Labouring on orgasms: embodiment, efficiency, entitlement and obligations in heterosex

Hannah Frith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Women’s orgasms have long been subject to vociferous scientific debate, but over the last 10–15 years a small but growing body of largely feminist qualitative research has begun to explore how the sociocultural construction of orgasm finds contemporary articulation in popular culture and in lay accounts of heterosex. This work is explicitly concerned with gendered power relations and how these operate. This paper provides a critical review and synthesis of this work by exploring three discursive imperatives: (1) orgasm and the coital imperative (2) efficient orgasms and hard work (3) and the ethic of reciprocity. Drawing on these insights, this paper outlines how a focus on embodiment, on situated meaning-making and on everyday sexual practices would further extend our understanding of the social construction of orgasm. Finally, the paper argues for the importance of locating these processes of meaning-making in relation to socially structured material realities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)494-510
Number of pages17
JournalCulture Health & Sexuality
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2013


  • orgasm
  • heterosexual
  • women
  • embodiment
  • reciprocity


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