NEW RESEARCH SERIES: Is Sex Like Bad Ravioli?

by | Feb 5, 2024 | Research, Series | 38 comments

4 Ways Sex for Women is Like Chef Boyardee Ravioli

What if men and women experience sex differently?

This month, our series on the blog is going to focus on some new studies that have recently been published in peer reviewed journals. We like keeping up with research, and we shared four new studies on the podcast last week. I’d like to expand on what we said, and put them each in a blog post, for easy access.

Let’s start with this fascinating article in the journal, The Perspectives of Psychological Science, which was published in February 2022: Women Get Worse Sex: A Confound in the Explanation of Gender Differences in Sexuality

This one isn’t a study per se, but rather the authors suggest a new framework for thinking about gender differences in approaches to sex. And I love it!

Here is how the article opens,


Many products that we call by the same name vary widely in quality. Imagine if we randomly selected 2 dozen people who had never tried pasta and we gave 12 of them Chef Boyardee ravioli straight out of the can and 12 of them a plate of fresh ravioli hand-crafted by one of Italy’s top chefs. You will note that, on the semantic surface, our two conditions could be considered equivalent—after all, both groups tried “ravioli”! If we then asked the two groups, “how do you like ravioli?” one group would likely give a very different answer than the other—not because the groups are different in ways that affect their ravioli assessment but because the two groups experienced very different ravioli.

Terri D. Conley and Verena Klein

Perspectives on Psychological Science, Women Get Worse Sex: A Confound in the Explanation of Gender Differences in Sexuality

So we have two different groups of people eating two very different kinds of ravioli: cold Chef Boyardee right out of a can versus chef-perfected recipes.

The study goes on to say,

Now let us say that the dozen participants who received Chef Boyardee ravioli were women, whereas those who received the chef-crafted ravioli were men. Would we then conclude that women like ravioli less than men do? And that the women, if provided with the same chef-crafted ravioli that men received would continue to provide a tepid ravioli response? That, at least in parallel, is the question we address in this article. We argue that an analogous (though obviously sometimes tempered) dynamic plays out in the context of assessments of gender differences in sexuality. That is, women experience a different version of “sex” than men do.


Terri D. Conley and Verena Klein

Perspectives on Psychological Science, Women Get Worse Sex: A Confound in the Explanation of Gender Differences in Sexuality

(The best part of this article is this intro which you so rarely see in academic journals–and had me dying laughing).

Just for some more fun, before we move on to their findings:

Further, the sex that women get is not just different, but of lesser quality. Women and men who are having sex are not having equivalent experiences. One group eats, to invoke our parable, Chef Boyardee, and the other, chef-crafted ravioli. Of course, the differences are not always as stark. Women often really love sex. The differences between women’s and men’s sex might be like the difference between a serviceable red wine and a top-notch one. Some women have better sex than some men. But on average, women’s experiences of sex are of substantially lower quality than men’s. Viewed from this perspective, it is quite sensible that women would like sex quite a bit less than men do. Why is this an issue? Because when we’re trying to figure out why women don’t like sex, or trying to raise their libido, or wondering if women are just less sexual, we have to ask what their experiences actually are.


Terri D. Conley and Verena Klein

Perspectives on Psychological Science, Women Get Worse Sex: A Confound in the Explanation of Gender Differences in Sexuality

After talking about the podcast in our Patreon group, a member shared this photo from grocery shopping, and we all couldn’t stop laughing. 

Sex Like cans of chef boyardee

They were specifically looking at experience of sex as a confounding variable.

A confounding variable is something that you’re NOT studying, but that is actually affecting the thing you are studying. And so you’re not seeing what’s actually happening because you’re not studying the right thing. We talked about how confounding variables work on our podcast looking into Nancy Pearcey’s research (which was super interesting). 

In other words, if most studies are looking at how diet affects libido, or how marital satisfaction affects libido, but they’re not actually looking at quality of sex, they may be missing the real story.

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Realizing How Women Experience Sex Differently Than Men Opens The Door To Making Sex Good For Her Too!

Often in the sex literature, women are treated as the problem for having low libidos. So we give them more testosterone. Or we try to find another way to get her to be “fixed.” But that approach completely ignores that, on a societal level, women experience sex differently.

This is something that Rebecca and I have been talking about on the podcast too.

Let’s just look at orgasm rates between men and women first time having sex. For the vast majority of men, their first time having sex results in an orgasm. That is not the case for women. It’s just not–but we know that when women do reach orgasm in their first encounter, their libido rates are just as high as men’s. And when women have been orgasmic their entire sex life, the same way that men have been orgasmic their entire sex life, hey, what do you know? They like sex, and they want it!

Because it’s also not even just Chef Boyardee versus Nona’s ravioli, it’s also: what if you get Chef Boyardee and then you get Nona’s ravioli? And then next time it’s Chef Boyardee again and then Chef Boyardee again. And then you have three bites of Nona’s ravioli. And then they take it away. And then you can smell Nona’s ravioli coming from the kitchen, and then it’s Chef Boyardee in front of you all of a sudden. And it’s transmuted in front of your eyes. It’s not just that it’s always been bad. A lot of people remember tastes of it being good, and then it just never is like that again for various reasons. And it’s just complicated.

Now, back to the article:

The Four Ways Women Experience Sex Differently

In this article, they give four big ways in which sex differs for men versus women. Let’s look at what those are:

1. Anatomical Differences affect women’s experience of sex

The study talks about men and women’s difference in genitals. They acknowledge that a man’s penis is just right there and is easy to access, which means that boys often grow up with far more genital awareness than girls do.

Women face a risk of pregnancy which men don’t. We often experience painful sex differently than men do. Just physically with our anatomy, men’s experience is going to be very different.

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2. Sexual Violence affects women’s experience of sex

There is a risk of violence for women, which men don’t have to the same extent. Men can be sexually abused and assaulted, of course, however the rate of that is lower than what women experience. And when we’re solely focused on heterosexual relationships, it’s ridiculously out-balanced. When you’re looking at the averages over a population, women are assaulted by men at a very high rate.

3. The Uneven Stigma of Sex affects women’s experience of sex

The stigma of sex is disproportionately put on women.

For those of you who read our book, She Deserves Better, you may remember us sharing a story from the book, When God Writes Their Love Story: You have this virginal couple, who ends up having sex and the conclusion of it is that she has lost her most precious treasure. Meanwhile, the man is still himself. He’s just Joe. She’s the one who carries the shame of what they chose to do together.

The stigma of sex is something that exists inside and even outside of conservative evangelical culture. You may have heard the trope of the woman who does what is called, “the walk of shame” after a night of hooking up with some guy. Men don’t do the walk of shame, but women do.

A lot of the stigma is based on the idea that sex can be a high risk of sex for girls and women, in terms of getting pregnant outside of marriage. And so because there is higher risk, there is this idea that girls who engage in it must be even more depraved than the boys, right? It’s based on that kind of misogynistic thinking where there’s something extra wrong with girls for doing something that is pretty human to experience.

So more stigma is being put on women, which means that women are naturally going to be more careful than men.

4. The Centrality of Male Sex definitely affects women’s experience of sex!

The biggest thing that this article talked about was the centrality of male centric sex. It’s great that this was the biggest focus, because this is our big thing that we talk about too (so it made us super happy to see this!).

They said this,

No evidence suggests that women are less skilled at bringing themselves to orgasm, less biologically inclined to orgasm, or that they experience orgasm more mildly than men do. Instead, the orgasm gap results from specific heterosexual practices, each of which privileges the male sexual experience.


Terri D. Conley and Verena Klein

Perspectives on Psychological Science, Women Get Worse Sex: A Confound in the Explanation of Gender Differences in Sexuality

And then they go on to look at some of those practices, which include lack of oral sex, lack of communication during sex, and a lack of respect in heterosexual encounters. So the fact is that women are far more likely to reach orgasm through oral sex performed on them, and yet, this is not prioritized in most heterosexual relationships.

This is interesting, especially when you consider the kinds of advice given in conservative Evangelical literature around sex, which prioritizes penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex over other kinds of sexual activities. They talk a lot about how other forms of sexual pleasure are seen as extra, so what often happens, unsurprisingly, is that men will prioritize penis in vagina and not the things that are known to bring women pleasure.

So glad they mentioned the orgasm gap, which is what we talk about in The Great Sex Rescue too!

Here’s what it boils down to: we shouldn’t be saying women like sex less than men do when women often haven’t even had a fair shot at experiencing good sex. It could just be that the sex that women are experiencing is very different from the sex that men are experiencing. And I think that the Christian community needs to really listen to this because the main message, when it comes to sex and women that is given today is:

“Hey, ladies. You need to want it more. What’s wrong with you that you’re not sexual enough? You know it’s just going to be awful, so just do it anyway. But also it’s such a gift, and you should love this, girl. Go get your sex on and just get through it.”

That’s the message that women are given in the church. It makes no sense.

Let me share the conclusion of this study with you,

At every phase of their lives, women encounter unique barriers that shepherd them to enjoy sex less than men. Because women are effectively punished more for participating in sex, they avoid sex more than men do. Because women orgasm less frequently during partnered sex with men, they enjoy sex less than men do. Because they enjoy sex less than men do, they are less likely to desire it. And because they desire sex less, they have less sex.


Terri D. Conley and Verena Klein

Perspectives on Psychological Science, Women Get Worse Sex: A Confound in the Explanation of Gender Differences in Sexuality

So why do women not want sex enough? Well, you have to go through all of those things which are very real barriers to pleasurable sex.

Think about how this relates to the Do Not Deprive verses

From now on, whenever evangelicals talk about the 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 verses about not depriving each other, we need to stop saying that these verses are telling women they have to have sex regardless of what they are feeling. We need to stop telling women these verses say you can’t say no to intercourse, for one simple reason:

You can’t deprive someone of Chef Boyardee.

Yes, you can deprive someone of first class Italian ravioli. But you can’t deprive someone of Chef Boyardee straight from the can, because that’s nasty and no one wants it. If what she is experiencing is Chef Boyardee, you cannot then turn around and tell her not to deprive him of Nana’s ravioli, because if she is getting Chef Boyardee, she is already being deprived.

See how that works?

And if sex for both of them truly were Nana’s ravioli, we wouldn’t need to be having this conversation.

I want to get to the point where the evangelical church gets this.

Think about how much we have talked about men’s sexual needs and how women don’t even have sexual needs. It’s like that famous line from Emerson Eggerichs’ Love & Respect that got us started on our whole mission, “If your husband is typical, he has a need that you don’t have.”

What would happen if the church took this article to heart? Our emphasis is to berate women for not liking sex. What if, instead, we asked: Are women getting chef boyardee? And then what if we taught men to serve Nana’s ravioli?

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4 Ways Sex for Women Is Like Chef Boyardee Ravioli

What do you think? Do you like the ravioli analogy? What’s the biggest factor to you in the difference between men’s and women’s experience of sex? Let’s talk in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Kathryn

    Yup. This is it in a nutshell. No. In a can.

    • Nessie


  2. Indra Weyland

    This is all wonderful- but I wish they didn’t hang all of the outcomes on whether or not a woman orgasms! Speaking as a women who has no problem orgasming, orgasm does not make sex intimate or connected or responsive! There are so many other qualities that go into a top notch meal! And even if I’m orgasming every time but my husband still has internalized entitlement and performance anxiety I’m not gonna want the sex he’s demanding! We’ve done a lot of learning and now we practice slow sex and avoid orgasm and it’s way more pleasurable!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, most definitely! It’s not just orgasm. It’s the whole picture.

    • Jo R

      Please remember that there are a sizeable number of women who orgasm in less than half of their sexual encounters, and quite a sizeable fraction of them have NEVER orgasmed. Some of them have been participating in orgasm-less sex for DECADES.

      It’s wonderful that you have no trouble having an orgasm and that you are able to CHOOSE to delay your orgasm. But you are not the type of woman who is being addressed in this blog post, and for the most part, the entirety of this blog.

      If you had never had an orgasm but were forced to watch your husband use your body for a pleasure he’s never bothered to help you feel, and that you have to give him that pleasure on his demand, you might not have quite the same viewpoint.

      Yes, it’s true that orgasms are not the end-all and be-all, but how ridiculous is it that so many Christian men, who theoretically believe in serving others, doing unto others, giving being better than receiving, considering others as better than themselves—even when the “other” is someone as unimportant as their own wife—simply can’t be bothered to look beyond their own penises to see that they are depriving their wives of one of the key things a man demands of marriage? If orgasms are so unimportant, why do men insist on them so strongly? What man would accept a lifetime of sex that consistently ended before he had an orgasm? (Mutters under her breath, “carry the one…”) Zero. There are very few men who would settle for sex that gave “emotional closeness” while being deprived of an orgasm, even though many, MANY of those same men condemn their wives to that very experience.

      That’s just the way sex is—and is SUPPOSED TO BE—according to a very large swath of Christianity.

      Please don’t dismiss such women, and their experiences, so out of hand.

    • Katie

      Exactly what Indra said! This has been our experience, as well.

      We need like buttons here;)

  3. Nessie

    Taking the analogy just a bit further (and hinting back to your dinner with dessert analogy): one partner raves about how good the ravioli is while the other partner tries to force down the boyardi, then is criticized for being selfish and not enjoying the ravioli like the first partner did and asked, “what’s wrong with you?” by the very person who just watched you eat Boyardi… to then be told you made the experience less fulfilling because you didn’t specifically ask for the ravioli in the first place.

    Sigh. It really is a great analogy, eating ravioli (hand-crafted vs. cold, canned).

    • Anita

      Oh, goodness, yes. That’s what has happened to so many of us.

  4. CMT

    This analogy is so. good. And I love how you’re extending it to take on some of these specific evangelical tropes. “You can’t deprive someone of cold Chef Boyardee straight from the can, because it’s nasty and nobody wants it.” I think it would be great if the culture as a whole shifted so we just expected everybody to get Nonna’s ravioli. I’m not optimistic though. But how empowering for women to realize “no, I don’t have to accept nasty cold Chef Boyardee. I can figure out what my delicious is, and if my partner is worth my time, they will be invested enough to help serve it up.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I actually have a spice blend in my drawer that is “Nonna’s Spaghetti”. It’s so good!

  5. Jen

    Love, love, love this!!! Every one of the points are accurate. Why in the world would women want to do something that is going to cost them emotionally/socially, might get them pregnant, and probably won’t even be very fun – especially if you’re with a man-boy who just takes and the whole experience is over in 30 seconds.

    The male-centric advice we’ve been given has ruined so much. Men’s “needs” are so built up in the Church community that I went into marriage seeing sexual activity as a chore- another form of care-taking of the man-boy I was marrying. And I believed that was perfectly normal because I’d never heard the message that men can be sexual adults. The men and teens I knew, the movies, the songs, the sermons . . . All of it said men lack self control, so the teachings of the Church seemed spot on.

    And when you don’t expect much, you’re not surprised when you don’t get much.

    I’m very curious about how emotional connection and presence influences women’s experiences as well. Even if you’re with a partner who is trying to be physically pleasing, if he’s not truly present and emotionally able to connect, sex is still going to feel like a taking.

    Looking forward to this series!!

    • Nessie

      Thank you for saying this: “Even if you’re with a partner who is trying to be physically pleasing, if he’s not truly present and emotionally able to connect, sex is still going to feel like a taking.”

      • Jany

        Yep. One out of three isn’t exactly good…or even good enough.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Very definitely. That’s what our studies have showed too.

  6. Jo R

    Don’t forget women are expected to provide hand-crafted, chef-level hand jobs, blow jobs, PIV positions, and all the rest, making the canned-ravioli comparison even more stark.

    “the fact is that women are far more likely to reach orgasm through oral sex performed on them, and yet, this is not prioritized in most heterosexual relationships.”

    Not only is oral sex for her not prioritized in evangelical circles, at least two books (Act of Marriage and Intended for Pleasure) basically say it’s cheating for the woman to rely on this act that focuses more or less exclusively on her. Never mind that PIV, hand jobs, and blow jobs all provide a man with the best stimulation for him. Why should she need stimulation that’s hand-crafted for her when it doesnt directly stimulate him? 🙄

    • CMT

      “it’s cheating for the woman to rely on this act that focuses more or less exclusively on her”

      Yeah I thought about that too. I never read those specific books, but it does seem like most evangelicals assume that missionary PIV is the definition or norm. Everything else is optional, or maybe even sinful. But I don’t think that started with evangelicals. The idea that women don’t really want/need direct stimulation of their own is at least as old a Freud (and I doubt he came up with it himself, so it’s probably older). What gives??

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, I don’t think it started with evangelicals, but certainly Tim LaHaye and Ed Wheat, who wrote the first evangelical sex books, wrote firmly against oral sex.

        • Lucie

          Sheila, nearly 50 years ago I attended a convention held by an evangelical organization for men (no idea if it still exists), at which one of the speakers, a well-known (in certain circles) figure, said—and I swear I am not making this up—that oral sex was a demon. Yes, you read that correctly. And he claimed to have exorcised it from at least a couple of women. Again, I swear I am not making this up—believe me, I have better things to do with my time! But do you want to know how he arrived at this utterly bizarre conclusion? He said that when he was praying for these women, he got a mental picture of “a male organ in front of their mouth.” To this day, I have to suspect that there was something seriously wrong in his own life that was going unaddressed, but only God likely knows what.

          If anyone else here has ever heard such a claim, I would be interested to know.

          • Lisa Johns

            I was told that our mouths were created to give glory to God and oral sex was a sin against that aspect. I agreed since it was my husband demanding it all the time and it made me very uncomfortable (whole other issue!)
            But not a demon!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I do find it interesting that when modern advice is given about how “oral sex is great”, it’s usually to convince women to give it to him, even though she is far more likely to need it to reach orgasm. I’ve written about this before.

  7. Taylor

    It’s like women are required to make a golden sex idol that’s worthy of a man’s worship. And if the man isn’t worshipping, it’s the woman’s fault for not making the image big enough or golden enough. And if he starts “wandering,” she should take at least some responsibility for not making the idol big enough or golden enough.

    Then what women get is a clay lump that’s had almost no thought put into it. And if a woman isn’t totally loving it, it’s her fault for not appreciating the heart behind the the lump, and she should pretend (lie) that she loves it so that he won’t feel rejected, and won’t “wander.”

  8. JoB

    I’d put it a little differently- heterosexual couples are asked if they like fruit. most of the guys get seedless grapes. A few get apples or peaches. A couple of lucky women get bananas and oranges. Most of them get pineapples. A few get coconuts or jackfruit.

    All of those things are delicious. But, Seedless grapes take almost no effort to prepare or eat, whereas if you try to enjoy a pineapple the same way you would enjoy a seedless grape, you are going to be more than disappointed, you’re going to be in pain. If intimacy is making a fruit salad for you both to share, you need to figure out with your partner when a pineapple is ripe and how you prepare it properly. If you gulp down your grapes, say how delicious it was, and head off to your next thing, while in the same amount of time your partner has finally managed to find the cutting board and took her first whiff of the pineapple to find out if it’s ripe or not (and it does smell awesome)… well, you both got “fruit”, but one of you just doesn’t have to put much effort or skill into enjoying your part. Which is too bad, because a fresh ripe pineapple is even more divine than a grape.

    • Shoshana S

      This is utterly brilliant and spot-on

    • Taylor

      Oooh, this is a great analogy!

  9. Angharad

    Am I the only one who feels I will never be able to eat ravioli again after reading this? 🤣

    • Nessie

      Passing by canned ravioli in the store definitely makes me think twice… 😂

      • Angharad

        I’m just dreading going to someone’s house for a meal and they stick a plate of ravioli in front of me and wonder why I’ve suddenly collapsed in hysterical laughter!

  10. Perfect Number

    Yes! This is such an important point! “Sex” isn’t just one thing that everyone is experiencing the same way- it can be so many different things, and there can be all sorts of reasons why it would or wouldn’t be a good experience. When I read the part in “The Great Sex Rescue” about how wives are actually the ones being “deprived”, I wrote on my blog “Because it’s not just about *sex*; it’s about *sex that feels good*. Which is a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THING.”

    I would say the issue definitely is how people define sex in such male-centered and heteronormative ways- ie, sex is PIV (penis-in-vagina), start with that as the foundation, and then maybe add a few other things to it to make the women also feel good, maybe. I don’t think it should be that way- I don’t think PIV should be the “default”- instead, both partners should communicate about what they want, and then they can create an experience that’s good for both of them. (Doesn’t have to include PIV at all.)

    • Nessie

      Additionally, I wonder if PIV also became a major focus because it is needed for reproduction (which is a main objective for many of the people that also hone in on PIV being the best or only acceptable version of sex.) That’s a very limiting view on the purposes for sex.

  11. Nathan D. W.

    You speak a little about communication during sex that can help sex be good for both parties, and I think that is a goal for my future marriage. But what do you make of the increasing number of women these days who tell their men, “It’s not my job to educate you on how to please me,” or, conversely, who don’t know how they want to be pleased? Do you have resources or maybe a post that can help me learn the basics so I don’t have to face ire or look incompetent in the face of a future sexual relationship?

    • Sequoia

      My two cents as a woman who’s been married for just a couple of years and strongly remember the transition from virgin to married:
      You don’t need to worry about “those women,” you need to prioritize making YOUR person feel safe. Sex is not about knowing the basics (except perhaps where the clitoris is, lol), it’s about offering affection in a way your partner can receive, and enjoying the time you spend together. When you invest in trust and safety in the relationship, you allow space for that good communication. Marriage is a promise that you’re learning to do life *together*, and that includes learning how to do sex *together*. Gentleness, respect, appreciation go a long way. And if you need more knowledge, ask YOUR person. Even if she doesn’t know what she likes, she’s still going to be the expert on what feels good for her as you experience it together. I remember in the GGGGS books, they recommend trying any two things, A or B, and asking your partner which they like better.

      Sheila and team have a lot of posts about what makes safety in a relationship, I’d recommend those.

    • Angharad

      For practical marriage prep advice, I second Sequoia’s advice to read Sheila’s blog and also her books. I found the Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex very helpful as I was preparing for marriage, and while I haven’t read the guys’ version, I bet it’s equally good.

      Don’t worry about ‘incompetence’ – neither my husband nor I had any prior experience when we married and we learned together (and 3.5 years on, are still learning!) A desire to bring pleasure to your partner and a willingness to communicate well and to work through any difficulties with love and patience are far more important than knowing any ‘techniques’ in advance!

    • Lisa Johns

      There’s a lot to be said for learning together how to give pleasure to each other. I don’t think you need to learn anything ahead of time, I think you need to concentrate on building the relationship so that the exploration and the learning are an outflow of the love and regard that is (should be) present. And make sure communication is safe for both parties!

      • BillCinMA

        Safe is created by not contradicting, disagreeing, being flip, listening but not hearing, or worst pent up anger. The 30 day sex rescue by bare marriage helped us greatly, and would help any couple learn how to communicate in a safe way, even if safe is already established. Learning that I am not the only man who let safe communication slip away over time helped too. But I still hold much of what I feel at arms length because of those early experiences. I wonder if other men feel intimacy could be better.

  12. Chris B

    I truly feel bad for all the women out there that have been mistreated or abused. If your husband really loves you (whether a Christian or not) he should listen and try to understand. While each spouse may operate on different wave length sexually speaking, this can be difficult for a man to comprehend or communicate. Men should always Love their wives to the point that they are willing to communicate and work on sexual differences or any differences.

    • Lisa Johns

      It can be difficult for a woman to comprehend or communicate either (especially if a spouse is making no effort). The communication difficulties are not one-gendered. This is a shared journey in which BOTH spouses need to learn how to express their hearts.

  13. Jeff

    I think that is a very good analogy, but what is the husband supposed to do when he tries and tries to make “nana’s” ravioli and she keeps wanting chef boyardi? When she won’t read the great sex rescue or any other book out there?

    I like to think it as Ribeye dinner vs hot dogs, but same concept!


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