Going 'Off-Script' Can Help Couples Close The Orgasm Gap

The female orgasm isn't a mystery, we just assume it is.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | February 18, 2023

A new study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy attempts to explain why the orgasm gap persists despite efforts to integrate clitoral knowledge into women's sex lives. The study cites gendered sexual scripts as a major obstacle in closing the orgasm gap.

A sexual script, according to the study, serves the role of a safeguard or a guideline in unknown sexual situations. The study hypothesizes that gendered sexual scripts constitute a significant barrier to closing the pleasure gap for the following reasons:

  1. They curb awareness about female pleasure and instead prioritize male sexual pleasure. Elements like high sex drive, orgasm, dominance, and initiative are ascribed to men. Women, on the other hand, are expected to show less interest in orgasms and pleasure. The female orgasm is viewed as more complicated than the male orgasm and men are seen to have a heightened biological need to orgasm.
  2. They hinder authentic sexual experiences. When men and women internalize these sexual scripts, such scripts might get "activated" during heterosexual sex, rendering knowledge about clitoral stimulation irrelevant to the experience. The study suspects this is a major reason why increasing clitoral knowledge may not translate into orgasms for women during partnered sex.

After conducting surveys about clitoral knowledge among 573 heterosexual participants, the study confirmed the following:

  1. Major gaps in clitoral knowledge persist for both men and women. For instance, both men and women struggled to come up with the correct answers to questions such as "The size of the clitoris is about the size of a pea [true, false]," "The clitoris has a foreskin, glans, and shaft [true, false]," "An orgasm is either clitoral or vaginal [true, false]" and "Which sexual practice is the most reliable route to orgasm for women? [oral sex; penile-vaginal intercourse, etc.].
  2. Clitoral knowledge seems to translate into orgasms primarily during solo sex or masturbation. However, it does not seem to have the same effect during heterosexual partnered experiences.

Keeping in mind the results of the study, here are two tips from sex and mental health researchers that can help people, especially women, experience gratifying sex that does not undermine their pleasure or orgasm:

  1. Know and love yourself. Understanding what brings you pleasure is an important step towards better sexual experiences. Sexual mindfulness, according to psychologist Chelom Leavitt, starts with the self. Being curious not just about your orgasm, but also about your arousal can lead to heightened intimacy and pleasure. Applying the knowledge you have gained, clitoral or otherwise, is a pathway to better partnered sex.
  2. Ask for it. Sexual communication is the holy grail when it comes to going 'off-script.' Deliberate and curious conversations about each other's desires and fantasies, according to sex researcher Zhana Vrangalova, can help you leave the crutch of gendered sexual scripts behind.


Compared to men, women experience 20%-50% fewer orgasms in heterosexual encounters. Women also express less enjoyment in their sexual encounters than their male counterparts. There are many ways to fix these issues but they all start with having an open and honest dialogue about sex.