The Study Featuring Us is Published! So Why's it so Important?

While we at Back to the Body have always known that our work is powerfully important, we now have our hands on a newly published scientific study that lends evidence to what we have always known on a gut level to be true. We now have statistics to back up the incredible shifts we’ve seen at retreats over the years. While this is validating and exciting for us here at Back to the Body, this study is potentially even more groundbreaking and important for the fields of sexual science and sexual medicine. Most importantly, it’s moving because of the wide-reaching impact it could have on women worldwide. While those of us at Back to the Body and many of our friends and employees are immersed in sex research and sex education, many people might not understand quite as well as we do just what kinds of problems women are facing. They also might not understand how this study will help sex research move in a direction that can better support women with those problems. To put it simply, we wanted to explain why this study is so groundbreaking, and so desperately needed. We’ve written this in scientific language so that you can forward it to your doctor, therapist, professor, or any other professional. You can forward this along with the study, or on its own. We want to give you help in feeling educated and validated in spreading this study far and wide. We want you to be able to advocate intelligently for why this work matters. If you want any help understanding any of this science, feel free to reach out to us at and we’ll help break it down for you.


“Exploring Erotic Potential: Mixed Methods Study on Effects of a Sexological Bodywork Retreat for People who Identify as Women”

Betsy Crane, Kaci Mial, and Elise Becher

Here are some common questions about why this study is so important and scientific responses to those questions!

How is this study different from all the other sex research out there? Why is it so meaningful?

Research on female sexual pleasure is largely absent from the academic literature and scholarly conversation on sex. Jones (2018) posits that the relative lack of research on sexual pleasure in comparison to pathology is not just neglectful, but harmful, and specifically harmful to otherwise oppressed and marginalized groups, whose sexuality is already in danger of being stigmatized. Her discourse analysis of articles from 2010 to 2015 in the Journal of Sex Research finds that the conversation around women’s sexuality revolves around shame, anxiety, sexual pain, and dysfunction. If these are the primary themes studied, it may result in the impression that women’s sexuality comprises mostly of these issues, or that the only reason to create interventions is to eliminate problems, rather than to increase pleasure.  This focus may reinforce cultural myths that women do not enjoy sex, or that women’s sexuality exists solely for the pleasure of men, and not for their own pleasure. This phenomenon may cause women’s partners and society in general to neglect women’s pleasure. The study conducted by Crane and colleagues (2013) takes a step towards filling a massive gap in the literature on women’s pleasure, the impact of which is certainly not superficial, and could even be considered actively harmful to women’s sexual health.

How does research really affect a woman’s sex life? Isn’t that up to her partner to figure out? Anyway, aren’t women doing mostly ok? Why do they need a retreat and scientific studies to help them?

Women’s pleasure is neglected on the practical level, with numerous studies showing that women have less orgasms during partnered heterosexual sex than their male partners, a phenomenon known as the orgasm gap (Frederick, John, Garcia & Lloyd, 2017). Frederick et al. (2017) found that lesbian women have significantly higher rates of orgasm during partnered sex than heterosexual women. This finding suggests that heterosexism and androcentric sexual myths may significantly impact women in heterosexual relationships. Research on whether and how women’s sexual satisfaction is therefore important, in order to correct heterosexist myths and to increase the potential that women’s sexual satisfaction will be prioritized by their partners and by society in general, especially by the people who have the most capacity to impact women’s lives, such as doctors and therapists. The current study on sexological bodywork (Crane, Mial, & Becher, 2023) makes strides in understanding what kinds of sexual myths are getting in the way of women’s sexual pleasure, and helps to elucidate for their partners, therapists, doctors, and other healthcare professionals just why women aren’t getting the sexual pleasure they deserve, and how to help them attain it.

But, it’s just sex, right? Why is sexual pleasure so important for women? Does it really impact a woman’s quality of life much?

There is a body of research showing that women’s sexual pleasure is vitally important and that it has the potential to positively or negatively impact other areas of women’s lives significantly. Laumann et al. (2006), in a large and heavily cited study of 13,882 participants, found that sexual well being was correlated with happiness in women, though men worldwide score higher on measures of sexual satisfaction. This study showed a greater disparity between men’s sexual satisfaction and women’s in patriarchal sociocultural environments, but even in countries that are more progressive, this finding held true to a lesser extent. Patriarchal cultures were found to place less emphasis on the relational importance of sex and on the significance of sexual pleasure for women. Laumann et al. (2006), also found that satisfaction with intimate relationships was associated with sexual satisfaction across countries and genders. Sexual well being was also correlated with happiness across gender and sociocultural contexts. However, sexual satisfaction was shown to have a greater effect on women’s overall well-being than men. This is a fascinating finding when paired with the above finding on the worldwide gap in sexual satisfaction between genders and the lack of emphasis on female pleasure in many cultures, and has far reaching implications for the well-being of women worldwide.  

In a previous study of 1,410 participants, aged 40-70, Laumann, Paik and Rosen (1999) found that women who experience higher levels of sexual dysfunction experience lower levels of physical and emotional satisfaction and decreased happiness. Once again, while this holds true for both genders, the effect is stronger for women. The authors conclude that this association is strong enough to warrant an investigation into sexual dysfunction as a large public health issue. Stephenson and Metson (2015) agree with this conclusion, claiming that female sexual satisfaction in general is an important public health issue. Though their study is significantly smaller, consisting of 87 women in Texas, they also found that life satisfaction was correlated positively with sexual satisfaction. 

Lindau et al. (2007) studied 3,005 older adults (57-85) in the U.S., finding an association between sexual health and physical health in older women. However, women were found to be less likely to have an intimate sexual relationship or to be sexually active than men. Once again, women in this study were found to experience less sexual satisfaction and the benefits it is associated with.  Davidson, Bell, LaChina, Holden, and Davis (2009) found that well-being was related to sexual satisfaction in 421 non-depressed women in their community in Australia. Blanchflower and Oswald (2004), in their study of 16,000 Americans, found that frequency of sexual activity was positively associated with happiness in women. As Davidson et al. (2004) point out, women may continue to engage in sex even if it is not pleasurable for them, so sexual frequency may not be the best way to evaluate sexual satisfaction in women. Nonetheless, this data does support the conclusions of other studies that evaluate similar associations. Sprecher (2002), Fischer et al. (2015) and Freak-Poli (2017) also found that sexual satisfaction was associated with relationship satisfaction, love, commitment and life satisfaction in partnered women. 

There is a scholarly debate occuring surrounding the direction of causation within this research. Rosen and Bachmann (2008) argue that the positive association between sexual satisfaction and wellness indicates a need for further study on sexual satisfaction in women.  Balon (2008) disagrees, arguing that the direction of causation is more likely to run from wellness to sexual satisfaction than the reverse. There is also the possibility of a third variable, or multiple other variables, causing this association. However, the most obvious hypothesis is that the effects of this association are bi-directional, probably creating negative and positive feedback loops in both directions. Freak-Poli et al. (2016) mention this hypothesis and the many reasons why it would be true. Sprecher (2002) also notes that sexual satisfaction and relationship quality are likely to influence each other in such a way that they are unlikely to be separable.

The possibility that sexual satisfaction is a causal factor in wellness or that there are bi-directional effects between the two should be enough to warrant further research into this topic, since the potential to vastly improve women’s quality of life worldwide is at stake. Research should be done to empirically prove causation so academics, therapists, doctors, and others in a position of influence are willing to implement more interventions that prioritize female sexual satisfaction and treat it as a worthy and necessary goal. This study is a step towards these imperative goals. 

Pleasure isn’t just optional, it’s vital to women’s happiness and satisfaction with their lives. Studies like that done on sexological bodywork by Crane and colleagues (2013) that explain exactly how to increase women’s sexual pleasure will necessarily have direct impacts on women’s happiness, their relationships, and their satisfaction with life at large.

It’s been ages since sex research started. Don’t we know most of what there is to know about women’s sexuality by now?

Understanding exactly what female sexual satisfaction is composed of is an area of research that desperately needs further study. Because of the focus on pathology in most of sex research, modes of operationalizing sickness are much more common than wellness and pleasure. Consequently, the studies that do exist have vastly different ways of operationalizing sexual pleasure. The differences between sexual function and dysfunction and sexual satisfaction or dissatisfaction are important and are often overlooked in the current scholarly conversation (Stephenson & Metson, 2015). There should be more research done on exactly what female sexual satisfaction entails so that operational definitions can be created in as exact a way as possible. Because of the open-ended interviews in the current study on sexological bodywork (Crane, Mial, & Becher, 2023), this work takes massive strides in filling the gap in the literature concerning what exactly sexual pleasure means to women, in their terms and on their terms. 

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Brody, S., & Costa, R. M. (2009). Satisfaction (Sexual, Life, Relationship, and Mental Health) Is Associated Directly with Penile–Vaginal Intercourse, but Inversely with Other Sexual Behavior Frequencies. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(7), 1947–1954.

Crane, B., Mial, K. & Becher, E. (2023): Exploring Erotic Potential: Mixed Methods Study on Effects of a Sexological Bodywork Retreat for People Who Identify as Women. Sexual and Relationship Therapy. DOI: 10.1080/14681994.2023.2209516

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