Women who endorse benevolently sexist attitudes are not more likely to experience sexual dissatisfaction, according to new research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
“There is so much literature that suggests heterosexual women are less sexually satisfied than men. By contrast, there is little literature that explores why this might be the case. We were drawn to examine benevolent sexism as a predictor for heterosexual women’s sexual dissatisfaction because one of our authors (Emily Harris) had previously found that benevolently sexist attitudes resulted in fewer orgasms for women,” explained study author Sarah Bonell (@BonellSarah), a research fellow at Orygen and The University of Melbourne.
Benevolent sexism describes seemingly “positive” attitudes that are based on the assumption that men must take care of and sacrifice themselves for women. “For example, the belief that men should look after women characterizes benevolent sexism; is positive in that it encourages a kind, benevolent disposition towards women, but it is patronizing in that it implicitly assumes that women need men to look after them,” the researchers explained.
For their new study, Bonell and her research team used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform to recruit a sample of 308 heterosexual women from the United States who had previously had sex with a man. The women completed assessments of benevolently sexist attitudes, adoption of the traditional sexual script (taking a passive role during sexual activity), sexual satisfaction, and sexual preference for submission.
Contrary to expectations, the researchers found no evidence that benevolently sexist attitudes were associated with sexual dissatisfaction.
“Since benevolently sexist women value men’s adoration highly, they may actually derive greater satisfaction from the intimacy associated with having sex or the commendation they receive for engaging in sex, rather than from physical sexual pleasure itself,” Bonell said. “In other words, benevolently sexist women may experience less individualistic sexual pleasure but still be sexually satisfied. Benevolently sexist attitudes may not predict sexual dissatisfaction but rather shape and colour women’s definitions of what it means to be sexually satisfied.”
The researchers found that women who adopted the traditional sexual script, on the other hand, were more likely to describe their sexual relationships with men as bad, unpleasant, negative, unsatisfying, and worthless. But this was only true among participants who did not enjoy submissiveness.
“Our findings suggest that the traditional sexual script (i.e., men as dominant and women as submissive) in and of itself is not inherently predictive of female sexual dissatisfaction. This challenges the existing theory that sexually submissive women are intrinsically less sexually autonomous,” Bonell said.
“Rather, we contend that autonomy is oppressed in situations where women are denied their sexual preferences. Thus, women should not necessarily be worried if they’re engaging in gender-stereotypic sexual behaviours. Rather, they should reflect upon their sexual norms to establish whether aligning with the traditional sexual script also aligns with their own sexual preferences.”
But the study, like all research, includes some limitations.
“Our study was unable to represent the experiences of sexual minority women who engage in sexual activity with men (e.g., bisexual or pansexual women),” Bonell said. “These women are vastly underrepresented in sexual health research, and it is still widely unknown whether and how they engage with the traditional sexual script. As such, future research needs to explore sexual minority women’s experiences of sexual dissatisfaction.”
The study, “Benevolent Sexism and the Traditional Sexual Script as Predictors of Sexual Dissatisfaction in Heterosexual Women from the U.S.“, was authored by Sarah Bonell, Harrison Lee, Samuel Pearson, Emily Harris, and Fiona Kate Barlow.