Sydney journalist Alyx Gorman has interviewed heaps of people about their sex lives. In her day job at Guardian Australia, and as a writer and editor at Elle, Sydney Morning Herald and other publications over her career, she’s learned a lot about the sexual dissatisfaction straight women face. It’s been called the pleasure gap, or the orgasm gap: hetero women have fewer orgasms than people of any other gender or sexuality.

“I could talk to women about their sex lives forever,” Gorman tells Broadsheet. “The orgasm gap disproportionately impacts heterosexual women, but I’m also looking at the boom of the sexual wellness industry. You’ve probably noticed that vibrators and other toys have become much, much more mainstream, and there are many other pathways through which women are seeking out or being sold pleasure, and I think that’s really interesting.”

Diving into the topic in long form, Gorman is now writing a book; its working title is Lost Pleasure: Searching for the Sex Straight Women Are Missing. So far, she’s interviewed around 40 people – and she’s looking for more case studies.

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“I’m interested in speaking with women in their thirties and forties in long-term heterosexual relationships,” she says. “Once people become part of a couple, the sex talk they used to have with their female friends tends to stop. Many women – both single and in couples – have told me how isolating it feels not to be able to talk about sex or know whether or not they’re normal, so I really want more of those voices.

“I’m also interested in speaking to non-binary folk, trans folk, queer women – and already have – because their experiences are really different from the experiences of straight women,” Gorman says. “And I think that, frankly, straight people have a lot to learn from the queer community.”

Gorman asks participants how happy they are with their sex lives, but also about their background, desires, fantasies, and whether or not it feels like what they want is in alignment with what they have.

“If they tell me they’re really happy with their sex life, I ask them how they got there. If they tell me they’re not happy, I ask them why not. It’s fascinating – the answers to some questions are totally different and completely individual, and for other questions there are some quite clear patterns emerging.”

One of the patterns is that it is rare for straight women to be asked what they want when it comes to sex. “I think that level of comfort around communicating about sex is still not quite there with heterosexual women. Not all of them, but many, many women have told me about the revelation of having a partner who is genuinely curious about them and the specificity of what they like. And given that when I ask women what they like every single answer is completely different, the need to really check in with every partner as an individual and meet them on their level is so clear.”

Lost Pleasure is primarily pitched at women, and Gorman hopes it will help them gain a better understanding of themselves, their bodies and desires. But she hopes men read the book too.

“I remember hearing from young men years ago about how they used to secretly read Dolly magazine to get an idea of what young women were thinking, and hopefully this book can be a grown-up’s version of Dolly for anyone who feels a bit awkward about asking questions.”

The journalist is speaking with people in a broad age range, from their mid-twenties to their seventies. “From my conversations with younger women, the book they should have already exists – Chanel Contos wrote it: [Consent Laid Bare: Sex, Entitlement and the Distortion of Desire]. For that age group, I think consent is such an urgent and pressing issue … I’d love to speak to women in their late-eighties or even nineties.

“Something I’ve learned from the case studies so far is that our sexuality really changes as we age. Who you are sexually at any given moment is not who you’ll be sexually in 10 years’ time. You can end up having way better sex in your sixties, seventies and beyond because the sex you’re having is less goal directed, it’s less focused on penetration, and the creativity and play as you figure out how your bodies change [as you get older] can be an incredibly joyous experience.”

All case studies are anonymous, and if you’re keen to share your story you can volunteer to be interviewed via this online form.

“One of the questions I ask is whether or not they’re happy with their sex life – because that’s actually what matters. It’s not how often, it’s not who it’s with, it’s not how you do it, it’s only whether or not it’s making you happy.”

Lost Pleasure: Searching for the Sex Straight Women Are Missing by Alyx Gorman is due to be published by HarperCollins in 2025.