How Men and Women Think About Sex
It’s widely assumed that men think about sex more than women do, but in studies, the differences are fairly small (and men also thought about other basic human needs, like food, more often than women). Surveys estimate that men may think about sex eight times a day, on average, as opposed to about six times for women. Men do appear more likely to think about certain kinds of sex, such as threesomes, far more often than women.
The fact that heterosexual men tend to report having more sexual partners than most heterosexual women admit to has long puzzled researchers: If men are having so much more sex, then who are they having it with? Recent studies suggest that, in surveys, men overestimate the number of sexual partners they have had, while women more accurately recall this information.
In studies, when men’s sexual attraction is activated through the viewing of sexy photos, they report being more likely to lie, cheat, or steal and less likely to return money they had not earned. Other research shows that men are more attracted to, and more likely to pursue, women who seem more vulnerable to sexual exploitation because of their youth, immaturity, or intoxication.
Evolutionary psychology suggests that when it comes to mating, men and women may pursue short-term or long-term strategies, with very different goals. When pursuing short-term mates, or hookups, men tend to seek sexual variety much more than women. They pursue a higher number of partners, and consent to sex more quickly, than do women, who prioritize partner quality in both short- and long-term mating scenarios.
The cultural stereotype that men always want sex and rarely if ever say no to intercourse is just one reason why men with lower libidos may struggle in relationships. Men in long-term relationships decline sex for a range of reasons, including pressure at work and anxiety about erectile dysfunction or other physical concerns. Rarely, however, is the problem a loss of attraction to a long-term partner, which is why therapists advise seeking help for sexual concerns before worrying that a relationship is in jeopardy.
Low sexual desire is more common among men than many people may realize. In surveys, approximately 15 to 20 percent of men report experiencing low or decreased sexual desire that they found problematic or distressing. Medical conditions or treatments, and sexual dysfunction, were among the main reasons cited, as were parental, marital, and professional stress; in some studies, stress was cited more often than any physical conditions. Problematic attitudes toward sex, including shame, are also widely linked to low libido.
Recent research has successfully debunked many long-held stereotypes about differences between male and female desire. For example, women enjoy casual sex about as much as men do, and admit to that in studies when the perception of social stigma is eliminated. Also, women are choosier about mates only when it comes to choosing men who approach them. When women approach men for casual hookups, they are no more or less discriminating.
According to studies, yes, it is. When viewing arousing videos, both heterosexual and lesbian women were equally aroused by male-female, male-male, and female-female pairs. This is not necessarily a sign that women are inherently bisexual, but that women’s attraction is more fluid than men’s. Women with stronger sex drives, no matter their orientation, were also more likely to be aroused by a wider range of scenarios than other women.
An individual’s belief in how sexual desire works may have a significant effect on how well they deal with a decrease in libido. Women who believe sexual desire is an “entity” that should remain stable throughout their lives tend to have more difficulty dealing with a decline. They are less likely to talk a partner or a therapist about low sexual desire, and more likely to give up on the situation improving. Women who believe desire is incremental, and ebbs and flows over time, are more likely to get help and less likely to become anxious about the problem.
Women’s sexual desire varies greatly, as does men’s, and some women have very high levels of sexual desire. In surveys, such women report struggling with cultural bias against women with high sex drives, but they also report having higher sexual self-esteem than other women, and are more likely to talk about sex with their partners, including their wants and fantasies, and to practice mindfulness during sex.
Studies show that marital satisfaction is closely linked to women’s sexual desire, and less so to men’s. This research finds that women’s baseline levels of desire in marriage tend to be lower than men’s, but also to vary much more, rising and falling over time. And when women’s sexual desire declined, both partners satisfaction with the relationship declined, even though their sexual frequency generally did not, a sign that the presence of female sexual desire fosters pair bonding in a way that male desire may not.
Reports of difficulty or inability to achieve orgasm in women range from 10 to 40 percent; as many as half of women generally do not experience orgasm during sexual intercourse. In surveys, the most-cited reasons why women might not have orgasms were stress and anxiety, and not enough time spent in sex. Other main reasons cited included negative body image, pain or irritation during sex, and insufficient lubrication. Clinicians suggest that most of these issues could be addressed with greater sexual communication between partners, or with the help of a therapist.