Common cultural stereotypes promote women’s submission to men, especially within intimate heterosexual relationships. Mirroring these stereotypes, women possess nonconscious associations between sex and submission (Sanchez, Kiefer & Ybarra, 2006). Moreover, women’s sex-submission associations predict greater reports of engagement in submissive sexual behavior (Sanchez et al., 2006). In the present research, we again found that women associate sex with submission at a nonconscious level. Study 1 showed that women’s nonconscious sex-submission associations predict reduced subjective arousability. Study 2 further demonstrated that these associations predict impaired ability to reach orgasm among women. These findings suggest that sex-submission associations may adversely affect women’s sexual functioning.
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Male participants were not included in the present manuscript because their sex-submission and sex-dominance links failed to predict their arousability. Furthermore, in the regression analyses the gender by sex-submission interaction was a significant predictor of subjective sexual arousability, β = −.345, p = 0.001, in Study 1 and of ability to reach orgasm, β = –.129, p < 0.05, in Study 2. These statistical results justified our focus on the effects of these links on women.
Our interest in sexual arousability was limited to arousal with partners; therefore we excluded arousal from erotica and pornography. Results are unchanged by the inclusion of arousal from erotica. However, the erotica subscale by itself was unrelated to sex-submissive associations, r(34) = −0.14. The divergence of women’s responses to the erotic subscale from their responses on the other subscales may result from women’s infrequent use of, and negative attitude toward, erotic material as a source of arousal (Frable, Johnson, & Kellman, 1997; Leiblum, Rosen, Platt, & Cross, 1993).
Previous research that used 55 ms foveal priming showed that participants failed to recognize prime words at a rate better than chance (Sanchez et al., 2006).
Sexual experience did not moderate these results. Furthermore, analyses were also performed for each arousal subscale. We regressed each subscale separately on sexual experience (whether or not they had experienced sexual intercourse), sex-submission associations, and sex-dominance associations. Findings were consistent. After controlling for sexual experience, sex-submission associations predicted lowered arousability for the caress subscale, β = −0.617, p = 0.001, seductive activities subscale, β = −0.528, p = 0.004, oral sex subscale, β = −0.538, p = 0.003, and sexual intercourse subscale, β = −0.603, p = 0.001. Sex-submission associations marginally predicted the erotica subscale, β = −0.374, p = 0.06, ns. Sex-dominance associations failed to predict arousal for the caress subscale, β = −0.097, p > 0.5, ns, seductive activities subscale, β = −0.197, p > 0.2, ns, oral sex subscale, β = −0.239, p > 0.1, ns, sexual intercourse subscale, β = −0.166, p > 0.3, ns, and the erotica subscale, β = −0.283, p > 0.1, ns.
Analyses were also performed without including sexual experience as a covariate. Results remained unchanged.
Although we only report the analyses after we controlled for sexual experience (whether or not participants had engaged in sexual intercourse) and relationship status, we also conducted several analyses with sexual frequency as an additional covariate. Participants who indicated having experienced sexual intercourse were asked to indicate sex frequency on a scale where (1) = less than once a month, (2) = 1–2 times a week, (3) 3–4 times a week, and (4) = 5 or more times a week. The average sexual frequency of sexually experienced participants in the current sample was approximately 2–3 times a week (M = 2.03, SD = 0.97). Sexual frequency predicted greater ability to reach orgasm, β = 0.355, p = 0.009; however, inclusion of sexual frequency in the analysis significantly increased missing data (N = 19), because participants who had never experienced sexual intercourse were unable to answer this question. Nevertheless, when we controlled for sexual frequency, submis’sive facilitation predicted diminished ability to orgasm.
Neither relationship status nor sexual experience moderated the effect of submissive facilitation on orgasm ability.
Because ability to reach orgasm and sexual arousability were self-reported and thus may have been influence by socially desirable responses, we conducted a pilot study on the influence of socially desirable responses on these measures. Analyses were conducted on a separate data set in which we assessed heterosexual women’s self-reports of sexual function as assessed in Studies 1 and 2 and their tendency to give socially desirable responses (N = 298; Sanchez et al., 2005). Correlational analyses were used to test whether reports of arousal difficulty and ability to reach orgasm were significantly related to social desirable responses as measured by the Crowne–Marlowe scale (1960). Social desirability was not significantly correlated with self-reports of ability to reach orgasm, r = 0.049, p = 0.41, ns, nor with self-reports of difficulty becoming aroused, r = 0.007, p = 0.90, ns.
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Amy Kiefer was supported by a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship and a National Institute of Mental Health postdoctoral fellowship during the preparation of this manuscript. The authors wish to thank Lora Park and Norbert Schwartz for their comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.
Amy K. Kiefer and Diana T. Sanchez made equal contributions to this research. Authorship was determined by a coin toss.
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Kiefer, A.K., Sanchez, D.T., Kalinka, C.J. et al. How Women’s Nonconscious Association of Sex with Submission Relates to Their Subjective Sexual Arousability and Ability to Reach Orgasm. Sex Roles 55, 83–94 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-006-9060-9
- Gender roles
- Sexual function
- Nonconscious associations