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Why the Pleasure Gap Is a Gender Equality Issue

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist and writer specializing in sexual and reproductive health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham ...

Waging the war for women's rights with sex toys

Gone are the days when sex is exclusively thought of as penis-in-vagina intercourse concluding with a male orgasm — and that’s a really good thing. Not only is that considered a narrow definition of one type of heterosexual sex, it also perpetuates the notion that women don’t enjoy it, which is an understandable notion given that the focus used to be on the woman getting her male partner off, and she was just along for the ride.

Thankfully, things are changing, with people like Alex Fine leading the charge. As co-founder and CEO of Dame Products — whose mission is “to design well-engineered sex toys, to heighten intimacy, and to openly empower the sexual experiences of womankind” — her goal is eliminating the pleasure gap (more on that later).

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“I’ve always been interested the issue of sexuality — as an outspoken person, my sexuality definitely impacted my experience growing up, and I had a lot of indignation about it,” she tells SheKnows.

For example, she would get really frustrated with the way women were perceived if they were considered sexual.

“Then that kind of transitioned kind of into ‘Great, I am a liberated woman and can go out and have sex with all these people, but it’s not necessarily good sex,’” she explains.

After spending a lot of time thinking about the company she wanted to start, Fine decided that it should involve sexuality and relationships and sex toys.

While you typically hear the term “orgasm gap” thrown around, Fine prefers the term “pleasure gap” because it is a “better, more accurate and holistic way of describing the issue at hand.”

“Men are twice as likely to orgasm than women, and that’s certainly a gap, but we feel like that oversimplifies it,” Fine explains.

More: This Sex Toy Company Founder Wants Women to Come First (Literally)

For starters, it’s a little easier to definitely say, “Yes, I’ve had an orgasm,” — it either happens or it doesn’t. For Fine, sex is more nuanced than whether or not you came.

“We feel like an orgasm as the goal of sex Is a very male perspective,” she says. “We wanted to be more inclusive of that. Some women have trouble having an orgasm, but still have a lot of sexual pleasure — and that’s great too.” 

The concept of the pleasure gap is a frequent topic of conversation at Dame Products according to Fine.

“Orgasms are really important and you should try and have an orgasm, but we also know that being goal-oriented when it comes to sex can be really detrimental in actually having pleasure,” she says.

And no, this isn’t about getting rid of men or putting their sexual pleasure on the back burner (as if they’d let that happen!). Fine says that including a woman’s partner’s perspective — regardless of gender — is important because no matter how great a sex toy is for you, if your partner isn’t into it, you’re not going to use it.

“If we can make a toy that improves her experience without taking anything away from his experience — or adds something — that’s our goal,” she explains. “We don’t just ask the person with the vulva if it enjoyed it, we also asked the partner about the experience.”

Right now, Dame has two products out: Eva, a hands-free device designed to be used with a partner, and Fin, which acts like a natural extension of your fingers and can be used by yourself or with others.

So why does this matter, and is the pleasure gap really a women’s rights issue?

According to Fine, it is. The more we talk about the confidence gap and the wage gap, the more it primes the conversation for addressing pleasure, which she says is a bigger gap.

More: Orgasms Are Most Elusive for Straight Women

“If you look at gender politics, one of the biggest ways we have in equality is when we see society — men and women — put a lot of regulation and cultural rules around female sexuality,” she explains. “If you are a sexually liberated — feeling confident in your body and your own skin — and know what you like, then I feel like you’re so much better equipped to handle everything else in life.” 

So where do vibrators come into the picture?

When it comes to narrowing the pleasure gap, Fine thinks that sex toys are part of the equation. “It’s not that sex toys are going to solve it all,” she says. “We need to talk about it and feel comfortable with using sex toys when we want to use them.” 

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