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Men view women’s orgasms as a masculinity achievement, study finds

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Men feel manlier when the woman they are having sex with has an orgasm, according to new research.

The study of 810 men (average age 25) found that women’s orgasms often function as a masculinity achievement. The participants said that making a female partner orgasm enhanced their feeling of masculinity, and this effect was exacerbated among men who reported more stress about their gender roles.

In a finding that surprised the researchers, women’s prior history with orgasms appeared to have little effect on men. Most men didn’t view making a woman orgasm as a greater achievement when she had less orgasms in her past. “This aligns with narratives that credit men for heterosexual women’s orgasms, implying that women’s orgasms are the male partner’s responsibility regardless of a woman’s previous experiences,” the authors wrote in their study, which was published in The Journal of Sex Research.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s authors, Sara B. Chadwick and Sari van Anders of the University of Michigan. Read their responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Many media sources and medical journals have promoted women’s orgasm as a symbol of women’s sexual liberation. However, research has shown that many women feel that their orgasms are most important for their male partners’ ego. Studies corroborate this: men state that women’s orgasm is one of the most sexually satisfying experiences that men can have. We were interested in exploring this further using experimental means, and assessing how men’s feelings about women’s orgasm contribute to their own sense of sexual satisfaction.

What should the average person take away from your study?

Men who have sex with women clearly have a stake in women’s orgasms. But, some of the ways that heterosexuality are playing out seem to be that, for some men, their interest in women’s orgasms is not really about women’s pleasure. Instead, for these men, women’s orgasm is actually about the men feeling good about their masculinity. This could explain why some men feel pressured to “give” women orgasms. And, it could explain why some women fake orgasms, i.e., to protect men’s feelings.

Unfortunately, though speculatively, it could also mean that some men will be unreceptive to feedback from women on how to improve their sexual skills, since this could contribute to feelings of incompetence or lack of masculinity. Heteronormative masculinity is therefore a problem for men and for women, and needs addressing in personal and cultural ways.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Our study was conducted with men who were sexually attracted to women. Thus, we cannot determine whether orgasm functions as a gendered achievement for women or in same-sex sexual encounters, and future research will consider these points. Additionally, our results showed that men who are more stressed about their masculinity in general experience a woman’s orgasm as more of an achievement, and the absence of a woman’s orgasm as more of a failure. Thus, men who feel like their masculinity is more at stake might be particularly liable to see women’s orgasm as their own achievement rather than an experience that is for women’s pleasure. This may play out in many other ways, including sexual and relational, among others. Finally, it is possible that certain personality or situational factors that we did not assess in this study might influence how men experience women’s orgasms.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Promoting women’s orgasm as the symbol of women’s sexual liberation can be problematic when they function in parallel as a masculinity achievement for men. In this case, women’s orgasm isn’t about women’s liberation or even sexual pleasure, but one more way for men to shore up their sense of masculinity. Specifically, this suggests that current narratives about women’s orgasm may actually reflect a repackaging of women’s sexuality in service in men, similar to how women’s sexuality has been historically situated.

Does that mean we shouldn’t care about women’s orgasms? Of course not! But they shouldn’t be seen as another notch on the bedpost, so to speak. Women’s orgasms should be experienced – when they are wanted – as a wonderful part of sexuality, not as something men give to women as an example of their prowess. Cultural ideas about masculinity push many men to feel like they need to live up to certain ideals, and this ends up being bad for sexual pleasure.

The study was titled: “Do Women’s Orgasms Function as a Masculinity Achievement for Men?

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