A Learning Experience? Enjoyment at Sexual Debut and the Gender Gap in Sexual Desire among Emerging Adults
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Gender differences in experience of first intercourse are among the largest in sexuality research, with women recalling less pleasure and satisfaction than men. This “enjoyment gap” has not been considered in explanations of gender differences in sexual desire. Yet, reinforcement and incentive learning feature prominently in recent models of women’s sexual desire, and nonhuman animal models demonstrate their impact at sexual debut. We examined whether women’s lower sexual desire is explained by their gender or by gendered experience of enjoyment at sexual debut. Emerging adults (N = 838) provided retrospective accounts of physical (orgasm) and affective (satisfaction) enjoyment at (hetero)sexual debut. We replicated gender differences across behavioral, general, and multidimensional measures of trait sexual desire; however, they were contingent on experience and measurement method. When its cognitive multidimensional properties were appreciated, women’s sexual desire varied with experience of orgasm at sexual debut and diverged from men’s only when orgasm did not occur. Such effects were not observed for satisfaction, nor for men. Nor did effects of a control event–masturbatory debut–extend beyond solitary sexual desire. Findings underscore the importance of orgasm equality, and suggest its absence at sexual debut may play an unacknowledged role in differentiating sexual desire.
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