A new study suggests people who have trouble with orgasm really need to focus on arousal and sexual touch
By Debby Herbenick
Those of us who study sex focus on specific types of sex. We ask about oral sex, vaginal sex, and increasingly we ask about anal sex. But in our scientific work – and similar to many Americans in their own sex lives – we often miss out on the rich details of sexual experience: that is, the hugs, kisses, cuddles that make sex more than just in-out-repeat. Not this new study, however, which focuses entirely on the value of sexual touching to arousal and orgasm.
Think back to the most recent time you had sex. How much did you kiss each other on the mouth, forehead or hand? Hug or spoon with your partner? Run your hands up and down one another’s back or chest? Kiss the length of your partner’s arms or legs? Did you lay your head on your partner’s chest? Did your partner run his or her fingers through your hair?
These are the kinds of sexual touch this new study, conducted by Dr. Adena Galinsky at the University of Chicago, focused on. She analyzed data from the 2005-2006 National Social Life Health and Aging Project, which surveyed about 3,000 women and men in the United States ages 57 to 85. Galinsky focused on a specific subsample of about 1,300 women and men who reported having had sex at least once in the past year in her quest to understand the relationship between sexual touching — and the difficulties men and women experience with sexual arousal and orgasm.
One of the reasons this research is needed, according to Galinsky, is because of how sexual stimulation (often via sexual touch) and sexual problems and “dysfunctions” are defined. “According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), in order to diagnose sexual arousal and orgasm disorders, it is necessary to determine the adequacy of sexual stimulation,” she writes. “The DSM-IV-TR states, ‘If sexual stimulation is inadequate in either focus, intensity or duration, the diagnosis of Sexual Dysfunction involving excitement or orgasm is not made. In the absence of sexual stimulation, a difficulty which meets all other diagnostic criteria for arousal or orgasmic dysfunction is a (possibly dyadic) behavior problem but not a dysfunction.”
Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH is co-Director of The Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University’s School of Public Health-Bloomington, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, and author of five books about sex and love. Her most recent is Sex Made Easy: Your Awkward Questions Answered for Better, Smarter, Amazing Sex (Running Press, 2012).
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