We’ve all heard about the gender pay gap. Yep, women still earn 81 cents for every dollar earned by men. Chances are, you may have heard about the gender health gap too. There’s significantly less research into women’s health than men’s and women repeatedly receive worse medical treatment. However, what about the pleasure gap?
In heterosexual relationships, the statistics speak for themselves. The International Academy of Sex Research found that 95% of heterosexual men usually or always orgasm during sex whereas this is only the case for 65% of heterosexual women. Plus, men have 20 to 50% more orgasms than heterosexual women in partnered sexual encounters.
While for decades women have been fighting to bring the topic of female pleasure to the fore, it’s only in recent years this topic has moved to the mainstream. After all, it wasn’t until 2005 that Australian Urologist Helen O’Connell’s groundbreaking work conducting MRIs on women showed how everything doctors were taught about the clitoris was wrong.
Over the past few years, sex-care has become an integral part of self-care as female masturbation has been destigmatized and the taboos around pleasure have diminished.
It’s now big business with Grand View Research valuing the US sexual wellbeing market at 9.1 billion in 2019. With the female sex toy market booming (set to grow by 6.9 billion dollars between 2019-2023), another trend is bubbling too. A breed of wellbeing apps and platforms are aiming to educate and inspire women to explore their sexuality and prioritize their pleasure.
If you can use a health and wellbeing app to boost your sleep, plan your fitness regime or encourage relaxation with meditation, why not also seek help from your smartphone when it comes to pleasure?
Take Emjoy, a Barcelona-based sexual wellbeing audio app for women. The idea was born out of co-founder and CEO Andrea Oliver Garcia’s own experience and those of her female friends. “All of us had normalized not climaxing when having sexual encounters,” she told me. Seeing the boom in wellbeing apps and the popularity of podcasts and audiobooks, she set about creating an app offering a collection of guided practices, science-backed theory sessions and narrated sensual short stories for women wanting to explore their sexual wellbeing. The content library now contains over 150 plus sessions and stories created by therapists, academics and experts. “We always try to find a scientific study to back what we say. We want to be a trusted and safe environment for our users,” Oliver Garcia explained. During this year’s lockdown, Emjoy has seen a spike in users. “Many have used this time to get to know their bodies, explore their desires and work to acknowledge their needs,” Oliver Garcia highlighted.
San Francisco-based Dipsea was born out of a similar desire. “My co-founder Faye and I were interested in the idea that sexuality, especially for women, is as much psychological as it is physical,” co-founder Gina Gutierrez explained. The app, offering short, sexy audio stories and intimate wellness sessions ($8.99/month), aims to put healthy sexuality into the same sentence as exercise and meditation when talking about health and happiness. “For so long erotic media has either been something created by and for men or written off as a genre that’s niche and cliché,” Gutierrez said. “We believe audio is a magical medium for erotica because it’s so imaginative so we began creating content to feel relatable, nuanced, and that celebrates the power of female sexuality,” she added.
The highly produced soundscapes with multiple voice actors feel like a short film without the images. “We want to make safe sex between strangers the norm. We aim to show moments of consent that don’t ruin the mood and represent sexual and ethnic diversity in a way that doesn’t tokenize those experiences,” she said. Users can choose their heat level (the flame scale labels each story from flirtatious to explicit) as well as gender set-ups (such as her + her and her + him) and scenario indicators (like ‘hook up’ or ‘adventurous’).
It’s not just audio erotica that’s trending, written erotica has also had a makeover. Platforms like UK-based Hello Lover are offering an antidote to the cringe-inducing tropes seen in Fifty Shades of Grey or the famed My Dad Wrote A Porno podcast. The subscription service offers short erotic stories told from a number of perspectives. “I wanted to create a space for women to feel able to own, explore or express their sexuality without fear or judgment and to know that any story they read on Hello Lover is respectful to women and won’t take a dark turn unexpectedly,” founder Laura Coggles said. “We want readers to feel empowered and seen. We want to bring sexuality into the light rather than making readers feel it should be something to be hidden away,” she added. Compensating the creatives that write the stories is fundamental too. “There is such a big industry with so much content that caters to people’s desires, yet the creatives writing the stories are often badly compensated.” Subsequently, via the membership-based model, writers can be 100% compensated.
These female-founded platforms are united in their mission to encourage women to learn about pleasure and explore their bodies in a safe environment. “Reading erotica or enjoying erotica media and products isn’t shameful. We believe it’s important for everyone to own their sexuality and invest in their sexual wellness, not just for the physical health benefits but for the mental health benefits as well,” Coggles remarked.
This learning and empowerment play a big role in closing the aforementioned pleasure gap. “Male sexual pleasure and experiences have always been the default. We’ve always said that female sexuality isn’t a problem to be solved, it’s a fire to be stoked. And that perspective is catching on,” Gutierrez said.
Creating a level playing field in terms of pleasure is one important piece of the puzzle in terms of gender parity across the board. As Oliver Garcia points out: “Many historic issues relating to sexual inequality are linked to the opinion that women are less important than men. To mutually respect, appreciate and acknowledge one another needs, desires and wants, both in and out of the bedroom, will be what leads to true equality.”
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