There’s an interesting research study about women’s satisfaction with sex that might be pointing a great big spotlight on some important societal messages that we’ve accepted in our culture. Things that we sometimes ignore.
And it’s time to talk about them.
This study found that for men, sexual satisfaction was directly related to how often they orgasm. If they orgasm a lot, they are happy. If they don’t orgasm as often, much less sexual satisfaction.
Pretty straightforward. And probably not surprising.
For women though, the findings were more mixed. In general, women who orgasmed the majority of the time where happier with their sexual relationship than those who rarely did.
But here’s the important part—women who orgasmed about 60% of the time said they were just about as happy as women who orgasmed all the time.
Great! Lots of happy women then, right?
But is there more going on here than we are seeing?
Orgasm is described as the “pinnacle of the sexual experience” and the “height of sexual excitement.” It’s also considered a big predictor of not only sexual satisfaction, but also happiness in your relationship and overall well-being in your life.
But these women who are having an orgasm barely over half the time are saying, “eh, good enough.” While at the same time the men are saying, “I want to orgasm!”
And on another note, one study reported that for married couples, in their most recent sexual experience, 95% of men orgasmed and only 63% of women did.
What’s Really Happening?
Now, there are a number of things about a sexual relationship that can make it satisfying. Spending time together, physical touch, emotional closeness—these are all things that both partners may value in the experience. And that’s wonderful! We definitely shouldn’t discount those things.
What is concerning is that women may be settling for less than they are capable of, less than they deserve, and saying, “if he’s happy, I’m happy.”
From a very young age, girls are programmed to see themselves in relation to others (this can be seen in women in things like identifying themselves by their relationships—Jack’s mom, Josh’s wife) and to be caregivers. Whether this is innate or learned, and it’s probably some of both, girls learn to take care of other people. And this is so beautiful and wonderful. All of us have been touched by caring women in our lives. I love that about women.
But it can reach a point, and this is probably the learned part, where it’s too much. Too often the message women receive from society is to give and to give and to give. That to be a good woman is to sacrifice endlessly and that it’s selfish to do anything for themselves. And as women, even when we don’t realize it, we internalize this.
What can be especially hard is that sometimes women think that in order to be worthy of love, we must sacrifice.
For example, in order to be a “good” mom, we must do all the things for our kids. Or in order to be a good wife, we’ve got to cook the meals and keep the house clean and take care of the kids and run the household and get the groceries bought and…the list goes on. We take care of people.
Because this is what we are used to, this can happen in the bedroom too. Sometimes we make it OUR responsibility to maintain our husband’s sexual needs. Sometimes we do this in order to prove to ourselves that we are a good wife. Or that we are doing what wives are “supposed to” do.
Bringing it back to the study on orgasm, we might move into a spot where we figure as long as he is cared for, we might as well be happy with our sexual relationship.
Your Needs Matter Too
A woman’s pleasure and enjoyment should not matter less than her partner’s. An ideal sexual relationship is balanced with give and take from both partners. This may actually be a big reason why sex is important to relationships. It forces us to both love and serve our partner and to love and be served by our partner.
We grow together as we work together like that in a relationship.
I don’t want to make it sound like orgasm is the only measure for successful sexual experience. Focusing on orgasm as the end goal can actually be a big deterrent for many women and can even make it less likely that they will orgasm. This does not have to be what every sexual experience looks like and there may be times in your life when it’s not practical for one or both of you. That’s ok.
What I don’t love is when women just aren’t willing to make their own needs a priority in the relationship and who settle for less than ideal. (And don’t even get me started on faking an orgasm. Please don’t do that. That’s not helping you and it’s not helping your partner.) This relationship is about both of you. And your partner is going to be happier when you are also enjoying it. He wants to care for you just like you want to care for him.
Why is Not Owning Your Desires Harmful?
- First, endlessly giving and never caring for yourself, especially when you do it because you think it’s what you are “supposed to” do, is likely to breed a lot of resentment over time. So in the beginning it may feel ok to give and to give and not care for yourself (this applies both in the bedroom and out), but you’re going to get to a point where the resentment takes over. This can lead to a number of challenges, like depression and anxiety, but it also leads to a lack of intimacy.
- 2. Which is the second point—not owning your desires can diminish the intimacy you feel in the relationship. If you think about relationships in your life that function really well, there is probably a lot of give and take. With our kids, things aren’t always that way, so maybe we get used to giving when we are mothers, but if you think about a friendship, if one is always giving and one is always taking, the friendship lacks the connection that it could have and will likely eventually dissolve.
It’s when we are able to both love and serve someone and be loved and served by someone that real connection forms.
But being served is HARD. It can feel very vulnerable to allow someone else to serve you. You are letting them see what you might perceive as a weaker side of yourself and that can feel scary.
This is especially true in a sexual relationship. Sex by its very nature is vulnerable, and maybe sometimes it seems easier to just do the serving and never be served. That might seem less scary.
But again, less intimacy will form if you aren’t willing to allow yourself that vulnerability. There is real beauty in letting your partner see the real you, even the vulnerable parts. Especially the vulnerable parts. And when he can let down his guard and allow that as well, you’re going to create a connection that may not be created in any other way.
It’s cliché, but it’s a reality that water can’t be drawn from an empty well.
It’s also true that a level of care for yourself is necessary in caring for others. Those who can balance both autonomy and relatedness are the best off in a number of ways, and that includes sexually. Being able to see your own needs and feel like you have ownership of yourself while at the same time being able to belong deeply to others is the perfect balance that will breed the most connection and happiness in any relationship, definitely a sexual one.
Acknowledging that you have needs and desires in sex (and if you don’t know what those are, it’s time to find out) and that those needs are worthy of being addressed makes you more authentic and that makes you more able to connect with. No one can connect with someone who is putting up walls.
What Should I Do?
If you find that you’re a woman who is saying “eh, good enough” in your sexual relationship and not addressing your own needs, here are some tips to help.
- Know your body, know your desires
If you don’t know what you like, you can’t make sure you’re getting what you like. You’ve got to take time to figure that out in whatever way is comfortable for you. It’s ok to talk to your partner about this and ask for support as you figure this out.
And what you like might not be the same as the next person. That’s why YOU need to know what YOU like and then share that with your partner.
What is important to know, is that most women don’t orgasm through intercourse because the clitoris doesn’t get enough stimulation that way. So find a way to make sure that both of you are getting what you need—and you might need to be more creative than just intercourse to do this. (Here is a guide to vibrators that might be really helpful for you.)
- Be willing to take time for you in each sexual experience
Women (generally) take longer to orgasm. That’s just a fact of nature. So sometimes it can be tempting to just rush through things and call that good enough. But YOU matter. You need to believe that, and your partner needs to believe that. He probably already does and when you ask for more pleasure directed at you, he’s going to happily oblige.
- Decide today to make yourself a priority too
Don’t go another day just shrugging your shoulders and calling where you’re at “good enough” if it’s not really.
That doesn’t mean things have to be perfect. A sexual relationship is hard and takes work on both partner’s parts. But please believe that you are worth the effort.
Give yourself grace as you go through this. It isn’t easy, but just like most things, the challenge is worth it because you matter.
If this is a particular challenge for you…you’re normal. Don’t worry for a second longer about that. Most women (and men) struggle along the road to a happy sexual relationship.
Here are some things that might help though: (also feel free to reach out to me through my contact page or social media if you need more help with this!)
This podcast that I recorded with Ariel from Ladies Talking Love talks about this topic:
This book, Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski, is very helpful in considering all things relating to women’s sexuality (affiliate link):
If you’re LDS (or a religious person in general), Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife offers a wonderful course called The Art of Desire that I highly recommend:
There are some wonderful articles that might help you on this site by Chelom Leavitt (my PhD advisor) that might help as well.
And here are a few Instagram accounts that provide wonderful content to help you in this area. @kristinbhodson and @thechristiansexeducator:
Again, please reach out to me if you need more direction on this. There is help out there for you and I’ve love to help guide you as needed.
 Leavitt, C. E., Leonhardt, N. D., Busby, D. M., & Clarke, R. W. (2021). When Is Enough Enough? Orgasm’s Curvilinear Association with Relational and Sexual Satisfaction. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 18(1), 167-178.
 Komisaruk BR, Whipple B, Nasserzadeh S, et al. The orgasm answer guide. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press; 2009.
 Andrejek, N., & Fetner, T. (2019). The gender gap in orgasms: Survey data from a mid-sized Canadian city. International Journal of Sexual Health, 31(1), 26-35.
 See the Care as Self-Sacrifice scale in Dana Jack’s Self-Silencing Theory: Jack, D. C., & Dill, D. (1992). The Silencing the Self Scale: Schemas of intimacy associated with depression in women. Psychology of women quarterly, 16(1), 97-106.
 Jack, D. C. (1999). Silencing the self: Inner dialogues and outer realities.
 Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Relationships motivation theory: The self in close relationships. Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness, 293-318.
 Nagoski, E. (2015). Come as you are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life. Simon and Schuster.
 Darling, C. A., Davidson, J. K., & Cox, R. P. (1991). Female sexual response and the timing of partner orgasm. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 17(1), 3–21. doi:10.1080/00926239108405464