A newly published study on people's perceptions of sexual satisfaction in committed, heterosexual relationships reveals that men and women are both surprisingly good at estimating their partners' contentment (or lack thereof) with their sex life.
The study, which was led by University of Waterloo psychologist Erin Fallis and appears in the latest issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, concludes that, if anything, men actually tend to under-estimate their partners' self-reported satisfaction. Women, by comparison, tend to judge their partners' satisfaction more or less spot-on. I've included the full abstract below, but those skimming will find the gist has been emphasized:
Sexual script theory implies that partners' ability to gauge one another's level of sexual satisfaction is a key factor in determining their own sexual satisfaction. However, relatively little research has examined how well partners gauge one another's sexual satisfaction and the factors that predict their accuracy. We hypothesized that the degree of bias in partner judgments of sexual satisfaction would be associated with quality of sexual communication. We further posited that emotion recognition would ameliorate the biases in judgment such that poor communicators with good emotion recognition would make less biased judgments of partner satisfaction. Participants were 84 married or cohabiting heterosexual couples who completed measures of their own and their partners' sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, quality of communication about sexual issues within their relationships, and emotion recognition ability. Results indicated that both men and women tended to be accurate in perceiving their partners' levels of sexual satisfaction (i.e., partner perceptions were strongly correlated with self-reports). One sample t-tests indicated that men's perceptions of their partners' sexual satisfaction were biased such that they slightly underestimated their partners' levels of sexual satisfaction whereas women neither over- nor underestimated their partners' sexual satisfaction. However, the gender difference was not significant. Bias was attenuated by quality of sexual communication, which interacted with emotion recognition ability such that when sexual communication was good, there was no significant association between emotion recognition ability and bias, but when sexual communication was poor, better emotion recognition ability was associated with less bias.
The upshot? This study suggests that good sexual communication is central to understanding how satisfied your partner really is. No surprise there. The other important takeaway is that, even if your sexual communication skills leave a lot to be desired, a keen emotional sense can still give you a pretty good idea of how content your partner is (or isn't) with his or her sex life. By extension, it also suggests that you should probably avoid faking orgasms (or sexual pleasure, in general), unless sexual communication is at a standstill and your partner is totally out of touch, emotionally. Here, have a graph. Sexual communication skills on the X-axis, emotional recognition on the Y-axis:
Let's say you and your partner both have good emotional recognition, and that your channels of sexual communication are honest and open. This puts both you and your partner in Quadrant I. The two of you are probably on the same page when it comes to gauging one another's sexual satisfaction.
If sexual communication is great but your partner sucks at picking up on emotional signs, he or she is somewhere in Quadrant IV. What this study suggests is that good sexual communication should keep your partner's perception of your sexual satisfaction on point, even if he or she isn't good at reading you.
If sexual communication between you and your partner is muddy, but you're really great at reading him or her, you're in Quadrant II. What Fallis' team's findings suggest is that, even if lines of sexual communication are closed, an emotionally perceptive person can still gauge his or her partner's sexual satisfaction pretty accurately.
Quadrant III is where mutual understanding goes to die. For people with poor emotional recognition in a relationship where communication is dead, accurately judging their partner's sexual satisfaction is like trying to fly a plane in heavy fog with no cockpit instruments. It's bad news.
To reiterate: Assuming emotional recognition and sexual communication are the two biggest factors affecting the mutual perception of sexual satisfaction within couples, it stands to reason that the only time you can fake it and get away with it is when sexual communication blows and your partner is totally out of touch emotionally.
Which, sure, sounds like things are going great with you two.
Read the full study at the Archives of Sexual Behavior.