Sunday, November 29, 2009
Patriarchy does not equal Pleasure: Sexism Makes for Bad Sex (Pt. 1)
Courtesy of www.archives.gov
I'm in the midst of preparing for my upcoming Psychology Brown Bag discussion this Wednesday at Montgomery College, and I thought I would put some of the research together for those of you who can't attend. I'm starting with the claim that patriarchy (cultural systems that give men greater power than women) is likely to result in decreased sexual satisfaction, as compared to cultures in which men and women have greater equality. A bold claim? Perhaps so, but I've got the data to back it up.
In a survey of older men and women (40-80 years of age) from twenty-nine different nations, Laumann et al. (2006) found that men and women in countries with more gender equality (such as Western countries) reported greater sexual satisfaction than those in male-dominant countries (such as those in East Asia and the Middle East). In the Western nations, two-thirds of men and women reported that their sexual relationships were satisfying. In Middle Eastern countries, fifty percent of men and thirty-eight percent of women stated that they were satisfied with their sex lives (although there was some variability among the nations in this cluster), and in East Asian nations, approximately one-quarter of men and women reported positive sexual satisfaction. In other words, older adults living in more patriarchal nations reported lower sexual satisfaction than those in countries with greater gender equality, and this was true for both women and men. In other words, patriarchy doesn't just diminish women's sexual satisfaction, it makes sex worse for men, as well.
It is also worth noting that in all three of the cultural clusters, men reported greater sexual satisfaction than women, although the survey found greater gender differences in the male-dominant countries than in those with greater gender equality. "This pattern suggests that the type of gender regime is important for gender differences in sexual well-being, but true parity remains an ideal even in countries where beliefs about gender equality are more widespread." (Laumann et al., 2006, p. 158). Western nations may be more egalitarian, but they haven't reached true sexual equity yet. (We already knew that, right?)
Within any one country, some hold more patriarchal beliefs than others. If male dominance is bad for sex, then we would predict that feminists would have better sex lives. Of course, this flies in the face of widely held stereotypes that feminists are ugly, undesirable, and anti-sex. To the extent that feminism is viewed as anti-male, some might believe that feminists would have trouble in heterosexual relationships (Rudman & Phelan, 2007). However, Schick, Zucker, and Bay-Cheng (2008) found that female college students who more strongly endorsed feminist beliefs had a greater sense of their own sexual feelings (sexual subjectivity) and enhanced sexual motivation, both of which produced increased sexual satisfaction. In both college students and a non-student sample, Rudman and Phelan (2007) found that heterosexual women reported greater relationship health and sexual satisfaction when they perceived their male partner to be feminist, and men reported greater sexual satisfaction to the extent that they perceived their female partner to be feminist. Rather than impeding sexual satisfaction, these studies indicate that feminism enhances sexual satisfaction. (Of course, we need to replicate these studies and have more diverse samples and measures to be sure of their results, but still, the data are encouraging.)
So there you have it. Patriarchy is bad for sex and gender equality is good for sex. Now, to the interesting question -- why? I have my own ideas, which I'll be discussing on Wednesday, 1-2pm at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD. I'd love to hear your thoughts, though, so feel free to post a comment.
Laumann, E. O., Paik, A., Glasser, D. B., Kang, J-H., Wang, T., Levinson, B., Moreira, E. D., Nicolosi, A., Gingell, C. (2006). A cross-national study of subjective sexual well-being among older women and men: Findings from the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, p.145-161.
Rudman, L. A., Phelan, J. E. (2007). The interpersonal power of feminism: Is feminism good for romantic relationships? Sex Roles, 57, 787-799.
Schick, V. R., Zucker, A. N., Bay-Cheng, L. Y. (2008). Safer, better sex through feminism: The role of feminist ideology in women’s sexual well-being. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 225-232.