The importance of sexual satisfaction in a healthy romantic relationship is clear. It tends to be associated with higher levels of love, commitment, and stability in the relationship and a lower divorce rate. Unfortunately, sexual problems, also called sexual dysfunctions, are fairly common. Research shows that in the United States, anywhere from about 10%-50% of men, and 25%-60% of women suffer from some form of sexual dysfunction, usually in the form of low interest in sex or difficulty achieving orgasm.
Age, physical, and emotional health are significant factors in sexual satisfaction versus dysfunction. Men tend to have more erectile dysfunction as they get older, while women tend to enjoy improved sexual functioning with age as long as lubrication is not an issue. However, given the role of estrogen in lubrication and its decreasing levels in women after menopause, lubrication can very well be a problem if not addressed. Another example of the likely role of hormones in female sexual satisfaction is the common decrease in arousal that occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy, with recovery usually during the latter two trimesters.
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Sexual Satisfaction by Population
Adults who are married or in an otherwise committed relationship tend to function better sexually compared to their unattached counterparts, and those with higher educational attainment tend to have a better sex life compared to adults who achieve less educationally. While race and ethnicity tend to have little association with the overall rate of sexual dysfunction, there seems to be some variability in the kind of dysfunction based on this demographic. For example, African-American women tend to have less sexual desire compared to Hispanic and Caucasian women, while Caucasian women seem to experience more physical pain during sex.
Life experiences, like being the victim of physical or sexual trauma, tend to decrease sexual functioning in women, while having more than five lifetime sexual partners or having same-sex sexual partners do not. While having traditional gender roles in a marriage tends to be associated with having sex more often, the level of satisfaction in those marriages has not been thoroughly studied.
Factors Associated With Higher Sexual Satisfaction in Women
A number of factors influence sexual satisfaction in women. While age can somewhat work against it, high sexual desire and satisfaction with work and with the romantic relationship a woman is in all promote sexual satisfaction. Sexually satisfied women tend to have levels of sexual desire that are closely matched with those of their partner. There is some evidence that while penis length does not tend to be a factor for sexual satisfaction, penis width may very well be. Women who self-stimulate are also more likely to feel sexually satisfied. The theory there is that women who self-stimulate are more aware of their sexual wants and needs.
Communication, both generally and about one's sexual needs, is thought to be the strongest factor in achieving sexual satisfaction. Women who tend to be highly sexually assertive tend to have higher levels of desire, orgasm ability, and sexual satisfaction compared to their nonassertive counterparts. The more often couples tend to be affectionate, both sexually and otherwise, the higher their sexual satisfaction tends to be. Interestingly, even the form of communication can have an impact on sexual satisfaction. For example, nonverbal communication during sex is thought to be more likely associated with sexual satisfaction than verbal communication during sex.
Given the importance of sexual satisfaction in maintaining health and happiness, as well as the multiple factors involved in female sexual satisfaction, women and their partners would be well advised to protect their emotional and physical health, be affectionate in all aspects of their relationship, get to know their sexual needs, and communicate those needs openly and kindly to their partners.
Medically reviewed by Wayne Blocker, MD; Board Certified Obstetrics and Gynecology
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