Do men worry about “doing it right?”

Men concerned with pleasing partners

Men concerned with pleasing partners

I asked both women and men students in my classes if they ever worry about whether they are “doing it right” when they have sex.

Let’s start with the men, all of whom are 1st and 2nd year students, and most of whom are in their late teens/early twenties.

I asked 69 of my men students who had sex with women (straight/bi) this question:

In sexual situations do you ever worry about whether you are “doing it” right?

Answer:  YES: 71%            NO: 29%

So most do. And then I did another qualitative survey of 26 men, where I asked them to talk about their answer to see what their concerns revolved around. (Fyi, 65% of this sample worried about “doing it right.”)

I felt that some of the categories blurred, but you can get a sense of how I categorized responses that could bleed into each other by seeing how I classified them below. I also placed three of the responses in more than one category, so adding everything up will come to more than 100%.

Here’s what they had to say:

Concern for her pleasure (n=5;  19%)

  • Yes. Does she like what I’m doing?
  • Yes, because I like to make it pleasurable for my partner so I’m self-conscious over whether or not she is attracted/pleasured.
  • Not really by some “standard,” but I do think of what she’s feeling. I get the highest enjoyment from focusing on how she feels. (I know that often what she enjoys is me doing what I want.)
  • I try to please my partner. I don’t really “worry” about it though

No harm  (n=4; 15%)

  • Yes. I don’t want to hurt the other person emotionally or physically
  • Only when exploring boundaries. Testing involves a lot of concern for safety and comfort
  • I worry about too much dominance versus too little
  • Yes, because having sex requires high responsibility

Worry or focus on technique (n=4;  15%)

  • No. Well, if I’m getting the motions down efficiently
  • Yes, right techniques. Sometimes I can imagine myself being more focused on doing it right
  • I feel pressure to do what feels the best and what society has perceived is “standard” action
  • Yes. It’s a gut feeling that probably stems from never having comprehensive sex ed.

Inexperience creates concern with technique (n=3;  12%)

  • I used to worry when I was younger, but not too often now.
  • Yes, only the first couple of times with a new partner
  • Yes, I’m not that experienced

A few guys seemed more concerned about their egos, hoping they were good enough for their partners and wanting to make a good impression:

Yes, if I feel intimidated by my partner (n=1; 4%)

  • Yes, but only if I’m with someone who I think is better looking than me. I’m still pretty confident and not stressed but I also think about it

Make good impression/reputation  (n=2;  8%)

  • Sometimes I’m more concerned about making a good impression than thinking about pleasure
  • Yes. If they are strangers I want to leave a good impression

Nope, I don’t worry about doing it right (n=9; 35%)

One-third of the guys didn’t worry about doing it right. Several were men of few words who simply said “No” or “Nope.”

Just because they couldn’t muster more words than “nope” doesn’t mean they don’t care about their partners, but one specifically added, “Don’t care, honestly.” 

  • Not now but I did when I was younger
  • I rarely question myself during the act
  • Don’t care, honestly

We’ll take a look at the women’s answers to this question next time.

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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 June 11, 2020, in men, sex and sexuality and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. I think iI’ve seen this post around before and my answer if it was around before focused on sex positions being inexperienced with sex and having minimal sexual education and being largely sheltered in my life my biggest concerns have been about consent and how genuine it is. Somebody said to me that it would be safer for me to have a woman on top of me when it comes to having sex because physical balance is another concern of mine not to mention having been diagnosed with a form of epilepsy last year i’m more worried and with having sex physically exhausting could over exerting myself trigger a potential seizure or am I overthinking? I never really gave it a thought that saying yes to things to keep the peace was a trauma response but it’s been brought into sharp focus now. with the fact that sexual penetration if it’s for the first time can hurt i’m not a person who likes to cause pain to anybody and I don’t want to spend my life continually apologising.

    • A lot of women prefer the on top position. And if you do something else just be open to your feedback. And yes, that post has been up for about a month. Today I released the companion piece on women’s experiences.

  2. Interesting survey, 69 total participants is a pretty small sample size but the 65/35 split mostly mirrors what I’ve experienced in my own life, being the exact age and gender that this survey targeted. I’d be curious to learn more about guys themselves, maybe another survey could be done along with this one, maybe one about the extent of their sexual education in school. One thing that stood out to me was the anxious feelings being most prevalent at the beginning of a relationship or during a casual hookup. It makes sense that these guys would be most nervous at the beginning, I wonder if a more specific line of questioning on relationship length would change their answer. For instance, maybe most of the guys who said no to the initial question are in long term relationships where they had an established sexual history with their partner and, whether it be because of communication or confidence, no longer need to worry. Of course that’s just a guess and from the comments and responses I read it seems like most of these guys are single. I’ve talked about this with my friends before and most of us have pretty complicated feelings on the subject, usually it comes down to trying to find a balance between your partner’s experience, your own, and trying to make things feel ‘natural’, so to speak. Great post though, thanks for making it!

    • Yes it is a small sample size. That makes the qualitative side of the study more important. Qualitative studies are always small because it’s so time consuming to read through and analyze everything.

      Thank you for sharing about your experience.

      And the companion piece on women is now out.

  3. I found the data interesting, especially for the age group that some men were worried about doing it right. Some men seem to really care about the pleasure of their partner which I think shows maturity in the intimacy department. I also found it interesting that some said they overthink it and end up decreasing their own pleasure. What was not surprising was that 35% said they were not worried about “doing it right” and they had nothing to add to the statement besides a “no” or a “nope”. I wonder how the answers would change based on a different age range, men between 25-35 or 40-55. Also, would the answers vary based on single and married men. Would a married man still care about the pleasure of his wife after 10, 20, or 50 years of marriage? It’s nice to know that women are not the only ones thinking if their partner is enjoying themselves or satisfied. It can be intimidating engaging with a new partner, this data shows that both men and women have some concerns about “doing it right”.

    • The men in my data were pretty much all single. I’m pretty sure that marriage makes a difference since other studies have found that having a girlfriend versus a hook up makes a difference. Men tend to care about their girlfriends but not about their hook ups.

      The companion piece on women is out now. You might be interested to check that out too.

  4. I find this survey very interesting. I would like to know more about the men that were included in this survey, i.e., whether or not they are single, view on women in general, etc. From my experience and many of my friends, men do not care about her experience when it is just part of the hook up culture. All the man wanted was to reach their climax. They were not concerned about a woman’s climax at all. I was never able to reach my climax, nor ever asked if it was pleasurable for me when I was just “hooking up” with a man. When I got into my relationship, that is when I discovered that some men do care about women’s pleasure. My boyfriend has always verbally made sure I am comfortable and reached my climax. I have seen this happen in numerous situations amongst my friends, from home and from college. I believe it would be a more accurate representation if background questions were asked.

    • These are young college-age men and I’m sure that the vast majority are single. They also go to a community college instead of a four-year college that has fraternities which I think makes a big difference and brings out the more natural male Sexuality rather than the competitive “Sex as a game” you get out a lot of four-year institutions with a Greek system.

  5. As a male, I find this survey to be very surprising and spot on. In general, I do believe that most men actually care, but for varying motives as described in the article. Although, I believe that there is quite a big misconception of males not caring because of some toxic masculinity that exists within our gender that forces some males to say they do not care. Commonly amongst young males, it is often a numbers game, which pressures them into saying that they do not care. Since this survey was taken in a college, it makes sense that more said yes because males are mature at that age. Although, not all people mature quite the same. As we grow older, I believe it becomes less about impressing others and more about caring about people who are important. This survey does not explicitly state that these young men are becoming more relationship-oriented and caring, though I’m glad it signals that the toxic masculinity that is prevalent in young men dissipates as they get older.

  6. Lilly Morino

    I actually found this survey to be super interesting. As a female and discussing sexual intercourse with a lot of my female friends, I feel as if females are more often than not concerned with pleasing their partners. Reading about how men feel is nice! I wonder though if the percentage of men who answered “nope” or “no” were just actually too embarrassed to admit that they do in fact care. I feel like this could possibly be an ego thing because I assume these men are late teens or early twenties. I am excited to see what the female survey percentages are.

    • Yes the young men were in their late teens and early 20s. And it’s hard to know what the socially acceptable answer is in these men’s minds. Maybe the acceptable answer is to say you do care? These questions are always a risk with social service.

  7. VC Caporusso

    Whenever I am having sex, I do think of some of these thoughts. It does make sense that men have them too, I’m not surprised they do. I’m honestly kind of glad they do. It’s so interesting the way they answered. Those who were comfortable gave full answers, but there were others that just gave a simple “yes” or “no.” You said that it “doesn’t mean they don’t care about their partners.” Which I agree with, I’m sure that part of those answers were because they didn’t want to talk about their sex life to their teacher. I know that sex is something that is special to some people, and to others it is just something fun to do. No matter what a person thinks about sex, it is something that I’m sure everyone thinks about. Everyone wonders, “What will this person like,” “What will I like?” I think it’s important to think these thoughts and experiment with partners, but not to the point where you get self conscious or pushed to think these thoughts.

  8. I was surprised about the large number of young men who scored high on the question; “Do men worry about doing the right thing.” I guess they more of a social conscience at that age then I give them credit for.

  9. Am I surprised that over ⅓ of the men surveyed don’t question if they’re doing it right? Not really. Growing up as a cis gender, white male in a society where “men” talk poorly or objectively about women to bolster their status among the “bros”, I’ve heard and seen more than I care to share. Granted, these conversations were in high school where everyone was concerned about quantity, how many people they have been with and when a “bro” gets another check mark, everyone ‘hoots and hollers’ in excitement, literally. Childish to say the least. While men mature throughout college and (sometimes) get knocked down from their misogynistic pedestals, the trend of personal, physical pleasure taking precedence over that of the partner’s is still prevalent. This is to say, that even though a third of those sampled were concerned about themselves, the other ⅔ were concerned about their partners’ experiences, with a large fraction of those folks being consumed by technique and ‘efficiency’, whatever that means. So, now we’re left with 34% of men that were surveyed taking an interest in their other halves’ well being and pleasure. Embarrassingly, I think this is about right, in terms of the male population not being complete dip wads, to put it nicely. I wish this number was higher but honestly, men are pretty awful. In the layout of the data, not once did I see an acknowledgement about communication, verbally or otherwise. This is what mutual enjoyment and reciprocated engagement boils down to, communication and being transparent. Because if you can’t be transparent in the bedroom, when you’re at your most vulnerable, then you’re only lying to yourself and disrespecting your partner.

    • Thanks for sharing about your personal observations with this.

    • it said 65% worried about doing it right though. Yes some is tied to the ego, like technique and stuff, that’s focused on because men want to know they are doing well to get their partner to orgasm. There should be more about other things too, but society places expectations on men, so their egos get involved but it can mean it’s to do better to get her off. Plus it goes both ways, a too big percentage of men over valuing themselves thinking they are great so not concerned about women’s pleasure because they assume they are. But there are plenty of women who are so passive or lazy in bed that they could be considered as not caring how good they are. They care how they look, but performance not as much.

  10. I wanted to start out this comment by saying this is such an important conversation to have! When it comes to partnership and mutual enjoyment I have found from others that there appears to be a discrepancy. For the most part both partners would of course love to know they are pleasing their partner but in reality it feels like a taboo topic to discuss. In a way it feels like men are too scared of admitting what they fear in terms of their masculinity and how sex plays into such. As I am apart of the LGBTQ+ community and identify as a gay man, I find it very interesting to see the confidence between those strictly straight/bisexual in a relationship with a woman versus a strictly gay interaction and confidence during sexual activities with another man from a personal standpoint. Not having experienced a straight relationship, I only assume from what I am told by my friends mainly consisting of women. To have a study done as such shows the difference between what we perceive men to think versus how they actually feel and think. Great post!

  11. Shahand Esmaeili

    Do men worry about “doing it right?”
    You conducted a very interesting survey. It is interesting that most of the guys were thinking if they are doing it right or concerned for her pleasure. It would be more clear if I could already see the women’s answers but why as a man we are so worried about if we are doing it right or wrong? I think it is because of the wrong subculture or understanding in society which applies the dominance role for men in everything. Men were supposed to control everything and maybe that is the reason that they feel pressure to show their partners that they are capable of pleasing them in sex. One of the answers is that being too worried about too much dominance versus too little. That could be a good example to support my thoughts. Also lack of having enough experience makes it understandable that some people feel nervous about it to not be able to show that they can not be a real man in their partner’s eyes. All are only wrong understanding of what the roles of males and females are in sex. You had another story regarding a girl who had her self-esteem only if she was trying to do whatever boys wanted but at the end she learned that it is more important to be herself and ask what she wants even in her sex relationship. If it is like that men should not feel that they are loosing the control of their sex and their sex partners. There is no general single ruler (exclude the personal interests of some people or couples) in sex or to be a controler, it is a teamwork basically and both men and women should not feel pressure at all.

  12. It’s interesting the outcome of the answers as well as the outcome of the more detailed questions/concerns. I think a large question to the survey is… do men truly answer honestly? Men often play a persona in which they downplay their concerns and act as though they are confident and collected or even sometimes cocky. Let’s be real, society has hard-wired men into believing that lack of confidence is a sign of weakness, even if a person is inexperienced. However what works for one woman doesn’t always work for the next woman. I think it’s also interesting that most men claimed they don’t care about doing it right. Perhaps that’s a little egocentric of them to say, however whether you are in a new relationship or have been married for years, communication is key and you should be concerned for your partner’s interests as well. You can’t really evolve as a couple if you can’t express what you like and don’t like and vice versa for your partner. Showing concern for only your needs and not for your partner is a sign of immaturity to me. It will be interesting to see the female perspectives.

    • Yeah, one of the hazards of social research is people trying to present a view of themselves that they find favorable, even when the survey is anonymous. And then it’s interesting to think about why one side is considered favorable versus another.

      The women’s numbers will come up next month. Stay tuned.

  13. Serena Delgadillo

    I believe that sex can be seen as many different things by several different people. I’m not sure what age range the participants were in this exact survey, but I do feel like that is also a huge factor in the responses. When your a child you have the perception that sex is something that you never have to worry about doing, but as you grow older that’s a different story. It seems like most men that were questioned had some sort of interest in what the women would be feeling and boundaries which is great. I think that male or female should always keep in mind the other’s safety and enjoyment. Although, the one person who simply “did not care” is a little alarming, I agree that it might not exactly that mean they don’t care about their partners.

  14. In the third of men that responded with the simple answers of “nope” or “nah,” I can’t help but wonder if there was a percentage of men that were too embarrassed to admit that they cared. Not knowing the age range of these men is certainly a variable as well. As an adult now, I’m much less ashamed to admit my curiosities or cares on “taboo” subjects such as sex. But as a young adult, even after the age of 18, my close circle of friends did not have conversations often about our likes and dislikes of our newly found sexual lives.

    Aside from thinking a little bit deeper about the men that answered with the least information, it’s interesting to note that men’s biggest concern was the woman’s pleasure, coming in at 19%. As a woman, I’d say my response would fall in this category. But if I look back at my partners and relationships, I’m not sure that I could guarantee 19% of men made me aware that my pleasure was at stake. Of course, my opinion and experiences could very well reflect the type of people I’m involving myself with… and maybe that is something I need to take some time to self-reflect upon! (haha). I’m curious to not only see the sub-categories of the women’s responses, but also the individual ad-libs to each category. It will be fun to compare/contrast answers as well as discuss what this could possibly say about men/women as sexual beings – if we can decide that these subjective responses mean anything at all.

    • Oh, you are the second person to mention that I didn’t mention age range. Sorry about that. They are first and second year students so late teens early 20s.

      Re: “In the third of men that responded with the simple answers of “nope” or “nah,” I can’t help but wonder if there was a percentage of men that were too embarrassed to admit that they cared.”

      You could be right. It’s interesting that even in an anonymous survey people might worry about being embarrassed. At the same time, I would think they would be more embarrassed about not caring.

  15. Was there any correlation with race?

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