Women withhold honest sexual communication to protect their partner’s perceived masculinity, study finds
Women who are concerned about threatening their male partner’s masculinity are more likely to fake orgasms and less likely to communicate honestly about their sexual needs, according to new research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. The findings shed new light on how relationships can be impacted by precarious manhood — the belief that one’s status as a “real man” is hard to attain but easily lost.
“I’ve always been interested in gender roles, and specifically the ways that heterosexual men and women interact romantically and sexually,” said study author Jessica Jordan, an incoming assistant teaching professor at the University of Tampa. “As a young woman, I received a lot of information – from friends, older women, the media – about how to ‘handle’ men, and a piece of advice I commonly heard was to do your best to protect men’s sense of masculinity.”
“When my mentor and co-author invited me to work on a project investigating if men are less likely to ask for sexual feedback from women when they feel their masculinity is threatened (which I suspect is true), I immediately thought to myself, ‘It doesn’t matter, women won’t give an insecure man any kind of critical feedback.’
“Of course, that was a generalization, but when I spoke to other women about it they unanimously agreed they understood the urge to withhold feedback to protect their partner’s masculinity,” Jordan explained. “I felt like representing this extremely common experience in research was important, because it’s the first step to helping women (and men!) break out of that pattern.”
An initial study of 132 women in sexual relationships with men found that women who earned more money than their male partners reported faking orgasms at twice the frequency of women who made less than their partners. But the researchers found no evidence that the gender role attitudes of the participants or their partners were related to faking orgasms, ruling out an alternative explanation for the findings.
To more directly examine whether women’s concerns about their partner’s masculinity were related to deceptive sexual communication, Jordan and her colleagues conducted a second study of 276 women who reported having sex with a man in the last 6 months. They found that women who perceived their partner as high in precarious manhood were less likely to communicate their sexual needs and more likely to fake orgasms, and this association was partially mediated by communication anxiety.
In other words, women who perceived that their male sexual partner did things just to show he was “a real man” were more likely to agree with statements such as “It worries me that giving my partner sexual feedback might hurt his feelings.” Women who expressed greater communication anxiety, in turn, were less likely to tell their partner what felt good during sex and reported that communicating with their partner was more difficult.
In an additional study, which included a sample of 196 women, the researchers found that participants who were asked to imagine a male partner whose manhood was fragile were also less likely to provide honest sexual communication.
“The studies demonstrated that women undergo this chain reaction of perceiving a male partner as insecure in his masculinity, experiencing anxiety, and subsequently withholding communication, which ultimately predicted poorer sexual satisfaction,” Jordan told PsyPost. “What that tells me is that there are breaks during the pattern through which we can intervene. If you notice you’re feeling anxious about your partner’s response to something, carefully examine why you might think that and invite your partner to be a part of that conversation.”
The researchers believe that future studies should explore this phenomenon within couples to better gauge the impact of men’s precarious manhood.
“There are lots of follow up questions,” Jordan said. “However, the really big question left to be addressed, in my mind, is how accurate are women in their perceptions of their male partners? Are they guessing correctly that their partner would not respond well to negative feedback or even learning they (the women) had not had an orgasm? Or are women making incorrect assumptions, based on the messaging they receive about men in general?”
“Following that big question, though, is the need to explore this phenomenon within non-heterosexual and non-cisgender couples,” she added. “I’m interested in exploring how far precarious manhood reaches into individuals and couples who already break or bend gender norms.”
The study, “Do Women Withhold Honest Sexual Communication When They Believe Their Partner’s Manhood is Threatened?“, was authored by Jessica A. Jordan, Joseph A. Vandello, Martin Heesacker, and Dylan M. Larson-Konar.