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Good Sex Linked to Self-Esteem, Healthy Social Development


Among young adults, having good sex can lead to improved self-esteem, empathy, and other healthy social development, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Apparently, having good sex is more than just a good time.

Good sex may improve developmental factors

The study evaluated data from 3,237 young adults ages 18 to 26 from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Wave III: 2001-2002. It is the first study to utilize a representative population of heterosexuals to examine an association between sexual pleasure and developmental factors.

The study comes on the heels of two others conducted at Ohio State University and published earlier this year. In those studies, researchers found that college students seemed to desire self-esteem over sex, money, alcohol, and best friends.

In the new study, self-esteem was one of the factors associated positively with sexual pleasure. Specifically, the study examined the association between three developmental factors—self-esteem, empathy, and autonomy—and three measures of good sex among young adults who were in established heterosexual relationships: regularity of orgasm, pleasure in receiving oral sex, and enjoyment in performing oral sex.

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According to Adena Galinsky, PhD, a doctoral student with Bloomberg School’s Center for Adolescent Health and co-author of the study, all three developmental factors were associated positively with all three types of sexual pleasure among young women in the study.

Among young men, however, sexual enjoyment in the three developmental areas was consistently associated only with empathy. Galinsky said “our hypothesis is that empathetic individuals are more responsive to a partner’s needs, and thus initiate a positive feedback cycle.”

Young men were also more likely to report the highest level of enjoyment in all three types of sexual pleasure. Nearly 90 percent of men said they had an orgasm all or most of the time, but less than 50 percent of females reported having an orgasm with their partner.

Galinsky noted that women’s achievement of sexual pleasure may better boost their self-esteem and autonomy because they face more hurdles to sexual expression as compared with men. However, “these developmental assets may be more important to young women’s sexual pleasure since they help them break down impediments to sexual communication and exploration.”

While this study suggests good sex may improve self-esteem and other developmental factors, Freya Sonenstein, PhD, co-author of the study and professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Health, added that their study also addresses the “current lack of information” about “sexual risk-taking leading to sexually transmitted disease and unintended pregnancy,” areas program developers need to better understand.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Ohio State University