Baumeister, R. F., Catanese, K. R., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Is there a gender difference in strength of sex drive? Theoretical views, conceptual distinctions, and a review of relevant evidence. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(3), 242-273.
Differences in sex drive can lead to problems in relationships. If one person wants it all the time, while the other partner is willing to do without for long periods of time, friction results. (Pun intended.) The authors consider this an important implication of studying sex drive - if we can figure out what's going on, we may be able to improve romantic relationships in that area, leaving couples to focus on other things. Other issues they list include the reliance on norms and societal expectations in self-evaluation, and deepening our understanding of social exchange and interaction in relationships.
For the purpose of this study, the authors defined sex drive as the motivation for sex, more precisely defined as desire. They write, "A person with higher sex drive would be one more intense or more frequent desires, or both, for sex." They caution that they are not using the term "drive" to refer to instinct or an innate mechanism, writing "Any findings of gender differences in sex drive (motivation) should not automatically be interpreted as reflecting innate differences and especially not immutable differences."
They also delineate sexual capacity as the maximum amount of sex a person is capable of having, and sexual enjoyment (which on the face appears self-explanatory, but how does one measure this? More on this later).
The authors performed a massive search of all articles published on the above concepts since 1965. They excluded studies on nonhumans, unpublished dissertations, case studies, narrowly-defined populations, and most studies that included only one gender.
So, what did they find? Originally I wrote this post with a summary of every sub-topic they looked at, but then I decided it was not only BORING and predictable, but it was way too freakin' long. Therefore, I will summarize more succinctly (without the proper use of semicolons, I know).
The authors examined the following areas: Thoughts, Fantasies & Spontaneous Arousal; Desired Frequency of Sex; Desired Number of Sex Partners; Masturbation; Willingness to Forego Sex; Emergence of Sexual Desire; Seeking Versus Avoiding, Initiating versus Refusing; Liking for Various Sexual Practices; Sacrificing Resources to Get Sex; Favorable Attitudes Toward Sex; Prevalence of Low Sexual Desire; and Self-Rated Sex Drive.
Across all of these areas, evidence strongly supported that men have higher sex drives than women. If you want specifics, ask me, but it was a 33 page article and summarizing it just got way too cumbersome.
Some of the data cited in this paper that I find interesting:
- Women tend to report that they are satisfied with the amount of sex in their marriage. Men, on the other hand, on average wish for a 50% increase.
- Gay men report a much higher frequency of sex than lesbians, regardless of length of relationship or other variables, eliminating risk of pregnancy as a possible confounding variable. (Theoretically.)
- When college students were asked how many partners they would like to have in their lifetime if disease, legal implications, or anything else were not a factor, women on average said 2.7, while men said 64. 64!!!! Outliers were not deleted for this study, and the median for both groups was 1, but that still means that the "promiscuously-inclined minority" of men was still significantly different from that of the women.
- When asked to report actual numbers of partners, men consistently report higher numbers than women. Some believe this is due to men tending to overestimate to obtain higher numbers, where as women may undercount in an attempt to keep numbers low.
- 47% of women report that they have NEVER masturbated, compared to 16% of men.
- 20% of men report orgasm as the most important part of the sexual experience, compared to only 2% of women.
- 8th grade boys, on average, report having twice as many sexual experiences as 8th grade girls.
- When men and women were approached by a moderately attractive confederate who invited them to have sex later that evening, 100% of the women refused, compared to only 25% of the men.
- 80% of men report having gone beyond kissing and hugging with a person they met the same day, compared to 59% of women.
- 72% of men report having sexual intercourse with a person they met the same day, compared to 49% of women.
- 45% of men, but only 29% of women said that they find receiving oral sex "very appealing."
- 34% of men, compared to 17% of women, said that giving oral sex was appealing.
- Men rate their penises and partners' vaginas more favorably than women rate their own sex organs and their partners.
- Men report being slightly more eager than women to have to a baby, regardless of whether they are single, in a relationship, or married.
- The authors did not find a single study that found women to have a higher sex drive than men. Not one.
So, WTF Ladies?
The first thing that strikes me about some of the data included in this study is that numbers don't add up/make sense logically. For example, 80% of men are going beyond first base with someone they just met, but only 59% of women are. Either someone's lying, or there are some very busy women out there. Same thing with the 8th grade boys.
The authors contend that societal standards are harsher against boys masturbating than girls, etc. They eliminate fear of pregnancy as a possible explanation by studying lesbians and gay men.
No matter which way you slice their data, it looks like men have a higher sex drive than women.
The question is, WHY?
I want to open this up for discussion. My thought is, if evolutionary forces have anything to do with it (which they likely do), it doesn't matter if you're a lesbian or not. Evolution has reduced a woman's sex drive due to pregnancy investment. What I wonder is when the advent of birth control is going to affect evolution - will the Pill stop being as effective? Will women get super-duper sexual to counteract the effects of using birth control?
But I don't think it's that simple. Why aren't women masturbating? Sure, you could use the same evolutionary argument and say that it's to keep a woman's sex drive in check, but that's the simple explanation.
And here's the kicker - women are capable of having sex more often, for longer, and experiencing multiple orgasms without a refractory period. Why would we have this ability if it wasn't meant to be used?
AND - you can only get pregnant ONCE at a time - WTF would it matter how many times or with how many different partners you had sex?
The authors talk about prostitution, the porn industry, the sex toy industry, and magazines when referring to sacrificing resources to get sex. One thing I noted - most magazines talking about sex to women have headlines including lines like "How to Please Your Man" and the like.
I THINK (as the social psychologist that I am) that women are socialized to believe that sex is something we do for men, not ourselves. I think that's why there are so many who don't masturbate (or don't admit to it), why we report not liking oral sex as much, why most of us don't watch porn, etc. If you watch movies that are considered "sexy" or even pornography, most things that women would do for pleasure are done for the benefit of men. Think of "Girls Gone Wild" - all these college girls getting it on with other girls for the cameras - rather than enjoying it as sexual experimentation, they do these things to get attention from the guys.
I think many of us are stopped by the idea of being a "whore" and don't engage in things that we might enjoy because of this label. But I do believe that it is very likely a combination of biology and socialization - not one or the other.
What do you guys think?