Nicole McNichols explains the Psychology Behind the Female Orgasm, in this Psychology Today article.
The Psychology Behind the Female Orgasm: 5 takeaways from the most recent research.
Among sex researchers, the “orgasm gap” refers to the consistent finding that women tend to orgasm less frequently than men. The question of why this is true is complicated. First, orgasm frequency in women tends to be highly correlated with psychological factors such as body image, sexual assertiveness, sexual shame, and sexual pride. Male orgasms, in contrast, tend to be more rooted in physiology. This is why, for males, problems with sexual arousal like erectile dysfunction are often easily cured with a Viagra prescription whereas female arousal issues require a broader, more psychological approach. There are also cultural factors at play: Societal gender norms make it difficult for women to clearly articulate what makes them feel good. Our culture still often shames women who pursue sex and minimizes the importance of female sexual pleasure.
When studying female orgasm, it’s important to distinguish between different types of situations and context. For example, the types of psychological factors that make a woman more likely to orgasm with a familiar partner may be entirely different than those that lead to orgasm in a one-night stand. Likewise, the variables that predict the likelihood that a woman will enjoy multiple orgasms may be different than those that predict whether she can orgasm on her own, via masturbation. And then there is the question of sexual satisfaction: Do more orgasms always equal more sexual satisfaction? Or is sexual satisfaction a more nuanced concept that takes into account more about the woman’s psychology versus just how many orgasms she has? In other words, is it quality or quantity that counts more when it comes to female sexual satisfaction?
A recent study looked to answer all of these questions via an online survey administered to 1343 women recruited using Amazon Turk. The median age of participants was 38. Following are what I believe to be the five most interesting findings from this study:
1. Orgasms were not the sole predictor of sexual satisfaction.
To a small degree, and only in the context of a familiar partner, the more orgasms a female had, the more sexual satisfaction she reported. However, this was a very small effect and didn’t occur in other contexts, such as sex with a new partner. This is also supported by previous literature showing that a multitude of other factors seem to account for self-reported sexual satisfaction, such as having idealized, positive thoughts generally about sex itself. Emotional satisfaction also plays a big factor, as does sexual pride, positive body image, and sexual assertiveness. So let’s all agree that sex should be enjoyed for the whole experience and that there’s more to great sex than just an orgasm.
Sexual assertiveness and sexual pride were the biggest predictor of orgasm frequency across all contexts.
This, in general, supports previous literature that sexual assertiveness and body image are important factors for women’s sexual satisfaction. The more a woman reported that she felt comfortable communicating what she wanted and what made her feel good, the more orgasms she had. whether with a new or familiar partner or by herself. Likewise, the more pride a woman felt about her body and about herself sexually, the more sexual satisfaction she reported.
3. Frequency of orgasms was most highly correlated to sexual satisfaction when they occurred with a “familiar partner.”
Note that this doesn’t mean that orgasms were better when they occurred with a familiar partner; they just were more frequent and more closely linked to sexual satisfaction than in other contexts. This makes some sense: After all, sex between two partners who have learned what feels good and satisfying for one another tends to be more satisfying. But, as the researchers point out, “familiar partner” doesn’t necessarily have to mean a committed relationship. This suggests that “Friends with Benefits” arrangements, for example, can lead to lots of orgasms and highly satisfying sex for women.
4. Multiple orgasms didn’t really predict sexual satisfaction.
Society and media paint multiple orgasms as the holy grail of female sexual pleasure. But maybe the linkage between multiple orgasms and sexual satisfaction is a bit exaggerated? On average, women in this study who reported having just one orgasm during sex indicated just as much sexual satisfaction as women who had many. Interestingly, lesbians were more likely to report having multiple orgasms compared to heterosexual women. Other research suggests that sex in the context of a lesbian relationship tends to last longer than that in a heterosexual relationship but also to be less frequent. Score one for quality over quantity?
5. Women who reported positive (vs. negative) views of casual sex and rejected gender norms were more likely to orgasm during a one-night stand and less likely to orgasm with a familiar partner.
This also makes sense: Women who have more accepting (vs. negative) attitudes toward casual sex and who reject the idea that women shouldn’t pursue sex are more likely to have orgasms the first time with a new partner. In fact, they may even prefer casual sex to sex in a committed relationship. This challenges the notion that hookups and non-committal sex for women can’t be satisfying. Recent research has demonstrated that when hookups are motivated for autonomous reasons, such as a desire for sexual pleasure and adventure, they can be highly rewarding and positive. So, women who have positive attitudes about casual sex likely are driven by autonomous motivations and less by a desire to please a partner or to make someone commit. This, in turn, allows the focus to be on their own pleasure.
To conclude, there’s more to female sexual satisfaction than just orgasm. The ability to communicate sexual desires and to feel proud and own oneself as a sexual being are the most important factors when predicting not just orgasm frequency but sexual satisfaction among women. And finally, new sexual encounters can be highly satisfying and lead to lots of orgasms for women if shame is left at the door. It’s time to close the orgasm gap once and for all.
You can read the full article here.