When it comes to the female orgasm, there may be more than women's sexual pleasure at stake. For some partners, anyway. According to a study in The Journal of Sex Research, a man's sense of masculinity is enhanced when he is able to make his partner orgasm. This was found to be particularly true amongst men who are less secure in their manhood.
The study, published last year, investigated the responses of 810 heterosexual men aged 18 or older to an Imagined Orgasm Exercise. They were asked to imagine having sex with a woman they found attractive and then tell researchers how various different scenarios made them feel.
"Men state that women’s orgasm is one of the most sexually satisfying experiences that men can have," study authors, Sara B. Chadwick and Sari van Anders, both of the University of Michigan, told PsyPost.
"We were interested in exploring this further using experimental means, and assessing how men’s feelings about women’s orgasm contribute to their own sense of sexual satisfaction.”
In news that will shock no one, the men reported feeling more masculine when they had helped their female partner achieve orgasm – a case for why the fake orgasm is so prevalent. But, perhaps more surprisingly, a woman's orgasm history (that is, whether she orgasmed or not with previous partners) had no significant effect on their replies. Neither did a man's attitude towards gender equality inside the relationship. Instead, what did have an effect, was how comfortable or stressed the man felt about gender roles. That could be, for example, whether or not he might feel threatened by a successful female co-worker.
The study authors argue that these results might imply, at least from the male point of view, that the female orgasm is less about the woman's pleasure and more about boosting the male ego.
"This suggests that current narratives about women’s orgasm may actually reflect a repackaging of women’s sexuality in service in men, similar to how women’s sexuality has been historically situated," they add.
It might be worth noting, that the average age of the men surveyed was 25. Men of this age are more likely to be single and may be more anxious to show off their sexual prowess than older men in steady relationships, which might skew the results somewhat.
What's more, the study only looked at men's responses to sex with women, not vice versa or people of either gender having same-sex encounters. With no control or comparison, it is hard to say with absolute certainty that this issue applies to heterosexual relationships – or to relationships generally. It also does not confirm the role-reversal of whether or not a woman's feminity is undermined if she does not make a male partner orgasm.
However, it the results are supported by a 2014 study that found that an inability to make a female partner orgasm can make men depressed. It also highlights the "orgasm gap" – not only can women expect to earn less, but they can expect less satisfaction in the bedroom. Sixty-five percent of heterosexual women say they regularly orgasm during sex compared to 95 percent of heterosexual men.
So, what do the researchers think we should take away from this research?
"Does that mean we shouldn’t care about women’s orgasms? Of course not!" they said. "But they shouldn’t be seen as another notch on the bedpost, so to speak. Women’s orgasms should be experienced – when they are wanted – as a wonderful part of sexuality, not as something men give to women as an example of their prowess."