Lifestyle and exercise

'Smart girls have better sex lives'

“Intelligent women have better sex,” the Daily Mail has claimed today. The paper reports that new research “could lead to new ways of counselling the 40% of women who find it difficult or impossible to enjoy sex fully”.

Various news sources have reported on this research, with many giving the impression that the measure of intelligence examined was IQ. However, the study actually looked at emotional intelligence, which is the ability to identify and manage emotions in yourself and others. This research involved a UK survey of over 2,000 women and showed some relationship between emotional intelligence and orgasm frequency. However, this link was not particularly strong.

It should be noted that the women in the study had not been diagnosed as having a sexual disorder that might prevent orgasm, and that the study did not report whether they were actually happy with their sex lives or not. The study does not immediately suggest ways of dealing with female orgasmic disorder, but further studies may investigate the possible role of women’s emotional intelligence in their sexual function.

Where did the story come from?

Andrea V Burri and colleagues from King’s College London carried out this research. The study was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the National Institute for Health Research, the Chronic Disease Research Foundation and a Pfizer studentship grant to the lead author. The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Sexual Medicine.

What kind of scientific study was this?

This was a cross-sectional study looking at whether there was a relationship between emotional intelligence and frequency of orgasms in women. Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to identify and manage emotions of one’s self and others”.

The researchers had a theory that normal variations in emotional intelligence could affect a woman’s ability to communicate her desires to her partner and her sexual functioning.

The researchers used the Twins UK database to send questionnaires to 8,418 female twins aged between 18 and 83 years (average 50 years). The anonymous questionnaire included questions about sexual behaviour and functioning. This included two questions about how often the woman achieved orgasm during sexual intercourse and masturbation. Frequency of achieving orgasm was categorised using a seven-point scale: never, less than 25% of the time, 25-49% of the time, about 50% of the time, 51-75% of the time, over 75% of the time or always. Women who were no longer sexually active were asked to report their frequency of orgasm while they were sexually active.

A follow-up behavioural questionnaire included a standard validated set of 30 questions called the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire short form, to measure global emotional intelligence. A total of 2,035 women (24% of those initially asked) fully completed both the sexual behaviour and general behaviour questionnaires. The average age of these women was 53 years old, and 67% were married, 6% single, 14% divorced or widowed and 13% were in a relationship.

The researchers then used statistical methods to look at whether a woman’s level of emotional intelligence was related to her frequency of orgasm. The researchers also looked at whether emotional intelligence was related to other factors, including those that might affect a woman’s orgasmic frequency, such as her age, level of education, body mass index (BMI), history of physical or sexual abuse or menopausal status. The analyses took into account the fact that twins might be more alike than unrelated women.

What were the results of the study?

All of the women who responded reported having sexual intercourse at least once in their lives. Thirteen per cent reported never achieving orgasm during intercourse and 9% reported that they always achieved orgasm during intercourse. Twenty-four per cent of women reported never achieving orgasm during masturbation and 30% reported that they always achieved orgasm during masturbation.

The researchers found that a woman’s level of emotional intelligence was not related to her age, level of education, BMI, menopausal status or whether she had experienced physical or sexual abuse.

A higher level of emotional intelligence was associated with a higher frequency of orgasm during both intercourse and masturbation. Women with the lowest 25% of emotional intelligence scores were around twice as likely to achieve orgasm infrequently when compared with women whose scores were in the top 25% of scores (intercourse: odds ratio [OR] 2.3, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.4 to 3.9; masturbation: OR 1.8, 95% CI 1.3 to 2.5).

What interpretations did the researchers draw from these results?

The researchers conclude that low emotional intelligence was a risk factor for infrequently achieving orgasm. They suggest that this risk factor needs to be taken into consideration in future research into treatments for female orgasmic disorder.

What does the NHS Knowledge Service make of this study?

Some newspapers have incorrectly headlined that “intelligent women” or “smarter girls” have better sex. It should be noted that this study has measured emotional intelligence and feelings, not intelligence in terms of IQ scores, as many people might expect.

This study has a number of limitations, and there are a number of points to note:

  • The women in this study did not have clinically diagnosed female orgasmic disorder, and, therefore, results may not apply to women diagnosed with the disorder.
  • The level to which a woman’s emotional intelligence score predicted her frequency of orgasm during intercourse (called correlation) was relatively low: 0.13 on a scale where a score of zero denotes no correlation and one signifies a perfect correlation. The level of correlation with frequency of orgasm during masturbation was also relatively low, at 0.23.
  • These low correlations mean that the relationship between emotional intelligence and frequency of orgasm is complex and frequency of orgasm is probably also affected by other factors.
  • Only about one in four women who were sent the questionnaires fully completed both of them and were included in the study. This is a relatively small proportion. The results from this subset of women who chose to complete the questionnaires fully may not be representative of either the women who did not complete the questionnaire or the female population as a whole.
  • Although the authors did look at factors that could have affected the results (confounders), there may be other unknown or unmeasured factors that may be responsible for the association seen.
  • As the study was cross-sectional it is not possible to say whether a woman’s emotional intelligence does directly affect her orgasm frequency. Ideally, future studies would look at emotional intelligence preceding development of sexual activity, and at the same time as the women were sexually active.
  • Some women were no longer sexually active, and their level of emotional intelligence may have changed since they were last sexually active, or they may not have been able to recall accurately their frequency of orgasm.

NHS Attribution