Surprises in Indiana University Sex Survey


Sex, sex, sexResearchers at Indiana University have completed 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 were unchanged and not so surprising.

  • 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. No data here on how many partners they’re admitting to.

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.

So women seem to be more sexually liberated. At the same time:

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 of the IU sex survey 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, had 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.

Related posts:
Women: Climax Less Likely in Relationship Sex (Indiana U. sex survey)
Men: Climax More Likely in Relationship Sex  (Indiana U. sex survey)
“Cock” vs “Down There”
Sex Lessons from Mom and Dad

DO Women Like Sex Less Than Men?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on October 6, 2010, in feminism, gender, men, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. “62% of men said the same thing. I guess many women are having sex with older guys”

    Maybe having sex with men out of the age range studied, but also more sharing of “high value” men, of whatever age.

    • I don’t know that older is necessarily higher value. It could be other things. Females appear to mature more quickly than males so an older male would be more her equal. Also, older males have more experience (including experience being rejected and dealing with it) so they might simply be more likely to ask women out, compared with younger men.

      • Overall, women want fewer sexual encounters than men, so there is a large imbalance between genders in the amount of sex desired. So it requires more than one statistically typical woman to willingly supply the amount of sex typically wanted by a man. And high value men trend toward greater promiscuity than high value women. So possible couplings with with a higher value opposite-sex partner is disproportionately available to substantially larger numbers of women compared to men. Due to this imbalance, even middle-tier women have the option to compete for the casual attentions of such men in this age cohort with some chance of success, for a time.
        Relatively lower female desire for sex and effective competition from more attractive males leads to the statistically skewed M/F outcome of the study.

        It’s not extremely unusual that men or women pair with older partners but not prevalent, either. I agree women are more likely than men to have sex with an older partner.
        I’m surprised by this study, because it seems to show a much higher per capita incidence of annual sexual activity than I previously thought. I need to get out more.

      • Well, studies show that roughly 1/2 of both men and women prefer a lot of partners whereas roughly 1/2 of both men and women prefer monogamy. But women do get punished much more than men which decreases desire.

        See these

        Because women sexuality is more repressed and they are less interested in sex, women have absolutely no problem having sex if they want to.

        “High value” men and women isn’t entirely clear. What is deemed high value varies by culture and by individuals. Is someone like Bill Gates deemed high value? Not the best looking guy in the world but super smart and wealthy. Others prefer partners who are kind and generous. Like my friends and me. And apparently most women.

        Hope you are able to get out more. 🙃

  2. 80% of women aged 20-24 had intercourse while only 62% of men did? Where’s the movement for sexual equality for men?

    • That seems to be because women tend to date older men and men tend to date younger women. So yeah, we need more gender equality so that men are more comfortable dating older women and women more comfortable dating younger men 🙂

  3. Ricky Melendrez

    I agree with Melissa in that men have familiarized the topic of masturbation into common day-to-day teasing or horseplay. I know a lot of guys who like to play a role of authority on sex, and many of them do joke about the help masturbation has brought into their comfort “lasting” with their respective partners. I agree too, sex is very much a psycho-social interactive experience, and, like some of my chums say, “you can’t go to the away game, without first having some home practice”. Maybe one of the reasons males are hypersexualized, as the above commentator has noted, is because it’s right there for us to grab on. You can tell a young boy to stop holding his penis, but that little kid is gunna find some alone time to explore it at some point. Whereas females have to probe around a hole they can’t presumably see. Also women (since men find difficulty openly talking about their daughters’ vaginas with their daughters [because of pedophelia-phobia]) who deal with the discipline after catching their daughters in the act, are exposed to years (presumably if they are average mid-20+ aged parents) of advertising and media gender focuses, which have created a necessity to “save” the young female of any sexual thought, for a husband to protect and nurture her in the long-run, therefore feeding the same illogical thought process of a patriarchal system. Clearly women are nearly caught up in competitive range to men, with more women graduating with degrees in this country than men, but we continue to hold on to the same conservative commonalities which repress sexual urge in the first place. Everyone needs some practice at home to make sure their gear is in check.

  4. I belive times have changed women where not allowed to talk about sex and where not allowed to talk about their sexuality or able to show their body off. It was an unlady like thing to do, it was disrespectful and wrong. Women where taught to keep that to them selves. And now women dress provocative and talk about sex and their sexuality because its normal now.

  5. This recent research in Indiana University surprising me! Generally (but not anymore), men are more likely to have intercourse and masturbate than women do. But it’s interesting women’s percentages of having intercourse and masturbating goes up. Especially what makes me surprised is that many young women have had intercourse with older men. Also they answered very honestly in the survey. Because I think that women’s sexuality shouldn’t be opened or exposed in society (not like men do), so some women just tell a lie in some parts, for example, they actually masturbate pretty frequently, but they never say they do. Also some women think having sex or masturbating as dirty or despised behavior. And it could be one of the reasons that women cannot reach orgasm. I think this just bring negative results to women. I’m a woman who is able to reach orgasm, enjoy having intercourse with my partner without any worries or discomfort with it. So after reading the article, I thought I’m a lucky one.

  6. From the begining of time us women had to always hold back and not be to sexual. Having many partners, loving to have sex alot, and masterbation for a woman was dirty especially if you came from a religious background. Now days things have changed. It’s okay to please youself or love sex. I’m guaranteed that women back them were just the same as us women today but thay had to hide it because of the time era.

  7. More and more women are talking about they want to have organism. That’s why they change their sex partners all the time. At least the girl friends around me. Well, pursuing sex pleasure is nothing wrong either for men or women. But be careful, even with condom, there is still chance to get STD. Most women do not know that and they think condom can protect them. But, sometimes men ask women BJ for them. Then, that would be a problem. Well, besides all the gender or feminists problems. I think being safe is the most important thing during the sex.

  8. I think the reason why more women reported having sex in the last year than men is because there is less pressure on women to pretend that they are not having intercourse. The liberal culture of today’s society indicates that the times have changed. We no longer live in an archaic past where women were shunned for exhibiting their sexuality. Today women have become sexually empowered as it has led them to declare that more women have had sex and begin masturbation at a younger age than in the previous year. It is good to see that sexuality is becoming more gender equal but it still has a long way to go.

  9. You could not be more right. If a girl masturbates then she is seen as dirty. On the other hand, guys openly talk about masturbating and it is very accepted to a point where if a guy claims he never does it then he is seen as weird. Because of this most girls do not explore themselves down there and miss out on a lot of pleasure. I know that was the case for me. I thought it was dirty and gross because that is what i was taught and i had never touched myself down there or even knew what to do until i started dating an older man who showed me a lot of things. For the longest time i was not enjoying sex because of this. I think that more education needs to be put out for girls about this topic and that it should be talked about in sex ed classes in high schools. Im sure society purposefully put this idea into girls heads to keep them from enjoying sex so that they would not want to have it at all.

  10. Georgia Platts

    What I hope for is a world in which women do not feel repressed and do not feel like sex toys either.

    But rape, and the male dominance behind it, is one of the things that can keep women from enjoying sexuality.

    I would like to see a world where women aren’t objectified, where they aren’t abused, and where they can enjoy a more healthy sexuality. Or abstain, if they so desire. I don’t think that women should feel forced to be sexual if they aren’t interested. I’ll have to write a post on that sometime soon.

    Thank you for your perspective. It’s an important one. And I agree with you.

  11. Where is the evidence that this is repression’s lingering effects?
    If 64% of women are reaching orgasm can the reason be
    1- they are just not that into it
    2- they are bullied into participating by a hypersexualized society
    3- men are too selfish to satisfiy them

    I just think it is quote a stretch to say that repression is the reason. I never feft repressed but I damned well felt and still feel pressure to be sexual, felt used, mean are selfish, didn’t orgasm, never felt the need to live up to this hypersexed woman image either!

    We are in a hypersexualized society and if women are not participating we automatically label it theri problem – – I don’t think it is a problem at all. If there is a problem- blame it on society who expects women to be a sex toy- we are NOT and I for one am tired of being studied as a sex object!

    • There is a big difference between being a sex object and enjoying sexuality. Being a sex object often inhibits women’s sexuality, as I’ll discuss later.

      Men aren’t sex objects, and they enjoy sex much more than women.

      Evidence of lingering effects of repression can be found in the following facts:

      1. Men enjoy sex much more than women, on average

      2. Modern American women enjoy sex much less than women who haven’t been repressed, like their ancient Tahitian and American Indian sisters (neither of whom were sex objects, btw).

      3. On average, women report more orgasm and enjoying sex more as they age. That’s not for biological reasons. When women live a long time in committed relationships, some of the repression subsides for reasons I’ll discuss later, but a couple quick examples: They’re less likely to feel like sluts, to be distracted by worries of slut-shaming, and to feel ok about exploring sexuality in the context of marriage, which even most religions say women should not feel shameful about. But even in marriage, it can take a while to overcome a lot of our repressive forces.

      4. Women mentioning that fears of sinning inhibited their sexuality at some point (even as they may also say they weren’t repressed!)

      5. Women mentioning that they weren’t comfortable exploring their bodies. Why not? This culture tells us it’s dirty.

      6. Yeah, many women are just not that into it, but given that people with less repression tend to be more into it, this suggests repression’s effects (once again, remember your highly orgasmic sisters from nonrepressive societies – see #2 above)

      7. You may not feel you’ve been repressed, but I don’t know how you could grow up in this society and not, with so many messages that women’s sexuality is dirty and should be controlled. I’ve only begun to discuss those messages. Also, people tend to think they’re just naturally how they are. You can often only see the effects of culture by looking cross-culturally. Refer to #2 again.

      8. No one should feel bullied into having sex. If you don’t enjoy it, and don’t feel it’s worth the bother, don’t worry about it. Other women do have concerns about their lack of desire, and I’m interested in educating them on what’s going on, and how things might be changed.

      8. Finally, while I think that women are repressed in this society, I don’t feel that (so-called) men’s way of doing sex is better. I’m interested in exploring women’s repression, and considering what women can learn from men, but also what men can learn from women. (What I really mean are so-called men’s and women’s ways. Don’t mean to oversimplify)

      • You are not oversimplifying- I like your work! I admire you and the work you do but I worry about the hypersexualization and all the pressure women feel to have sex.

        That is a study I would like to see arranged!

        And I assure you – I never felt repressed- I always felt this was my body – as a child who was abused sexually and a teen who was raped and a young adult raped again – I always know – I had rights that no one else had to my body and I did and do resent others using my body for their friggen pleasure .

        I am not a sex toy- I am a human being! I was one hell of a beauty too! Not for a trophy or to be used and abused as they thought i was built to be!
        I know what happened and what i felt and still feel! I also know what 30+ years research of other women yields!

        There is a lot of pressure to be what we are expected to be!

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