Researchers recently investigated whether two distinct types of sexual knowledge predict sexual well-being among emerging adults. Their findings, published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, indicate that knowing what one personally finds pleasurable tends to have a bigger impact than general knowledge about sexuality.
Many previous studies have examined predictors of sexual satisfaction. However, the authors of the new research argued that focusing on sexual satisfaction alone ignored several other important aspects of a person’s sex life.
“Sexual well-being is an important part of individuals’ lives. In much of the literature, sexual well-being is equated with sexual satisfaction. And absolutely – that is important! But we suspected that sexual well-being is more than just being satisfied, it is multi-dimensional,” explained study authors Caitlin Shaw and C. Veronica Smith, a graduate student and associate professor at the University of Mississippi, respectively.
“We wanted to use a definition of sexual well-being that could tap into that multi-dimensionality. We did not want to reinvent the wheel and so we relied on the work done by the World Health Organization which had already provided a solid definition that moved beyond sexual satisfaction. In sum, we were interested in this topic because we saw an opportunity to provide some additional clarity to sexuality research.”
For their study, the researchers surveyed a sample of 484 undergraduate students (aged 18 to 23). Approximately 58% of the students reported being involved in a relationship, while 58.8% reported that they had participated in a sex education course.
To assess general sexual health knowledge, the participants completed a 56-item questionnaire about reproduction, contraception, condoms, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS. To assess personal sexual knowledge, the participants reported the extent to which they agreed with the statements “I know what types of behaviors lead me to orgasm,” “I am familiar with types of touch that make me excited sexually,” “I know what turns me on sexually,” and “I can identify the things that satisfy me sexually.” Finally, the participants also completed measures of sexual satisfaction, sexual assertiveness, and sexual competence.
The researchers found that sexual satisfaction, sexual assertiveness, and sexual competence were all positively related to one another, with moderately strong effect sizes. In other words, those with a high level of sexual satisfaction tended to also have high levels of sexual assertiveness and sexual competence, while those with low levels of sexual assertiveness tended to also have low levels of sexual satisfaction and sexual competence, and so on.
The findings indicate that “sexual well-being is more than just being satisfied. It involves being sexually competent and sexually autonomous,” Shaw and Smith explained.
The participants had 58.98% correct responses on average on the questionnaire about general sexual health knowledge, with scores ranging from 11 to 49. But there was no relationship found between general sexual health knowledge and personal sexual knowledge. In addition, personal sexual knowledge appeared to be a more important predictor of sexual well-being than general sexual health knowledge.
“Sexual knowledge is more than just what you might have learned in a ‘sex ed’ class – sexual anatomy, STIs, pregnancy prevention, condom usage,” Shaw and Smith told PsyPost. “That knowledge is, of course, good to have but it is important to have knowledge about one’s own sexuality – what one likes, what one doesn’t like.”
“Although health-based knowledge is important, learning about individual sexual preferences has benefits above and beyond one’s health knowledge when it comes to sexual well-being. Additionally, this relationship – between knowledge and well-being – exists for both men and women but is especially important for women.”
The researchers said that future research should examine specific sexual behaviors and seek to replicate the findings with more varied methodologies, such as longitudinal designs.
“This research is a great start to understanding the relationship between sexual knowledge and sexual well-being, but we examined sexuality more generally and did not distinguish between partnered or solo sexual behaviors,” Shaw and Smith said.
“Additionally, our sample included mostly White and heterosexual emerging adults, so more work needs to be done using more diverse samples. We understand that sexual well-being is a broad concept, and we encourage other researchers to keep studying this topic using the World Health Organization’s conceptualization as a guide.”
“This is a good example of collaborative research – the research team was a collaboration of faculty and graduate students from social psychology and clinical psychology,” the researchers added.
The study, “The More You Know: Sexual Knowledge as a Predictor of Sexual Well-Being“, was authored by Tanja Seifen, Caitlin M. Shaw, C. Veronica Smith, and Laura R. Johnson.