Women who think their man expects perfection in bed may have so much performance anxiety that they don't have any fun during sex, a recent study suggests.
"It is possible that believing that one's sexual partner expects sex to be perfect leads to sexual performance anxiety which may then have a negative effect on a women's sexual function, causing difficulties becoming aroused and lubricated during sexual encounters," said study co-author Laura Harvey, a psychology researcher at the University of Kent in the U.K.
"Another explanation is that women who believe that their partner expects and puts pressure on them to be the perfect sexual partner may experience negative feelings towards their partner, which may in turn negatively affect their sexual function," Harvey added by email.
To understand how different types of sexual perfectionism may influence women's experiences in bed, Harvey and co-author Joachim Stoeber of the University of Kent surveyed 366 women aged 17-69 years.
The survey included 230 students who were about 20 years old on average as well 136 internet users who were typically around 30 years old.
They looked at what's known as sexual perfectionism that is self-oriented, meaning the standards people impose on themselves; partner-oriented, or the expectations people have for their partners; partner-prescribed, or what people think their mate wants; and socially-prescribed, or the standards people think they're supposed to meet based on cultural norms.
Setting high standards wasn't necessarily bad when it was women establishing these goals for themselves. This was linked to increased desire, arousal and lubrication as well as higher self-esteem, the study found.
By contrast, women who focused on sexual ideals imposed by society tended to have lower self-esteem - just as low as the women who thought their lovers demanded perfection.
Sexual anxiety ran higher for women who set high standards for their partners, and even higher still when women thought their lovers expected perfection from them.
After the initial survey, researchers followed up with a subset of 164 women three to six months later, asking the same questions about sex.
Over time, partner-prescribed sexual perfectionism predicted increases in sexual anxiety and decreases in sexual esteem, arousal and lubrication, researchers report in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
One limitation of the study is that many women failed to complete the second round of surveys, making it harder to draw firm conclusions about how sexual dynamics might change over time, the authors note.
In addition, one third of the women surveyed didn't have an ongoing sexual relationship at the time of the first survey, and they responded to questions based on their recollections of past encounters. The attitudes about sex reflected by the relatively young survey population may also not represent how women experience sex and sexuality as they age.
Still, the findings highlight struggles that many people may experience with sex, said Michael Aaron, a sex therapist in private practice in New York who wasn't involved in the study.
"Our society is filled with sexual myths and misconceptions, mostly stemming from a combination of our culture's puritanical roots, as well as rampant consumerism, which feeds off individual insecurities to sell unnecessary products," Aaron said by email.
Younger women are more susceptible to this kind of pressure than older women, Aaron added.
By their 30s and 40s, women tend to know what they want in bed and have no problem telling their partner about it, said Christian Joyal, a psychology researcher at the University of Quebec Trois-Rivieres who wasn't involved in the study.
Earlier in life, women may be less certain of their own desires or less confident articulating what they want, Joyal said by email.
If they did speak to their partners, these women might find their lovers actually didn't expect perfection.
Men, not just women, should understand this because it may hold the secret to better sex.
"The key is communication," Joyal said.