May 2, 2018

How do you know whether someone is sexually satisfied? Well, if you’re a researcher, you simply ask them. If you’re a partner, you observe them during sex to see whether they’ve had an orgasm. This isn’t an accurate measure, because sometimes your partner will fake it, and other times you’ll be so involved in the sex itself that you genuinely won’t notice.

This makes it sound like the first method – asking – is the most effective method. But according, to Kristen Mark, Ph.D., M.P.H., it’s not necessarily an accurate option. Mark studies sexual satisfaction and has written numerous articles and papers on the topic.

Her doubt isn’t based on the fact that people lie about their satisfaction levels, even though that does happen. Her reasoning is the metrics for sexual satisfaction could be flawed, to begin with. Most people equate orgasm to last longer in bed, even though it’s possible to be satisfied without reaching orgasm.

More importantly, the orgasm that is most used to measure sexual satisfaction is the male one. So if a man reaches orgasm, he is likely to describe the sexual experience as satisfying even though his partner may not. Similarly, if he faces early ejaculation, he will likely be unsatisfied even if he brings his partner to orgasm using other forms of sexual intimacy.

In the same way, women who haven’t ever experienced orgasm – or women who are emotionally dependent on their partners – will gauge their own satisfaction by his. Therefore, if he experiences orgasm, she will consider the sexual encounter satisfactory. And then there are people who consider themselves sexually satisfied if they feel closer or better bonded with their partner afterward, even if they didn’t achieve orgasm.

Another way to judge sexual satisfaction is a mutual pleasure, but – again – it can be hard to tell whether your partner is truly satisfied or whether they’re just claiming to be. Plus, many partners – especially women – are reluctant to admit their lack of satisfaction. They worry it might hurt their partner’s feelings, or worse, get them labeled as sexually dysfunctional.

The danger in using the wrong methods to define and measure sexual satisfaction, according to Mark, is that the problem is mislabelled as a medical one, and the women are offered and recommended pills and medical solutions. She has a point because the pharmaceutical industry is keen to develop a female equivalent for Viagra.

It’s likely to be quite lucrative, considering how often men complain about their partner’s lack of interest in sex. It’s assumed that if she would just take a ‘little pink pill’ she’d enjoy sex more, which would make her want it more. Problem solved! However, Mark believes collecting better data and finding more reliable metrics is more important.

She explains that changing the approach will alter how the FDA deals with sexual dysfunction in women, and how clinical trials are run. Similarly, with increased interest and literature on sustained sexual satisfaction, we are learning more and more every day, which – in the long run – makes sex better for everyone.

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