Surprises in Indiana University Sex Survey

Researchers at Indiana University recently released the most comprehensive sex survey since 1994. It yielded some surprising results:

  • Young women were more likely than young men to report having had sex in the last year
  • Young women are increasingly likely to report masturbating
  • 85% of men report that their partner had an orgasm the last time they had sex; but only 64% of women said they had reached orgasm. Hmmmmm
  • Men were more likely to reach orgasm if they were in a relationship than with a casual sex partner

Other things seemed unsurprising and unchanged since 1994

  • Men were more likely to find sex extremely pleasurable
  • Men were more likely to reach orgasm

What does all this mean? 

We see both sexual progress for women, but also repression’s lingering effects. 

Let’s dig a little deeper into the data.

We often hear that women are less likely to admit having sex than men. Yet 80% of women aged 20 to 24 said they’d had intercourse in the last year, while only 62% of men said the same thing. I guess many women are having sex with older guys. But the fact that women are increasingly likely to admit sexual behavior suggests times are changing. 

Women are also more likely to report masturbating than in the past, possibly reflecting a change in parental and societal attitudes. For instance, vibrators are less off-limits than they used to be. Still, there are sizable differences at younger ages with 75% of 16-17 year old boys masturbating while only 45% of girls do. This may reflect differences in anatomy with the male body making its workings more obvious. But by their late 20s men and women are nearly equally likely to masturbate: 84% of men versus 72% of women. Yet from their 30s on up women are less likely than men to continue.

Still, it’s still not all good news for women. 

While 91% of men had an orgasm the last time they had sex only 64% of women did. These numbers roughly reflect the percentage of men and women who say they enjoyed sex “extremely” or “quite a bit”: 66% of women and 83% of men. Still, 66% is up from the 59% of women saying they enjoyed sex a great deal in a 2004 ABC News poll. Younger women are less likely to report an orgasm with 58% of women in their 20s saying they had had one the last time they had sex. 

While 85% of men believed that their partner had an orgasm, only 64% of women reported having had one. Still, many men think their partners never fake it with them, despite the evidence. As one New York Daily News reader put it, “I have met plenty of women who like sex and taught their men how to please them. Guess what, they all reached orgasm.” Maybe they did, but as Sally (“When Harry Met Sally”) can tell you, you can’t always tell.

Men seem to take it personally when women don’t reach orgasm. Sometimes they should, as when they don’t listen to their partners and try to please them. At the same time, we live in a society where women’s sexuality has been repressed. As the researchers put it, “women are less easily orgasmic for both anatomical and psychosocial reasons.” 

Things have changed, but there is still plenty to dampen women’s sexual interest. Here are a couple of comments on the topic from the feminist blog Jezebel

[On not masturbating when younger] It wasn’t that I didn’t have sexual feelings, or thought it was wrong (even though I was worried I would be sinning for a little while, before I pretty much became an atheist), I just wasn’t comfortable enough yet to explore myself in that way.

Ditto. I didn’t really start exploring until I was half-way through college. I imagine it was a combination of issues: discomfort with my body, ignorance about my body, not having had a long-term partner (and therefore, for me, a reason to explore), lack of camaraderie (in high school, my girlfriends weren’t talking about it). Being a girl can be very complicated! It took me time to realize how to be a sexual being.

One said she didn’t think masterbation was wrong, even though she saw it as sinning at one point. Both women had felt uncomfortable exploring their bodies early on. Not surprising, really. They both — along with everyone else in this culture — have been bombarded with notions that sexuality, for women especially, is dirty and sinful. Notions which are not easily overcome. Meanwhile, women in nonrepressive cultures, like ancient Tahitians, have greatly enjoyed sex and were highly orgasmic.

Or, as a reader from the New York Daily News put it: 

Women are not encouraged to masturbate, openly express desire, we are told not to want to have a stable of available lovers. With all the guilt and pressure put upon women you don’t have to wonder why some women don’t have orgasms.

 Georgia Platts

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17 Responses

  1. Has anyone every considered the notion that more and more females are having sex and masterbating more and still enjoying it less because society insists women should be more sexual than they really are?

    What’s with all these studies telling women it is ok to be sexy? Do we really think women are that dumb? Women today know what they are comfortable with- what is confusing is the sexualization they are faced with! Why are we trying to make them obsessed with sex? Bad enough we see it 24/7 now we want women to do it 24/7 too?

    In a society obsessed with SEX- it is no suprise that women are obsessed with having sex- being skinny, dressing like hookers and being bullied into calling it freedom. Freedom to what – being objectified? Meanwhile she is not into it at all, she is not enjoying it and the pitiful few who say they do are probably too embarassed to admit they are being used! Did anyone ever think of that?

    I for one am getting sick and tired of all this crap about poor poor women being repressed about sex. I woulld rather tell my daughter if you really enjoy it – fine – if not – toss his ass out and concentrate on important things.

    I so totally disagree-the are not repressed at all. Woman don’t have sex because for them IT SUCKS! It is not at all what t is cracked up to be by all those who keep trying to shove it down our throats as if it is all that! For the few who do enjoy it – have at it- be my guest, but don’t try to sell it to everyone else. Obviously the studies show women don’t like it and instead of trying to find something wrong with them for not liking it – instead of blaming society for damaging women – buck up- maybe they just don’t like it as much as you do! From the beginning of time there were women who liked sex and participated regardless of how society frowned, and society trying to loosen women to do pretend to enjoy sex is disgusting.

    Why on earth would any women be expected to have sex and not enjoy it? If only 64% of women reported having had an orgasm they are essentially toilet bowls or sperm receptacles. No women should be used for the pleasure of another!

    For Pete’s sake- SEX SEX SEX – let’s let the mex think with their dicks 24/7– women have better things to do than to focus on their vagina’s and their body image and how damned repressed society is brainwashing them to believe they are forcing them to have more and more SEX and enjoying it 64% of the time. How pathetic is that?

    First they were told they can’t have sex or are not supposed to enjoy it and now they are supposed to become nynphomaniacs tittlating themselves and each other every chance they get or there is still something wrong with them. No friggen wonder women are depressed. The only thing wrong with women sexually is they are being sexualized and objectified and they fall for it.


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