The secret to sexual satisfaction (and it's not what you've been told) cover image

The secret to sexual satisfaction (and it's not what you've been told)

Dorian Minors • April 28, 2014

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

There's always a lot of questions surrounding sexual desire. If you believe popular culture, we're never satisfied with our partners. Men want too much, women want to little. Everyone else does it better (although they actually don't). It's hard to find the middle ground. We already know that gays and lesbians report higher sexual satisfaction. But what's the truth? Lets dive in!

We'll start with the people that have no sexual interest. Maybe due to age, illness, religion or some other reason, some people don’t seem to have any libido. 25% of married couples report no sex in the last year. 9% have stopped all together. And so have 86% of widows. These little factoids come to us courtesy of T. Smith in 1991. But these stats could be a little misleading, because some of these people want it, they just can't get it.

People may bitch about it alot, but getting married probably means you'll be having some kinda fun. Photo courtesy of Brian Burke (Flickr) People may bitch about it alot, but getting married probably means you'll be having some kinda fun. Photo courtesy of Brian Burke (Flickr)

Moving on. According to Blumstein and Schwartz in 1983, married, straight couples have the most sex over time, then gay men, then defacto couples (those straighties living together) and finally lesbians. In all, we see a decline in sex as the relationship continues over the course of time. This is most pronounced in defactos; after 10 years together sex is almost negligible. Then lesbians, whose drop off is sharp, but not as sharp. Then gay men, and finally married straight couples, whose stats are remarkable stable over time. So in a relationship, as time goes on, the amount of sex decreases, sometimes quite dramatically But for married straight couples, it stays pretty stable. What about sex outside of relationships? Well, in 2004 J. Simpson and colleagues came up with the Sociosexual Orientation scale, which measures how comfortable people are having sex with no strings attached. Basically you are scored on a continuum from 'restricted' to 'unrestricted'. Restricted means you're less likely to like no strings attached sex, unrestricted is the opposite. Restricted people are more flirty, sociable and extroverted. These people think sex without love is a-ok. Unrestricted people are much more reserved, and prefer sex to mean a little more. From rating people Buss and Schmidt in 1993 (and less current but no less reputable, Eysenck in 1976) found that men are far less restricted than women, and are more likely to get busy with more people, more often (predictable, no?). Schmitt went to rate people in 50 countries in 2005 and found this same thing time and time again! In terms of infidelity, Blumstein and Schwartz, in 1983 found that gay men had the most by FAR. More than double any other couple. Then defactos (men and women scored similarly here), then lesbians who roughly tied with married men. Finally married wives came a little bit under the rest. If you're interested in knowing why we cheat, a good place to start would be our article on sexual arousal - seeing what turns us on will lead you right to some of the key motivations for us to cheat.

It's starting to make a little sense now right? Photo courtesy of Scott MacBride (Flickr) It's starting to make a little sense now right? Photo courtesy of Scott MacBride (Flickr)

As you may have gathered by now, men have much a higher sex drive than women. Where men are having about 37 episodes of sexual desire a week (when young), women are averaging in at about 9, or so Regan and Atkins would have us believe from a 2006 study. They also tell us that men think about sex  about 60 times a week as opposed to women  at 15 times. More than that, Klusmann found in 2002 that about half of all men still masturbate while they're getting some frequently, as opposed to women at 16%. Unsurprisingly, Sprecher found in that same year that men want more frequent sex than women do. The same psychologist and colleagues found earlier, in 1995 that women are the 'gatekeepers' of sex early in relationships, controlling how much happens since men want it earlier. This starts to explain some of our courting behaviours doesn't it?

After talking about all these sexual differences, you're probably wondering how we're supposed to reach sexual satisfaction. Well, that relies on five things:

  1. How many partners we're comfortable having. More monogamous people are usually much more satisfied.
  2. The frequency has to come close to our expectations
  3. Our sex lives have to satisfy our needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. In layman's terms, we need to get the opportunity to do what we want, do it well and feel loved/respected. Couples who allow this have much more gratifying sex.
  4. Our motivations come into it too. Are we having sex to get a positive outcome or avoid a negative one (in psychology they call this approach or avoidant motivations)? The former is far more gratifying. In fact motivations for sex is so important we wrote a whole article on it.
  5. We also need to clearly communicate what we want. William Masters and Virginia Johnson found in 1970 that good sexual communication was very, very important and since gays and lesbians are so similar in terms of desire, they achieve this better, one of the reasons they're far more satisfied than straight couples.

Finally, we need to note that our sexual satisfaction is extremely closely linked to our relationship satisfaction. More satisfaction in sex? You're more likely to stay committed, and be satisfied by our relationships. So, take these tips and keep your partner satisfied! So you've clicked the links above (or here) to figure out how to manage your sexual attraction, maybe you'd be interested in what else you can do to bump it up? Or maybe three random things that have a strange impact on it? Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology. Thumbnail image coutesy of Kena Sen (Flickr)

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.