On ‘good sex’ and other dangerous ideas: women narrate their joyous and happy sexual encounters

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Existing studies of women’s sexual happiness and pleasure most often centre on sexual satisfaction, orgasm, and sexual dysfunction, largely failing to allow women to narrate their own experiences. With the recent release of the first drug to ‘treat’ women’s waning libidos a qualitative examination of women’s notion of ‘good sex’ is more pressing and urgent than ever. We need to extend feminist critiques of power, control, patriarchy and agency to the study of women’s sexuality and sexual happiness. Using semi-structured interviews with 20 women from a 2014 community sample collected in a large southwestern US city, we analyse women’s descriptions of and definitions of ‘good sex’ (as defined by respondents), as well as their experiences of sexual encounters that felt joyous and happy. Analysis revealed four themes in women’s descriptions of good, happy and joyous sex: (1) Physical pleasure, wanting and orgasm; (2) Emotional connection and relationship satisfaction; (3) Comfort and naturalness; (4) Control over sexual scripts. Ultimately, our findings suggest that women prioritized relational components of sexuality–particularly reciprocity, bonding, focus, attentiveness and flexibility of sexual scripts–over the more physical, orgasm-based, ‘release’ aspects of sexual encounters. We discuss the implications of the gendered study of happiness as framed within patriarchal and male-dominant definitions and in the clinical treatment of sexual dysfunction.

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Journal of Gender Studies

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