For men who interpreted that question as valuation, the answer was obvious. Everyone knows you're supposed to say your partner is important. And most did. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 signifying the highest importance, women gave their partners' orgasms an average importance rating of 7.96. Men gave an average rating of 8.53. (See Table 2.)
Why did some people give a rating lower than 10? Maybe they were devaluing their partners' satisfaction. But the more plausible guess is that they were downplaying the importance of orgasm in general. The gender breakdown fits this hypothesis: While women were less likely than men to say their partner's orgasm was important, they were also less likely to say their own orgasm was important.
Why downplay orgasm? Maybe because it's difficult for your partner to reach orgasm due to age, health, or some other factor. If so, this underlying difficulty, rather than your failure to "value" your partner's pleasure, may account for your lower level of relationship happiness.
Or, as with the cuddling correlation, the causal link might run in reverse: The happier you are with your wife, the more you care about her pleasure.
5. Men want love; women want sex."Survey Shows Men Need to Cuddle, Women Value Sex," says Time's headline. "Men value cuddling, women sexual satisfaction," says the Boston Globe. "Sexual satisfaction is more important to women," says MSNBC.
But the study didn't measure what women value. It measured their level of satisfaction. More men than women reported being happy in their relationships, while more women than men reported being satisfied in their sex lives. But that gap doesn't necessarily signify that women valued sex more. It could well signify the opposite.
Here's how. In previous studies, the authors note, "men usually reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction than did women, regardless of sociocultural context." This study didn't match those findings. And what made this study different? It's "the first international study of individuals in committed relationships, where the focus was on middle and older-aged men and women in relationships with a median of 25 years duration." In other words, the men and women being surveyed were in the same long-term couples.
Suppose that on average, men value sex more than women do, while women value love more than men do. Given their freedom, men would seek sex more often than women do. And men might use their greater leverage to get what they want. They would report more sexual satisfaction.
But lock the same men and women into committed relationships with each other, and you get a different outcome. In each couple, the lowest common denominator prevails. The man can't get more sex than the woman will give. The woman can't get more love than the man will give. The result is a higher rate of sexual satisfaction among women than men, and a higher rate of relationship satisfaction among men than women. Satisfaction turns out to be the inverse of valuation.
For every theory I've proposed here, I can see problems. My cynical interpretations of the data may not stand up under scrutiny. But I doubt the media's rosy interpretations will stand up, either. Love and sex are too complicated for that. So are men and women.
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