Are Women's Orgasms Hindered by Phallocentric Imperatives?

Arch Sex Behav. 2018 Aug;47(6):1565-1576. doi: 10.1007/s10508-018-1149-z. Epub 2018 Feb 20.


Women who have sex with women (WSW) are more likely to report experiencing an orgasm during partnered sex, compared to women who have sex with men (WSM). We investigated whether this difference can be partially accounted for by phallocentric imperatives-gendered sexual scripts that prioritize men's sexual experience. For example, these imperatives emphasize vaginal-penile intercourse (i.e., the coital imperative) and men's physical pleasure (i.e., the male orgasm imperative). We reasoned that a larger variety of sexual behaviors indicates less adherence to the coital imperative and that more self-oriented orgasm goals for women indicate less adherence to the male orgasm imperative. Consistent with previous work, we expected WSW to report higher rates of orgasm than WSM when taking frequency of sex into account. We also hypothesized that this difference in orgasm rates would dissipate when controlling for variety of sexual behavior and women's self-oriented orgasm goals. In a sample of 1988 WSM and 308 WSW, we found that WSW were 1.33 times (p < .001) more likely to report experiencing an orgasm than WSM, controlling for frequency of sex. This incidence rate ratio was reduced to 1.16 (p < .001) after taking into account variety of sexual behavior and self-oriented orgasm goals. Our findings indicate that certain sexual scripts (e.g., phallocentric imperatives) help explain the orgasm discrepancy between WSW and WSM. We discuss masturbation as another male-centered practice that may be relevant to this gap, as well as implications for intervention and future research.

Keywords: Gender; Orgasm; Sexual orientation; Sexual scripts; Women who have sex with women; Women’s well-being.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Heterosexuality
  • Homosexuality, Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orgasm*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Sexual Partners
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult