Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 45, Issue 8, pp 2137–2154 | Cite as

Defining Pleasure: A Focus Group Study of Solitary and Partnered Sexual Pleasure in Queer and Heterosexual Women

  • Katherine L. Goldey
  • Amanda R. Posh
  • Sarah N. Bell
  • Sari M. van Anders
Original Paper

Abstract

Solitary and partnered sexuality are typically depicted as fundamentally similar, but empirical evidence suggests they differ in important ways. We investigated how women’s definitions of sexual pleasure overlapped and diverged when considering solitary versus partnered sexuality. Based on an interdisciplinary literature, we explored whether solitary pleasure would be characterized by eroticism (e.g., genital pleasure, orgasm) and partnered pleasure by nurturance (e.g., closeness). Via focus groups with a sexually diverse sample of women aged 18–64 (N = 73), we found that women defined solitary and partnered pleasure in both convergent and divergent ways that supported expectations. Autonomy was central to definitions of solitary pleasure, whereas trust, giving pleasure, and closeness were important elements of partnered pleasure. Both solitary and partnered pleasure involved exploration for self-discovery or for growing a partnered relationship. Definitions of pleasure were largely similar across age and sexual identity; however, relative to queer women, heterosexual women (especially younger heterosexual women) expressed greater ambivalence toward solitary masturbation and partnered orgasm. Results have implications for women’s sexual well-being across multiple sexual identities and ages, and for understanding solitary and partnered sexuality as overlapping but distinct constructs.

Keywords

Masturbation Partnered sexuality Pleasure Solitary sexuality Women Sexual orientation 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine L. Goldey
    • 1
    • 2
  • Amanda R. Posh
    • 1
  • Sarah N. Bell
    • 3
  • Sari M. van Anders
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and Behavioral NeuroscienceSt. Edward’s UniversityAustinUSA
  3. 3.Departments of Psychology and Women’s StudiesUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  4. 4.Departments of Psychology and Women’s Studies, Programs in Neuroscience and Reproductive Sciences, Science, Technology, and Society Program, Biosocial Methods CollaborativeUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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