• Let's talk about sex


    With Elisabeth Lloyd

    Biologist Elisabeth Lloyd has been analyzing the female orgasm for decades, but she’s more eager to talk about it now than ever. Like yesterday, at Studium Generale.

    By Traci White / Photo Chris Meyer

    Professor Elisabeth Lloyd has been researching and writing about female orgasms for 30 years, but she’s still happy to talk about the subject. Before taking the train up to Groningen for her lecture The Evolution of the Female Orgasm, she got into it with me in a phone interview from her hotel room in Amsterdam.

    Are you ever tired of talking about orgasming?

    ‘I’m never tired of talking about it! I see this research as currently interesting to people and of current social importance.’

    Why is it so important today?

    ‘Because today, it’s assumed as fundamental that women should have an orgasm when they have intercourse, but that is simply impossible for most women most of the time.’

    So, how many women can actually orgasm regularly?

    ‘There are only about six and a half percent of women who reliably have orgasm with no hands, and everybody else doesn’t.’


    ‘Yes! And what’s more, 30 percent of women never have an orgasm during intercourse in their whole lives. That was an unhappy fact that I discovered. Working on sex research really sobered me up.’

    So women who can consistently climax are actually the exception rather than the rule?

    ‘Absolutely. It’s the opposite of the norm, but the definitions of what’s normal or what’s not normal are based on this fantasy that all women can always orgasm. You shouldn’t base a normative theory of who’s healthy and who’s diseased in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders on six and a half percent of women!’

    You have been doing research in this field since the 1980s. Is it more or less difficult to do research on sex nowadays?

    ‘Even at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, where I’m an affiliated faculty scholar, if you propose to research anything involving women’s sexuality, you can still barely get it funded. If it’s about erections, then yes, it’s more likely to get funded. It’s just bleak. It’s still the dark ages.’

    Why are the research subjects so male-oriented?

    ‘I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s because there are more male researchers, but I do think it’s very important for them to ask themselves, “am I doing this research because I’m a male?”’

    But you are a prominent female researcher in the field. What has some of your most recent research focused on?

    ‘I published a paper along with Kim Wallen a couple of years ago which shows that women’s orgasm rate with intercourse correlated very strongly with the distance between her clitoris and her urethral meatus, which is the point of urinary release. In fact, if you give us the distance, we can predict the orgasm rate. It appears to be that the smaller the distance, the more frequent the rate of orgasm.’

    That’s impressive. What does that mean for people who may be concerned about their sexual performance?

    ‘These findings show that a lot of the claims about why women don’t have orgasm with intercourse, like that they’re too uptight or that they had too much church, or that their partner isn’t good enough, hard enough or big enough – those are just bogus. It’s just about distance, and it’s not due to any of those causes that put pressure on the man or the woman.’

    Your best-known work is the book, ‘The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution’, which was seen as somewhat controversial. Why?

    ‘I believe the evolutionary theory that female orgasm is a by-product rather than an adaptation.’

    Is that because all human embryos have the same nerves and tissue before becoming male or female?

    ‘Exactly. Just as males have nipples, women have orgasms. They’re bonuses from each gender, but women obviously got the better deal here.’

    Do you feel like you know everything there is to know about orgasms now?

    ‘Absolutely not! The number of questions I have thought up that have never been studied… it’s the longest list of questions. I just keep thinking of more and more questions, and finding out that no one’s ever looked into it. I just keep running into more and more questions!’