Does Gender Drive the First-Time Sexual Satisfaction Gap?

4 min read
Womanizer Toys/Unsplash

Womanizer Toys/Unsplash

Large gender differences in satisfaction with one’s first experience with intercourse are a common finding in sexuality research. Women tend to have more negative physical and emotional experiences following their “sexual debut” while men are more likely to report positive experiences. New research by lead author Peragine and colleagues (2023) published online first in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that the gender of one’s partner is more strongly linked to dissatisfaction with first intercourse than one’s own gender.

As the authors note, nearly all of the research examining this gap in sexual satisfaction involves heterosexual pairs. When researchers assess women’s sexual satisfaction in heterosexual couples, the women are considered the “actors” and their male counterparts are considered the “partners.” An important problem in gender research regarding sexuality among heterosexual couples is that the gender of the actor and the gender of the partner both vary together. One way to disentangle some of these effects is to examine actors of different genders with partners of different genders.


The researchers recruited heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian adults who had a consensual dyadic sexual debut to respond to an online survey. In this sample, more than 2000 women experienced their sexual debut with men, 937 men reported a sexual debut with women, and 63 women had their first intercourse experience with women. Intercourse was defined by the researchers as “vaginal or anal penetration with a partner” to include the sexual experiences of individuals with same-gender or other-gender partners. The participants answered questions about their physical and psychological satisfaction with their first intercourse experience, as well as whether they experienced orgasm, who initiated intercourse, and their level of commitment to the partners.


The researchers found that women who had their first intercourse experience with men reported less physical satisfaction with that experience than men who had their first experience with women. However, women who had their first intercourse experience with women reported equal physical and psychological satisfaction to men who had their first experience with women. Furthermore, women who had debuted with men and women who had debuted with women did not differ in their satisfaction with their own solitary sexual behavior. Although the current study did not examine men who had their first intercourse experience with men, the authors cite research showing that men also report less positive experiences when having their first intercourse experience with men.


The authors interpret these results to suggest that the “gender gap in satisfaction at first intercourse might be better understood as a partner gender gap” with the gender of one’s partner explaining the lack of satisfaction better than one’s own gender. The researchers suggest that the gender difference in likelihood of orgasm at first intercourse strongly contributes to these effects. Women who reported their first sexual experience with women were also more likely to report orgasms during that event than women who had their first intercourse experience with men. Furthermore, Peragine et al. found that the lack of orgasm also contributed to women’s reduced emotional satisfaction with their sexual debuts.

The authors propose that negative first intercourse experiences can have long-term consequences for women, stating that “an absence of rewarding sexual exchanges in women’s earliest sexual encounters could lessen feelings of entitlement to, and satisfaction from, sexual rewards.” The authors recommend that sexual education include not only the risks associated with sex but also sexual pleasure and the importance of sexual satisfaction for both partners.


The authors acknowledge that this research involved a retrospective self-report design, so respondents recalled events which had happened an average of almost seven years prior to their participation in this project, which could make their responses less reliable. The authors also used a different definition of intercourse from what most respondents might assume “intercourse” to represent, potentially causing different interpretations of what constituted a first intercourse experience among participants. Furthermore, the sample of women experiencing their first intercourse with women was very small and there was no sample of men experiencing first intercourse with men in the current study. Future research should examine these early sexual experiences soon after their occurrence and should include individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

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