Sexism is literally ruining women's sex lives

A new study shows a link between a woman’s acceptance of sexism in her relationship and fewer orgasms

Published July 11, 2016 6:02PM (EDT)

  (<a href=''>gpointstudio</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(gpointstudio via Shutterstock)

I have some bad news for women everywhere. Sexism is literally ruining our sex lives. According to a new study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, women who perceive their partners as sexist and selfish are significantly less likely to orgasm during sex. Yikes.

For the study, researcher Emily Harris at Queensland’s School of Psychology collected data from heterosexual female participants from two studies. The first set of data came from a previous study that measured men’s and women’s sexual and social attitudes as well as sexual history, while the second study recruited participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

The first study helped define sexism using the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory to measure varying levels of hostile and benevolent sexism. Hostile sexism can be described as overt disdain for women, basically run-of-the-mill misogyny. Benevolent sexism is a bit more fluid, and therefore less easy to spot, let alone define. According to Harris and her research team:

“Benevolent sexism assumes female passivity and romanticizes the belief that women should be reliant on men. In this way, benevolent sexism is argued to be a form of legitimizing myth, whereby prejudicial attitudes toward women are justified through the guise of care and protection.”

This “guise of care and protection,” therefore, leads to a lack of women being taken care of in the bedroom.

The research found when a woman subscribes to benevolent sexism ideals while also being involved in a romantic relationship in which the man was dominant, the woman is more likely to believe her partner to be selfish when it comes to sex. This could be due to an ongoing perception that sex is a wifely duty — or transaction — rather than a pleasurable activity for each partner to enjoy.

Once the levels of sexism were assessed, the scientists measured how selfish the women believed their partners to be in bed. The participants were asked to rate statements such as “Men care more about ‘getting off’ than whether or not their partner has an orgasm” and “During sex men care more about their own pleasure” on a scale of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The women later answered questions about how frequently they orgasm and by what methods.

The researchers found a distinct link between a woman’s endorsement of benevolent sexism and fewer orgasms. The female orgasm can be an elusive thing due in large part to the mental and psychological factors that influence a woman’s ability to climax. If a woman believes sex is her duty, it’s unlikely her head space will focus on her orgasming, but rather fulfilling her duty as a wife so she can move on to the next task. Benevolent sexism isn’t a direct cause to fewer orgasms, but rather a contributing factor — one piece of a very complicated puzzle.

The second part of the study collected information to measure how willing participants were to seek pleasure and ask for what they want during sex, based on the hypotheses that women with sexist partners would be less likely to seek personal pleasure during sex — the whole “wifely duty” mentality.

Once again, endorsing benevolent sexism was linked to reduced orgasm frequency because of perceived levels of male selfishness, compounded by the female partner’s tendency to be less assertive, or more demure, when it comes to willingness to ask for pleasure in bed.

These findings are important and provocative in that they challenge ideological beliefs in terms of sexism for both men and women.

“The present study therefore furthers our understanding of how broad ideological factors such as benevolent sexism may (indirectly) impact women’s orgasm functioning,” write the authors in the study. The authors believe that relationships can suffer in other areas based on axioms of benevolent sexism such as husbands are entitled to sex from their wives, and it’s acceptable for a man to ask for pleasure but unacceptable for a woman to.

Other studies support this transactional approach to sex and relationships.

A 2015 study suggested that the frequency of exposure to benevolent sexism determined how college-aged women view relationships. Those who were more exposed to it were more likely to view relationships as tools or instruments to achievement than a source of romantic fulfillment or desire, and was also associated with reduced use of condoms.

Five years ago, a study in the Journal of Sex Research reported people with high levels of benevolent sexism were more likely to believe sex to be an exchange between husband and wife. In these relationships, sex is perceived as a man’s right or reward for protecting his wife and providing financially. Sadly, participants in this study who ranked high on the scale of benevolent sexism were less likely to consider forced marital sex as rape.

The current research suggests the need to evolve not only our behaviors, but also our beliefs when it comes to how we perceive traditional marital roles. For both men and women, levels of benevolent sexism have been found to greatly reduce the frequency of female orgasms — a big O-no.

By Erin Coulehan

Erin Coulehan is a freelance journalist with work in Rolling Stone, Elle, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @miss_coulehan

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