Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gender Equality and Hot Sex

A new study argues that they are linked:

Japanese adults can't get enough satisfaction, but Austria's mojo is working.

Sex is more satisfying in countries where women and men are considered equal, according to an international study of people between the ages of 40 and 80 by researchers at the University of Chicago.

Austria topped the list of 29 nations studied with 71% of those surveyed reported being satisfied with their sex lives.

Spain, Canada, Belgium and the United States also reported high rates of satisfaction.

The lowest satisfaction rate — 25.7% — was reported in Japan.

The study was led by sociologist Edward Laumann, considered a top authority on the sociology of sex, who believes the findings show that relationships based on equality lead to more satisfaction for both genders.

"Male-centered cultures where sexual behavior is more oriented toward procreation tend to discount the importance of sexual pleasure for women," Laumann said.

"When mama's not happy, nobody's happy," he said.

The study appears in the April issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior. It was funded by Pfizer, which makes the impotence drug Viagra.

The purpose of the study seems to be about potency, given the Viagra funding connection, but the questions about sexual satisfaction are probably not affected by that. Note that the survey asked people over forty years of age only. Most popularizations I read for this post don't put much stress on that, but it's very important to note that we are largely talking about non-reproductive sexuality here.

Does gender equality lead to better sex for both men and women? I suspect that it might, for the reasons mentioned in the above quote and for several additional reasons. But it's hard to prove that using simple comparisons of countries, unless the researchers also standardized for the income and education levels and the impact of different cultural definitions of terms such as "sexual satisfaction".

Gender norms themselves may make a study like this less representative. Take women in a very traditional society. Under what conditions would they even be allowed or want to answer a survey of this type? And those who do answer questions about sex in a study like this one might not be representative of the whole country. On the other hand, this is unlikely to be a problem in the more gender-egalitarian countries. So the study could suffer from problems of self-selection (for you statistics nerds), and these problems could be more severe in some countries than in others.

These and other reservations I have about these types of megastudies don't necessarily mean that the conclusion is faulty. In fact, I can imagine that the self-selection bias I grumbled about might even hide additional sexual discontent in patriarchal societies. But it's hard to prove anything by using simple international comparisons of answers to questions that involve values and local traditions and mores, simply because we don't really know how "sexual satisfaction" is defined in all the different cultures. The same argument applies to those studies which try to prove that patriarchy is unavoidable or something similar.

Sorry if I came across a bit of a wet blanket here. But I'm the Honest Blogger and must polish my medals. Still, I did find this interesting

In Western nations, two thirds of men and women were satisfied with their sexual relationships, and 80 per cent were happy with their ability to have sex.

In Middle Eastern nations only half of men and 38 per cent of women were satisfied with their sex life.

And in East Asia, satisfaction levels were even lower. Only a quarter of men and women reported physical and emotional pleasure with sex and only 28 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women rated sex as important.

I'd be interested in learning how sex among older people is regarded in East Asia. Is sex supposed to end at forty, say? That might explain some of the discontent. And notice the difference between male and female satisfaction rates in the Middle Eastern nations.
Note: My first quote is from a USA Today article which has now disappeared. The Forbes link below the quote gives the same information.