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Exploring Women’s Sexual Pleasure Deficit

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PleasDef (Exploring Women’s Sexual Pleasure Deficit)

Reporting period: 2021-07-01 to 2022-06-30

Sexual pleasure is broadly defined as “the physical and/or psychological satisfaction and enjoyment derived from shared or solitary erotic experiences, including thoughts, fantasies, dreams, emotions, and feelings“ (World Association of Sexual Health [WHO], 2019). In Western societies, sexual pleasure and its pursuit are seen as some of the most important goals of non-reproductive sexual activity. Experiences of sexual pleasure are, however, embedded in a gendered context that disadvantages women (i.e. the pleasure gap). The overall aim of the present project is to examine those gendered patterns in the domain of sexual pleasure. The project further aims to better understand the gendered pleasure gap through an investigation into the concept of entitlement to pleasure.
First, we argue that women and men are treated to different experiences of what we as a culture call “sexuality” in the heterosexual context. We locate women’s apparent lesser interest in sex in the fact that sexuality is a lower-quality experience for women than it is for men. This is crucial since results of this project also show that sexual pleasure is integral to sexual health. In a further work package, we examined which mechanisms contribute to the maintenance of women’s sexual pleasure deficit. First, an analysis of the most important journals in the field of sex research demonstrated that inequities exist in research practice. A higher number of studies included only men as participants compared to samples that consisted of only women. Next, we demonstrated in five studies that men’s higher entitlement contributes to the sexual pleasure gap that disadvantages women.
The European Union faces huge challenges in reducing inequality, health and wellbeing; a better understanding of cultural differences in gender issues and sexuality has therefore an impact on European society. Fulfilling an essential goal of the EU, the project contributes to gender equality. The results may create awareness of current inequalities, help lift restrictions for women’s opportunities for pleasure, and eliminate gender differences in the costs of sex. That would serve sexual justice around the globe. Our results further indicate that more effort is needed to close the pleasure gap between women and men. Continuing to underestimate pleasure as a means to a healthy sex life will only hinder our ability to understand how to improve sexual health, especially for women. To ensure the sexual health of women especially, our results call for the implementation of policies and comprehensive education plans that focus on more positive aspects of sex, like pleasure, desire, and agency.