Gender differences in sexual entitlement might be contributing to sexual inequality in the bedroom, according to new research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. The new findings provide evidence that men are generally perceived as having a greater right to orgasm than women.
Several studies have demonstrated that women tend to orgasm less often than men do, a phenomenon that has been dubbed the “orgasm gap.” Study author Verena Klein and her colleagues proposed that this gap could partially be explained by the fact that men feel more entitled to sexual pleasure than women. They noted that previous research has indicated women are more likely than men to report valuing their partner’s pleasure more than their own.
“Gender inequalities between women and men persist in various social domains, including romantic or sexual relationships,” said Klein, a Marie Sklodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellow at the Stigmatized Sexualities Lab at the University of Michigan. “When it comes to sex, experiences are embedded in a gendered context that disadvantages women. For instance, women experience orgasms at far lower rates than men. I was curious to test if this pleasure gap could be explained by people’s tendency to attribute higher entitlement to sexual pleasure to men.”
The researchers first asked 203 individuals recruited from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform whether women or men were more likely to be the receiver or the provider of sexual pleasure in heterosexual interactions. The participants also indicated whether women or men had “more of a right to experience an orgasm” according to most people they knew.
Participants indicated men received more pleasure than women and women provided more pleasure than men in both long-term relationships and short-term hook-ups. Participants also perceived that men were more entitled to an orgasm than women during a hook-up. Unexpectedly, however, participants perceived that women were more entitled to experiencing orgasm than men when in a long-term relationship.
In a second study, which included 223 individuals, Klein and her colleagues had participants read about a sexual encounter in which neither the woman nor the man experienced an orgasm. Participants believed that the man had more of a right to experience an orgasm and needed to orgasm more than the woman. “Almost three quarters of participants chose to prioritize the man’s orgasm,” the researchers noted. The man was also perceived as being more disappointed, frustrated, unsatisfied, and deprived than the woman.
A third study, which included 151 participants, simply asked: “Please think of a sexual encounter between a woman and a man. Imagine that only one of them could have an orgasm: Who should have the orgasm?” The researchers found that 66.2% of the sample picked the man over the woman.
In a fourth study, which included 253 individuals, participants were asked whether they would advise another person to take medication to alleviate their severe anxiety and depression even though it has a high possibility of making unable to orgasm. Participants were more likely to advise the person to take the medication when they were described as a woman compared to when they were described as a man. Female participants were also more likely to advise the person to take the medication compared to male participants.
For their final study, the researchers analyzed open-ended responses from participants about why men are perceived being more entitled to sexual pleasure. The two most common themes that emerged were that men orgasm more easily than women and that men are more in control of relationships.
“The lay public widely recognizes the orgasm gap between women and men as variously innate and biological-determined. But our study shows that socio-contextual factors — namely entitlement — play a crucial role in understanding gender inequalities in sexual pleasure,” Klein told PsyPost.
But the researchers noted that it is unclear how well the results generalize to different cultural contexts outside the United States.
“Our data were drawn from U.S. samples,” Klein said. “Future research using samples from different cultural backgrounds is needed to better understand women’s experience with sexual pleasure and its associated cultural and social dimensions.”
The study, “The Role of Gendered Entitlement in Understanding Inequality in the Bedroom“, was authored by Verena Klein and Terri D. Conley.