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.
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