As a new study shows, women withhold honest sexual communication from their male partners in order to ‘protect’ their perceived masculinity
While we don’t necessarily need science to tell us that cis straight men are often sexually insecure and resistant to criticism, it can provide useful source material should the topic ever come up in conversation — say, when giving post-sex feedback.
In an example of how toxic masculinity harms everyone, a recent study — published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal — confirmed that women fake orgasms and withhold honest communication about their sexual needs and desires in order to “protect” their partners’ perceived masculinity.
Over three surveys of more than 600 women, the researchers came to several interconnected conclusions. First, that women who earned more money than their partners were twice as likely to fake orgasms as those who didn’t. Second, that women who perceived their partner’s manhood as precarious had lower sexual satisfaction, and were also more likely to fake orgasms (thanks to heightened anxiety and a lack of honest communication). Third, that women who saw their partner’s masculinity as insecure were less willing to be honest about their sexual wants, needs and satisfaction.
Speaking to PsyPost, the study’s co-author Jessica Jordan said, “The studies demonstrated that women undergo this chain reaction of perceiving a male partner as insecure in his masculinity, experiencing anxiety and subsequently withholding communication, which ultimately predicted poorer sexual satisfaction.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Phoebe (not her real name), a learning and development consultant from Kent in the U.K., says she’s often faked orgasms — particularly with casual partners — due to being “afraid of having ‘embarrassing’ or uncomfortable” conversations.” “If I wasn’t in a relationship that involved healthy communication, I didn’t feel I could have an honest conversation about sex,” she explains. “With my current partner, I’ve said, ‘I don’t think I’m going to cum,’ on one or two occasions — he was a little disappointed, but he got over it.”
Although the study’s samples are fairly small, the findings will echo true for many — if not most — women. Lucy Rowett, a Brighton-based sex, intimacy and relationship coach, tells me that, though the reasons for this are “complex and multifaceted” they “often boil down to how we’re socialized according to our gender.” She explains that women and those assigned female at birth are (sometimes unconsciously) brought up to be “more accommodating, caring and nurturing of others,” as well as to see their sexuality as “something to be hidden — that’s dirty, wrong or not important.”
Men, on the other hand, are often encouraged to see their ability to satisfy their female partners as “intrinsic to their self-esteem and confidence,” says Rowett, despite most people never receiving pleasure-based sex education. “It’s a cultural narrative that ‘sex is natural’ and you should just know what you’re doing,” she continues. “When men are given messages about being ‘the initiator,’ ‘the conqueror’ or the one who ‘takes the lead,’ it can feel incredibly painful to be told that what you’re doing isn’t working — and it can be heightened if you come from a culture or background with strict gender roles where men have to be ‘men’ and women have to be passive.”
This explanation rings true for 39-year-old Heather (also not her real name), who says withholding sexual communication from her partner has always been her default behavior. “I think at some point in my life, I internalized the idea that sex was something you performed for men and that my pleasure was secondary,” the London-based writer tells me. “The process of sort of de-programming those instincts has taken quite a lot of work and effort.” Now, having been in a relationship with the same partner for 14 years, Heather has learned to “take initiatives about sex and what turns [her] on,” thanks to encouragement from her partner. Although, this also took a while. “When we first met, I was very self-conscious and my preoccupation in bed was to perform some sort of fantasy for him,” she says.
Phoebe also says she’s learned over the years that “a man can prioritize [her] experience when having sex.” One particularly positive sexual encounter with an ex-boyfriend has since galvanized her to be more assertive when it comes to her pleasure — though, she adds, it isn’t always easy.
To try and feel more comfortable with honest sexual communication, Rowett advises that women first seek “support and an impartial sounding board” by way of a sex coach, therapist or even just talking to someone they trust. “That way, you can vent how you feel and get clearer on what you need to say,” she explains. When it comes to having a conversation with your partner, Rowett says you should always try to speak “with kindness” and “start by affirming” them, especially in what they do and how it makes you feel.”
Some examples could be something like, “I love it when you do this,” or “You’re so sexy, you look so gorgeous” and then more honest feedback about what you want. Often, says Rowett, it’s best to lead with an “I” statement and keep it affirmative. For example: “It feels really uncomfortable when you do that, I’d love it if you could do this instead.” Giving clear directions also helps — “Can you go a bit slower?” or “I’d like you to touch my clit more lightly”— as does capping off your feedback with another genuine affirmation or something positive.
Rowett does warn, however, that, no matter how delicately you try and put it, some people may still take constructive feedback badly. “Please know that this is a reflection of their own insecurities and not you,” she says. “Remember that your sexual needs matter just as much as his.”