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Women! Don’t orgasm so easily

June 9th, 2005

Dr Petra

The genetics and orgasm story is still very much in the news. Now coverage is taking on a new spin – not only is female orgasm supposedly entirely genetic, it’s also a means of mate selection, and something you can blame your mother for.

Sex research, and sexual health, is supposed not to judge participants, but when the media get hold of it it’s an entirely different story, with quotes like: “Women who fail to orgasm during sex may be genetically programmed to weed out unreliable men who are a flop between the sheets, according to new research”.

None of this was mentioned in the original study, which didn’t include men. But it’s being spun through the world’s media in ways that go well beyond the published study. And the authors of the research appear to be complicit in this activity.

Newspaper coverage has stated ‘scientists have studied the ability of thousands of women to climax’. This isn’t true. As you’ll recall from yesterday’s blog the study in question was a postal study of female twins that only asked two questions about frequency of orgasm. There may be a biological role, but this study certainly didn’t prove it.

Journalists haven’t read the paper and so are claiming a lack of female orgasm is a mate-selection device from prehistoric times. Amazing how you can deduce that from a survey.

In several papers one of the study’s authors is quoted as “The theory is that the orgasm is an evolutionary way of seeing if men can prove themselves to be likely good providers or dependable, patient and caring enough to look after the kids.”

But their research didn’t ask any questions about this – or if they did they didn’t report them in the published scientific paper. However, the tone of this quote indicates quite clearly the view that female orgasm is only associated with heterosexual sex and reproduction. Most women can probably tell you otherwise.

Seemingly happy to judge women the researchers are also quoted in the press as saying “Perhaps women who had orgasms too easily weren’t very good selectors. It paid women to be more fussy and this is one way of doing it. The simple fact is that it takes women on average 12 minutes and men two and a half minutes to reach orgasm. Adjusting to that imbalance is a test.”
Okay so yesterday the media coverage of this story was all about the problem of women not reaching orgasm. Now if we orgasm too easily (too easily?!!) then we’re at fault.

Most evidence suggests women’s orgasmic problems are not around them having an orgasm too quickly, but they can’t have one at all. Which is what I thought the original research was saying – now it seems to be stating something else.

Look closely about what this is really saying about sex. Apart from it being entirely geared towards heterosexuals who want a baby it’s also suggesting something else. It’s implying a natural order of sex that’s an entirely twentieth century creation. It’s suggesting that ‘real’ men ought to delay orgasm, and implies those that can will make better fathers. There’s no evidence for this at all. Only from the latter part of the twentieth century have Westerners become preoccupied with the female orgasm, or men lasting longer in bed. Blame porn if you like, but not genetics. In the past men just came quick and that was that. Female orgasm wasn’t considered at all. This research is claiming a biological and evolutionary link for a very modern cultural view of sexual behaviour. And none of these factors were either tested nor reported in the original research all this media coverage is focusing on.

Yesterday I explained how the study broke the first rule of science by not measuring what it claimed to measure. Continued quotes from the researchers in the media break the second rule of science – you shouldn’t extrapolate beyond your data.

Other newspaper reports claimed genes are probably the greatest single factor involved in whether women have an orgasm. Yes, obviously. Much more important than sexual confidence, awareness of your body, being skilled at masturbation, or having the privacy to enjoy a good sex life.

Of course physical factors influence orgasm. But they’re not the same as genetic factors. And this research didn’t accurately measure either.

It’s also interesting how the researchers told the press things that were never made clear in their research paper. For example “It’s likely to come from the mother’s side but we can’t say that it doesn’t come from the father, if, for example, it’s a psychological state rather than purely anatomical”. Um, how can you conclude from a survey that didn’t even ask about either physical or psychological issues, nor took any genetic tests, that the problem of sexual functioning is passed on genetically via the mother?

Perhaps a small clue is found in some of the media reports where the researchers are stating their study permits wider investigations into the genetic causes of sexual dysfunction and to produce cures. Roll up! roll up! and watch Big Pharma get excited.

There’s no proven genetic link (well not from this study anyway), but if there’s a chance of convincing women to take medications, and to develop medications for sexual ‘problems’ then companies will been keen to exploit this.

One of the researchers is quoted as saying “If the motivation and funding were there you could find a number of the genes involved within a few years. Each of those would show you a new mechanism that, in theory, you could make drugs to interact with. But there’s so little research, it’s really a taboo area”.

I don’t know where this researcher has been doing his literature searching, or what sexology conferences he’s been going to, but there’s lots of research on sexual functioning. Nowadays it isn’t taboo at all to research sex, it can be challenging and difficult, and not everyone values it, but it isn’t taboo. In fact the researchers in question do know this because they quote other papers expressing concern about the medicalisation of sexual functioning in their report.

So much for women friendly research. Or male friendly for that matter – after all accusing men of being duds in bed, and criticising women for orgasming too easily (I’m sorry, I just can’t get over that one) is hardly supportive nor ethical.

Sod this, I’m off to have an evening where I orgasm as easily as I bloody well like.

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