Do women worry about “doing it right?”

Men concerned with pleasing partners

Women concerned with pleasing partners

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

I recently wrote up my survey of young college men. Now let’s turn to the women, all of whom are 1st and 2nd year students, and almost all are in their late teens/early twenties.

I asked 80 of my women students who had sex with men (straight/bi/pan/flex) this question:

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

Answer: YES: 73%            NO: 27%

Their answers were similar to the men’s. Most students did worry, at least sometimes, with 73% of women and 71% of men saying they did.

Next, I did a qualitative survey of 52 women, asking them to talk more about their answer. (Among this sub-group 71% worried about “doing it right.”)

While the women and men I surveyed were about equally likely to worry, the women sometimes described their concern a little differently from the men.

Women and men were both concerned with pleasing their partners. But it seemed that women were more likely to “worry” about it. Among women, 46% worried about doing it right compared to 15% of the men. The genders were more similar when it came to concern with their partners pleasure with 19% of men voicing that concern and 12% of women.

My classification is somewhat subjective, so I’ll give examples where I thought women seemed to be making sure their partners was pleased verses worrying over it in a way that might be distracting:

Concern: is he being pleasured? (n=6;  12%)

    • Yes. Is my partner sexually satisfied too? 
    • I always make sure I am pleasing my partner, and how we have sex makes me happy. 
    • Yes. Am I doing something pleasurable for the other person?
    • Not so much about doing it right, more about if my partner is getting pleasure

Worrying about doing it right (n=24; 46%)

Women seemed to have more of a “worry” focus compared with men. Or maybe for gendered reasons they were more likely to admit to worry, even using the word more. Maybe women are taught more to worry, or to admit it, or, because women’s sexuality is more repressed it might be easier to get distracted from pleasure by worry.

    • Yes, I worry about whether it feels good to my partner
    • Yes, I worry about if I am pleasing the other person enough
    • I always worry about if someone likes what I’m doing
    • I always want to make sure I’m pleasing my partner but never know if I’m doing it right
    • Yes. I question if I’m in the”right” position sometimes
    • Yes, when I’m trying to master cowgirl 101
    • I try to make sure I’m doing it correctly
    • Yes, feels like a race
    • Yes. I worry that I don’t perform as well as their previous partners
    • Sometimes I get embarrassed at how I lose control, so I try to control the way I look by keeping my stomach flat or my hair right
    • I worry about the feel, the process, how I look.

About the same number of women (13%) and men (12%) fretted over their lack of experience.

I’m inexperienced (n=7;  13%)

    • I often feel like I’m not pleasing my partner because I lack experience. Sometimes I’m insecure
    • I don’t want to look like I’m inexperienced
    • If I’m trying something new
    • My first time I had no idea what I was doing

Nope, I don’t worry about doing it right (n=15; 29%)

Men were a bit less like to worry about “doing it right” — with just over one-third of men (35%) and under one-third of women (29%) saying “Nope, no worries.” And roughly 1/3 of both women and men felt confident in bed. 

And similar to some of the men I surveyed, a few women simply said, “No,” they didn’t worry about “Doing it right.“ Others expanded and here are a few of their quotes:

    • Not really, I simply enjoy it
    • No, because I have only been with people I feel 100% comfortable with and who I felt cared for me.
    • No, because if you love someone it doesn’t matter what they think.

Interestingly, several women said they needn’t worry because they felt loved and cared for. That didn’t come up among the men I sampled.

In conclusion…

Women were more likely to spend more time worrying about technique. And women were also less likely to worry about harming their partners physically or emotionally. A number of factors could lie behind these differences.

Women may be less likely to have fantasies that could potentially involve hurting their partners since the eroticism they read and view is less aimed at harming men. And  due to testosterone, men are on average bigger and stronger than their partners.

Our society also more strongly objectifies women and teaches both men and women to do this. (A sex object exists to satisfy their partners, their own feelings and thoughts don’t matter so much.) So it’s not surprising that women are more likely to feel like they should satisfy their partners and to worry about it. Also, because we punish women’s sexuality more than men’s, women can get into the habit of repressing their desire to an extent that they actually lose touch with desire (nearly half of US women report low or no desire). And then, the only thing that makes sense is to focus on their partners’ pleasure.

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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 July 26, 2020, in sex and sexuality, women and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Question: Why do all your hypothesis always revolve around society and environment and not biology?

  2. I enjoyed reading this survey! Ever since I read the one about how men feel, I was super curious to see how women felt about it too. I found it interesting that men and women thought similarly about if they are “doing it right”. 73% of women and 71% of men said that they did. However, upon further inspection both men and women actually had different motives as to why they were feeling this way. This is what sparked my interest the most! Women were more likely to “worry” about pleasing their partners, 46% in fact, while only 15% of men worried in this way. Personally, I feel that the worry that women experience can be related to the stigma around women being sexual beings. It is more widely accepted that men are sexual and I feel like this might give men more confidence when it comes to having sex!

  3. It was interesting to see that at a glance both men and women answered yes, at approximately the same rates, to the question “do you worry?” Then when asked deeper about this concern it wasn’t so much worry, but rather it was pleasure. When seeing that 73% of women answered yes, and 71% of men answered yes, I automatically assumed a similar analysis could be drawn from both groups. As noted in the post, it may be that “women are taught more to worry, or to admit it.” Women in many situations are expected to show stronger emotional ties then men are. Women are also constantly taught to conform and accept that they are wrong, rather than retaliate. All of these societal expectations may be what constitutes these differences in what worrying looks like between men and females.

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