When It Comes To Orgasms, Research Shows Lesbians Are Tops

Feature image via Shutterstock

“Orgasm,” begins the newest paper from the researchers of the Kinsey Institute, “is characterized by subjective feelings of intense sensation and pleasure, including a sudden discharge of accumulated erotic tension at sexual climax and a temporarily altered state of consciousness.” It’s a rather dry opening to some pretty juicy new research about how men and women in the United States are getting off with one another or specifically, how often they’re they’re getting off with each other. In this nation-wide poll, the winners of the orgasm race, at least among women, are very definitely lesbians.

As the sex coverage here at Autostraddle will tell you, orgasms are pretty awesome. Not only are they fun, but they’re good for you, too! Orgasms can cure a headache, reduce menstrual cramps, boost your immune system, and give your mood a boost. If you can make your life better with la petite mort, who wouldn’t want to do it as much as possible? Well, in a new sexological study (yup, that’s a real thing) from some folks from the Kinsey Institute (yup, THAT Kinsey) decided to see who among sexes and sexual orientations were the best getting each other off. If you’re getting images of some kind of televised sex Olympiad, sorry to disappoint— this research was done by a nationwide survey. From over 6000 initial participants, the study pool was narrowed down to 2850 folks of a “statistically representative” sample of the US population. Since this study was about how other people get you off, everyone had to have gotten it on at least once in the last year. Each research subject was then asked to estimate what percentage of the time they reached orgasm with a “familiar partner.”

After tabulating all the data, it turns out that there’s not much difference amongst men, whether they’re gay, straight or bisexual, at least when it comes to how often they get off. Gay and straight men get off about 85% of the time, bisexual men 77% of the time (a non-significant difference from a math standpoint.) Women, on the other hand, were quite variable across the sexuality spectrum. Bisexual women fell at the bottom of the list, reaching climax about 58% of the time. Straight women weren’t much better, coming in at around 62%. Lesbian women came out way ahead, reaching orgasm nearly 75% of the time! However, since the questionnaire did not make distinctions about success rates between male and female partners, it seems reasonable to think that the bi women would have more success when getting down with other women. An even more interesting result comes from looking at the percentage of the lady participants that report having orgasms zero percent of the time. About 13% of bisexual women reported never being able to orgasm with familiar partner, and 7.5% of heterosexual women reported the same. However, for lesbians, that number drops to a minuscule 2.2%, meaning that nearly 98% of lesbians are getting a big O, at least occasionally, from their partners. Given how often women are diagnosed with so-called “orgasm-disorders”— 7-10% of women by one meta-analysis— there seems to be at least some possibility that it’s not a medical condition keeping some of these women from coming, but simply not having someone able to hit the right buttons.

So, aside from giving bragging rights to the rainbow ladies, why would anyone actually want to KNOW who’s getting off the most (or at least, the most often)? Well, according to the article, it’s in hopes of someday improving orgasms from everyone. They write:

“Understanding the factors that influence variation in orgasm occurrence among sexual minority populations may assist in tailoring behavioral therapies for those of different sexual orientations. Moreover, to the extent that lack of orgasm is seen as a common and unwanted problem, learning more about orgasm in same-sex relationships may inform treatment for men and women in both same-sex and mixed-sex relationships”

So, is there a reason why lesbians seem to be so much better at making each other come? Well, the common sense view would say it’s a combination of the tendency of lesbians to be better acquainted with the anatomy of their lovers, combined with the fact that queer lady sex isn’t beholden to fickle things like erections. Researchers seem to echo some of this sentiment:

“One possible explanation is that self-identified lesbian women are more comfortable and familiar with the female body and thus, on average, are better able to induce orgasm in their female partners. Similarly, previous research has suggested that the length of sexual encounters varies as a function of the sex/gender of the participants, with two women having longer durations of sexual activity than heterosexual pairs, potentially affecting orgasm outcomes.”

Some might look at this study and say, “well, isn’t it possible that lesbians are embellishing their percentage out of pride?” And, sure, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility; survey-based research always struggles with the complications self-reporting. But, aside from the fact that there’s not much to gain from it (besides the bragging rights), the overall higher-reported orgasm frequency would still seem to speak to deeper satisfaction with their sex lives than straight women have. So, ladies, next time someone snarks at you about the dreaded Lesbian Bed Death, ignore it, hold your head up high, and maybe remind them that, no matter what stock photos might tell you, lesbian sex actually involves touching each other. Oh, and remember that science says you’re at the pinnacle of climaxing.

Mari is a queer lady scientist and educator from Detroit, who skillfully avoids working on her genetics dissertation by writing about queer and trans life, nerd culture, feminism, and science. You can frequently find her running around at science-fiction conventions giving panels on consent culture and LGBT topics or DJing at fantastically strange parties. She is a contributing writer for TransAdvocate, maintains a personal blog at TransNerdFeminist, and can frequently be found stirring up trouble (and posting selfies) on Twitter.

Mari has written 36 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. I’d love to understand better why bisexual women rate lower than straight women. If women are better at getting other women off than men are, and bisexual women are having sex with women at least some of the time, it would stand to reason that their percentage of orgasms would be proportionately higher. I wonder if this goes back to the shame, higher rates of sexual abuse, etc that many bi women experience.

    • Hey Audrey, I think it may be something different. Speaking in general, I think male/female sex has a totally different emotional connection than female/female. So I would imagine that difference might be confusing somewhat to a bi woman during sex….thoughts of both types of emotions popping up…..and causing a problem getting to the “tipping” point to orgasm.
      I know as a translesbian that still has a penis I don’t want my love to try to touch my penis sexually……because it reminds me of male sex, even though she wants to touch it and means it as female touching. See? That is what I mean by thoughts popping into your head and causing distraction. I hope you can understand what I am getting at.
      I think Rachel suggested we rename “unpleasant or disturbing things” with girl names…..so they wouldn’t seem so scary or icky. I think for translesbians who still have the “thing”, we should call it a “Priscilla” or a “Patty”. Let’s put that in the Urban Dictionary!

      • As a bisexual woman, I don’t agree that less orgasms can be attributed to being “confused.” That’s a stereotype. Many bisexual women find fulfilling relationships with men and women. I don’t think being bisexual is comparable to having gender dysphoria. I think elevated rates of sexual abuse may be a factor, as Audrey mentioned. It’s difficult to know based on the information about the study in the article why bisexual women report less frequent orgasms than heterosexual women, or what kind of sex this is based on.

    • Now I’m studying for my statistic exam (but I’m a med student, so if there’s anybody more skilled in statistic feel free to correct me). I’ll try to explain it briefly. When you take a sample you find out your percentage and all, but that is not the percentage of the population (if you were doing a study on all the people existent). So when you find a percentage in your sample you have to apply it to all the population and you can do it calculating some numbers in which your “true value” can be found (and you do this by finding the confidence interval).

      ANYWAY what I mean is that the difference between heterosexual women and bisexual women COULD not be present in the population but only in the sample taken since it’s very little. I don’t know if this difference is statistically relevant (I should see all the tables of the study, and even then a statistic would know more than I do). So the thing is the difference bisexual/heterosexual might have not been explained because it is not statistically relevant (we have this difference in the sample, but we are not sure it is true for all the population).

      Ok I hope all this makes sense (consider I’m Italian, and not good at explaining statistic!)

      • yes there is a short press release abstract which says essentially that there is no statistical difference between heterosexual and bisexual women when compared to lesbian women. I’d like to look at more of the stats as well!

    • As a pansexual woman with no history of sexual abuse, sex varies for me dependent on whether I am with a cis man, cis woman, or trans man (my sexual history). Once I came out and began having sex with women, I was more comfortable asking for what I wanted with partners of all gender identities and expressions. But I can only speak for myself.

  2. “Given how often women are diagnosed with so-called “orgasm-disorders”— 7-10% of women by one meta-analysis— there seems to be at least some possibility that it’s not a medical condition keeping some of these women from coming, but simply not having someone able to hit the right buttons.”

    I take your point that some of these women have maybe not had the right partner, but using the phrase “so-called orgasm disorders” seems like a pretty disrespectful way to address the fact that some women do indeed have medical problems that interfere with sexual function and their ability to orgasm.

    • Yeah, as part of the 2.2% I gotta say, the talk around this tends to be really creepy.

      Sure, some people who don’t orgasm have had very disappointing and unfulfilling sex lives and are much happier later with different partners / behaviors. By all means, if someone is disappointed with their sex life, looks to change it, and ends up having better sex and is happy about it, that’s great.

      But there is SO MUCH PRESSURE on us to do so, especially from “sex-posi” circles and the worst of that lot. It can get really creepy and coercive.

      (TW rape culture)

      There is absolutely the attitude that people who don’t orgasm, are stone, are sex-repulsed, don’t do bdsm, etc etc etc are broken and need to be fixed and brought into the fold. Some people don’t enjoy sex, or don’t enjoy sex the same way you do, and unless we say otherwise that’s FINE.

      And I mean above all when people say “oh, you just haven’t had the right one yet” …like jfc, that phrase is triggering as fuck, it’s practically quoting lesbophobia trying (or succeeding) to push us into bed with men.

      (End TW)

  3. Very fun study, but as many have been pointing out, without further details, there isn’t much we can really get out of it. No hard substance, just fun stats. 🙂

    I mean I’m sure the research was conducted seriously, but still. How old were the participants? How many different partners have they successfully reached orgasm with / not reached orgasm with? To what extent are they able to reach orgasm on their own without a partner? How long did the average intercourse for each participant last? Did the groups who scored lower also tend to have less overall satisfying sex, or were they feeling fully satisfied despite the absence of orgasm?

    As a bi woman, I am highly efficient at reaching orgasm, so I am quite lucky. But I consider that I’m also lucky with my partners. I can also very easily reach orgasm alone, and with a known partner in a comfy setting my reach rate is probably close to 95% if I’m given adequate stimulation. And that’s another thing. Adequate stimulation. Was that factor calculated in the survey?

    A lot of the time, I will self-stimulate at least during a portion of the encounter. I might also reach orgasm WHILE with a partner, without him or her actually touching me. Is that kind of stuff taken into account in the survey?

    While it’s not a bad thing to have surveys like this, a lot of questions do come to (my dirty) mind after reading these stats!

    Also, yes, that was me being TMI with my sex life.

  4. if the 8% difference between gay/straight men and bisexual men is not a significant difference, is the 4% difference between bisexual women and straight women a significant difference? not that you can necessarily deduce the second from the first. but I’d say most likely not without reading the article. so don’t freak out everyone.

    • OK so I read the press release and it says lesbian women have ‘a significantly higher probability of orgasm than either heterosexual or bisexual women’. so we should be considering bisexual/straight women as having statistically equivalent rates in conversations about why bi women have lower rates than lesbian women.

    • In the article, they don’t provide a p-value for the difference between straight and bisexual women, so I would assume it was statstically negligible. As I mentioned in the article, I think it would be really interesting to see the bisexual women broken down by the gender of the partner they’re engaging with. Hopefully the authors will undertake another, more in-depth study!

  5. I never have orgasms with my love unless she insists I should….because she needs for me to have one. I only want to kiss her and give oral sex so she can have an orgasm and know she is loved The only way I can have an orgasm is with my penis…..but that is male….so I do not want it that way…..and I am happy to have female love and not have an orgasm….,I need your love…..not an orgasm!

  6. I feel like this:

    “the overall higher-reported orgasm frequency would still seem to speak to deeper satisfaction with their sex lives than straight women have”

    Is like saying that banana and oranges have peels, but more bananas get peeled than oranges, and therefore bananas have more satisfying peels.

    • I’m not sure that made sense…. As lesbians, including those of us who have had sex with men, it’s safe to say that what is satisfying for hetero sex is kind of a mystery. I went through a long time of being a stone top, and I still had a deeply satisfying sex life. So equating orgasm with sexual satisfaction, when we can’t even be sure that that’s what’s sexually satisfying to straight women, is pretty self serving, and with all due respect to the author for a well conceived fluffy article, kind of a smug conclusion.

  7. Ok if Autostraddle did a survey (anonymous) about our sex lives while ID-ing would we have better results?

    I’m quite curious about how they came up with their results as well. The point made above about if there were toys involved etc is valid and I totally agree with it 100%. Also I mean how do you define sex in general? We can’t say it’s purely man-woman action you know because there’s woman-woman action. I mean for lesbians or even bisexuals how would we define sex? I mean if we say oral sex that’s sex right? Is that the only thing that gets us to climax? What about penetration? Anal? Toeing? All those things, were they taken into account?

    But then again I kind of agree with the part that women would kind of know a woman’s body better mainly because of their own bodies so we kind of know which buttons to push? I mean I know some straight women who have admitted to faking their O’s. I mean is it the guy? Is it the girl? Is it something else?

  8. Well, whether it’s medical or psychological I definitely have problems with orgasm which are nothing to do with my wife’s skills in bed. Up until a year ago, I could orgasm by my hand and hers – now neither work.

    A little demeaning to put ‘so called “orgasm disorders”‘ (with scare quotes no less).

    I do agree that some of those likely are the result of method, but there’s no reason to spread the stigma of not being able to get someone off for those who can’t.

  9. While I’m excited that Mari wrote this article, I was disappointed with a number of aspects of the interpretation and writing. As a person who conducts sexuality research, it’s always disappointing to see that an author needs to justify that sexuality research is “a real thing.” I wish we could just take this as fact.

    “It seems reasonable to think that the bi women would have more success when getting down with other women.” This is not indicated by the data and seems dismissive of bi women’s experience. It seems to imply, perhaps unintentionally, that if bi women were just gayer they’d be better off. At the very least it takes the data from the lesbian-identified research participants and assumes that it would apply equally to bi women, which is inaccurate and somewhat dismissive of the unique experiences of bi women.

    Finally, the “so-called orgasm disorders” comment is very dismissive, as others have mentioned. While I get the point that they may be over diagnosed or diagnosed in instances where instruction on masturbation or improved partner attentiveness to sexual needs, orgasm disorders do exist and are actually a source of great stress and stigma.

    Thanks for sharing this exciting research with us, but please consider who you might be dismissing and glossing over.

  10. Okk so as a Bisexual being attached to both men and woman is kinda where it ends. It’s not that I didnt like the sex with a man , its that I couldnt get off. I have a beautiful GF now and shes what I need. She knows just what to do therefore I can get off now and its great!!!

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