Thursday November 13 2014
Our bodies respond to our thoughts and emotions during sex
“Women have stronger orgasms if their partner is funny – and rich”, says the Mail Online.
This headline is wrong. And the research it’s based on, while fascinating, is rather inconclusive.
The study in question asked a small group of female students, who were in sexual relationships with men, to anonymously rate their sex lives and certain features of their partner, including estimates of wealth.
It found that how often a woman has an orgasm during sexual intercourse is linked to her partner’s family income, his self-confidence and how attractive he is. The intensity of a woman’s orgasm was related to how attractive she found her partner, how many times she had sex in a week and her overall rating of sexual satisfaction.
From this the authors conclude that female orgasms function to promote “good mate choices”.
It’s hardly surprising that this small, unrepresentative survey found that frequency and intensity of women’s orgasms and their general level of sexual satisfaction, was related to how attractive they found their partners. But it’s a leap of the imagination to conclude from this that female orgasm plays a role in choosing a healthy, fertile male with high quality genes.
It is interesting that the study found a link between frequency of orgasm and the male partner’s family income. For example, this may mean the couple had somewhere comfortable and private to go, so that they had sex more often.
There are many factors which influence the quality and frequency of orgasm, including a woman’s self confidence and awareness of her needs. This research only asked questions about orgasm during sexual intercourse (which does not happen as a matter of course). Many women who don’t achieve an orgasm through intercourse will do so in other ways.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from the State University of New York. There is no information about external funding.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Evolutionary Psychology and appears to be available on an open access basis.
Predictably, the Mail went to town on the story. However, its headline linking orgasm intensity to the male partner’s wealth was incorrect. The study found a link between the partner’s family income and the women’s orgasm frequency – but not its intensity.
What kind of research was this?
This study set out to look at whether female orgasm “functions to promote good mate choices”, as the authors put it. The analysis was based on an anonymous online survey of 54 female undergraduate students, about their sexual behaviour and experience. It’s worth noting that this was not a random or representative sample – the students were all volunteers, were all enrolled in a psychology course, and were also given credit for participating.
The authors say that “mate choice” is not a trivial issue for women. There is growing evidence that features people find attractive in members of the opposite sex function as indicators of good genes and act as signals for health and fertility, they say. A number of studies show that the occurrence and frequency of female orgasm may be related to the characteristics of their partner such as attractiveness, wealth and masculinity, they claim.
What did the research involve?
The researchers recruited 54 female undergraduate students who volunteered to participate in an anonymous online survey. Participation was restricted to those who were in a committed relationship with a man that involved sexual intercourse.
The survey consisted of questions concerning the women’s subjective views on sexual behaviour, prior sexual experience, feelings toward their committed partner, and various estimates of features of their partner. They included questions on the male partner’s:
- family income, financial independence, income potential 10 years from now
- age (including the age gap between the partners)
- grade point average (educational achievement)
- ambition, creativity, responsibility, motivation
- athleticism, health
- discipline, conscientiousness, intelligence
- sense of humour
- level of focus and determination
- self-confidence, leadership qualities, popularity
- muscularity, fatness, width of shoulders
- physical attraction as rated by the woman and as rated by friends
Questions about sex included:
- how often a woman had orgasm (with answers ranging from never to always or almost always)
- how often she initiated intercourse (with answers ranging from never to always or almost always)
- how many sexual partners she had had
- age when she first had sexual intercourse
- the intensity of orgasms during intercourse with her partner (with answers ranging from weak to very intense)
- the number of orgasms experienced during a single encounter (with answers ranging from less than one to three or more)
- level of sexual satisfaction with partner (with answers ranging from not at all to exceptional)
What were the basic results?
The researchers found that how often women experienced orgasm was related to how she rated her partner’s family income, his self-confidence, and how attractive she said he was.
Orgasm intensity was related to how attracted women were to their partners, how many times they had sex per week, and to their ratings of sexual satisfaction.
Those who said their friends rated their partners as attractive also tended to have more intense orgasms.
Sexual satisfaction (which could be said to be the most meaningful outcome) was related to how physically attracted women were to their partner and how they viewed the breadth of their partners’ shoulders.
Women who began having sexual intercourse at earlier ages had more sex partners, experienced more orgasms, and were more sexually satisfied with their partners.
Certain characteristics of the male partner – motivation, intelligence, focus, and determination – predicted how often women initiated sexual intercourse.
The partner’s sense of humour also predicted women’s propensity to initiate sex, how often they had sex, and it enhanced their orgasm frequency in comparison with other partners.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The researchers say their findings suggest that “women in committed relations with high quality opposite-sex mates are putting a premium (wittingly or not) on traits that would confer an advantage in the psychological domain when it comes to how well her partner and, by implication, how well her male descendants could compete with other males for scarce resources.”
Orgasm intensity, they argue, may be a factor in the strength of vaginal and intrauterine contractions that accompany orgasm. These in turn could promote the movement of sperm up through the female reproductive tract and increase the chances of conception.
This was a small and unrepresentative survey of young female students which relied on the women self-reporting their sexual relationships in an anonymous online survey.
The fact that it found links between how attractive women found their partners and their quality and frequency of their orgasms as well as overall sexual satisfaction is hardly surprising. Whether the intensity or frequency of a female orgasm is a factor in choosing a mate for his genes remains only a theory. This study goes no way toward proving or disproving that theory.
Many factors affect female orgasm, including mood, knowledge, physical health and past experience. Help is available if you are finding that your sexual experiences are not satisfactory.
Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.