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.

This article was originally posted on BroadBlogs on October 6, 2010.

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 May 30, 2011, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Though modern women are more sexually open compared to the past, I can still see the ways in which they still feel the need to repress their sexuality. I observe it most in Filipino women like myself who grew up in a very religious culture. A lot of my Filipino girlfriends find it hard to reach orgasms when having sex with their boyfriends. In the Roman Catholic faith, we are raised to believe that masturbation and premarital sex in general was sinful.

    Through a Human Sexuality course I took a while back I learned that women would have an easier time reaching orgasm during intercourse if they first learn how to pleasure themselves. This means that they may need to masturbate to know how they can best orgasm and then to teach their partners. But when I sold this idea to my Filipino girlfriends they all looked at me weird. It turned out that only a few of them have ever tried masturbating. The ones that do it often have a hard time admitting it, though they are not shy about talking about having sex with their boyfriends. I guess that while premarital sex in our culture is pretty much pervasive, masturbation is still a taboo topic – when it comes to girls.

    I do not want to generalize all Catholic Filipino women’s sexual experiences based the very few examples I observed in my friends and my personal life. But based on these, I can totally agree with Ms. Platts that certain pressures, such as the beliefs of our patriarchal religions, have the potential to majorly affect how women perceive their bodies and how they should sexually express themselves.

  2. Katherine Alvarez

    I definitely agree with this article. Women have always been socially outcast if they were seen as sexual beings. It has always been looked down upon if women engaged in sex outside of marriage or if they even enjoyed the sex that they had within their marriage. Men were never seen as unacceptable if they engaged in a sexual lifestyle, even a homosexual relationship. Women were actually taught that sex wasn’t something that they could enjoy and because of that women are still suffering the effects

    Due to the fact that women were taught that sex wasn’t supposed to be enjoyed and was only meant to be enjoyed for men, women are not able to enjoy sex to this day. It is still seen as somewhat embarrassing to discuss sex or to admit having sex. Although surveys are easier for women to admit that they are sexually active and enjoy having sex, the fact that women are less likely to climax is a direct result of how society accepts sexual women. Men were never taught that sex was unacceptable and as a result have a higher number of climax, women on-the-other-hand are significantly less than men.

    I hope that one day society will not put the idea into women or men that sex isn’t acceptable. That way sex will be able to be equal for both men and women. If we start now teaching girls that sex isn’t a horrible thing, women one day will be able to enjoy sex the way that men do.

  3. Simranjeet K. Rai

    I definitely appreciated this article because it talks about such a controversial subject in such an expressive, liberating way and inspires me to be even more open than I already am about the truth that I am a sexual being. Having said that, I think it is pretty cool that the numbers are increasing for women about more women having orgasms, more women masturbating, etc. But one thing that I do want to point out is that women, being quite the opposite of men, should not- in my humble opinion- be compared to men when it comes to our openness and ability to be honest about our sexual interactions. It is a very “taboo” subject that is still frowned upon by many and it will take time for this to change, if it even ever becomes an acceptable topic for women to discuss freely and without guilt or shame. Until then, I intend on exploring my own sexuality and my own beliefs on this matter rather than labeling myself as a statistic or a member of some group simply to be accepted.

  4. It seems that women are being more bravely in expressing sex behaviors. However, I believe they would only do so when talking to a female friend, very close friend, and during a survey. Admitting masturbating behavior might reflect oneself of being sexually unsatisfactory or sexually demanding, hence, people usually afraid of being ashamed or putting their own value down. Comparing to men, men are less likely to feel ashamed by telling this, men view this as “usual behavior”. If this is okay for men to talk about, why would it not for women. Masturbating on regular basis is good for health according to health adviser.

  5. It is truly agreeable that even women are now more sexually liberated than before and admit to have sex, they can hardly reach orgasm compared to men that they feel it is sinful to masturbate and feel pleasure by reaching orgasm while having sex. However, as the survey shows that “men were more likely to reach orgasm if they were in a relationship,” both man and woman can feel more pleasure if they were in a stable relationship where they do not have to feel insecure about the relationship. It is undeniable that not only physical and psychological differences between genders but also the society, one’s belief, the religion and many other factors have been influencing the woman’s comfortableness while having sex, whether they can reach orgasm or not.

  6. To be honest, I didn’t find the results of this new study altogether very surprising, the results were actually on par with what I would’ve guessed. I think this is because I’m 21 years old, and all of my insight to women’s sexuality from this stand point comes from women within my age group. I should clarify that the results weren’t surprising since I expected them, but it is still surprising to see the some of the data. For example, the data about how many women have felt uncomfortable masturbating in the past, to me, as a male, it’s always seemed like a great time, free of charge. Unfortunate that something so natural can cause so much shame. I would have liked to see what percentage of males who have faked an orgasm. It seems like a hard thing for males to do (it’s really hard to be convincing, really really hard), but I’ve been there, and a few of my other guy friends have as well, I would’ve liked to see the percentage out of curiosity.

    • I did read that men can fake orgasms. Using a condom seems necessary to get away with it. I’ll have to look for that article to see if I can find stats.

  7. Women only fake orgasms if they care. So if they are real or not, does it matter to the partner?

  1. Pingback: More time for faking orgasms | SGMarinova's Blog

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