The Pleasure Principle : Why respect for female pleasure is respect for gender equality

The pleasure gap, aka the disparity between the frequency with which men versus women orgasm, sits at roughly 30%. While 95% of men report reaching orgasm during heteronormative, partnered sex, only 65% of women do. That latter figure drops to just 18% when women have casual sex.

There is no anatomical reason for this disparity. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not harder for a woman to climax, culturally it seems we have just learned to prioritise women’s pleasure less than men’s. 

That needs to change. 

Why? Because equality in the bedroom equates to equality in the boardroom, and beyond four walls, too. Because for as long as we de-prioritise women’s needs, we reinforce the damaging narrative that women’s bodies simply aren’t as important as men’s - that our joy isn’t as important.

To discuss this further we hosted a panel discussion at Soho House, moderated by presenter and writer Emma Louise Boynton, with a handful of inspiring women: founder of The Five Foundation Nimco Ali OBE, Vice’s Editor Zing Tsjeng, our ambassador Charli Howard and our CEO Lucy Litwack.

The panel explored an array of factors that play a part in gender inequality, looking at why respect for female pleasure equates to respect for gender equality, how our own experiences with our bodies play a part, all before asking: how do we fix this?

Read on for a few of our most inspiring and moving highlights…

ELB: Why should we be talking about this topic of female pleasure? Why is the discussion around female pleasure inseparable from that around gender equality?

LL: I love that we are having this conversation. And I will try not to talk for too long as I am known to do on this topic! So often, people dismiss female pleasure as unimportant - not a serious topic. But we have to understand that respect for female pleasure is part of the spectrum of having respect for women - their bodies, their autonomy, their freedom to express themselves. This respect relates to the pleasure gap as much as it does to the gender gap in medicine, the gender pay gap, all the way through to the horror of FGM. Female pleasure is not a luxury, it’s a necessity - knowing and owning it can be life-changing.

ZT: Many of us have grown up being taught that women bear such negative repercussions with sex. STIs, unwanted pregnancies, transactional careless throwaway sex, shame, it’s endless. Shifting the mindset from that punitive idea of sex and more towards the idea of sex as an exploration, doesn’t it make you feel more relaxed and free? I think it would help so much with the orgasm gap. It’s no longer this monumental consequence, it’s something you do in everyday life to have fun.

LL: Absolutely. From art to culture, education to pornography, the female perspective on pleasure in all its forms has been little discussed or truly understood, more often than not negated. And yet it is so crucial to general happiness and confidence, to deepening and nurturing our relationships - and a fundamental appreciation of ourselves.

Men have been taught about their pleasure through formal education, the media, and society as a whole for their entire lives, while female pleasure was rarely acknowledged.

Representation and education are imperative. We need to give female pleasure the platform that it is so often lacking in the media and in educational spaces. We need to enable conversations that inform women, and men, that empowering women is the most life changing act a society can do. Trying to curtail a female’s pleasure is all about control. And we have to remember that pleasure is power.

ELB: I love that! Pleasure is power! But in many respects the taboo around female pleasure is reinforced online through censorship, notably on social media, around female pleasure, as well as sexual health. How has online censorship affected Coco de Mer?

LL: I mean, for millennia, female sexuality has been considered one of the most dangerous forces in the world - something that had to be controlled, physically and legally. People have been scared of our power right back to Greek Mythology - our ability to experience and cause immense pleasure but also incredible pain. History shows that it is always our fault. This control hasn’t changed. Look at social media today. You can’t talk about female pleasure without being banned or restricted, and aside from the moral inequality, the knock on effect this has on a business like mine is infuriating! 

A couple of years ago, we had an ad banned that mentioned ‘female pleasure’, but removing the word ‘female’ and keeping it as ’pleasure’ was accepted. It seems like even the algorithms are literally silencing female pleasure. We are currently banned completely from advertising on Meta - with absolutely no explanation of why - other than I assume because we sell sex toys. 

It feels like the desire to control female pleasure even goes above profit for so many of these companies. The sex toy market is worth £25 billion globally - the erectile dysfunction market under £3bn. Yet, you can advertise Viagra, but advertising a vibrator or lubricant is banned. So although they say it is because you can’t advertise ‘’adult products’’, it certainly seems to focus more on female sexual wellness rather than male. 

The sad thing is, it’s not just pleasure, and it’s not just online. Anything that is a purely female issue is so often ignored, even among women - menopause, periods - these conversations were non-existent until recently. 

On supporting the fight against FGM and being a brand with purpose:

LL: Being a brand with purpose is so important to me, it’s why I joined Coco de Mer nearly 10 years ago, and it’s why I bought it when the opportunity arose a few years later. I think a shared purpose unites us in this room and it certainly does within my team at Coco de Mer - the basic fundamental human right a woman has over her own body. Our work with The Five Foundation has been such a meaningful, tangible channel for that.

FGM is a direct disabler of female pleasure and as a brand focused on championing and celebrating that pleasure, it felt like an authentic partnership. 

NA: In terms of FGM and the community and culture that I come from, sex, or sexuality or even pleasure itself is very much deemed as a man’s role and a man’s thing.

An orgasm, female pleasure, is something I have been told doesn’t belong to me, that I shouldn’t own, but it does and I want it, so I protect it with my life.

The boundaries of culture and shame cross different cultures and communities but to discuss this in the way I do, it’s still a death sentence in my Somalian culture and community.

We need to change this from the outset. Education and policy are pivotal to create cultural change. Having support from companies like Coco de Mer, enabling conversations like this is so important. Then we take that support and drive it forward.

ELB: Looking at how we learn about sex, we can’t avoid the effect porn has had on our sexual experiences, Nimco you have been working with the government making huge steps to understand the role it plays - what steps do you think need to happen?

NA: Policy has such a huge role to play when it comes to protecting people. We can’t change society unless we set the boundary. More people use Pornhub than Google. Most of that content is non-consensual, so to ignore its significance is irresponsible and perpetuates disrespect for women and female pleasure.

ELB: A huge problem with porn is the primacy a lot of porn places on male pleasure and hence sex through the male gaze. From porn to film to tv, the male gaze has long been the default perspective through which sex is depicted. At Coco de Mer, you actively seek to shift that perspective and depict sex and sensuality through the female gaze. What is the female gaze and how do you reinforce it across the work you do at Coco de Mer?

LL: Women’s sexuality has been perceived through the male gaze for far too long, and it usually feels reductive and performative rather than something authentic to the female experience. Women’s sexuality runs so much deeper than how the male gaze perceives it - it is a deeply personal connection women have with themselves first, before any partner. 

What is the female gaze? It is emotional and intimate. Vulnerable yet powerful. It seeks to empathise rather than to objectify, it is feminine and unashamed. It gives women agency.

The male gaze has galvanised for generations, but there is a fresh reckoning with the female gaze. More than just a visual entity, it is a frame of mind - autonomous, respectful, a space where women can be sexual without being sexualised. Where women can be all the things they want to be.

It’s why we only work with female photographers and all-female crews on shoots - there is something very moving about the female gaze - we are able to get closer somehow. And I think it creates a safe space for everyone, particularly the model. Female pleasure exists in so many forms - and the female gaze creates a space where women as subjects have agency.


Tilting the conversation,  Charli & Emma Louise discussed the importance of body confidence, shifting mindsets and the impact of a female gaze…

Talking about the empowering nature of the brand, Charli said:

“I worked with the brand, first and foremost because of Lucy. She’s an incredible woman, so wonderful to work with and the purpose is there through and through. The brand is unlike any other lingerie brand out there. With Coco de Mer, the female team feels so safe and empowering, so authentic. I just love it.”

On the difference, as a model, on having a male or female gaze behind a lens:

CH: “It’s the difference between feeling sexual and sensual.”

On shifting mindsets and showing yourself love:

CH: “Learning to love yourself is such a journey. When it comes to recovering from something as traumatic as an eating disorder and enjoying pleasure again, it really helps to break that journey down into simple actions.

Taking care of yourself is key. Eating disorders directly block pleasure. Romance yourself gently, be kind to yourself. It might take a while, but enjoy it. We all deserve it. Life is too fun to waste by blocking our own joy. Have fun! 

ELB: “Absolutely. Spend time caring for yourself, sexually and emotionally. It retrains your brain to understand, ‘I am worth this, I deserve this.’”

CH: “So true. If you don’t enjoy or embrace your body, you will not enjoy sex, or pleasure the same way. Something I do (very American I know!), is to spend a little time telling myself the parts of my body I love.”

Discussing the collaboration with Coco de Mer and the curation of the first edit, Charli added:

“With this edit I want people to feel good. To feel the impact of a matching set, the feel of the fabrics, the colours, it’s all about doing it for themselves. Romance yourself every day and be kind to yourself. It makes such a difference.”

And her one piece of advice for improving body confidence and self worth?

“Block out the negative. Do not fuel those triggers that make you feel lesser.”

The parting question had us roused… 

What is one thing every person sitting in this room can do after this event to promote gender equality and women’s right to pleasure?

ELB: “I think one of the most important reframings we could do (for sex) is seeing it as an idea of play and exploration - it’s so liberating for all.”

ZT: “Mindful masturbation. Take away visual aids, porn, any surrounding material, and figure out what you like, where your imagination takes you.”

LL: “Don't fake orgasms. This positive reinforcement of something that is not giving you pleasure will inevitably lead to the same thing happening again and again.“

Watch the reaction and feel inspired. Take pleasure in your power.