Study: Men May Underestimate Women’s Interest in Sex

Close-up of couple laughing on bedMen in long-term relationships consistently underestimate their partners’ interest in sex, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Coupled with fear of rejection, the study suggests misunderstanding a partner’s level of sexual interest may reduce men’s willingness to initiate sex.

Are Women More Interested in Sex Than Men Think?

Researchers conducted three different studies on a group of 229 long-term couples. Most of the couples were heterosexual, and had been together an average of six years. Participants ranged in age from 18-68, and reported having sex an average of once or twice per week.

In one trial, 84 couples came into the laboratory one time and answered questions about their sexual desire, perceptions of their partner’s sexual interest, and overall relationship happiness. Another trial involved 101 couples keeping a diary for three weeks, reporting on sexual interest and relationship happiness. They also provided details on how fearful they were of sexual rejection. A third trial required each partner in 44 couples to report their level of sexual interest each day. They also reported on their perceptions of their partner’s desire, as well as relationship satisfaction.

In all three studies, women accurately assessed their partner’s interest in sex. Men, however, consistently underestimated their female partner’s sexual desire. On days when men underestimated women’s sexual interest, women reported higher levels of satisfaction and commitment in the relationship.

The researchers say this might be due to changes in men’s behavior stemming from fear of rejection. They speculate that men underestimate women’s sexual desire to avoid feeling rejected. When a man assumes his partner is uninterested, he does not have to initiate sex. They suggest men may also work harder to cultivate women’s interest when they underestimate that interest, potentially boosting women’s relationship satisfaction.

How Often Do Couples Have Sex?

Previous research has shown men may have a higher sex drive than women on average, but research also suggests men in long-term relationships are just as likely as women to experience low sexual desire. A 2015 study—published in Current Sexual Health Reports—that reviewed 31 studies on sexual desire found no gender differences. Men and women were equally likely to be the partner with low desire.

Because studies of how frequently couples have sex rely on self-reports, it is unclear whether a norm or average exists. Study participants might not give accurate answers to researchers’ questions, or they might underestimate or overestimate the frequency with which they have sex.

A 1994 University of Chicago study found 80% of married couples have sex a few times per month or more, with 32% having sex two to three times per week. In 2015, another study suggested more sex does not necessarily mean more happiness. Instead, the study’s authors suggest happy people were more likely to have sex.


  1. Bernstein, E. (2016, May 30). Women are more interested in sex than you think, studies show. Retrieved from
  2. Muise, A., Stanton, S. C., Kim, J. J., & Impett, E. A. (2016). Not in the mood? Men under- (not over-) perceive their partner’s sexual desire in established intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,110(5), 725-742. doi:10.1037/pspi0000046

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  • Joely

    June 3rd, 2016 at 10:25 AM

    Whyyyy??? Please don’t judge each woman that you meet based on your past experiences!

  • Annie

    June 4th, 2016 at 8:18 AM

    I am very happy to report that my hubby and i have great sex and i don’t think that either one of us is disappointed with that aspect of our marriage. Maybe there are people who have more sex than we do or maybe they have less, but I dare say that we have it when we want it and it is good for both of us. And once we found that little pattern that best suits us I think that overall it made us even happier.

  • Jed

    June 6th, 2016 at 3:14 PM

    Well when they are always telling us not tonight dear, I have a headache… what exactly are we supposed to think?

  • alan

    July 6th, 2021 at 12:40 PM

    as a catholic all male grad from high school and a stem major I had little exposure to women until after college. even though I was very fit, successful, a “nice guy” I was 28 years old and the only virgin male/female that I knew. I never mentioned it but it got me down. A friends fiance who knew me (a women) told me nicely that she thought I put women on pedestals and I would sweet talk and date and never do much but a kiss/hand holding at 3rd date so they lost interest and even wondered if I was gay. She said “they want sex as much as you..make a hard suggestion, what do you have to lose as you are the complete package”. I took her advice and strongly recommend back to my place (I actually had my own house) and within a month I fixed my virgin problem and had a few experiences before I married at 31(now 65). I thought I was being a “bad guy” but evidently that is what they wanted..who knew? No more more Jane Eyre Mr Darcy. My sex technique was probably not great but it did get better with practice and have 2 girls to prove it

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