A study published in 2017 in the Journal of Sex Research found that men view the female orgasm as an opportunity to confirm their manhood. These findings, courtesy of two University of Michigan researchers, suggest that men who think sexually pleasing women is important are really doing it to please themselves.
Thanks to the sexual scripts society assigns people, men often feel like they have to "prove themselves through symbolically masculine achievements," the study's authors write. Because previous research has shown men gleaning sexual satisfaction from a woman coming, the authors were interested in finding out if men view female orgasms as a "masculinity achievement."
The study analyzed the responses of 810 men who were 18 and older and currently sexually attracted to women. During the experiment, researchers posed an Imagined Orgasm Exercise: Participants read one of four anecdotes that had them imagine having sex with a female partner they like and had had sex with three times already. The four variables were that the men either always made the woman come even though she had or hadn't with previous partners, or never came with him even though she had or hadn't in the past with other men. Afterward, researchers took stock of participants' feelings of masculinity as well as their sexual esteem, among other things.
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Unsurprisingly, the men in the study "reported higher feelings of masculinity after reading a vignette in which a female partner orgasmed versus a vignette in which a female partner did not orgasm." Moreover, "this effect was exacerbated for men with high masculine gender role stress."
But, contrary to popular belief, a woman's orgasm history had little impact on how masculine a man felt. This suggests that men take responsibility for a woman's sexual satisfaction, the authors note. While this may propel men to do whatever it takes to get a woman to come, the study's authors say that a man's insistence to help a woman achieve orgasm may cause him to "dismiss important contextual factors and/or women's own agency and experiences around sexual pleasure."
In an interview with psychology news website PsyPost, the authors noted that women's orgasms "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."
They continued: "Cultural ideas about masculinity push many men to feel like they need to live up to certain ideals, and this ends up being bad for sexual pleasure."
Moreover, the study's results "could be interpreted to support notion that the increased attention to women's orgasms, often lauded as the symbol of women's sexual liberation, actually reflects a repackaging of women's sexuality in the service of men" and that "a reevaluation of women's orgasms as symbols of sexual health and liberation is sorely needed."
Paul Joannides is a psychoanalyst and the author of the sex ed book Guide To Getting It On. While he has some issues with the current research—he says the authors failed to mention that women's sexual pleasure isn't as clear-cut as it is with men, and that many women struggle to communicate the ways men can give them pleasure—he says the bigger takeaway for women is that "it matters to a lot of male partners if you do or don't have an orgasm."
Women need to help their partners understand "that your overall pleasure is just as important as whether you did or didn't have an orgasm," he tells Broadly, "and that begins with how he greets you at the door, the feeling you get when he hugs you, and whether he makes you feel desired and valued."
He continues: "You need to educate him about your body, your sexual pleasure, and help him to realize that your way of arriving at an orgasm could be very different from how his last partner orgasmed, or from how he has orgasms. Help him to realize the goal is pleasure, and if orgasm is part of that, great. But pleasure comes first."