[Photo credit: Tony Fischer]
About a year ago, I wrote a piece called My Top 3 Sex Problems As A Woman.
I did it to promote transparency and openness. I did it because I think we should talk about sex more, and more honestly. I did it because the better we feel about our sexuality, the better we are to ourselves. And others.
In that spirit, at the end of the article I invited people to participate by taking a survey. The questions were very simple:
- What are your top 3 problems when it comes to sex?
- What are your top 3 problems when it comes to dating?
- What are your top 3 problems when it comes to relationships?
I wanted to see whether I was alone in my sex problems as a woman. I wanted to know what men would say. I wanted to see what trends would emerge.
I wanted the truth.
I thought I’d be lucky to get 100 responses. You can imagine my shock, then, when over 1,000 people responded. Then I read them and was even more shocked by their depth, range, vulnerability, and, yes, truth.
Get excited, because I’m going to share the results with you now.
First, a few notes on the data:
- Since each respondent could give 3 separate answers to each question, you’ll notice the percentages don’t add up to 100 (don’t worry, they still show the critical trends)
- I’m including only the sex results in this article. I’ll do separate pieces for the dating and relationship questions. They’re equally as fascinating
And a few quick demographics on who responded:
- The total age range was 16-72, with an average age of 37
- 85% identified as female, 14% male, and ~1% as “other”
- 85% identified as heterosexual; 12% as bisexual; 1% as gay; 3% as “other”
- 45% were in committed relationships, 33% were single, and 22% fell into the categories of “it’s complicated” or “other” (many of these said they were currently separated from spouse)
So we’re talking about people mostly in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, primarily hetero, roughly half of whom were in a relationship, and half of whom were single/single-ish.
Without further ado, here are the top problems listed by the groups:
WOMEN’S TOP SEX PROBLEMS
Trouble orgasming: 24%
Pain/It hurts: 23%
Not enough foreplay: 18%
Relaxing/letting go: 4%
MEN’S TOP SEX PROBLEMS
Pleasing partner: 17%
Partner not initiating: 17%
Performance anxiety: 12%
My sex drive is higher: 9%
Not having/getting it enough: 8%
If you’re a woman for whom orgasming is challenging, or a man who isn’t exactly sure how to please your partner, the biggest thing to know is that you’re not alone.
Here are a few more of my biggest takeaways (note: these are hetero-normative for the most part, as the vast majority of the responses referred to hetero sex).
1. For a lot of women, sex hurts
It’s hard to talk about this one. First, because a number of women said their biggest sexual issue was figuring out how to enjoy sex after rape or other sexual trauma, and that is, frankly, heartbreaking. Not only were these women violated either as girls, teens, or adults, but now sex is painful for them and while they desperately want to enjoy it, they don’t (yet). I have much to say about this, which I will save for a different article, but for now will simply say this: one of my closest friends is a survivor of sexual abuse, and she has scorchingly hot sex with her fiancé now. It IS possible, you CAN get there, and you DESERVE to get there.
Next: for a lot of women, it’s not necessarily that sex hurts all the time, but that many of the men with whom they have it, hurt them (probably unwittingly). Thus:
- “Painful intercourse”
- “Too much pressure/too rough”
- “Fear (like I need to protect my body from painful and unwelcome stuff)”
- “Fingering too rough causing anxiety rather than stimulation”
- “Men are rough. I call it porn sex.”
I’ve got to be honest: It was a little depressing to read response after response like this. But it also gave me hope, because I feel like much of this is fixable with the right information and communication. Especially because …
2. Men really want to know how to please women
Apparently, for many men, figuring out how to please a woman is a puzzling mystery wrapped in the shroud of an enigma:
- “I can’t tell whether what I’m doing is working.”
- “I don’t know how to tell if I gave a woman an orgasm or not. This is compounded by the fact that I can’t get feedback because asking if it happened is a turn-off (e.g. showing a lack of sexual prowess), which results in no orgasms anyhow. I’ve also heard the conventional wisdom, ‘If you don’t know if you’ve given a girl an orgasm, then you probably haven’t’ – which makes me even more insecure.”
- “If what I’m doing actually turns her on.”
- “A lot of women I’ve met almost seem like they expect me to know how to please them, but it requires a little direction. Don’t be afraid to tell me you don’t like something, or would rather me do something else. Guide me. Not everything I like do will appeal to every partner I have. Direct me, and show me the way. This is a mutual thing, and if only one of us enjoys it, what’s the point of having sex?”
I really feel for men here. For many of them, it sounds like determining how to successfully pleasure a woman is like trying to escape a dark room with a lot of furniture in it. You do your best while you stumble around, hoping not to run into anything bad and eventually find the right door that leads to the holy land.
As a woman who has sex with men, I was also touched by the responses in this category. It was a good reminder that most men really do want women to enjoy themselves during sex. They’re not just looking to “score” – they care that she’s having a good time.
Which makes the next point even more poignant:
3. Women struggle with how to talk about sex with men
Over and over, women mentioned wanting to give their partners feedback about sex but feeling like if they brought something up, they’d hurt him. They said things like:
- “I struggle to express what I want during sex. I’m afraid of making the other person feel inadequate.”
- “Communication! Speaking up in bed while trying to balance pleasing myself and not hurting my partner’s ego.”
- “My partner likes going down on me, but he’s not very good at it. I don’t think he knows where to focus the energy and stimulation. I try to tell him but don’t want to hurt his feelings or ego.”
- “Not wanting to tell my partner when he does something I don’t like. Men take it personally and seem to think because they’ve successfully pleasured one woman with something that it should/will work with all women.”
- “How to communicate when I don’t like something without shutting my partner down.”
I can’t tell you the number of responses that sounded like these. This is a HUGE issue for women.
So in general, we have men who want their women to enjoy sex, and women who are terrified of being honest about what’s not working and therefore don’t speak up about it, to the point of tolerating quite a bit of pain.
While that may sound ridiculous, I can say without a doubt that I’ve done it many times.
I have about a bajillion more things to say on this topic, but this piece is already long and I don’t want to overwhelm.
So expect more – much more – from me about all this. I am DETERMINED to improve our sex lives, people. HOT SEX FOR EVERYONE IN 2017 – who’s with me?!
I leave you with a few highlights from the responses (these respondents gave their consent that their words could be shared (anonymously)):
- “Fear my partner will lose interest if I’m too ‘difficult.’ That is, if I take too long or if I don’t orgasm.” – Female, 48
- “Being afraid to ask for something in fear she’ll think you are weird or gross.” – Male, 44
- “Focusing too much about meeting his needs and not enjoying myself and our sexy time.” – Female, 30
- “Broaching the subject without feeling pushy or apologizing.” – Male, 29
- “I have no problems telling a partner to touch me lighter, but they don’t always get it. Then it takes a while, I get frustrated, I feel he’s frustrated, then I just don’t want to anymore. I unfortunately don’t have a lot of sex, I think I have a low drive, too. All things put together, I often feel ‘broken.’” – Female, 42
- “Feeling insecure about initiating sex ALL the time and not waiting to come across as demanding. Trying to be a man ravishing my lover but still being sensitive to her needs and desires.” – Male, 60
- “People thinking ‘bisexual’ automatically means ‘promiscuous.’” – Female, 45
- “Always be hard – Like don’t lose the underwear until ready to impress, and never droop so she won’t feel I’m bored.” – Male, 40
- “Am I doing it right ? Am I doing something wrong? Am I bad at sex?” Female, 44
- “[Women being like] starfishes – no positions, lay there and no noise, makes you feel like a rapist.” – Male, 39
- “What if the one day she actually initiates is the one day I just want to take a nap?” – Male, 40
- “Inability to obtain or pay attention to quality feedback. ‘Porn-style’ vocal feedback is the only thing they use to judge success, in other words, jab something until the girl makes a sound, versus exploring and watching and feeling for subtle clues of pleasure.” – Female, 47
- “Top problem: A SMALL CHILD THAT INVADES OUR BEDROOM.” – Female, 35
NOTE: If you aren’t on my list yet but want to be alerted when the next two parts of the survey come out (dating and relationships), sign up here.
P.S. I think the data from this sex survey lends itself to visual representation and would love to see an infographic made of these results. If you’re interested in making that happen, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org (I can pay).