What French Women Want: Vast New Sexuality Study Finds Liberation, Longings
A renowned French sexologist has followed up an in-depth study on men and sex with a survey of female sexuality. Heterosexual women of all ages were asked about their desires, fulfilled or otherwise. For their partners, there's good news and bad.
PARIS – Here are the basics: 3,404 heterosexual women, aged 15 to 80 (with an average age of 35), married or in a civil union and living with their partner, filled in an online form with the details of the most intimate aspect of their lives: their sexuality.
One year after a similar male survey was published as Les Hommes, le sexe et l'amour (Men, Sex and Love), Philippe Brenot, a French psychiatrist, sexologist and president of the International Observatory of Couples, has turned his attention to women's sexuality.
With answers to the 200 questions, the findings have just been published as Les Femmes, le sexe et l'amour (Women, Sex and Love).
The 300-page didactic publication, filled with testimonials, comments and statistics, is mainly intended for women, although Brenot advises their companions to read it. The findings may sometimes seem contradictory, but don't appear to lack any authenticity.
Among the many testimonials is 23-year-old Lucia: "I love raunchy sex and feelings expressed through words and tenderness." Karine, 28, says: "I like being taken completely, to surrender my body to my companion, I like it when he sees me lose control under his caresses." What turns 46 year-old Anaïs on? "Alternating between sex that is tender and savage." As for Laurence, 30, she confesses:" I would like to live our sexual union more intensely. "
But the core lesson the survey teaches us that cuts across all particularities and preferences: women are free. "They speak more easily of desire, of pleasure, of their private practices," writes Brenot. "They experience their sexuality in a more open way. This is a huge change."
Women speak without reserve about vibrators, sex toys, their fantasies, their practices and preferences. And this applies to all generations, even to women who lived through the years that led them from liberation to freedom. They are not afraid to say what's on their mind, including that they would like to experience more pleasure.
Climaxes and magazine covers
This is the survey's second lesson: in spite of all the changes in women's sexuality, pleasure is not always achieved. Although 74% of women say they have no trouble experiencing desire and pleasure, only 16% climax every time, 55% often, 21% rarely and 5% never.
As for women's "first time," it hardly makes it to the pantheon of enjoyment. Contrary to the 76% of men who have an orgasm the first time they have sex, 42% of women say "it went well." A rather vague way to put it...
For others, it's quite simply a bad memory: "It is painful for them because the first time is a moment they tend to idealize, and it can turn out to be very disappointing, thus, for one-third of women at least, it affects their sexual lives," says the psychiatrist. "When sex is linked to performance, when orgasm becomes a priority, women feel guilty for not climaxing with the man they love, they feel guilty for not being one of these satisfied women magazines talk about. It makes them feel bad about themselves."
What's more worrying is that the fact that women not climaxing leads more and more often to divorces or separations because, according to Brenot, men want their partners to be satisfied.
Masturbation is no longer a guilty pleasure: 68% of women say they have already tried it. Brenot thinks masturbation is crucial to learn and lead a healthy sex life. "It is through autoeroticism that a woman will be able to be on the same wavelength as her partner and thus have lasting relationships. The problem is, women are wondering whether they are allowed to masturbate if they have a partner!" Roughly 26% masturbate only once a month, while 15% never do.
As to what arouses women's desire, the survey mentions dreams, fantasies and expectations -- thoughts that are "stimulating, if not necessary, for a healthy sex life," the sexologist says. Many women admit to having them.
What turns them on? They respond primarily to their partners' kindness and tenderness. Desire is present in every woman, but it may be hampered by aggressive or masculine abruptness, by displays of bad moods and slightly rough or indelicate behavior. Kindness, tenderness and caresses bring women to a state of relaxation that leaves them prone to sexual arousal and works in favor of a healthy sexuality.
"As a general rule, and except in cases of sexual dysfunctions, it takes 10 seconds for a 20-year-old man to get an erection. It's not the same for women, who need caresses and tenderness; it takes time for desire to build. This is neither whims nor caprices. It's the reality of feminine intimacy," says Brenot. "So there really is a difference between the sexes, that men – and women — must take into account."
The good news is that, according to the survey, young women tend to have partners who are more tender, gentle, respectful and more responsive to their desires than were the men of previous generations.
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