Love & Sex

Does Anybody Actually Know What “Sexual Satisfaction” Is?

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A new survey finds what we actually mean when we talk about being sexually satisfied.

Sexual satisfaction has long been thought to be a barometer for your overall relationship. But we’re in a constant state of wanting an unquantifiable amount more of it. You’re hit with about fifty-quadrillion ads a day boasting “10 Ways To Get More Sexual Satisfaction” or “5 Secrets of a Sexually Satisfied Man/Woman/Whatever”. That’s all well and good, except for one tiny glitch: Um, what, exactly, is sexual satisfaction? (x thrusts? y more orgasms? z times more humpage?) How do we know when we’ve reached the apex of satisfaction, and more importantly, will there be a rain of colorful confetti on our heads when we get there?

The answer is, as with many sexy things, deeply subjective. 

In a recently published study, The Journal of Sex Research gathered the written responses of 449 women and 311 men in committed relationships to answer the question, “How do you define sexual satisfaction?” Because, who better to ask what defines sexual satisfaction than normal ole regulars? The results were varied, but they were split into two themes: personal sexual well-being and dyadic processes (aka what happens between two people). The study put together this map, breaking down the themes of responses:

 

via Journal of Sex Research

 

So what do our fellow lay people have to say?

“Pleasure” and “Mutuality” were the top two response themes, often given together. About half of the 760 responses included “pleasure” in their definition, but not all were referring to pleasure as an orgasm necessarily. Pleasure had a much more fluid connotation, apart from ejaculation or a physical climax in light of satisfaction. “Satisfaction with one’s sexual life as a whole. It does not imply necessarily to reach orgasm, but it means to have as much pleasure as possible,” said one respondent.

For respondents who skewed on the more personal/selfish side of answers, only a few participants in the study mentioned “desire”, “arousal”, or “orgasm” in their definitions of sexual satisfaction—you know, actual stages of the Masters and Johnson sexual response cycle. On the “shared experience” side of the spectrum, “mutuality” was the buzzword in most responses, with a partner’s pleasure being just as key in one’s own pleasure—take that, orgasm gap. 

Our personal and relationship satisfaction seems just as important when we’re choosing the language with which to describe sexual satisfaction. Some other choice definitions of sexual satisfaction from the survey included: “the acknowledgement that our mutual understanding takes a material bodily form” and “physical and emotional satisfaction”.

Okay, sure, but shouldn't there be a number? Can't we quantify how many times we have to bone a week to feel satisfied? While frequency was often cited in a definition of sexual satisfaction, there was no concrete number ever named. Rather, “accomplishing a balance between one’s own and one’s partner’s desired frequency” was the goal for satisfaction. “As much sex as we want” is an ephemeral definition of satisfaction, but it's more comforting than an arbitrary "normal" number. 

Since 760 definitions are a lot to digest, I created a word cloud of some of the participants' responses:

 

As you can see, the heavy-hitters that define satisfaction here are "feel", "pleasure", "activity", "relationship", "partner", and coming in last, "orgasms". Note that "every day", "huge penis", "big boobs", "erections", "wet", "with many people", "as much as Brad and Angelina", and "more often than my friends" aren't on this list—clear cut proof that what really matters and what actually satisfies us has nothing to do with the feelings of inadequacy, awkwardness, or competition so intrinsically tied to how we advertise "sexual satisfaction". Even talk of dysfunction or negative feelings ("He couldn't get it up," "She doesn't want to have sex," "I'm not attracted to them,") are completely absent from these definitions. What we really conceive as sexual satisfaction didn't come down to a number or what we lack, but only what we have. Pure, sex-positive pleasure.

The ultimate definition the study came up with was, “The emotional experience of frequent mutual sexual pleasure.” I'd say that's about as good as any.