There appears to be an orgasm gap in the world of erotic internet videos. A new study has found that some of the most popular pornographic videos rarely show women reaching orgasm, but do tend to show men reaching orgasm.
The study’s corresponding author, Léa J. Séguin of the University of Quebec in Montreal, told PsyPost that the recently published study also provides evidence that pornography perpetuates unrealistic beliefs and expectations about orgasm.
“Orgasm is very important to people for several reasons (e.g., physical pleasure; belief that reaching orgasm during partnered sex is an indicator of relationship quality and commitment; belief that women’s orgasms are proof that their male partners are ‘good in bed’; belief that being able to reach orgasm “vaginally” is superior to reaching orgasm through direct clitoral stimulation; etc.),” she explained. “Therefore, it is understandable that the (consistent) absence of orgasm during sex can be distressing to many people and their partners.”
“But where do people get their beliefs and expectations when it comes to orgasm? Other than from their peers or sex ed (when accessible), popular media can also shape people’s ideas about sex, including orgasm,” Séguin continued. “Given that pornography not only is widely available and popular, but that it is also a medium that is very explicit when it comes to orgasm, I felt it was probably something that adequately reflects and/or perpetuates culturally held beliefs and expectations in relation to male and female orgasm. So I was wondering how accurate orgasm depictions were in mainstream porn, and how these depictions could be related to orgasm-related cultural beliefs.”
For the study, which was published in the Journal of Sex Research, Séguin and her colleagues examined PornHub’s 50 most viewed videos of all time. They recorded instances of “overt” and “ambiguous” female and male orgasms, along with the acts that induced orgasm.
Forty-five of the videos depicted a sexual encounter between one man and one woman, while the remaining five videos depicted group sex. In total, the videos included 60 women and 50 men — and 59 overt orgasms.
But the researchers found there was a disparity in who was shown orgasming: only 11 women compared to 39 men.
“The main takeaways are 1) that mainstream porn does reflect/perpetuate unrealistic expectations in relation to women’s orgasm and men’s sexual performance, and 2) that the assumption that women are always shown reaching orgasm in porn is only a myth. The vast majority of the women in the sampled videos were NOT shown reaching orgasm at all (less than 1 out of 5 women were shown reaching orgasm, compared to almost 4 out of 5 men).”
In the videos, women’s orgasms were most often induced through vaginal intercourse. But research has found that only about 25 percent of women consistently have orgasms during vaginal intercourse.
“Women’s orgasms were almost always brought on by vaginal (i.e., internal) or anal stimulation without any additional clitoral stimulation (in the real world, this trend is reversed),” Séguin explained.
“The type and amount of stimulation experienced by the women, including direct clitoral stimulation with fingers, was provided by the male partners, rather than by the women themselves, which supports the notion that men are the ones who are ‘supposed’ to ‘give’ their partners an orgasm (men often feel a lot of pressure to sexually please their partners, and they often feel inadequate or at fault when their partners do not reach orgasm).”
Séguin said her study had three main limitations.
“First, the individuals portrayed in the sampled videos were overwhelmingly White. It is possible that the sexual response, including orgasmic response, of individuals from underrepresented ethnic groups would be represented differently in pornography.”
“Also, the sampled videos are not necessarily representative of all porn. It is possible, for instance, that queer pornography, feminist pornography, or pornography made by and for heterosexual women or lesbian women may portray male and female orgasm in ways that differ from the ones found in my study,” she told PsyPost.
“Lastly, my study does not determine whether or how representations of male and female orgasm in mainstream pornography influence (or do not influence) viewers’ understanding of orgasm, sexual attitudes, and experiences of orgasm and sexual satisfaction, which would be really interesting to investigate! It would also be beneficial to examine whether orgasm-related difficulties and interpersonal distress among women results not only from having a male partner who regularly consumes pornography but also from perceiving that their male partner holds the unrealistic beliefs and expectations that are promoted in pornography.”
Séguin also clarified that her study examined depictions of orgasm — not whether they actually occurred.
“The biggest critique I have been getting from researchers and non-researchers about my study is the following: That there is no way you can tell whether or not a person, notably a woman, is truly reaching an orgasm, and therefore, my findings are not valid or useful,” she explained.
“I completely agree with them in that you really cannot tell whether or not a person has truly reached orgasm. However, my analyses were grounded in representations of male and female orgasm and not necessarily in instances of authentic orgasm. In other words, the authenticity—or inauthenticity—of the orgasms was irrelevant to the study’s objectives. Rather, the specific ways male and female orgasms were portrayed in pornography (e.g., what indicators are enacted and visible to viewers; what aspects are deliberately excluded or captured by the camera), irrespective of their authenticity, was the focus of the research. All orgasms, even the fake-looking ones, were taken into consideration.”
The study, “Consuming Ecstasy: Representations of Male and Female Orgasm in Mainstream Pornography“, was also co-authored by Carl Rodrigue and Julie Lavigne. It was published online June 20, 2017.