If your partner gets you well enough to know your frozen yogurt preference, he or she can probably tell if you’re faking an orgasm.
According to a new study on sexual satisfaction in longterm relationships, couples don’t necessarily need a post-coital question and answer session to know what’s working — as long as they are emotionally sensitive to each other’s cues.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo surveyed 84 heterosexual married or cohabitating couples about their “partners’ sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, quality of communication about sexual issues within their relationships, and emotion recognition ability.” In general, both men and women perceived their partner’s satisfaction accurately. Contrary to what we might expect, men actually tended to underestimate their partners’ satisfaction, while women pretty much knew exactly how happy their partners were between the sheets.
But how do they know? Sexual communication is the most obvious way — if you ask your partner “Did you enjoy that?” and she says “No,” your perception of her satisfaction should be pretty spot on barring language barriers or pathological self-delusion. But what researchers called “emotion recognition ability” can also serve as a predictor of partner understanding. Where explicit communication about sex was minimal, people who were highly sensitive to their partners’ emotions were still able to gauge their satisfaction fairly accurately.
Is this the sexual parallel to “I want you to want to do the dishes“? Many of us don’t necessarily want to debrief our partners after every romp, but might still want them to know what worked and what didn’t. Interestingly, where sexual communication was already strong and emotional sensitivity was added, perceptions of satisfaction didn’t change considerably. So while emotional intimacy can narrow the communication gap, talking it out seems to be the most effective route to mutual understanding.
To be sure, the findings don’t correlate level of communication and/or emotional intimacy with quality of sex. You can have consciously lukewarm sex with high emotional intimacy or great sex with a stranger who’ll have no idea if you had a good time. But to the extent that a person’s sexual satisfaction is enhanced or diminished based on his or her partner’s experience, that we can perceive each other’s enjoyment with or without words is confirmation that good sex doesn’t always speak for itself.