New research is showing that men who are more careful and cautious sexually are actually more satisfied. We have some information about what drives men to have sex and how likely men are to engage in sex, but it is less clear what satisfies them.
For example, we know that men and women are different in what motivates them to have sex. Men are generally more physical in their motivation, while women desire sex for emotional reasons. We also know that men are generally more promiscuous than women. That is, men are generally more permissive than women when it comes to deciding about a first sexual encounter.
It is harder for researchers to tease apart what actually makes men and women sexually satisfied. Men and women are about the same when it comes to how sexually satisfied they are overall, but the factors that cause this satisfaction appear to be different. For example, men seem to be more sexually satisfied when they are satisfied with the relationship overall. This finding may surprise some, who feel that men’s sexual satisfaction depends entirely on frequency and variety.
So how does all this work when there is no relationship? What about casual sex?
Two American researchers recently looked at what motivates casual sex. Specifically, they looked at physical motivators (e.g., pleasure, partner attractiveness, etc.), goal-oriented motivators (e.g., using sex to gain social status), and sexual satisfaction. They wanted to see what motivated each gender to have casual sex and how this interacted with sexual satisfaction.
For men and women who were motivated to have sex for physical reasons like pleasure, it seems that casual sex was associated with lower sexual satisfaction. Put another way, men who were more careful or restrictive in their sexual encounters were happier with their sex life. This was even true for men who had really high sex drives. Satisfying sex came when they didn’t jump into bed with every woman who offered. Again, this is surprising given our culture’s view of how men are satisfied sexually.
Men have sex for more reasons than just pleasure or attraction. Men sometimes have sex because it gives them a feeling of accomplishing something. For example, they may feel like they have proven their masculinity or gained social standing. They may be proving themselves to others or just to themselves. Having sex for reasons like this was termed “goal-oriented” sex in the research.
Even for these men, who were more goal-oriented in their sexuality, sexual satisfaction came from being less permissive. When these men were cautious in their choice of partners they were usually more sexually satisfied.
On the flip side, the sexually goal-oriented men who were seeking out lots of partners were actually sexually unsatisfied. The authors speculated that when a sexually goal-oriented man is seeking out lots of sexual partners it is a sign that he isn’t performing well sexually. They suggested that unsatisfying sex is really threatening for guys like this. The whole point of sex was to prove themselves sexually so unsatisfying sex is considered a failure. After they have an experience that they consider a sexual “failure” these men quickly move on to the next woman to get another chance to prove themselves sexually.
So it seems that men who are very promiscuous generally are not very satisfied sexually. Having a fling may even be a sign that performance is an issue and seeking out casual sex is a way to shore-up up shaky sexual confidence. Even though our culture does see men this way, relationship is important for men to feel sexually satisfied. It may be tempting to go out for that quick sexual experience, but working on a fulfilling relationship is the path to sex that satisfies. It can be challening to identify these kinds of issues in your own life, but fostering self-awareness by working with caring therapists can make a huge difference in understanding and overcoming these challenges.
Seehuus, M., & Rellini, A. H. (2013). Gender differences in the relationship between sexual satisfaction and propensity for risky sexual behavior. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 28, 229-244.
About the author:
Dr. Syras Derksen
A psychologist who works with children, adults, and couples