power dynamics

Is orgasm equality something that should be emphasized or important in all sexual relationships, irrespective of partners' gender?

Orgasm equality is discussed in the context of heterosexual relationships and gender justice (for straight cis women) a lot, and I see its value in that context. Is orgasm equality something that should be emphasized or important in all sexual relationships, irrespective of partners' gender?

AA: We are so glad you asked! I do want to start by naming my identities as a straight cis woman, which, of course, impacts how I think about this. Yes, orgasm equality is often discussed in that context, and may matter in any relational or sexual context if the partner(s) involved feel that it does. That being said, in any context, it’s important to separate the ideas of orgasm and pleasure, and that’s where we will spend our time this week.

LM: Oftentimes, we think of orgasm as the “end goal” of any sexual activity, and we believe that there can be no sexual pleasure without orgasm. In our discussion here, we want to clarify that it is possible for some people to have pleasure without orgasm, and also orgasm without pleasure. A starting point is understanding what you hope to get out of the interaction—is it to bring you pleasure, your partner(s) pleasure, or both? If it is to bring you pleasure, does that pleasure include orgasm?

AA: It’s really important to note that not everyone experiences orgasm in the same way, or to the same degree. Not everyone orgasms in every sexual experience and when, with whom, how, why, etc... Whether or not a person orgasms can be impacted by context, physiological factors, psychological factors, and many other elements. If it doesn’t bother you, not experiencing an orgasm is normal and okay, and does not preclude having a positive sexual experience. Emily Nagoski, a sex researcher and author, has developed some worksheets that can help a person think through some of the factors that may impact their sexual interactions—they might be worth checking out!

LM: Once you have a clearer understanding of your hopes for a sexual experience, it can be helpful to check in with your partner(s) about them. Because we might have different expectations or understandings of each partner’s hopes and needs in an interaction, and these might change throughout the interaction, open communication can help the interaction to be mutual.

AA: Another important thing to name is that power dynamics can impact the entire experience of an interaction, and the process of communicating with your partner(s). It may not be possible to safely communicate your needs, or your partner(s) may not be responsive. If this sounds like something you’ve experienced, know that you can always reach out to OSAPR (24-hour hotline: 617-495-9100).

LM: Thanks again for your question; orgasms, pleasure, and orgasm equality are complex and important topics and we’re glad to be able to discuss them here.