Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Male Qualities and Likelihood of Orgasm

  • James M. SherlockEmail author
  • Morgan J. Sidari
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_278-1



Male traits and sexual behaviors that predict the likelihood of female orgasm.


In contrast to male orgasm, the female orgasm is enormously variable in frequency during penetrative sex. While men almost always ejaculate during penile-vaginal intercourse, women orgasm far less frequently from penetrative sex alone and experience significant variation in orgasm frequency with different partners (Lloyd 2005). While variation in women’s orgasm frequency is poorly understood, evolutionary psychology tends to view variation in behavior as adaptive and responsive to environmental conditions.

Current evolutionary theories regarding the female orgasm can be broadly divided into two positions: those that focus on selection on male sexual function and those that focus on selection on female sexual function. The by-product hypothesis concerns the former and posits that the capacity of women to experience orgasm is a consequence of strong selection pressure on males’ capacity to reach orgasm. This position is based on similarities between male and female orgasm as well as the observation that the male glans penis and female clitoris arise from homologous tissue during development. In contrast, the mate choice hypothesis argues that variation in female orgasm frequency during sexual intercourse is reflective of varying quality of their male partners. Increased orgasm frequency with men possessing desirable traits ought to promote repeated copulations, thus increasing the likelihood of impregnation. This position can be further distinguished by predictions regarding which male traits are likely to influence orgasm frequency.

Mate-Choice Hypotheses of Female Orgasm

Given the high gestational cost of rearing human offspring women should be driven to select mates of high quality. Under the sire-choice hypothesis, quality tends to be defined as the ability to pass favorable genetic traits onto offspring (i.e., heritable traits) that will contribute to offspring fitness. In contrast, the pair-bonding hypothesis postulates that male traits that are likely to benefit the woman through increased care and investment in offspring ought to promote orgasm. Traits that have been identified as theoretically important to each theory can be seen in Table 1 below.
Table 1

Partner traits distinguishing mate-choice hypotheses (For review see Sherlock et al. 2016)

Sire choice


Physical attractiveness




Voice depth

Physical fitness




Body odor pleasantness



Earning potential


Mate-Choice Traits that Predict Orgasm Likelihood


The sire-choice hypothesis has been more extensively tested than the pair-bonding hypothesis and some evidence does suggest that women may be more likely to orgasm when their partner possesses traits putatively associated with genetic quality. For instance, several studies have observed that women report higher orgasm frequency with more physically attractive partners (Andersson 1994; Gallup et al. 2014; Grammer et al. 2003; Shackelford et al. 2000). While some of these studies may be subject to bias in the cases that women self-reported their partner’s attractiveness (Gallup et al. 2014; Shackelford et al. 2000), others have obtained independent ratings of male attractiveness, which also corresponded to increased likelihood of orgasm (Puts et al. 2012; Thornhill et al. 1995).


Few studies to date have thoroughly investigated pair-bonding traits in the context of female orgasm frequency. However, Costa and Brody (2007) have observed that greater orgasm frequency is associated with overall relationship quality. Moreover, Gallup et al. (2014) found that women reported greater orgasm frequency during penile-vaginal intercourse when their partner’s family had a higher income, suggesting a role for resource provision. It should be noted that neither Thornhill et al. (1995) or Zietsch et al. (2011) replicated the relationship between orgasm frequency and relationship length or commitment, calling into question the validity of the pattern found by Costa and Brody (2007).

Alternative Considerations

While some male traits have been reported to covary with orgasm frequency, this may not represent a causal relationship. Firstly, it is possible that women who orgasm more frequently may be more likely to select particular types of partners than women who orgasm infrequently. For example, women who report a higher orgasm frequency may choose to have sex with more physically attractive men. These men are likely to have more experience in short-term sexual relationships and therefore may be more effective at eliciting orgasm in their partners. Additionally, OkCupid report that of over 42,000 female users, women who reported that exercise is enjoyable also reported reaching orgasm more easily (Rudder 2011). These women, who likely exercise more frequently, may be more attractive themselves and thus more likely to partner with attractive men (Sherlock et al. 2016). Secondly, women vary considerably in their capacity to achieve orgasm, even when masturbating. This variation between women makes it difficult to detect consistent relationships between orgasm frequency and the traits of male sexual partners. However, studying the nature of variation in the same woman’s orgasm frequency with different male partners avoids these issues.

Only one study to date has investigated how women’s orgasm frequencies have varied with different sexual partners. Sherlock et al. (2016) had single women with more than two male sexual partners report on a range of characteristics of the man with whom orgasm was the easiest and the man with whom orgasm was the most difficult (or did not occur at all). By comparing high- and low-orgasm men, several traits emerged as important in predicting ease of orgasm. High-orgasm men tended to be higher in humor, attractiveness, creativity, emotional warmth, faithfulness, and body odor pleasantness, consistent with both sire-choice and pair-bonding hypotheses.

Male Sexual Behavior

Importantly, Sherlock et al. (2016) also observed that a number of sexual behaviors differed between high- and low-orgasm males. Specifically, high-orgasm males were more likely to be focused on their partner’s pleasure, engage in oral sex, use sex toys, spend more time on foreplay, and stimulate their partner’s clitoris during sex. Women were also more likely to communicate their sexual position preferences and stimulate their clitoris when having sex with high-orgasm partners. These results are consistent with two large-surveys of female orgasm during last sexual encounter. Richters et al. (2006) surveyed 19,000 Australians regarding their last sexual encounter and found that the likelihood of a woman orgasm was predicted by the number of sexual practices (i.e., oral sex, digital stimulation, etc.) engaged in prior to intercourse. More recently, Frederick et al. (2017) found that, in a survey of over 50,000 American adults, women who orgasmed more frequently were more likely to receive oral sex, use varied sexual positions, and communicate their sexual desires. Across all three studies, orgasm was more likely to occur with manual stimulation of the clitoris during intercourse (Frederick et al. 2017; Richters et al. 2006; Sherlock et al. 2016). Consequently, any contribution of male traits (e.g., attractiveness) to female orgasm needs to be considered in the context of variation in male sexual behavior. Further complicating these results is the likely association between male traits and sexual behaviors. For example, finding that women orgasm more frequently with men who exhibit higher warmth and empathy could be interpreted as support for the pair-bonding hypothesis: these men may be kinder and more generous spouses/fathers. However, an alternate explanation may be that men with higher warmth and empathy are more likely to attend to their partner’s pleasure during sex.


Despite some consistency in male traits associated with orgasm across several studies, there is reason to be cautious interpreting these results without first accounting for male sexual behavior. The most prominent trait associated with increases in the likelihood of female orgasm is attractiveness (Andersson 1994; Gallup et al. 2014; Grammer et al. 2003; Shackelford et al. 2000; Sherlock et al. 2016), yet the causal pathway between attractiveness and female orgasm could be inverse to the current theorizing. That is, women could come to view their partners as more attractive if they are more frequent benefactors of orgasms. In sum, the most consistent findings regarding males who elicit orgasm more frequently pertain to their sexual behavior rather than their traits. Women are more likely to achieve orgasm with a partner who is attentive, patient, and receptive to instruction.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Tara DeLecce
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyOakland UniversityRochester HillsUSA