We tend to think men are always more eager for sex than woman, but in reality, sex drive is complicated and draws on a number of factors.
Popular media, generally speaking, presents a stark contrast between the sex drives of men and women. Media’s stereotypes would have us believe that men have a much more natural and pressing desire for sexual activity than women, who need a good deal of warmth and tenderness to stoke their libidinal fires. But how accurate are these stereotypes?
As it turns out, the stereotypes aren’t really that far off the mark. Of course, for any discussion of this type, it’s important to carefully define exactly what we’re talking about. For our definition of sex drive, we turn to a landmark study on gender differences in sex drive that was published in 2001 by three members of the psychology faculty at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University.
Sex Drive vs. Other Aspects of Sexuality
The study’s authors — Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen R. Catanese, and Kathleen D. Vohs — first stress that’s it’s important to distinguish sex drive from other aspects of sexuality, such as enjoyment of sex, orgasmic or sexual capacity, and extrinsically motivated sex. Extrinsically motivated sex refers to sexual activity that is initiated in the hopes of attaining some nonsexual reward in return. Prostitution is perhaps one of the most extreme examples of extrinsically motivated sex.
The study’s authors define sex drive as ” . . . frequent and more intense sexual desires . . . as reflected in spontaneous thoughts about sex, frequency and variety of sexual fantasies, desired frequency of intercourse, desired number of partners, masturbation, liking for various sexual practices, willingness to forgo sex, initiating versus refusing sex, making sacrifices for sex, and other measures.”
Role of ‘Erotic Plasticity’
In a subsequent scholarly paper, Baumeister, a social psychologist who today teaches at Australia’s University of Queensland, looked at the related topic of erotic plasticity — “the extent to which the sex drive can be shaped by social, cultural, and situational factors.” While still strongly supporting the view that the core sex drive is stronger in men than women, Baumeister concluded that erotic plasticity is more common in women than in men.
Echoing Baumeister’s sentiments on the issue of erotic plasticity, Edward O. Laumann, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, says, “Sexual desire in women is extremely sensitive to environment and context.” Laumann is the lead author of “The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States,” an in-depth survey of sexual practices in America. In an article posted at WebMD.com, writer Richard Sine considers seven key aspects of sex drive differences between the genders.
1. Men Think about Sex More Than Women: Laumann reports that the majority of adult men under the age of 60 think about sex at least once a day. Among women in the same age group, only about 25 percent report thinking about sex that frequently.
2. Men Are Much More Avid in Their Pursuit of Sexual Activity: Here, Sine turns to Baumeister, who observes that “men want sex more often than women at the start of a relationship, in the middle of it, and after many years of it.” This observation is not limited to heterosexual men but is true of male homosexual couples as well. Interestingly, the frequency of sex between male homosexual couples is higher than that between lesbian couples at all stages of the relationship.
3. Sexual Turn-ons for Women Are More Complicated Than in Men: Men are generally very clear and straightforward about what turns them on. Women have a more difficult time in identifying what turns them on. Erotic films depicting a wide array of sexual activity — male-female, female-female, and male-male — were shown to a large group of men and women, some straight and some gay. Their reactions were gauged through questioning and from devices attached to their genitals to measure their degree of arousal, if any. Straight men were turned on by male-female and female-female sex, while gay men were aroused by images of male-male sex. However, while straight women said they were most turned on by scenes of male-female sex, the devices attached to their genitals showed virtually identical responses to all forms of sexual activity.
4. Cultural and Social Factors Have Greater Influences on Women’s Sex Drives: Sine cites evidence that corroborates Baumeister’s findings about erotic plasticity among females. For example, women who regularly attend church are less likely to have permissive attitudes toward sex, a response not observed in men who regularly attend church. Women with higher levels of education are generally more open to a wider variety of sexual activity, a pattern that is not as widely seen in men with comparable levels of education.
5. Women Prefer a More Leisurely Route to Sexual Satisfaction: The female approach to sex tends to be more cerebral than it is in men. Women value the anticipation and gradual buildup to sexual activity, while men are much more interested in getting quickly to the culmination of sexual activity.
6. Women Take Longer to Achieve Orgasm: Differences in how men and women experience orgasm have long been the source of considerable dissatisfaction between couples. According to Laumann, men on average take four minutes to achieve orgasm starting from the time of penetration. By contrast, women usually take 10 to 11 minutes to reach orgasm. Because many men become flaccid after ejaculation, this can pose a serious problem.
7. The Female Sex Drive Seems Less Responsive to Drugs: While many males who experienced a decline in sexual desire report a renewed sex drive after testosterone replacement therapy, women seem less responsive to this form of medication. Addyi Hub Page: Can ‘Female Viagra‘ — or Any Medication — Boost Female Sex Drive? has been on the market for more than a year, but its success rate — one-half to one-and-a-half more satisfying sexual events per month — has been somewhat underwhelming. Males who are finding it difficult to get and keep an erection strong enough for intercourse have a wide array of treatment options to choose from.
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