The female partners of wealthy Chinese men report more frequent orgasm according to a study by researchers at Newcastle University, in England. Why? According to study authors, Thomas V. Pollet and Daniel Nettle, wealthy men are more desirable and thus "cause women to experience more orgasms." A fat wallet drives women wild with desire.

Public outrage
Popular reactions to these claims in England, Australia, and the U.S. have varied from, "Don't bother, we knew it already," to angry denials that money is the real source of all the excitement. After all, partners of wealthy men are often wealthy women. Wealthy women are happier and healthier, so why wouldn't they experience greater sexual pleasure? They are more educated, so they can read up on sexual technique. Yet, happiness, health, and education are not likely to be responsible for income differentials in female orgasm because the authors statistically removed these factors in their paper that is soon to appear in Evolution and Human Behavior.

They could not remove other possible sources of confusion, though. It could be that the sort of women who marry, or live with, wealthy men are just intrinsically more orgasmic. Perhaps they have higher estrogen levels, or are more physically attractive. They might feel better about their appearance. Their childhoods may have been less stressful and their relationships with parents more affectionate. Perhaps they work less and are less physically exhausted when they go to bed. Or maybe they just see the world through rose-colored spectacles and are more likely to say they reach orgasm "always" as opposed to "often," "sometimes," "rarely," or "never," whether this is true or not.

A cold shower of skepticism
Correlation is not the same as cause and, strictly speaking, one cannot legitimately conclude that wealthy male partners generate female orgasms without tidying up all of the many loose ends. There are plenty of reasons for skepticism. To begin with, many women would reject the argument that their orgasms are simply "given" to them by men. Another study of self-reported orgasm frequency also found that it was unrelated to the man's financial prospects. This raises the possibility that results produced in a survey of Chinese women do not hold up in other societies.

Moreover, when women say they have experienced orgasm, we do not have to believe them. That is not because they are willing to lie, like Elaine in Seinfeld, but because women tend to define orgasm in terms of an emotional high rather than just involuntary muscular contractions and accompanying physical sensations. This fact was uncovered by sexology pioneers Masters and Johnson, who found that women experiencing physiological orgasm according to reliable scientific measures often denied the orgasm in verbal reports. (Similar unreliability emerged when women denied being aroused by pornographic videos despite blood flow measurements indicating that they definitely were). Female reports of orgasm are so intrinsically subjective that they are tough to use as scientific data without some sort of corroborating evidence, whether from electrophysiological monitoring devices or from partners.

Size matters
The size of the man's wallet is a notorious aphrodisiac, according to evolutionary psychologists who point to the amorous successes of well-off dudes from King Solomon to Magic Johnson. Yet, there is little in the way of a clear connection between a man's income and his romantic allure. Indeed, poor men typically begin having sex earlier and may devote more time and attention to seducing women. Their increased mating effort can mean that they have more sexual partners.

It is not just the size of the wallet that matters but the size of the effect in Pollet and Nettle's study. How important is a man's income? It accounts for just under a fiftieth of the differences in self-reported orgasm frequency according to their statistical analysis. In other words, 98% of the differences in self-reported orgasm frequency are not explained by the man's income. That is a very small fraction of a very squishy measure. Marrying a wealthy man is not exactly a high road to orgasmic bliss. Perhaps the angry reactions are justified after all.

1 Pollet, T. V., & Nettle, D. (in press). Partner wealth predicts self-reported orgasm frequency in a sample of Chinese women. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30 (March), 146-151. www.ehbonline.org/article/S1090-5138(08)00117-7/abstract
2 Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1966). Human sexual response. Boston: Little Brown.
3 Barber, N. (2002). The science of romance: Secrets of the sexual brain. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

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