At K-Y, we wanted to understand the state of sex in America, particularly when it comes to women, pleasure, and empowerment. That’s why we surveyed about 800 American women aged 18-55 on a number of platforms to find out what’s happening in a post #metoo world. From the orgasm gap to sex in the media to sex education, we’ve covered a lot of ground. And we’re throwing the sheets off of the sex lives of Americans in 2019. Here’s what we found.
The pleasure principle
Even though women are leaning in and moving up when it comes to everything from the boardroom to the bedroom, they’re still not on equal footing with men when it comes to pleasure and empowerment.
Of those surveyed:
- 61% of women tend to put their own needs/pleasure behind their partner’s
- 59% of women feel it’s fairly normal for women to experience some pain or discomfort during sex
- 36% of women feel most empowered sexually
Sex in a 24/7/365 news cycle
As a society, we may be more open about talking about sex and the taboo that surrounds it, but only 1 in 5 Americans think that the media presents sex in a positive, responsible manner. There’s a big opportunity for conversations around sex and its portrayal in the media to be more mature, positive, and most of all authentic. Because there’s nothing like the real thing.
But how do our survey participants feel about sex in the media and how we talk about sex in general?
- 41% of Americans and 45% of women say there is too much sex in the media - (television, in magazines, films, etc.).
- 82% of Americans feel society is becoming more open to talking about sex (GSS 2017 p16).
- 20% of Americans and 17% of women think the media presents sex in a positive, mature manner.
- 30% of Americans and 28% of women think society is comfortable with all consensual sexual activity including homosexuality.
- 44% of Americans and 49% of Women think sex is still a taboo subject.
Are you positive?
With gender fluidity and body positivity becoming pervasive, sex positivity is poised to become the next big movement in culture. Sex positive is defined as having or promoting an open, tolerant, or progressive attitude towards sex. And 66% of Americans and 66% of women support the notion of sex positivity.
And 70% of those surveyed defined themselves a sex positive, with 22% not sure how they felt, and 8% saying no when it comes to the moniker. (Survey Monkey 2019)
Do the “right” thing
Not feeling like you’re having the #bestsexever? You’re not alone. Because many women think their partners are enjoying sex more than they are, and many are feeling more inhibited in bed, with 73% of men feeling uninhibited during sex wile only 66% of women are really letting loose. (GSS 2017 p17).
And when it comes to taking matters into one’s own hands, 85% of Americans (84% of women and 86% of men) feel it’s cool for a woman to masturbate or/self-pleasure.
In terms of enjoyment, 34% of Americans (24% of women and 42% of men) say they enjoy sex more than their partners. Moreover, women are fairly divided when it comes to whether our modern society celebrates sex and female pleasure in general. From a 2019 Survey Monkey poll:
The Pleasure Principle:
Do you feel there is a double standard regarding women seeking pleasure vs. men?
Do you think we live in a world that celebrates sex and female pleasure?
15% Not Sure
How do you prioritize your sexual pleasure in comparison to your partners?
26% less than
13% more than
And with 78% of Americans surveyed noting that they feel they have the freedom to practice their sexual rights, (GSS 2017 p22) it’s disturbing that more women don’t enjoy sex as much as they should. It’s time to #getwhatyouwant- stand up for your right to great sex and change the ratio.
Can we talk?
When it comes to talking about sex, 50% of Americans (59% of women and 44% of men) discuss sex with their friends, while a 2019 Survey Monkey poll had 76% surveyed feeling comfortable talking about sex with their pals, with 17% saying no, and 7% undecided.
Real talk: So, what’s holding you back?
If people are generally comfortable discussing sex with their partners, why are women still not getting what they want and moreover, why are they not asking for it and telling their partners? Here’s the top reasons:
“I don’t want to offend him, but I would like my pleasure to be more of a priority”.
“It’s hard for me to explain sometimes what I want”.
“Sometimes, it's intimidating to voice my desires during sex despite the 15 years I've been with my partner.
“I like to think I’m already open minded but there’s always room for improvement.
For one survey respondent, being transparent and normalizing conversations around sex and desire has the best effect:
“A few years ago, I wouldn't even have thought this was possible but now I´m really comfortable talking about this. About sharing "that moment": for me and my partners through the years it has become a common even philosophical conversation, and we treat it almost as if we were discussing / reviewing a movie, it´s really great because there´s a lot of care and transparency around trying to make it as good as it can get”.
The net net?
Drop the fear and get frank. Whether you’ve been with someone for 15 minutes or 15 years, be transparent and talk about it. Incidentally, being a lifelong learner when it comes to sex will help- sex can be humbling and exhilarating all at once- just be open when it comes to expressing yourself and trying new things. Try asking for new positions and hold your partner accountable when it comes to honoring your concerns and conversations so you’re not just talking, but he or she is actually listening, and better yet, acting.
Sexual Satisfaction by the Numbers
68% of Americans are satisfied with their sex life. (GSS 2017 p32)
63% of women are satisfied with the emotional aspects of sex. (GSS 2017 p35)
59% of women are satisfied with the physical aspects of sex. (GSS 2017 p35)
85% of Americans enjoy sex…but that changes amongst men and women… women (78%) enjoy sex less than men (93%). (GSS 2017 p39)
92% of men find sex fun whereas only 78% of women do. (GSS 2017 p40)
75% of men are happy with their personal level of sex drive whereas only 66% of women are. (GSS 2017 p44)
How satisfied are you with your sex life?
30% Very Satisfied (lots of room to grow here)
So what’s on the wish list?
When it comes to sex, there’s always room for improvement as shown above. Of those surveyed, here’s a wish list when it comes to what women are looking for from their partners and spouses:
I wish my partner was more involved.
I wish I could achieve an orgasm with my husband as I usually finish after he’s done.
I wish my partner would be more aggressive/take charge.
I wish we had more sex and my partner took more initiative.
I wish my partner had a higher sex drive.
I wish we could be more spontaneous.
I wish there would be less judgement when communicating.
I wish my partner was more open minded when it comes to trying new things.
I wish I understood how to better communicate with my partner.
I wish I understood why sex changed for me after having a baby.
I wish I knew why menopause affected my sex life as much as it did.
Knowledge is Power: The Link Between Sex & Education
With an abstinence only agenda on the menu for many schools in the United States, many Americans feel (83% of them, with 84% of them being women) that sex education allows people to practice more responsible sex.
And 75% of Americans surveyed, 75% of them women, found that there is enough information available to enjoy sex to the fullest.. 59% of those surveyed also said that there was not sufficient education around sex when they were adolescents (10-19 years old).
Real talk around education: One participant’s take
Is there something missing when it comes to sex ed? A former student speaks out:
“What was lacking? Actual education. What would I have changed? Everything. There was no talking about it, no understanding of it; I remember the mixed messages didn't help. On the one hand we have movies and publicity and marketing and on the other we have school and taboos and peer pressure. I´m not sure how this could be done in a better way (even though the bar is too low) because this is not what I do, but for sure we should speak with honesty, clarity and transparency, no matter how old you are.”
In terms of what they were taught, respondents noted a lot of scare tactics when talking about pregnancy and STD risks. And in addition to abstinence, some participants noted that sex ed in schools only told the tale of preventative measures i.e. birth control and never addressed issues of consent or pleasure.
For those surveyed, what did they wish they had learned in schools to prepare them for a lifetime of healthy sex?
Sex isn’t dirty. Students should learn their options early on to be sexually healthy, and that sex is a positive, normal, and very good thing.
Take away taboos. Take the shame out of sex and stop making it secret. Open, transparent conversations are necessary to encourage positive and healthy behavior.
Love what you’re working with. Body positivity in terms of a healthy attitudes towards sex while knowing about your body so you can love and care for it could bring about positive change when it comes to everything from shame to lack of understanding of all of those lovely lady bits that so many don’t have a basic understanding of how they work, let alone what they look like.
It’s all about consent. No proper sex education could leave out the importance of safety and consent and the emotional and even physical toll it takes on those who don’t get smart about it from the get-go.
But don’t forget about pleasure. Because consent and pleasure are intertwined, or at least, they should be, those surveyed wished they had known how consent, pleasure, and intimacy were all very much part of the picture when it comes to healthy sex.
Trend watch: Sex ed gets smart
With issues of consent everywhere in the media, look for consent to be a huge talking point and hopefully, teaching point, when it comes to sex ed 2.0. On our watch list for sex education? Insight and supportive teaching on gender fluidity, body positivity, and LGBTQ topics make their way to classrooms from Manhattan to Main Street, and very soon, as well as a continued and evolved conversation around consent and pleasure.
So what’s on the minds and moods of young people when it comes to sex education?
When it comes to sex ed, here’s what 18-24 year olds feel is needed to go to the head of the class:
Do you remember the first time?
Not surprisingly, men and women have vastly different memories of their first time.
Sex with benefits: The link between sex and health
Turns out 87% of Americans and 89% of women believe a good sex life is vital to healthy living, with 90% of Americans and 92% of women feeling that sex is beneficial for overall health and well-being.
Moreover, 45% of women felt “more self-confident” when their sex life is healthy, while 44% of Americans feel they are better spouses/partners when sex is fulfilling. And 49% of those surveyed agree that having a good sex life puts them in a better mood. (GSS 2017 p15)
And from Survey Monkey’s 2019 poll, 87% of participants felt that having a healthy attitude towards sex impacts one’s mental health.
Turns out that mind/body connection is the real deal. Smiles all around for happy, healthy sex.
The happiness meter- what creates a positive influence and where is sex on that scale?
In summary, here’s what we think are the key findings from our study:
We’ve come a long way baby. But we still have a way to go. When it comes to sexual pleasure, women are feeling more empowered, but there’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to narrowing the orgasm and pleasure gap.
Getting turned on when it’s always turned on. With today’s aggressive news cycle and social media influence, participants understood the way media affects our views on sexuality, and hopes to see more responsible, mature, and healthy depictions of sexuality now and next.
Keep it positive. Look for body positivity to take center stage as more and more women advocate for an understanding of what makes them tick, and moreover, to love the bodies they’re in.
Know your rights. Let freedom ring. And pleasure too. Our survey found that more and more people are looking for ways to advocate for better sex- whether it’s with a partner or completely on their own.
Talk the talk. When it comes to talking about sex, those surveyed were comfortable chatting with their BFFs, but conversations around sex with their partners could be tricky. One thing’s for sure- being transparent, open, and talkative when it comes to what you want, need, and deserve is just as important as foreplay. Keep on talking.
Teach the children. Many participants advocated for better sex education in schools. From issues surrounding consent to more positive learning about our sexual bodies and being, sex education could use a revamp.
Healthy wife, healthy (sex) life. For many participants, the link between sex and general health and well being was strong. From creating more self-confidence to boosting the mood, having a good sex life is important to mental and physical well-being.
We want women to be heard when it comes to getting what they want. The first step? Talking about it. Check out our docuseries, “The Pleasure is Mine, featuring real talk by real women when it comes to sex and pleasure. Check out our Get What You Want page for more information.