HomeSocial aspects of sexualityRejection of research based on talking to women

Rejection of research based on talking to women

The value in using statistical sampling techniques (that attempt to ensure that the sample is representative of the general population), is that the finding can be applied to a much bigger population than the original sample. However, conclusions can only be extended to the population if the research is based on individuals who are selected in a way that creates a representative sample.

Today experts quote from Alfred Kinsey’s work by saying that 10% of women never orgasm by any means. They also quote from Shere Hite’s work by reassuring us that only 30% of women orgasm from intercourse. No one explains why the rest of their research findings are ignored. By asking women about orgasm, both Kinsey and Hite revealed some of the reality of women’s sexuality. These findings challenged male beliefs about how and when women should orgasm. So the approach was quickly abandoned.

Given the lack of precedents for female orgasm elsewhere in the animal kingdom, we need strong evidence to support the human phenomenon. Kinsey found that women who engaged in sexual activity alone (masturbation) were successful in achieving orgasm 95% of the time. But he found that only two out of every five women (40%) who engaged in sexual activity with a lover (intercourse) said it was possible to orgasm three times out of four (75% of the time). The rest found orgasm to be less reliable and a considerable number did not believe that orgasm was possible with a lover.

A problem with surveys and simple ‘yes/no’ questions is that there is no way of knowing if someone knows what they are talking about. Once you have had an orgasm, not only do you know that you have had one but you also assume that anyone who has not had an orgasm, knows that they have not had one. But it is much more difficult to be sure about a lack of orgasm.

When researchers ask, “Do you orgasm from intercourse?” the very act of asking the question implies that ‘yes’ is a legitimate reply as if such a phenomenon is known to be possible. Some women reply: “Well I’m not sure if I have ever had an orgasm, perhaps once or twice.” The researcher says, “OK what percentage would you say – perhaps 10% of the time?” She says, “OK yes perhaps 10% of the time.” Another woman says, “Yes I think I do sometimes but not always.” “Do you think perhaps 75% of the time?” “Yes maybe 75% of the time.” These statistics are a measure of women’s uncertainty about orgasm and not a true orgasm frequency. Success rates are never used to categorise male orgasms. A man just has an orgasm – period.

It is unlikely that women who say orgasm is impossible with a lover are mistaken. It is much less certain that women, who think they might orgasm, are not mistaken. Researchers need to take human psychology into account. Men equate claims of female orgasm to women wanting sex. Women in turn want to be attractive to men. A woman who admits to not having an orgasm with a lover is considered to be frigid, unloving and sexually dysfunctional.

Imagine a room full of women. You ask each of them: “Do you achieve orgasm from intercourse?” The first woman says “No”. The second woman says “Yes” and so on. What conclusion would you draw? The answer is that you can’t draw any firm conclusion at all. The result is inconclusive because it is very clear that women don’t know. But this is why you are asking the question in the first place. If women knew, no one would have to ask.

Shere Hite’s research was based on a sample of 3,500 women. Around half of these women said that they “never or rarely orgasm from intercourse”. People are often unaware of their own ignorance. Others are reluctant to admit they don’t know the answer. It’s just human nature. Given a question with two possible answers even if women are just guessing, the result would be a 50:50 split given a large enough sample. That’s how probabilities work.

Modern sex research makes no attempt to indicate the relevance of findings to the whole population. There is no justification of the qualifications of the researchers, of the political or scientific aims of the funders of the research or of the way in which the sample is selected (whether it is representative of the general population). Findings from tiny samples are promoted as if they apply to everyone. We hear women eulogising about vibrator orgasms. But this is not a statistical sample. Women who never buy a vibrator or buy one and find it does nothing for them are never heard. This is the difference between personal opinions and sex research based on statistical sampling.

People who talk about sex do so to promote their own presumed sexual expertise. Women boast about orgasm and men claim to give women orgasms. Some enjoy the bravado of intimidating others. Most people say nothing to avoid being criticised or attacked. Authoritative sex research needs to tap into the silent millions to obtain a more balanced picture of human sexuality. This is, in part, why Kinsey and Hite were ignored. Their findings conflicted with popular beliefs, which are based on erotic fiction. It is almost impossible to encourage any kind of objective discussion of sex.

Some people suggest generalisations are useless because they are not always true. For example we can say that, on average, men are taller than women. This is a generalisation but it is also a fact. Generalisations can be useful if we understand that there are exceptions. Statistical research is useful because it gives us an idea of what activities or experiences are usual. But having an experience that is different to the average, doesn’t make us abnormal. Even rare characteristics can be quite normal for the individuals who have them.

A G-spot orgasm requires penetration, which just so happens to be the way most guys prefer to get off. (Elizabeth Kiefer)

Excerpt from Learn About Sexuality (ISBN 978-0956-894748)