SEXUALITY IN MARRIAGE: ORGASM

The experience of orgasm by the female has been variously valued, even during the present century. Kinsey, for example, commented on the «post-Victorian» development of the idea that respectable women should enjoy marital coitus. Even so, he cited a 1951 study which found evidence in the British working class that responsiveness in the wife was hardly expected and if too marked, was disapproved. Kinsey’s research suggested to him that orgasm was not nearly as important to the female as it was to the male. Without orgasm, she could still feel pleasure in the «social aspects» of a sexual relationship: «Whether or not she herself reaches orgasm, many a female finds satisfaction in knowing that her husband or other sexual partner has enjoyed the contact and in realizing that she has contributed to the male’s pleasure». Even so, «persistent failure of the female to reach orgasm in her marital coitus, or even to respond with fair frequency, may do considerable damage to a marriage».

About 36% of the married females in Kinsey’s sample had never experienced orgasm from any source before marriage. By contrast, over 99% of the late adolescent male samples were responding sexually to orgasm more than twice a week. While almost all marital intercourse of his male sample resulted in orgasm, the average female reached orgasm in only 70% to 77% of her marital sexual experiences. The longer the women were married, however, the more likely they were to experience orgasm. For example, the percent of females who never had orgasm in marital coitus decreased from 25% by the end of the first year to 11% by the end of the twentieth year. Likewise, the percent of those having orgasms more than 60% of the time increased from 51% in the first year to 64% in the twentieth.

In addition to length of marriage, some factors which were strongly related to occurrence of orgasm in Kinsey’s sample were decade of birth and premarital experience in orgasm, whether through coitus, petting, or masturbation. For example, 33% of women born before 1900 were unresponsive in the first year of marriage, compared to only 22% of those born after 1909. As for experience, no factor showed a higher correlation with the frequency of orgasm in marital coitus than the presence or absence of premarital experience in orgasm. Among those women with no premarital experience of orgasm, 44% failed to have orgasm during their first year of marriage. Among those with even limited experience only 19% failed to reach orgasm in the first year.

Neither the Hunt nor the Redbook data can be directly compared with Kinsey’s figures, since neither is broken down by length of marriage. Hunt did, however, compare his females with fifteen-years-median-duration of marriage with Kinsey’s females in their fifteenth year of marriage. Of the Kinsey wives, 45% reported having orgasm 90% to 100% of the time, compared to 53% of the Hunt wives who had orgasm «all or almost all of the time». Of the same Kinsey group, 12% never had orgasm,,, compared with 7% of the Hunt group.

Figures for the Redbook sample show that 63% of these wives have orgasm all or most of the time, 7% never. These data are more recent than Hunt’s and as we have noted, the sample consists of younger, more educated individuals, all of which could account for the higher orgasmic figure.

Hunt collected some interesting data on the incidence of orgasm among married men. Contrary to Kinsey’s assertion that married men achieved orgasm in nearly 100% of their marital coitus, Hunt found that 8% of the husbands aged forty-five and up did not have orgasm anywhere from occasionally to most of the time; 7% of the men between twenty-four and forty-four did not have orgasm at least a quarter of the time; and 15% of the under-twenty-five husbands failed to have orgasm a quarter or more of the time.

Kinsey’s stress on the relationship between length of marriage and sexual responsiveness in his married sample was challenged in part by Clark and Walfin. Proposing that women’s responsiveness is influenced by the quality, not just the duration, of their marriages, they did a twenty-year longitudinal study which began with 1,000 engaged couples, 602 of whom were studied after a «few years» of marriage, and the 428 remaining couples again after sixteen or more years of marriage. They found a strong relationship across time between positive ratings of the quality of the marriage and sexual responsiveness. Sexual responsiveness increased from 65% to 91% among those wives who rated their marriages as positive, and from 61% to 69% among those rating them negative. The authors suggest that increased responsiveness does not inevitably follow as a function of length of marriage, but rather is interdependent with the perceived quality of the marital relationship.

*77/198/5*

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