When women lose their virginity, they can lose self-esteem, too, experiencing a small drop. That’s what a recent Penn State study reveals.
Women college students were surveyed over time. Before sex the women felt increasingly good about their bodies. But after first sex they felt worse. Looks like when they’re in bed women start worrying about whether they look good enough. Masters and Johnson tagged the phenomenon of watching yourself from a third person perspective instead of focusing on sexual sensations or your partner, “spectatoring.” Women are much more prone, being the objectified. Then, feeling they don’t measure up, self-worth drops.
Other usual suspects may also affect self-esteem, including the double standard that provokes worries about labels like slut and whore. Tracy Clark-Flory over at salon.com points to a 1995 study that found “women were significantly more likely to report that their first sexual experience left them feeling less pleasure, satisfaction, and excitement than men, and more sadness, guilt, nervousness, tension, embarrassment, and fear.” Even now women continue to experience that bind.
The double standard strikes again when women feel used, unappreciated, and worried about reputations after short flings or one-night stands.
Meanwhile, a study I recently posted finds 35% of women in strong partnerships feeling sad, anxious, restless, or irritable, after sex. Researchers don’t know why. Commenters, speculating on their own experience with the phenomenon, fingered sexual repression or difficulties with orgasm (which are related to repression) as culprit.
Studies repeatedly find that women are less likely than men to enjoy sex. Other research suggests the problem is not biologically based, or inevitable. Women in sex-positive cultures enjoy sexuality a great deal.
We are going to have to move beyond sexism for women to reclaim their sexuality. That would benefit both women and men.
Indiana University’s recent sex survey found that men were more likely to climax if they were in a relationship. But women had more difficulty with arousal when they were in one.
Surprising. What’s up?
Today we’ll explore men. (A past post explored women.)
On the one hand, men say they’d like a lot of partners. According to The Male Brain, men report wanting 14 partners, lifetime, while women say they want only one or two. In my women’s studies classes many men felt that their friends would like to have sex with as many women as possible. Researchers at University of Texas found that men were far less picky than women, and were more likely to have sex simply because the opportunity presented itself. An awful lot of porn (men’s fantasies on screen) revolves around sex with lots of random women, too.
So the IU study doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. You’d expect that men would be more likely to climax having a variety of casual partners.
But that’s not what the data showed. Researchers asked men and women about the last time they had sex: Were you with a relationship partner or not? What activities did you engage in? Did you have an orgasm? How much did you enjoy the sexual experience?
When controlling for age and health, men aged 18 to 59 were more likely to enjoy sex and achieve orgasm when they were in a relationship than when they were with a new partner. They indicated greater arousal, greater pleasure, less pain, fewer problems with erectile dysfunction, and greater chance of orgasm.
What’s going on?
For one, consider imagination versus reality: Fantasy may seek novelty and variety, but men feel more comfortable and relaxed with their partners, who show patience and give reassurance if there are problems, leaving men with less performance anxiety. Partners who have been together a while have honed their techniques, too.
Something deeper may be at play, too. Women often say sex is best in a context of love and connection. Men don’t talk about this as much, but sex can take on a deepness and richness in relationship that casual sex can’t match, whether you are male or female.
Popular culture sees women as out to trap men, becoming the old “ball and chain” when they succeed. But men need companionship. They rarely leave their partners unless they’ve got someone else lined up. After a death or divorce men are much quicker than women to remarry, forgoing an unfettered sex life. Partly because women care for men, support them, and create emotional closeness.
But relationship may also bring men better sex.
Researchers at Indiana University have released the most comprehensive sex survey since 1994. They made some surprising discoveries. Among them: men are more likely to enjoy sex and reach orgasm if they are in a relationship than if they are not. But women have more difficulty with arousal and bodily response when they are in a relationship.
This goes completely against stereotype. It also goes against what women and men report about their preferences.
What’s going on?
Today let’s explore women. We’ll look at men in an upcoming post.
When I’ve asked who enjoys sex more in our culture, males or females, I repeatedly get the same response from women. It begins with “Women enjoy sex as much as men, but…”
- Some of us prefer to be with someone we love and who loves us back rather than some crazy one night romp with a random person.
- Women place more emphasis on the emotional aspects of sex.
- Women like sex more when it has depth and meaning. It is much more intense and romancing to women when they are in a relationship.
Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin concluded that for women, sexuality is more linked to love, emotional bonding and connection.
So IU’s data seems puzzling.
The researchers asked women and men about the last time they had sex: Were you with a relationship partner or not? What activities did you engage in? Did you have an orgasm? How much did you enjoy the sexual experience?
Finding: Women were less likely to climax when they were in relationships.
What’s up? Here are some possibilities.
Women who really love sexuality may be more likely to have sex with different partners, affecting the average.
What about more typical women? Women need to feel sexy and desired to get aroused. They want to feel chosen. With a new partner, a woman will feel she’s been chosen because she’s so attractive. But in committed relationships she may feel like her partner simply has no choice but sex with her. Not a big turn-on.
Men also seem to experience a slight drop in interest over time with long-term partners, and women may sense that, leading to an even bigger drop in their own libido.
Why a bigger drop for women? Marta Meana, psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says women have a lower sex drive (influenced by a culture that represses women’s sexuality) and need a bigger jolt to turn on libido. “If I don’t love cake as much as you,” she told a New York Times reporter, “my cake better be kick-butt to get me excited to eat it.” Something for men to think about.
At the same time relationship is helpful because women (and men) need to feel relaxed in order to climax. The Indiana University data isn’t clear on whether the more-aroused women were having sex with men whom they saw as potential committed partners – the beginning of relationship. In that case they might have felt an excitement at feeling chosen, but also safe enough to create the necessary comfort to climax.
But sex isn’t just about orgasm. The emotional component of feeling loved and connected creates a rich, multidimensional experience which may be what so many refer to when they say they want more than a quick roll in the hay.
Meanwhile, some advice for men: let your lady know she’s desired and chosen.
College students are having sex, but not as much as you might think. And most of them are kind of disappointed about the whole thing.
Sociologist Lisa Wade told MTV that’s what she learned after interviewing first-year college students. You can see the three-minute video at Sociological Images.
Rumor has it that at four-year universities one and all are hooking up with random strangers to have no-strings-attached, emotion-free sex. Everyone thinks everyone else is having great sex, and lots of it. But not them. Turns out, they’re not alone. They’re typical.
Throughout the entire four years of college, most average only 4 to 7 different hookups. That’s just more than one a year!
And nearly one third of the women have opted out entirely, figuring if the only sex they can get is with acquaintances or strangers, why bother?
Others tolerate the hookup hoping to find love, or at least relationship. But things don’t usually work out as hoped.
And most are dissatisfied by quality, too.
Almost everyone is drunk, which doesn’t help. Women complain that men are not skilled. And an awful lot of these encounters involve women giving men oral sex, but getting nothing in return.
Only about 11% say they enjoy hooking up.
Students wanted at least one of three things:
But few were getting any of these.
Yet everyone assumes they know what everyone else wants so no one ever asks.
Wade found that 70% of women and 73% of men wanted a committed relationship, but thought that everyone else felt differently. And they don’t want to talk about it because they fear they’ll come across as repressed, dysfunctional, or needy.
So no one says anything and hookup culture ends up the only game in town.
Wade says casual sex can be a good thing for students who want to focus on school since relationships — and breakups — take up a lot of time and energy.
But with widespread dissatisfaction, she feels that hooking up shouldn’t be the only option.
Students think no-strings sex is sexual liberation. But if you believe you have no other choice, is it?
Maybe it’s time for students to talk to one another.
According to Marta Meana, psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, data overwhelmingly show that, typically, men have a higher sex drive than women, when measured by the frequency of fantasy, masturbation and sexual activity.
WebMD concurs, noting that study after study shows men with the stronger drive: “Men want sex more often than women at the start of a relationship, in the middle of it, and after many years of it,” according to Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University. Most men under 60 think about sex at least once a day, but only one-quarter of women do. Older men fantasize less, but still twice as often as their female counterparts. Men say they want more sex partners in their lifetime, they are more interested in casual sex, and they are much more likely than women to buy sex.
Norah Vincent passed as a man in an attempt to get inside the male psyche. After living as a “man” among men for a year and a half, she described the male sex drive as “relentless,” an “obsession with f’ing.” Male reviewers of Self-Made Man found her insights credible.
Or as one man described the unyielding obsession, “Someone needs to invent a drug which has no hormonal imbalance side-effects but is able to erase a man’s sex drive and attraction to women. It would increase productivity rates to incredible heights. I’d be free and happy. I’d feel complete. I’d be able to concentrate on my biochemistry studying.”
Some women want more sex than their partners, but in general the pattern goes the other way.
Given their lower drive, it’s not surprising that women are also choosier. Most men find most women at least somewhat sexually attractive, whereas most women do not find most men sexually attractive at all, according to the University of Texas, Austin researchers who wrote Why Women Have Sex.
And, women are pickier about both “who” and “how.” They tend to want more connection and romance. Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, says that women’s desire “is more contextual, more subjective, more layered on a lattice of emotion.” She says, “For women there is a need for a plot — hence the romance novel. It is more about the anticipation, how you get there; it is the longing that is the fuel for desire.”
Life can be difficult with such a large gap between the sexes.
Next week I’ll discuss which biological and cultural factors create this gap, and how we might even things out.