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Sex, Lies, and Visual Stimulation: Debunking the Myths About Men

Man checking out coworker in hall
 

Ask any armchair psychologist whether men or women are more sexual, and you’ll likely get an absolute proclamation that men are more visual, think about sex more often, and have more partners. These “facts” play into cultural mythology, that ties manhood to sexuality, and treats women as the fairer, less sexual sex. But research is increasingly showing that the things we all think we know about men and sex just aren’t true.

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Thinking About Sex
Many of us have heard the claim that men think about sex every seven seconds or every 15 seconds. But this statistic may be little more than a myth. A 2011 study found that men think about sex, on average, only 18 times a day—several thousand times less frequently than popular statistics claim. In fact, men think about sex only slightly more than they think about sleep, which crosses their mind 11 times a day, and as frequently as food, which also makes an appearance in their thoughts 18 times a day. But, according to the study, men still tend to think about sex more frequently than women. The women in the study thought about sex about 10 times a day, with individual numbers ranging from zero to 140 times daily. Individual men, by contrast, thought about sex between zero and 388 times each day.

Number of Sexual Partners
Men tend to claim more sexual partners than women, but upon careful examination, statistics on the lifetime average number of partners fall apart. Unless more men than women are gay or are having sex with a few of the same very sexually active women who aren’t represented in surveys, the averages for men and women can’t differ so dramatically. Several studies have shown that men are more likely to inflate their number of partners, while women are more likely to shave a few off the top.

Desire for Adventure
One famous study asked men and women if they’d be willing to sleep with an attractive stranger. A large portion of men said yes, while few of the women did. This study is often used to support the idea that men crave multiple sexual partners or new sexual experiences. But studies that ask men their desires don’t measure actual behavior. Men may say that they’re willing to sleep with an attractive stranger simply because this is the cultural expectation. Women may be hesitant to say that they’d have sex with a stranger because they don’t want to be perceived as promiscuous.

Are Men More Visual?
We’ve all heard that men are more visual than women, and this is used as justification for everything from looking at porn to ogling strangers. While most research does show that men are more visually stimulated than women, the interpretation of this data is much more complicated than it seems. One 2008 study, for example, emphasizes that sociological factors play a strong role in men’s visual stimulation. Men are taught from an early age to emphasize physical appearance, and the same study found that men tend to be more aroused by contexts in which they can objectify another person—a tendency that is probably learned.

Sex and Masculinity
Myths about men’s sexuality tend to stick around because they make sense in light of social roles and gender ideology. Although women are becoming increasingly sexually assertive, sexuality in women is still less acceptable than men, and women are often taught to feel some shame about sex; this can affect what they report to researchers and whether they share sexual thoughts. Sex-based myths can make women feel that sexual feelings are deviant and abnormal, and can support puritanical ideas about women and sex. But men are also harmed. Men who don’t meet masculine ideals by being hypersexual or craving multiple partners can feel less manly, while men who want a healthy sexual relationship with a single partner may feel pressure to engage in promiscuous or objectifying behavior.

References:

  1. Jordan-Young, R. M. (2010). Brain storm: The flaws in the science of sex differences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. Kolata, G. (2007, August 12). The myth, the math, the sex. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/weekinreview/12kolata.html
  3. Men more willing to have sex with stranger than females: Study. (2011, September 04). Indian Express. Retrieved from http://www.indianexpress.com/news/men-more-willing-to-have-sex-with-stranger-than-females-study/841459
  4. Men think about sex just 19 times a day – nearly as much as food. (2011, November 29). The Telegraph. Retrieved from www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/8924988/Men-think-about-sex-just-19-times-a-day-nearly-as-much-as-food.html
  5. Rupp, H. A., & Wallen, K. (2008). Sex Differences in Response to Visual Sexual Stimuli: A Review. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37(2), 206-218. doi: 10.1007/s10508-007-9217-9

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Comments
  • Ira Bindman February 17th, 2013 at 9:41 AM #1

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. My anecdotal experiences, being privy to revelations by my clients about their sexual lives, tends to back up these findings. I’m working with several men whose “appetites” outstrip their partners, who either require no sex or as little as possible. I’ve worked with a woman whose male partner seemed uninterested in sex, but this was the exception. Whether it’s cultural, genetic or something else, I couldn’t say but it seems quite obvious that men think about and want sex more than women.

  • Lenore February 17th, 2013 at 1:42 PM #2

    I too used to think that only men were the only ones who thought about sex this much but I have so many girlfriends too who talk about it all the time that now I am beginning to doubt it!
    We are all just as sexual as the other, and in the end, what’s wrong with that?
    We like it, we enjoy it, it’s good for us, so is there really any harm in wanting to have sex and think about it if you are in a relationship with someone that you love and care for?

  • vanessa February 17th, 2013 at 11:41 PM #3

    as a young woman I can vouch for the fact that women are just as sexual as men..its just the stereotypes that have us believe otherwise..peek into any conversation and chances are you will hear discussion or thoughts about sex distributed equally among both men and women.

  • Izzie February 18th, 2013 at 8:40 AM #4

    The problem with these studies is that they are all depending on self-reports. How do you know how many times a day you think about anything? If you are trying to figure out how many times a day you think about something, don’t you think you’re more likely to think about it b/c you are so aware of it?

  • Jill H February 18th, 2013 at 8:44 AM #5

    I think there is some underrepresentationg going on in the “Desire for Adventure” part. I am a normal female as are all of my friends. None of us have had affairs or any such thing. But, if a handsome stranger came and asked seven out of my ten closest girlfriends if they’d like to have a one night stand, they’d know down whoever was in front of them for the chance. That’s numero uno on the bucket list!

  • Kent Maynard February 18th, 2013 at 8:46 AM #6

    There seem to be a lot of gross inferences in this article. Here is a case in point:

    Men are taught from an early age to emphasize physical appearance, and the same study found that men tend to be more aroused by contexts in which they can objectify another person—a tendency that is probably learned.

    The last part of the sentence is not backed by any scientific claim, only a presumption on the part of the author. This is certainly only one of several instances in this article

  • Leonnie February 18th, 2013 at 8:48 AM #7

    Hey, Jill. What’cha doin’ tonight? HAHA! Just kidding! ;0)
    Very ineresting article!

  • N Granger February 18th, 2013 at 9:03 AM #8

    Thanks for clearing up some of those stereotypes. I consider myself to be an average guy and I was beginning to wonder if something is wrong since I don’t think about sex every seven seconds nor do I look at porn. And, I’ve only had two sexual partners. Glad to hear all of this was blown out of proportion.

  • audra February 18th, 2013 at 9:24 AM #9

    Don’t you think that women have been shamed into being quiet about sex and not feeling like we can own up to what we like and what we don’t?

  • Ira Bindman February 18th, 2013 at 12:17 PM #10

    Lenore, what’s wrong with thinking about sex even if you’re not in a relationship? Or fantasizing about having sex with someone other than your partner?

  • Jack February 18th, 2013 at 5:00 PM #11

    Never have I thought gender effects how much we think about sex.It is an individual thing.Although men and women do have TEMPLATES (for lack of a better word) pushed unto them by others, sex is something that plays out so much in the mind and its manifestations are dependent more on the individual mind than anything else.

    I see even women agreeing with this and it only reinforces what I have always thoughts of as true.

  • AMY February 18th, 2013 at 11:10 PM #12

    Audra, you are so right! I am sick and tired of being what I’m expected to be rather than what I really am. Why is it sick if a girl wants to explore her sexuality but it is an adventure and a macho thing when a guy does the same?

    The societal norms and prejudices have forced women to change themselves and that isn’t too good I’m sure, to change due to pressure rather than own will!

  • Preston February 19th, 2013 at 3:52 AM #13

    Men don’t seem to have the hangups about sex that women seem to have, and I am sure that a large part of that has to do with society and how others have expected women as a whole to behave about sex. They have been told that for a man to be on the prowl and to enjoy sex is normal but for a woman to do it is something that she must endure.

  • Ira Bindman February 19th, 2013 at 12:51 PM #14

    Amy, I agree with you about women being empowered to explore their sexuality unimpeded by the societal stereotypes and pressures to “stay pure”. It takes a strong individual to buck the conventions, which I believe are upheld by many other women as well as by men. There’s a “double standard” when it comes to sex and it’s particularly unfortunate because it holds women back from achieving their rightful equality in the bedroom.

  • Brandon February 19th, 2013 at 11:24 PM #15

    Men may think about sex a little differently than women but both the sexes think about it alright! The ways and techniques may be different but the bottom line is we’re all human, We all think about it just the same. end of the story,

  • Ben February 20th, 2013 at 4:06 AM #16

    Isn’t this beating a dead horse?
    Just let men be men and do what we have always done-
    appreciate women for their form and their beauty and let the women come around and be comfortable with doing the same

  • rita February 21st, 2013 at 5:59 AM #17

    “…sexuality in women is still less acceptable than men”
    ?!?
    There are still people who think like this?
    hello people! This is the 21st century and I am perfectly okay with my own sexuality and that of everyone else.
    If you still have hang ups about sex and the way that women think and feel about sex, then you have some serious problems that need to be worked on.
    To continue to promote the “fact” that women are not comfortable in their own skin and with their own sexual beings is ridiculous.
    I think that most of us know who we are and what we want, and it’s just the rest of you who are kind of intimidated by that.

  • Gilmer February 21st, 2013 at 11:18 PM #18

    There isn’t any point to this debate anyway. Men and women may or may not have the same outlook about sex. But does it matter when it comes to choosing your partner? No.

    You’re going to make the choice based upon your own sexual orientation and not by looking at what men or women think.

  • TIM February 22nd, 2013 at 11:22 PM #19

    Oh men and women are all the same when it comes to sexual activity.All of these ‘reports’ are nothing but another avenue for reverse sexism, where men are judged against and nobody speaks a word.Compare that to any such act by a man against women and everybody will be up in arms!

  • Michelle February 25th, 2013 at 4:12 AM #20

    I actually agree with Tim. We are all sexual creatures and have sexual needs, we might go about meeting them in different ways but we need it and want it just the same.

  • Andrea Simmons March 1st, 2013 at 11:39 PM #21

    Though I haven’t had a million partners and have not had sex lately, at 70 I am just as interested in the idea of enjoying sex as ever, given the right opportunity. The idea that women don’t enjoy sex as much as men is to me more myth driven than anything. Given the right lover, I don’t know many women who wouldn’t be open to great experiences. Do appreciate the article.

  • Linda January 23rd, 2014 at 4:51 PM #22

    I’m sorry if I don’t believe in these studies! Like… How do you know how many times a day you think about sex?? Actually, you’re more likely to think about it if you try to figure out! In my experience, we girls also talk more about sex than guys when we’re together… Honestly, when we hang out together we always end to talk about sexy stuff lol! It also depends on individual, not all men/all women are the same…

  • Amanda February 12th, 2014 at 10:44 AM #23

    Well since this is the internet and we’re anonymous, I’m 29 and female and I think about sex I don’t know.. 15-20 times a day. Even after I get it, I think about it. The thing is, with women.. Ugh.. Our sex drives don’t go down. They just go down if we’re with the guy for a long time. Sex with him becomes.. a job, instead of fun, like sex with a stranger would be.

  • robert March 18th, 2014 at 5:05 PM #24

    The difference is not which gender thinks about it more or less, it’s nearly impossible to know for sure, at least with today’s technology. The real difference between the sexes is how each views sex. Pay close attention to some of the replies. Women need a “partner”, while men just need a person. Where I’m getting at is that for men, sex is purely physical. There are no emotions attached to it. I have met some women that claim to be this way but I would say this is not the norm.

  • Linda April 14th, 2014 at 3:26 PM #25

    This is how I feel about this topic. I am 51 and love to have sex with my boyfriend more then him. When he is with his friends he talks about having sex and makes comments aboout what woman look like but at night or any other time of day. I have to pretty much inciate all of the sex. So looks like in this relationship I guess I am the male and he is like the female. I dont mean to sound mean but that is what it is. He says I think like a guy. And yes I look good for my age. Been working out since 16.

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