Do All Orgasms Feel Alike?: A Journal Article I Read

Do all orgasms feel alike? Evaluating a two-dimensional model of the orgasm experience across gender and sexual context. 
Mah K1, Binik YM.
J Sex Res. 2002 May;39(2):104-13.

*Find all the SSL Journal Article Summaries HERE*

My Intro 
I decided to write about this article because it is heavily related to another one that I have been wanting to do for a while. I figured I should have a good understanding of this one before I do the other. Anyway, I'm gonna be real frank here. This is basically a paper about surveys that the researchers do a shit-ton of statistical analysis on. I do not have a strong enough grasp of statistics to really comment on and certainly not critique at all on those statistic specifics. So, I will move forward with the assumption that the type of analysis they are doing is correct and appropriate for the type of experiment this is. I'm also probably gonna skip over descriptions of some of their statistical analysis by saying they did some statistical stuff or something like that because if you really want to look further into it, you can see their description in the PDF of the full article (which is awesome - hats of to these authors for making it available btw).  I will however, do my darndest to get a fairly full understanding of the other parts of this study and present it in as simple a way as I can without skipping over too much important elements. So, basically, I'll do the best I can.

An Overview For You by Me
The result of this paper is the creation of a method for assessing the full bio-psyco-social aspects of both male and female orgasm. This is done by having the participants fill out a questionnaire about their last orgasm.  In the questionnaire, the participant rates a series of adjectives on whether each word is not applicable at all as a descriptor of the orgasm (0) up to perfectly describing the orgasm (5). From these ratings, researchers could categorize orgasms and also compare and contrast qualities of orgasm across gender and across factors like how the orgasm was achieved.

It's basically a statistically tested way to subjectively describe orgasms that includes more than just how it feels in the body - it also takes into account situational and psychological elements of what the orgasm was to the person.

Clearly, these descriptions come only from surveys, and there are no elements to these descriptors that include objective physical characterizations of these orgasms. So, in essences the method described in this paper could be a good solid way to understand how people describe and feel about their orgasms - which I think is an interesting and important path of inquiry. I imagine that this type of learning about how people perceive their orgasms matched with objective physical data about the orgasm (including measurement of the rhythmic pelvic muscle contractions that physically identify orgasm) could open up huge avenues of understanding.

Anyway, that's the deal. The researchers in this paper do a preliminary study to figure out how best to do a big study. Then do a big study and then a 2nd study to confirm the results of the first study still held up. In the end, they find that, as they hypothesized, using a 2-Dimensional Model to analyze how each participant rated the adjectives in relation to their orgasms is a strong method that checks out statistically (although why it checks out is kinda unclear to me - but I assume they are on point with their statistical analysis) and allows insight into qualities of orgasms among different variables.

*2-Dimensional, btw has to do with the fact that when they are analyzing the adjective ratings, they group the adjectives into different "components" and then those components are grouped into 2 dimensions: 1) The "Sensory" dimension which kinda means orgasm descriptors involving the bodily sensations and 2) the "Cognitive-Affective" dimension- which kinda means the orgasm descriptors involving mental, emotional and situational things. So for instance: adjective "Tender" is one of the many adjectives and it is rated on a scale of 0-5 by the participant. Then the researchers do some statistical analysis and the data about how people rated "Tender" gets assigned to a component like "Emotional Intimacy" along with other adjectives like 'loving.' Then that component "Emotional Intimacy" is put into the dimension "Cognitive-Affective" for further statistical analysis.

The researchers also try statistical analysis using only 1-dimensional models (meaning the components are treated as if they are all in the same Dimension "Sensory-Cognitive-Affective") and also using a 3-dimensional model (meaning the components in the "Cognitive-Affective" dimension get split into 2 groups for further analysis; the "Cognitive" or kinda mental/emotional descriptors and the "Affective" or situational related descriptors). So, what I'm trying to say here is that a big part of this paper was letting other researchers know that the 2-Dimensional statistical method was really the best way to go in doing this type of work.

Overall, it seems like they did some pretty thorough work to create a clean way of helping researchers understand how people feel about and experience their orgasms - which is cool.

Details of the Paper
Here is the full PDF for you to enjoy. Seriously, if you are a statistician, I'd love to hear your thoughts or how I screwed up this summary or even if you have any lessons for me. I'd just love to hear from you.
*assume I am always summarizing or reflecting what the authors of the paper are saying unless I add a (me: ... ) in there. That means I'm giving you my opinion...which is like an asshole as the saying goes.

(me: these can be a little boring, but I think they are almost the most important part of a paper because it gives you an idea about what the researchers were trying to do, what research they think is faulty and which they respect, and I think you can often gain a glimpse of  the deeper intentions for why they chose this type of experiment and what they'd really like to prove.)

They begin with "Research efforts to systematize the variability in orgasm, primarily female orgasm, have resulted in several anatomically based typologies of female orgasm. The distinction between clitoral and vaginal orgasm has drawn the most attention...""

However, they say...

  • evidence for anatomical based distinctions of female orgasm are mostly taken from self-reports and not actual anatomic data (me: truer words never said...)
  • that anatomical based distinctions ignore other non-anatomical qualities of an orgasm
  • describing orgasm by how they are triggered problematically conflates the cause of an orgasm with a description of an orgasm
  • that distinction does not help describe the core characteristics that all orgasms share

They also point out that a lot of the literature out there on the psychology of orgasm, particularly about female orgasm, assumes that the female orgasm is psychologically different than male orgasm. However, the limited data out there on this seems to indicate that there are more similarities than differences between male and female orgasms.

Another problem with existing literature on the orgasmic experience is that most of it is about whether or not an orgasm occurred or about when and how often. There is currently no universally accepted measure of the potentially wide range of subjective qualities making up the orgasm experience. They tell us there is a piece of literature out there that has attempted this, but the problem is, it actually asks about peak arousal - and not specifically about orgasm. So in this, orgasm and arousal get conflated and there might be very negative feelings involved because of the possibility that some participants were answering about an event that was a failed attempt at orgasm.

Hypothesis this paper is testing:

  • "the pattern of adjective ratings of orgasm experience can be characterized by a two-dimensional model comprising physical and cognitive-affective dimensions"
  • "the two-dimensional model will adequately characterize both male and female orgasm experience"
  • "sexual context (me: how the orgasm was achieved - i.e. oral, intercourse, masturbation, etc.) differences will be apparent in the following ways"
  • Orgasms had during sex with a partner will have higher rating on the cognitive-affective (emotional/mental/situational) than orgasms attained through solitary masturbation.
  • If you break down the types of orgasms had with a partner, the researcher hypothesize that the ones where it was during intercourse will have higher rating on the cognitive-affective (emotional/mental/situational) components over the orgasms from oral or manual stimulation.

Preliminary Study
To begin the researchers did a small preliminary study to tune in their experimental methods before doing a larger study.

They found in previous literature 141 words that have been used by people to describe their orgasms. They then had a total of 48 males and 41 females rate each word on a 0-9 scale (0=doesn't describe, 9=perfectly describes) for how it described their last orgasm. The participants each did this test 2 times, once for their last masturbatory orgasm and once for their last orgasm with a partner.

The most relevant 50 words were kept and 10 negative adjectives were added to make a new group of 60 total word.

First Study - in which each participant rates both a partner and a solo orgasm
Then the researchers gave the same test to a new group of 523 women and 365 men, except this time it was only the 60 words, and they used a 0-5 (0=doesn't describe, 5=perfectly describes) instead of a 0-9 scale for each word.

Again each person rated each word once for their last solo orgasm and once for their last partner orgasm, and this time the researchers also gathered information about whether the partner orgasm was from intercourse, oral stimulation from partner, manual stimulation from partner, manual stimulation from self, or other. Obviously, the subjects had to have experienced an orgasm both with a partner and during solo masturbation to participate.

"Participants who had 25% or more missing data were eliminated from the analyses. In the remaining sample, missing ratings for adjectives were replaced using the mean rating for that adjective for the corresponding gender x sexual context condition (me: sexual context meaning whether it was solo or partner). In the sample, 94% of men and women had only two or fewer missing ratings in both sexual contexts."

They the researchers did a bunch of statistical things and knocked it down to 28 significant adjectives (all 10 of the negative words they added were knocked out), and again did a bunch of statistical work.

From that statistical work, certain important adjectives were grouped into 12 'components'. Those 12 components were put into the 2-Dimensional Model and so the components either landed in the 'Sensory' (bodily sensation)  or 'Cognitive-Affective' (emotional/mental/situation) dimensions.

They tried the 1-dimensional model, but it was not as reliable. When they tried a 3-Dimensional study, separating the Cognitive and the Affective descriptors, it worked well, but didn't show improvement over the 2-Dimension Model.

There didn't seem to be any important difference related to the age, religion, education (although it was mostly University undergraduate and graduate students in these studies), sexual orientation, relationship status, or the time between the orgasm and the taking of these surveys, so those variables weren't investigated further.

Second Study in which each person rates either a partner or a solo orgasm
To make sure they were on the right track, though, the researchers did another study using those 28 adjectives plus 12 other random ones from the previous group of 60 and had 227 women and 129 men rate the adjectives only for their last masturbatory orgasm. A completely different group of 276 women and 166 men rated the adjectives for their last partner orgasm (indicating, as the last group did, how that partner orgasm was achieved: from intercourse, oral stimulation from partner, manual stimulation from partner, manual stimulation from self, or other).

The researchers did similar statistic stuff using the 2-Dimensional Model. Again, age, religion, education, sexual orientation, relationship status, or the time between the orgasm and the taking of these surveys, didn't seem to matter to the results, so only gender and the way the orgasm was achieved were compared and contracted in the results - just like in the last experiment.

This time there were 10 components instead of 12 that sat in either the 'Sensory' or 'Cognitive-Affective' dimension of the 2-Dimensional Model. You can see the 10 components and the mean scores (0-5 scale) below.

Overall, findings from both studies supported the hypothesis that orgasms can be characterized by distinct sensory and cognitive-affective experiences. Basically, they are saying the 2-Dimensional Model works well. Again, they say the 3-Dimensional Model also worked but not better than the 2-Dimensional Model.

They do say that using the 3-dimensional model might help investigate the impact of Cognitive on the Affective and also the changes in one of those independent of the other. For instance, depending on a variety of factors, the ratings of adjectives within the component "Pleasurable Satisfaction"(Cognitive dimension) for a particular orgasm might have more to do with how the person rated the adjectives relating to bodily sensations (Sensory dimension) or with how they rated adjectives like "unifying" "close" or "tender" i.e. words having to do with the situation in which the orgasm was achieved  such as during masturbation vs. casual sex vs. loving partner (Affective Dimension).

So, although the 2-Dimensional Model worked just fine for this study, they wonder if it might be because most of the subjects were young, unmarried, hetero undergraduates. Maybe the 3-Dimensional Method would make more sense for a group of older married people for instance. They wonder if maybe neither the 2-Dimensional or the 3-dimensional is superior, but that each is more useful for different situation. The researchers think further studies could help with understanding.

The components (like in table 5 above) stayed consistent across these two studies and "are similar to many constructs  investigated in studies of female orgasm." There were some differences between results of this study and others searching for similar subjective description of orgasm, but that could have to do with other studies including descriptions of high arousal instead of orgasm and including descriptions of failed attempts at orgasm - the latter which might explain the negative language found in other studies,

"Findings concerning the sensory components were consistent with the lack of evidence for physiological differences in masturbatory verses coital orgasms (e.g. Masters & Johnson 1966)." There was simply not much difference between the rating of adjectives in the "sensory" dimension (i.e. - bodily sensations) between orgasms had with a partner and those experienced alone.

On the other hand, "as hypothesized, the pleasure/satisfaction and, in particular, the emotional aspects of male and female orgasm were greater when orgasm was attained with a partner than with masturbatory orgasms." When it came to how the orgasm was attained during partner sex, (intercourse, oral, manual by self, manual by partner or other), however, there wasn't a big difference between them,

So, the researchers' assumption that an orgasm had in the presence of another person would get higher ratings in the Cognitive/Affective dimension (i.e. mental/emotional/situational) seemed to be true. However, their hypothesis didn't hold up about intercourse orgasms in particular having a higher rating in the Cognitive/Affective dimension than the other types of partner orgasms like oral sex or manual stimulation.

"The same 2-dimensional model could consistently describe the data from both men and women. This would suggest that male orgasm encompasses experiences beyond ejaculation and bears more similarities than differences with female orgasm (e.g., Vance &Wagner 1976). The only meaningfully large difference involved the higher ratings of shooting sensations by men, which presumably reflects the male capacity for ejaculation." The researchers do think, however, more research could be done to see if the shooting sensation has more to do with the visuals of ejaculation rather than an actual 'shooting' feeling in their bodies.

"Gender differences in other components, while reliable, were not substantive and could be attributed to gender differences in response style or semantic interpretation of particular adjectives." Again, the researchers wonder if further studies, for instance where males and female rate adjectives for something neutral and not sexual, could help parse out if those types of gender differences are an effect here.

The researchers also say that there may be issues with any of the following that further research could help clear up:

  • the relatively small size of the participants - especially the males
  • the fact that most of the participants were young college students
  • all the issues that might come with a person using their memory to describe a personal experience
  • not being able to control for time from last orgasm and for sexual experience

"The adjective-rating approach  appears to be a flexible methodology appropriate to the study of human orgasm. It lends itself to both correlational and experimental paradigms, and its application to non-student populations will help further knowledge about the psychology of human orgasm."

The researchers go on to say that it could be used to help assess, diagnose and treat orgasm problems.

No comments:

Post a Comment