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How sexism could be ruining your sex life

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There are lots of things we can blame on sexism. Gender-based violence; the pay gap; restricted reproductive rights; much of Piers Morgan’s Twitter output. And now, something else: the elusiveness of the heterosexual female orgasm.

A new study by psychologists at the University of Queensland, Australia, has found that women in heterosexual relationships who internalise sexist beliefs tend to have fewer orgasms because they are more accepting of selfish lovers.

Researchers used something called the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory to measure the extent to which two groups of women endorsed ‘hostile’ sexism and ‘benevolent’ sexism. Hostile sexism is your basic, flagrant misogyny: the belief that women are, you know, just not as good as men at doing stuff.

So-called benevolent sexism is different, but can be just as damaging. It stems from a belief that women are innately passive, sweet and vulnerable; that we’re fragile beings who need to be cherished and protected by big, strong men. It places women on a pedestal – and that’s a dangerous place to be. 

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Gaston from Beauty and the Beast: against all the odds, both a hostile AND benevolent sexist

“Benevolent sexism assumes female passivity and romanticises the belief that women should be reliant on men,” explain the study’s authors. “In this way, benevolent sexism is argued to be a form of legitimising myth, whereby prejudicial attitudes towards women are justified through the guise of care and protection.”

Crucially, both men and women can subscribe to hostile and/or benevolent sexist beliefs, sometimes without even realising it (if you’re interested as to how your beliefs score, you can check it out here).

After determining the extent to which each woman held benevolent sexist beliefs, the researchers asked them to rate a series of statements – on a scale of “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” – to measure their level of “perceived male sexual selfishness”. Statements included “During sex, men only care about their own pleasure” and “Men care more about ‘getting off’ than whether their partner has an orgasm”.

The women also told the researchers about their orgasms: both how they had them – whether through penetration, oral sex, or manual stimulation – and how frequently. 

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"Yeah... Nah."

The researchers found that women with benevolent sexist beliefs were far more likely to feel that men were naturally selfish lovers. This in turn, led to them accepting that selfishness as normal. And the result of that? Fewer orgasms.

In a second group, as well as measuring the women’s benevolent sexism and beliefs about male sexual selfishness, researchers also measured their “willingness to ask for pleasure”. They discovered that the more a woman believes men are naturally sexually selfish, the less likely she is to ask for her own pleasure to be taken into consideration. And the result, again? You guessed it: fewer orgasms.

The study’s authors conclude that their findings “[further] our understanding of how broad ideological factors such as benevolent sexism may (indirectly) impact women’s orgasm functioning”.

Essentially, it just serves to highlight the importance of viewing yourself as an active, rather than passive, participant in sex – and refusing to accept selfish sexual behaviour as ‘normal’. Because if there’s one person who should be making your own orgasm a priority, it’s you.

Images: Disney, iStock

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