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.
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.
- Jordan-Young, R. M. (2010). Brain storm: The flaws in the science of sex differences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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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