A trio of new studies are confirming what millions of women already know: Reacting to your man's insecurities can have you pretending the sexual satisfaction you do not feel.
The more a woman thinks her partner's ego is fragile, the more likely she is to protect those feelings and fake orgasms -- and then be less satisfied with the sex they do have, researchers discovered.
"I was talking to one of the collaborators on this project, who hypothesized that men who were insecure in their masculinity would be less likely to ask for sexual feedback," said study author Jessica Jordan, a doctoral student at the University of South Florida. "And my immediate thought was, it doesn't matter, because if a woman senses her partner is insecure, she's never going to tell him the truth."
In the first study, the researchers found that women who made more money than their partners reported they were twice as likely as those with lower incomes to fake orgasms. This study surveyed 157 women anonymously, recruited from social media.
In the second study, if women thought their partner had "precarious manhood" more, this indirectly predicted that they would fake satisfaction, which actually led to lower satisfaction, greater anxiety and less honest communication. That study included 283 women.
For the third study, researchers asked 196 women to imagine a partner who was insecure. How did they react? They were less willing to provide honest communication about sex because of anxiety over their partner's anxiety.
This miscommunication is not the fault of either the man or woman involved, Jordan said. In present-day American culture, sexual skill is considered part of masculinity, Jordan said. So, positive feedback from a woman makes a man feel like they're masculine.
"And that's something that we want men to have in our culture, that society says men should be very masculine and men tend to feel, 'I should be masculine. I should be demonstrating my masculinity.' And so, women are helping men achieve that," Jordan said.
The cost to women is that if they're not communicating honestly, that means less satisfaction for them.
"My advice would be in general for couples to start talking about needs, both sexual and non-sexual, early and often in a relationship," Jordan said. "And I think it's really helpful to open the door to these conversations before you start having sex in the first place, to say in the beginning, 'Hey, before we have sex, when we do have sex can we talk about how we're going to communicate our needs with each other?'"
The findings were published Jan. 31 in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
This communication issue may be rooted in the fact that people are attuned to their partner's needs and that this precarious masculinity can be thought of as a kind of anxiety, said Sarah DiMuccio, a masculinity researcher and senior research associate at Catalyst, a nonprofit organization working with women, minority groups and leadership roles at large companies. She was not involved in the study.
"A lack of communication is not good for any relationship and that's not just in the bedroom, but in any facet of a relationship," DiMuccio said. "But especially when it comes to sexual satisfaction, there's lots of research that shows that not communicating and not being on the same page on needs is really detrimental, and can really leave men feeling a wrong sense that things are going well and women feeling that things are not going well at all and that he's not noticing that."
This can easily seep into the rest of the relationship, DiMuccio said, so it's important for women to realize that most men who love them would actually like to be fulfilling their needs.
Jennifer Bosson, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida who was not involved in this study, also suggested that men may have a lot of anxiety about their manhood.
"It makes perfect sense to me that female partners are aware of this anxiety that men have," Bosson said. "And so, because women are socialized to be caregivers and to be attentive to other people's emotions, it makes sense that women would, if they think their male partner has some underlying anxiety about his masculinity, that women might kind of empathically change their own behavior so as to avoid further threatening a man's masculinity."
Though culture and communication have evolved as a result of feminist and gender equality movements, some women might still find it difficult to communicate about sex, she noted.
"In any kind of intimate relationship, saying what you honestly mean as long as it's done kindly and respectfully is always the best strategy," Bosson said.
The University of Minnesota has more on communication for a healthy relationship.
SOURCES: Jessica Jordan, MA, doctoral student, University of South Florida, Tampa; Sarah DiMuccio, PhD, senior research associate, Catalyst, New York City; Jennifer Bosson, PhD, professor, Department of Psychology, University of South Florida; Social Psychological and Personality Science, Jan. 31, 2022