Orgasms, sexual health and attitudes about female genitals

Sep 28, 2009
Debby Herbenick is associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University. Credit: Indiana University

An Indiana University study published in the September issue of the International Journal of Sexual Health found that women who feel more positively about women's genitals find it easier to orgasm and are more likely to engage in sexual health promoting behaviors, such as having regular gynecological exams or performing vulvar self-examinations.

"These are important findings about ," said Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "Our culture often portrays women's genitals as dirty and in need of cleaning and grooming. Some women may have had greater exposure to such negative messages or may be more susceptible to their impact."

Herbenick's study created a scale for measuring men's and women's attitudes toward women's genitals. Such a scale, she wrote in the study, could be useful in sex therapy, in medical settings to help better understand decision-making that goes into gynecological care and treatment, and in health education settings involving women and their sexual health. The study also found that men had more positive attitudes about women's genitals than women.

"Women are often more critical about their own bodies -- and other women's bodies -- than men are," Herbenick said. "What we found in this study is that men generally feel positive about a variety of aspects of women's genitals including how they look, smell, taste and feel."

Herbenick, also a sexual health educator for The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, offers the following suggestions regarding the findings:

  • Body image. Parents might consider how they can help their daughters to feel more positively about their bodies, such as by teaching them accurate names for their body parts, including their genitals (e.g., "vulva" rather than "down there") and responding in supportive ways to their self-exploration. "Rather than saying, 'don't touch down there -- it's dirty,' parents might let their children know that it's OK for them to touch their genitals, but in private spaces such as their own bedroom or the bathroom," Herbenick said.
  • Advertisements and marketing. Health educators might consider ways that they can teach women and men about their bodies in positive, sex-positive ways by openly discussing how some products or marketing campaigns make people feel about their bodies.
The survey component of the study involved 362 women and 241 men, most of whom were white/Caucasian and between the ages of 18 and 23.

"Our study builds on previous research that demonstrates that the mind and body are highly connected in regard to sex," said Herbenick. "When feel more positively about female genitals, they likely feel more relaxed in their own skin, more able to let go and thus more likely to experience pleasure and orgasm."

More information: "The Development and Validation of a Scale to Measure Attitudes Toward Women's Genitals," International Journal of , 21:153-166, 2009.

Source: Indiana University (news : web)

Explore further: When it comes to depressed men in the military, does size matter?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sexual intimacy and breast cancer survivors: New research

Nov 10, 2008

An Indiana University study found that young, female breast cancer survivors often suffer from sexual and intimate relationship issues and are interested in using sexual enhancement products to treat these problems.

Half of women have negative feelings about 1-night stands

Jun 25, 2008

The sexual and feminist revolutions were supposed to free women to enjoy casual sex just as men always had. Yet according to Professor Anne Campbell from Durham University in the UK, the negative feelings reported by women ...

Recommended for you

What is whisper therapy?

4 hours ago

Consider the stress of modern life, with its cacophonous soundtrack of traffic, electronics and construction. It's no wonder so much of our leisure time is spent in a quest to let go of the workday and unwind. ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

GregHight
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 28, 2009
Just watching TV commercials for feminine hygine commercials could lead women to think a vagina is a stinky, dirty, itch place. A vagina is a wonderful thing. Don't disrespect the vagina. :-)
otto1923
2.3 / 5 (7) Sep 28, 2009
feel positive about a variety of aspects of women's genitals including how they look, smell, taste and feel."
Sounds like an unhealthy fixation, like Victorians and their colons. Sex is about reproduction. It is as compelling as it is because it has always been the most important and meaningful thing we can do. Efforts today to separate sex from propagation- by glorifying the act itself and all the non-procreative potential of it- is to reduce the chance for actual reproduction, ie to manage the growth of populations. Couples who are having sex without result- their bodies are telling them somethings wrong with the matchup; and each will begin searching for healthier partners whether they realize it or not. Unstable relationships further reduce the chance for offspring.

So lets all zoom in on the aesthetics of our genitals and forget what theyre there for. Its good for the environment and sociopolitical engineering (but not so much your mind).
psychdoc
3.9 / 5 (7) Sep 28, 2009
"Couples who are having sex without result... each will begin searching for healthier partners whether they realize it or not. Unstable relationships further reduce the chance for offspring."

I know a guy who gets pretty good results with the wives of those who view sex as strictly procreative in nature.

Procreation is only one of eight documented reasons that these people's wives (as with all other people) have sex. Someone's got to help them with the other seven.
Mercury_01
3 / 5 (2) Sep 29, 2009
Precisely, Psychdoc. Sex is obviously not purely for reproduction. Because sometimes, when a man loves a woman, he wants to taste her vulva. Otto, you sound rather prudish. All of us men are born with a fascination with the female body. We are drawn like flies to an orchid.
dmcl
5 / 5 (2) Sep 29, 2009
"couple bonding" has many tangible and intangible benefits, such as longer lives, better health and more wealth, not just reproduction. Sex is one of the bonding processes, along with talking, non verbal communication, cooking, eating, social networking and so on. Being weirded out about any of these makes it more difficult to establish and sustain the bond.
irjsiq
1 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2009
I'll be darned!
I thought I was the only person on the Planet that considered "The Entire Person" . . .
The age group studied 18 to 23, may have skewed the findings! Most interesting to follow-up these opinions in 50 (fifty) years, of the same group now 18-23 . . . may how time can/may change one's responses!

Sex education in primary grades? Absurdly debasing!
Instead teach: self-image, empathy, Intimacy, . . .
Males have little or no awareness or knowledge of the Mental/Physical/Hormonal complexities of just being a Female!
A quote from another of my posts:
"The Guy 'traditionally' Picks-up-the-Check',
"but, the Lady ALWAYS "Pays The Bill"!

And 'Down There' ? ? ? Where did that come from ? ? ?

Roy Stewart,
Phoenix AZ
magpies
Sep 29, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
RobertKLR
Oct 04, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.