There are a lot of different ways women put pressure on themselves to be better and do better, and sometimes, that comes in the form of perfectionism. Many of us struggle with perfectionism, especially when it comes to education or our professional lives. But new research shows that perfectionism can have a huge impact on our personal lives as well — even when it comes to sex. New research in the journal Sex Roles has found that women who are perfectionists are less likely to reject unwanted sexual advances from a partner.
The study looked at 202 women between the ages of 19 and 50 and found that those who exhibited higher levels of perfectionism — agreeing with statements like “I set very high standards for myself as a sexual partner” and “Most people expect me to always be an excellent sexual partner” — were also more likely to agree with statements like “I put my mouth on my partner’s genitals if my partner wants me to, even if I don’t want to” and “I give in and kiss if my partner pressures me, even if I already said no.” These findings are worrying and show how the pressure to be a version of the "perfect" sexual partner can lead to pressurized sexual encounters and a lack of autonomy.
"I think what surprised us the most was the size of the relationships we found," researcher Annette S. Kluck, co-author of the study, tells Bustle. "Often, in social science research, we find relationships that are rather small. In this case, the relationship between sexual perfectionism and sexual assertiveness, particularly assertiveness around setting limits, is quite sizable and robust because we continue to see the relationship even when we account for factors like age and relationship status."
The study authors pointed out that the research is still embryonic and that more work needs to be done to unpack the link between perfectionism and sex. One of the reasons for further research is that even though women felt that their partner had these high standards for them as a sexual partner, it was not clear whether they actually held those standards — or if they were internalized from societal pressures. Of course, a partner pressuring someone after they've said no to a sexual encounter is no excuse, but it's important to see how much work needs to be done in this area.
In the future, they also thought this research should be extended to men, who report feeling more pressure to be the perfect sexual partner than women do. The authors also alluded to the fact that the research suggests perfectionism could keep women from initiating sex when they do want it. Basically, perfectionism can keep us from being honest about our desires (or lack there of) — which could have profound effects on our relationships and well-being.
If this sounds like something you struggle with, don't underestimate the power of professional help. "As a mental health professional, I would be remiss if I did not mention the value of seeking professional psychotherapy or counseling," Kluck says. "Mental health professionals receive extensive training to help individuals who are struggling with concerns like perfectionism and low assertiveness. They can also be helpful when there are relationship concerns. Although relationships were not the main focus of our study, we found that perceptions about what a partner expected may be particularly important as they relate to sexual assertiveness. This finding raises some questions about how these issues affect sexual relationships more generally — something think requires more research."
Nothing, even the pressure to be perfect, should force you to have sex that you don't want to have. Understanding how perfectionism can lead to toxic sexual behaviors is the first step towards stopping it — and it's so crucial that more work is done in this area.