By Graham Peterson
Paula England is a fantastic researcher. Her work in gender is some of the strongest there is, especially her criticisms of Gary Becker’s sexual division of labor, the idea that gender roles are as natural for household efficiency as are kitchen roles at T.G.I. Friday’s.
So I was disappointed to see a tweet from her showcasing her new data on sex. After they sex, men and women report differently whether the woman climaxed. As the chart below shows (credit England), it is a pretty big difference. Men report around twice the rate of female orgasm that women do. England put it on Twitter and tagged it: “Hint: delusion.”
Omar Lizardo, also one of the smartest people in sociology, posted the same graph to Facebook and tagged it: “#banmen.” He was joking of course, and so was England, probably, but not without a point. Jokes that land, do, because they’re meaningful.
This issue is pretty important to a lot of people. Guys want to believe they’re doing a good job, of course, either because they’re egotists, or because they’re givers. And women, presumably, want to come. England and Lizardo seem to believe men are egotists. And a lot of women probably agree! But a lot of men, for their own reasons, probably do not.
Either way, the question sociologists and women want answered here is: are men egotistical sex havers? These data can’t adjudicate that question.
What they can tell, maybe, is the rate at which men are overestimating themselves, remaining agnostic on why men overestimate themselves. To do that we need to recognize that some percentage of the discrepancy comes from women pretending to orgasm. About that, England and her co-author say in Contexts,
[The discrepancy] may be because women fake orgasms to make men feel better, and men are misled by this; we learned in qualitative interviews that some women do this, but don’t know how prevalent it is.
Now that’s a strange thing to say, because there are a lot of data on the prevalence of faking.
The first hit on a Google search for “prevalence of woman faking orgasm” is a PubMed article stating that 50% of women report that they have faked an orgasm at least once (interestingly, 25% of men report faking too). A little more digging pulls a writeup of another study on orgasms that estimates that women fake “routinely” 25% of the time. Across many other studies, estimates land between 50% and 66% of women faking, says the second study’s literature review.
Now most of this research asks whether women have faked an orgasm, not how often they have, so it’s not possible to know how much of the gap in the chart comes from faking. But the percentage of women who fake is enormous, suggesting that unless women fake only once, and then have a come to Jesus, faking is prevalent. If the chart above controlled for faking, the men’s bar would take a haircut that might not inspire humor. It’s a relatively well studied issue. It is just not the case that, “[we] don’t know how prevalent [faking] is.”
Now I love polemics, and I think they’re good for science. I think people should be transparent about their priors, and argue stuff out. So, in the spirit of transparency, I can’t fault Lizardo and England for their feminist prejudices, and I’ll allow myself some bias in the other direction.
Why did two of the nations top sociologists feel it was nbd lol to conclude from one set of descriptive statistics that men are deluded? Because sociology is ideologically homogenous. No one on any side of this discussion bothered to double check. When scientists share the same beliefs, nobody checks, and the quality of science suffers.
With better data on the frequency of faking we can know how much of that gap shrinks. With better data on how often men ask if their partners orgasm, we can know how many care but have bad information (many men cannot tell when a woman climaxes). Whatever is left in the discrepancy is the rate at which men overestimate themselves, and that’s an issue worth addressing. That is when we ask whether masculine overestimation comes from wishful altruism, or careless egotism.
But it’s difficult to imagine that anyone will go get those data, when researchers are satisfied to high five each other about delusional men, before doing perfunctory Google searches.