Sexual health

It's not just hookups: Some women never orgasm at all 

Nov. 13, 2013 at 12:52 PM ET

Women may be less likely to have an orgasm during a one night stand, according to one new study that's been attracting attention online this week. But what's lost in the conversation is this: some women never orgasm from intercourse, no matter the circumstance.

Much of the chatter about the new research is part of a continuing national fret about so-called “hook-up culture.” But the reality of sexual satisfaction is much more complicated than most such stories make out.

First, it’s not all about the orgasm. There are so many variables that make up what sex researchers call “sexual satisfaction,” that there are ongoing efforts to develop a system for measuring it. Researchers from the The Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University recently floated the Quality of Sexual Experience (QSE) scale. The NIH is working on one called PROMIS. Orgasm is only one element.

Many women never orgasm, and about one-third never, or rarely, orgasm from intercourse. Yet many of these women find great satisfaction in intercourse, which can set off a cascade of brain responses facilitating a sense of well-being, closeness, pleasure.

Sexual satisfaction is further complicated by circumstances. Study after study has shown that mood, including depression, anxiety, trust, intimacy all play large roles in orgasm and overall satisfaction. This is especially true for women, who usually require a more relaxed state to reach orgasm than men do. First time sex with a new partner can come with a whole set of potential anxieties.

Then there’s alcohol. While alcohol can facilitate one’s willingness to have sex, too much can interfere with sexual response and orgasm. Again, study after study shows that, especially among younger men and women, alcohol and one-night stands go together like peanut butter and jelly.

The pill can also effect response. Last year, an Italian team published a results of a pilot study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine concluding that treatment with a popular brand of birth control pill called Yasmin “is associated with increased pain during intercourse, with decreased libido and spontaneous arousability, and with diminished frequency of sexual intercourse and orgasm.”

And, of course, when you barely know somebody, there’s much less chance you’re going to launch a brief pedagogical seminar on your preferred oral sex techniques for achieving orgasms.

In short, there is less to the idea that women are somehow being cheated by these kinds of sexual experiences than meets the eye. Yes, some men may indeed be selfish, lousy lovers during a one-night stand. But sexual satisfaction -- to say nothing of why people have sex in the first place -- is too complex to make any broad social statement about whether inequality reigns in hook ups.  

Brian Alexander is a frequent contributor to NBC News and a co-author of “The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction.”

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