stimuli. This can be with a partner touching you (in a way you want to be touched) or through exposure to external erotic material such as pornography or erotica. Dr. Wise’s research has found that women have much more responsive desire. Meaning that the vast majority of women need to be brought into sexual engagement in order to be in the mood for sex.
This explains why women are thought to have “less desire” than men. We expect people to just be turned on out of nowhere, but this is just not how it works for most women. Women don’t have less desire than men—they just have a different kind of desire that has not been given enough time or attention.
It doesn’t seem far-fetched to intimate that women who have sex with women inherently understand female desire more naturally than heterosexual men. When you know how your own desire works, you’re more likely to know how to seduce and pleasure someone whose desire is akin to yours.
The Communication Gap
Dr. Katherine Zagone, N.D., a sexual wellness expert and the medical director at Gentera, says that there is mostly likely a communication difference between men and women when it comes to sex. Women are taught to subjugate their desire to a male partner. We’re told not to ask for what we want in bed because that might bruise our partner’s ego.
Meanwhile, women who have come out as queer may have a sturdier leg to stand on. By finding strength in your community, you may find strength in bed. “It takes a level of owning one’s identity to come out as gay, and that could translate into owning and communicating what you want in the bedroom,” Zagone says.
Ghose agrees: “There is no privilege to maintain, no privilege to to strive for. In this environment, we strive for interpersonal freedom, we have to fight for our voices and in return we are granted more freedom sexually.”
I’m not saying that gender roles and power dynamics don’t exist in the queer community, but there is decidedly more communication when it comes to sex. As someone who enjoys sex with men and women, I’ve been constantly floored by how compassionate and open my female partners were compared to most male partners.
What can we learn from all of this? Female sexuality is misunderstood in our culture and we need to change that. We need to empower women to be able to ask for what they want sexually and arm them with comprehensive sex education. Lastly, we must, for the love of god, stop telling women that they are just less sexual than men.