Feminist Faculty Speaker Lisa Wade Addresses the Orgasm Gap


Author: Caroline Osborn

A woman clad in lingerie and high heels reclines on a sofa and runs her fingers through long, tousled blond hair. A caption in the crook of her knee reads, “Becoming a donor is probably your only chance to get inside her.”

This magazine advertisement for the Organ Donor Foundation of Belgium is one of the examples assistant professor of Sociology Lisa Wade cited during her Feminist Faculty Series presentation on Wednesday, Oct. 27, titled “Selling Sex, Sexual Subjectivity and the Orgasm Gap.”

Students packed into the Center for Gender Equity to hear her presentation. As she began to speak, Wade wondered aloud whether the lecture’s salacious title drew the large audience.

Wade, who has a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality from New York University, spoke for over an hour to an attentive audience about how culture teaches males to behave as sexual subjects and females to behave as sexual objects.

Sexuality, Wade explained, pervades our society. “It intersects with everything,” she said, citing racism, institutions, medicine, social sciences, even politics. “But it’s this deep personal thing, and we don’t get a lot of help trying to figure it out.”

Her interest in human sexuality began after taking a college course on the subject. “Everybody wanted to know about it, but everyone was afraid to study it. For some reason, I wasn’t,” Wade said.

She remembers her shock upon learning that the chance of HIV infection transmission, even during unprotected sex, is extremely low. “The amount of unprotected sex would have to be staggering,” she said. “It’s such an easy thing to fix. All you need is a condom and you’re fine.”

Intrigued by this uncommon knowledge, Wade decided to pursue the topic.

She fondly remembers the feeling of being able to confidently explain to her fearful dorm mate that engaging in oral sex could not impregnate her.

Indoctrination of gendered sexual roles, Wade explained, permeates the mass media, and children receive authoritative confirmation of the divide in sex education.

Wade suggested that gendered sex-ed curricula prepare boys to be the desiring sexual subject. Girls, however, are implicitly encouraged to adopt identities as sexual objects, tailored to incite male attraction.

Boys learn about wet dreams and erections. Imitating the sexual education rhetoric directed at teenage boys, Wade said, “There’s this thing called sex. You’re going to want it. You should wait a little while, but dude, it’s coming.”Girls, on the other hand, she said, learn about sex as something to worry about. Desire is almost never mentioned.

The conversation instead focuses on avoiding adverse complications, such as unplanned pregnancy, STDs and a bad reputation, Wade said.

She also described a pornographic “arms race” that exploded with the advent of the Internet in reference to the imbalance of gendered sexual roles. “A store can only hold so many videos,” she said.

The Internet’s unlimited space and accessibility facilitate a platform for amateur pornographers to upload their own material.

The spread of amateur porn production has ratcheted up the violence and extreme acts depicted in these widely circulated videos.

According to Wade, half of college women see no problem with porn, and often seek it out themselves, contributing to the skewed societal assumptions about sexual roles.

Wade also cited parents who are in denial about their children having sex as an example of pervasive abnormal attitudes toward sexual norms.

Imbalanced sexual subjectivity and learning about sex from unrealistic videos and cultural assumptions leads to the “orgasm gap” that Wade’s speech was named after. Wade presented statistics indicating that 75 percent of men reported having an orgasm during their last sexual encounter, but that number is 25 to 30 percent for women.

In explanation, Wade proposed that the difference is not due to biological difference (women who engage in sexual activity with other women experience orgasm about 83 percent of the time), but stems from a cultural devaluation of women’s sexual pleasure.

The presentation resulted in not only theoretical questions from the audience, but also candid and personal questions, several of which came from men.

Occidental students who attended the talk remain strongly concerned about feminist topics.

“I am generally interested in all the topics of the Feminist Faculty Series,” John Eaton (senior) said. Project S.A.F.E P.A. Chelsea Duncan (junior) echoed the sentiment.

Lucia Maldonado-Medina (senior), who enjoyed Sociology 101 with Professor Wade, decided to attend the lecture in hopes that Wade might “broaden her horizons.”

Wade encourages everyone to embrace feminism as much as those who attended embrace it, and to be prepared to respond to anti-feminist remarks.

Wade provides a personal example of her favorite method of countering anti-feminist comments about the movement: a T-shirt that states, “This is what a feminist looks like.”

When prompted to define feminism, Wade answered that she considers feminism to be “the desire that our choices in life and feelings about ourselves are dictated by who we are, not our sex.”

“I just want everyone to be themselves,” she said.

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