Scientists are beginning to examine how self-efficacy, or confidence in one’s abilities, is related to sexual outcomes in women. A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that it could play an important role in experiencing orgasms.
“I am very interested in women’s sexual health. I think there has traditionally been a lot of focus on ‘risk’ in the context of sexual health research. This is important, but somewhat limiting as reducing risk is only one component of a healthy sex life,” explained study author Julia C. Bond, a doctoral candidate at Boston University.
“My hope with this work was to combine some of the great research that’s been happening in psychology about the development of healthy sexual self-expression with some of the risk-based outcomes that are more familiar to public health. There is a lot of work that has gone into designing interventions to reduce the risk of negative outcomes related to sexual health that sometimes don’t consider individuals’ perceptions of their own sexuality.”
Bond and her colleagues were particularly interested in a scientific survey, called the Female Sexual Subjectivity Inventory, that is used to measure women’s sexual body esteem, entitlement to sexual pleasure from self, entitlement to sexual pleasure from partner, self-efficacy in achieving sexual pleasure, and sexual self-reflection.
The survey was completed by 209 female college students, who also completed questionnaires to gather information about their demographics, general sexual behaviors, and orgasm frequency. The participants also indicated if they had acquired an STI, had an unwanted pregnancy, or used emergency contraception in the previous year.
The researchers found that women with higher sexual body esteem, entitlement to sexual pleasure from both self and their partner, and self-efficacy in achieving sexual pleasure tended to report a higher likelihood of orgasming frequently compared to infrequently.
In other words, the participants tended to experience more orgasms when they agreed with statements such as “I am confident that others will find me sexually desirable”, “It is okay for me to meet my own sexual needs through self-masturbation”, “I think it is important for a sexual partner to consider my sexual pleasure”, and “I am able to ask a partner to provide the sexual stimulation I need.”
Reflecting on one’s sex life, however, was not associated with orgasm frequency.
“Our study was very small, so I think it’s best to consider this as a preliminary research step. In my mind, the take home point is that sexual self-efficacy may influence sexual health outcomes. To me this suggests that when we think about educating young people about their sexual health, we should consider how to empower them to understand and express their own sexual wants and desires,” Bond told PsyPost.
The researchers also found that a large proportion of the participants had a “discordant” pattern, in which they reported a high entitlement to pleasure from partner but low self-efficacy in achieving sexual pleasure. These women were significantly less likely to report frequent orgasms from partnered sexual activity.
“Our results suggest that a sense of entitlement to pleasure alone may not enable women to achieve consistent orgasms with a partner. Rather, women may also need to be equipped with the tools to effectively communicate what they desire,” the researchers wrote in their study.
The Female Sexual Subjectivity Inventory was not related to acquiring an STI, having an unwanted pregnancy, or using emergency contraception. However, only a few participants reported experiencing one of these events, which limited the study’s statistical power.
“The primary caveat is the small size of the study. I think this line of research (specifically the relationship between more psychological elements of sexual health and sexual health outcomes) is worth exploring with larger samples and in more diverse populations,” Bond said.
“It’s definitely an exciting challenge to try to combine work that’s been happening across disciplines. I think there is a lot of space for productive collaborations between researchers in psychology, social work, and public health, and I hope to continue to be able to be a part of collaborative research teams. ”
The study, “Sexual Self-Efficacy and Entitlement to Pleasure: The Association of the Female Sexual Subjectivity Inventory with Sexual Risk Taking and Experience of Orgasm“, was authored by Julia C. Bond, Diane M. Morrison, and Stephen E. Hawes.