I guess most men would say that sexual satisfaction is defined by whether or not they have an orgasm – and perhaps by the power and intensity of that orgasm.
And I would guess men think that knowing how to give a woman an orgasm is a vital part of sexual satisfaction.
But would the same be true for women? Do they think that knowing how to give a man an orgasm is satisfying?
And as a man, making love to women, did you ever stop to consider what might make sex satisfying for your partner?
In another post on this blog you can read some things about women’s attitudes to sex which you might surprise you. Did you know, for example, about the “orgasm gap” between men and women?
To investigate what people mean when they talk about “sexual satisfaction”, Sara I McClelland of the University of Michigan asked 40 US participants a series of questions to determine their satisfaction on various aspects of sex including their emotions, the quality of the relationship, and how focused they were on their partner as opposed to how focused they were on orgasm during sex.
You see, it’s all very well doing a piece of research and simply assuming you know what “sexual satisfaction” means, but unless you ask real people what they think it means, you might not be measuring anything real at all.
Also, it’s pretty damn’ obvious that sexual experiences and relationships are inextricably linked to the cultural context in which they take place – for example, what’s acceptable in one society is far from acceptable in another society.
For example, knowing how to make a woman come by means of cunnilingus is commonplace in the west but some religions forbid this way of pleasing a woman in bed.
Sexual Satisfaction Is Not Just About Giving A Woman An Orgasm
So, sexual satisfaction can definitely mean different things to different people. Even so, we all tend to assume that we know what it means (orgasmic pleasure or frequency, perhaps).
Indeed, studies which have been done in the past simply set out to establish the answers to questions such as “How sexually satisfied are you?” This question can become meaningless quite quickly. For one thing, as we’ve already mentioned, the socio-political culture influences what people think of as indicating sexual satisfaction.
What Makes You Satisfied?
Previous work has shown that men define sexual satisfaction in relation to how often they have intercourse, as well as the difference between how often they want intercourse and how often they get it.
Women, by contrast, define sexual satisfaction in terms of how often intercourse happens, but beyond that, trust and mutual enjoyment are essential before a woman will feel that she’s enjoyed sexual satisfaction.
To put it bluntly, men’s sexual satisfaction tends to depend less on relationships and context, and more on the experience of orgasm, than women’s.
This is not to imply that emotional factors are completely absent from men’s sexual satisfaction, but it’s important to note that men regard the outcome of intercourse as more important, while women seem to regard the context of intercourse as a direct factor in sexual satisfaction.
And then you have lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and “questioning” men and women whose view of what constitutes sexual satisfaction may be different again.
At this point you might be forgiven for thinking that this was becoming an incredibly complicated question – and in fact you’d be right!
But by asking participants in the study a number of different questions related to different aspects of sexual satisfaction, and then establishing which factors are correlated with each other, it becomes possible to analyze what people mean by “sexual satisfaction” (and, by implication, sexual pleasure).
We’ve already mentioned that men seem to be much more orgasm-oriented than women.
This does not mean women regard having an orgasm during partnered sex as unimportant, but it may suggest that women think the effort their male partner puts into making a woman come (or into giving a woman an orgasm) is more important that the orgasm itself.
The questions in this study covered a wide range of possible sexual behaviours, as well as the feelings that might come from them, and the experiences which a couple could have before they felt sexually satisfied.
She also interviewed the participants so as to establish what helped them to distinguish satisfactory and unsatisfactory sexual experiences.
What did all this demonstrate?
First of all, for men, feeling masculine as a result of their sexual experience was very important.
In addition there were a number of specific emotional experiences which provided men with sexual satisfaction – these included feeling safe, letting one’s guard down, and trusting a partner. Being able to “let go” involved exploring aspects of sexual behaviour which might not be or feel safe in other situations – such as eroticized aggression.
For women, emotional closeness and trust as well as sex within a monogamous relationship were important to feel sexual satisfaction. Women also wanted to feel “merged” with a partner – another aspect of relational closeness.
Another quality emphasized by women was that “feeling close” to a man was important, and the way they saw it, the closest they could get to a man was to feel him inside them. (So they might be less concerned about your ability to give a woman an orgasm than you thought…..)
When it comes to feelings of emotional closeness, women often report that their orgasm is less important than the man’s orgasm. And many women say that having an orgasm is not at all important for them to feel sexually satisfied.
(How interesting to read this, in the light of another article on this blog which talks about the orgasm gap between men and women.)
The Same Old, Same Old
There’s another factor for the men here: the importance of “giving a woman an orgasm”. The research showed it’s important for men to feel they’ve pleased their partner by giving a woman an orgasm or making a woman come.
Among the women, making sure that the man they were with was satisfied seemed to be important to their sense of sexual satisfaction.
To sum up this aspect of the research, men are happy to give a woman an orgasm, and they experience this as increasing their own sexual satisfaction (they speak of an increase in energy or an emotional payoff).
Women, however, especially young women, tend to describe partner satisfaction (specifically giving a partner an orgasm) as a key part of their own sexual satisfaction.
It’s hardly surprising that both men and women get some reinforcement of their sense of masculinity and femininity from prescribed sex roles, because nature evolved us this to be that way.
Video – Sexual intelligence
What’s slightly more surprising is the degree to which women get satisfaction from giving their partner an orgasm, rather than enjoying one themselves.
This may be something to do with sexual maturity, because the tendency was more marked in younger women than in older women.
However, with a clear understanding of gender differences, researchers can move ahead knowing what people mean when they talk about sexual satisfaction.
A final important note: there is increasingly marked criticism of our sexual mores by feminist researchers who say that orgasm plays a role in maintaining patriarchal privilege in heterosexual relationships.
As an example of this from the study above, one man who was in a relationship said that if his partner had an orgasm he would feel “like he’d done his job.”
This is an interesting indication of how orgasm has become a kind of commodity within a relationship rather than a means to sexual satisfaction in its own right.
To sum it all up, what constitutes sexual satisfaction is as variable as individuals themselves.
For some, orgasm is an important component of sexual satisfaction; for others it is not.
Unsurprisingly, emotional closeness and emotional satisfaction tends to feature more in the sexual satisfaction of women than men.
A reinforcement in an individual’s sense of masculinity or femininity is also associated with sexual satisfaction.
And emotional closeness is both a route to satisfying sex and an outcome of satisfying sex. Perhaps this is hardly surprising when you consider how a woman has to be relaxed and trusting of her partner to be able to enter a space where the man knows how to give a woman an orgasm.
Last but not least, the research demonstrated the importance of the context of satisfaction as opposed to the simple measure of how much or how often someone is sexually “satisfied”.