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Social Psychology

Women tend to have better sexual outcomes in committed relationships — but there’s an important caveat

Women experience greater sexual outcomes in committed relationships compared to hookups, according to new research published in The Journal of Sex Research. But there’s an important exception to this trend: Women who are more open to short-term, casual sexual relationships tend to experience similar levels of orgasmic function and sexual satisfaction in both committed and casual sexual contexts.

“I became interested in this topic because female orgasm is very complex and can be affected by a wide array of factors including psychological, physiological, and environmental factors,” said study author Val Wongsomboon, a PhD candidate at Florida State University.

“It’s also well known that women tend to orgasm less often than men do, hence the word ‘orgasm gap.’ Many researchers have focused on orgasm gap between men and women. However, I realized there is also an orgasm gap among women themselves.”

“Some women orgasm all or most of the time while some rarely or never do, and this is greatly affected by contexts. Therefore, I started examining the orgasm/sexual satisfaction gap among women as I hope it will help us better understand women’s sexual function and satisfaction as a whole.”

For their study, the researchers surveyed 1,084 women who had been sexually active within the past 12 months. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 71, but the majority were between 18 to 24 years old.

In line with previous research, Wongsomboon and her colleagues found that, overall, women tended to report higher orgasmic function and sexual satisfaction in committed sexual relationships compared to casual ones. Even women who had sex in both committed and casual contexts in the past year were more likely to report higher orgasmic function in their committed than in their casual relationships.

“While sexual contexts matter for women’s orgasmic function and sexual satisfaction in general, this is not true for many women. Women in general had higher orgasmic function and sexual satisfaction when they had committed sex (sex in a romantic relationship) than when they had casual sex,” Wongsomboon told PsyPost.

“However, this is not true for women who had positive attitudes or were more inclined toward casual sexual relationships (we called this inclination ‘unrestricted sociosexual orientation’). These sexually unrestricted women did not experience the difference between committed vs. casual sex.”

In other words, this orgasm gap did not exist among women who strongly agreed with statements such as “Sex without love is OK” and who reported having more fantasies about having sex with someone they just met.

“The more unrestricted they are, the greater orgasmic function they had in casual sex (but also lower sexual satisfaction in committed sex). The takeaway message is, different women have different needs. Instead of telling them what kind of sexual relationship is ‘better’ for their sexual lives, it’s more about what works for them,” Wongsomboon explained.

The study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“This is a correlational study. We cannot say what causes what or why the phenomena happened. For example, we do not know why sociosexually restricted women experienced the gap while unrestricted women did not. In addition, the majority of the sample were quite young. Thus, the findings may not apply to older women,” Wongsomboon said.

The researchers also found that more sexually restricted women in committed relationships reported greater sexual satisfaction than did more unrestricted women in committed relationships. But more sexually restricted women did not have greater orgasmic function in committed relationships than unrestricted women.

“We are not suggesting that committed sex is ‘better’ than casual sex (or vice versa) for women. Many people tend to interpret our findings that way. However, we should not fall prey to the notion that there is a specific type of relationships that works best for all women, that casual sex is not for women, or that casual sex will harm women,” Wongsomboon added.

“Again, all women are different. Although our findings showed that contexts do matter for women’s orgasmic function and sexual satisfaction in general, the degree to which they matter is different for different women. Some women may find committed sex more satisfying, some may find sex equally good in any contexts, and some may find casual sex more satisfying.”

The study, “Women’s Orgasm and Sexual Satisfaction in Committed Sex and Casual Sex: Relationship Between Sociosexuality and Sexual Outcomes in Different Sexual Contexts“, was authored by Val Wongsomboon, Mary H. Burleson, and Gregory D. Webster.