‘Bad Girls’ say no: Women who value their sexual pleasure are less likely to engage in unwanted sex

So-called “bad girls” who acknowledge themselves as sexual beings may be more likely to turn down unwanted sex, according to new research on college students.

The study in Sexuality & Culture found that women who valued their own sexual pleasure as much as their partner’s pleasure were less likely to have engaged in unwanted sexual acts to please their partners.

“Drawing on the work of psychologists such as Deborah Tolman and Sharon Lamb, I was inspired to explore the presumed ‘dangers’ of young women’s sexual desire,” said Heather Hensman Kettrey, a research associate at Vanderbilt University.

Dominant cultural scripts tell young women that their sexual desire is unimportant at best and can invite victimization at worst. These scripts perpetuate the stereotype that young men have strong sexual desires that they try to fulfill through their less desiring female partners.”

“The belief that sex is all about fulfilling male desire may set women up to engage in undesired sex for the sole purpose of pleasing a partner. If a young woman’s desire is not sufficient justification for engaging in sexual activity then her lack of desire in a given situation will not be sufficient justification for refusing sexual activity. I explored this hypothesis with a large sample of college women from across the United States.”

Kettrey analyzed data from 7,255 students who participated in the Online College Social Life Survey, which collected data from 22 colleges and universities between 2005 and 2011.

She found that a majority of women — nearly 9 in 10 — said they had performed undesired sexual acts to please their partner. Additionally, roughly 8 in 10 prioritized their partner’s pleasure over their own.

Kettrey was particularly interested in the answers to two survey items: “I try to make sure that my partner has an orgasm when we have sex” and “I try to make sure that I have an orgasm when I have sex.”

She found that female students who prioritized their own orgasm equally with their partner’s orgasm were less likely to report having engaged in unwanted sexual activity.

“I want the average person to question the ways we, as society, talk about masculine/feminine gender roles in sexual relationships. Stereotypes about men’s (presumed) strong desire and women’s (presumed) lack of desire are not helpful,” Kettrey told PsyPost.

“In my study, I found young women who equally value their own pleasure with their partner’s pleasure (whether equally high or equally low) were less likely to engage in undesired sexual activity than those who value their partner’s pleasure over their own.”

“Interestingly, I did not observe this same pattern for young women who value their own pleasure over their partner’s pleasure. This suggests there needs to be a place for equality (rather than female desire alone) to be integrated into discussions about gender and sexual desire,” Kettrey said.

The study, like all research, does have some caveats.

“The main caveats to this study are that it does not rely on a random sample and the data are retrospective. Young women were asked about their sexual attitudes and their experiences with their most recent male hookup partner at a single point in time. This does not allow one to draw conclusions about causality or directionality,” Kettrey explained.

“That is, one cannot say with certainty that young women who equally value their partner’s pleasure and their own pleasure at one point in time are protected from engaging in undesired sexual activity at a later point in time. Longitudinal research in which women are asked about their sexual attitudes and then followed over time could address this limitation.”

“I would like to see young men more fully integrated into the scholarly work on sexual desire,” she added. “Sexuality scholars have become critical of cultural scripts that prioritize young men’s desire over young women’s desire. However, we implicitly reify these messages by empirically exploring assumptions about women’s desire more frequently than we explore assumptions about men’s desire.”

The study was titled: ““Bad Girls” Say No and “Good Girls” Say Yes: Sexual Subjectivity and Participation in Undesired Sex During Heterosexual College Hookups“.