Friday, March 25, 2016

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

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.

Purchase full article at:

  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
  • 2Department of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience, St. Edward's University, Austin, TX, USA.
  • 3Departments of Psychology and Women's Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
  • 4Departments of Psychology and Women's Studies, Programs in Neuroscience and Reproductive Sciences, Science, Technology, and Society Program, Biosocial Methods Collaborative, University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109, USA. 
  •  2016 Mar 23.

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