Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Feb 08, 2019

Do Women Enjoy Sex in the Absence of Orgasm?

A lady frolics in the sunshine carrying a dozen colorful balloons

Is sex only pleasurable if we experience an orgasm, or can people still enjoy sex in the absence of an orgasm? Popular media often presents an orgasm as the ultimate goal of sex and the defining feature of a satisfying sexual experience, yet in reality, many women have difficulties orgasming consistently (or at all) during sex. This discrepancy might suggest that many women are not satisfied with their sexual experiences, but it could also suggest that other aspects of sex are pleasurable above and beyond “the big O.”

“I’m not just doing this research to be fun at parties,” laughed Wongsomboon as she introduced her topic, “it has strong implications for women’s private lives in their bedrooms, but also in other aspects of their lives as well.” Given that sexual pleasure plays a role in feeling a stronger sense of autonomy and higher physical and psychological well-being, understanding what constitutes a gratifying sexual experience for women is an important feat.

In a sample of young adult heterosexual women, Wongsomboon and colleagues found that the majority of women believed that sex could be pleasurable without orgasm: nearly three-quarters of women endorsed this idea in the context of a committed relationship, while just over half believed this to be true about casual sexual encounters. These positive attitudes towards orgasm-free sex were not just endorsed at a general level, but also in regard to one’s own specific sexual experiences. In a sample of middle-aged women, about half of these women reported having enjoyable to really enjoyable sex without orgasm in the past. Furthermore, women enjoyed sex without orgasm more when they felt more confident about their sexual performance with a partner and placed less value on the experience of orgasm.

So, can sex be enjoyable for women in the absence of orgasm? In short, these findings suggest yes, but Wongsomboon also stated that it is important for women to be assertive about their pleasure in sexual encounters. On the (potentially elusive) “road to orgasm,” it seems as though sexual pleasure can lie in the journey itself…even if the destination isn’t reached. 

Written By: Rebecca Horne, PhD Student, Relationships and Well-Being Lab, University of Toronto

Talk: Women’s Sexual Enjoyment in the Absence of Orgasm at Orgasm, Sexual Satisfaction, and Relationship Satisfaction in Couples and Individuals held Friday, February 8, 2019

Speaker: Val Wongsomboon, PhD Student, University of Florida

Co-Authors: Justin Garcia, Amanda Gesselman, Elizabeth Mahar, Gregory Webster

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Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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