Are Women Culturally Monogamous?

We know that women aren’t destined to be monogamous by nature. Culture affects our sexual psyches.

Polygamist inclinations vary from person to person, but today’s Western women are much more monogamous than our Tahitian or American Indian sisters were before European contact. We are now also much more monogamous in our inclinations than men.

In surveys, men say they would prefer to have 14 partners over a lifetime. Over that same lifetime, women prefer to have only one or two.

A friend suggested that women were lying because they feared seeing themselves as sluts. Yet women admit to five real-life partners. (Here they are certainly underestimating. The real number is likely 8 or 9 for both men and women, given men’s estimate of 12.) But if they’re so worried, why not say they’ve had only 1 or 2 partners?

I was surprised by the low number of “one or two” as the preference, but I doubt women feel the need to go that low just to feel socially acceptable.

Younger women’s preferences may be higher. During the first year of college many willingly experiment with sex – and freely admit to it. But they quickly tire of random sexual contacts. Most drop out of the casual sex scene by sophomore year.

Men, on the other hand, don’t tire of the casual hook up, and want to continue even after college.

When it comes to open marriage or swinging, men are usually more enthusiastic, and more often initiate the idea.

So women seem less interested in casual sex than men. Quite likely because they are more repressed.

I feel that women are more repressed than is healthy. But I’m not sure that limits are all bad, for women or men.

When I read women’s studies literature, women are often advised to have sex more the way men do: have fun without guilt.

Yet men’s studies, which comes from a feminist perspective, often advises men to have sex more the way women do it. Don’t follow the 4 F’s: Find ‘em, Feel ‘em, F- ‘em, and Forget ‘em. Do not use women as a means of gaining a notch on your belt. Have sex in a context of love and care.

What do you think? How would you describe women’s ways and men’s ways of having sex? What are the positives and negatives of each approach? Is one way better than the other? Is there an optimal in-between? Do men and women tend to have different views on this issue?

I’m interested in exploring the matter. I’d like to year your thoughts, too.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 22, 2010, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, race/ethnicity, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I definitely agree with you that women are more sexually repressed then is healthy, yet there is a balance. In an ideal world, men and women should not feel forced to conform to societies ideals on sexuality; however, this is not the current reality. Women should not fear being called a slut for participating in the hook-up culture and men should treat sex with more respect than the 4 f’s. From my experience living in the college dorms last year, although there is a huge mix of preferences, both men and women are pretty into the hookup culture. The one thing that sometimes seems a little bit problematic about the hookup culture is that men seem to always get the upper hand even if both are into it. It is expected that women pleasure the man first and often women feel like they do not have a voice to tell the man what they enjoy. Although women may not show it to seem cool, a lot of times they end up hurt. Relationships are definitely not for everyone, especially young adults; however, I believe that there should be respect in every sexual encounter, even if it is just a hookup.

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever related closer to anything in my life than what I’ve read here today. Well, let me just crack my fingers here real quick…okay. I’m ready.

    I think that a lot of cultural stigmas behind women and their amorous options (as well as inclinations) come from the degrading that we as women have faced, and sometimes are still facing in some cases, from the stereotypes and stigmas that are tied to us through the vision and mentality that misogyny generates, which are mostly led by double-standards.

    Speaking in my case, my Mexican upbringing has historically been led by both misogyny and by religion. Delicate topics like sex and sexuality, I believe, used to be almost a taboo to even speak on, and forgive me, for my traditionalist conservatism is about to come out. I think, honestly speaking as a woman, that among my culture specifically, with time came a huge change in morale, which sparked this wave of confusion between liberty and libertarianism, sadly. As far as I’ve seen in my life, I have noticed that so many women do not give themselves enough credit when it comes to finding the right person for them, maybe because of low-self esteem or whatever the case might be to them. The point is that women have become so dependent on social stigmas like having kids by a certain age for fear of being “left behind” in terms of procreating and bearing children, because historically it was the only purpose a woman had, and that stigma was passed down through generations, and it still exists today for most women. I have noticed that among Latinos, not enough women aspire to obtain a post-secondary education or even consider working, because culturally our lives have been mapped out to multi-task in the house juggling the life of a mother, a maid, a chef, a homemaker, and a wife. There is no such thing as college, because by high school they already think “oh well, it’s okay, I’ll get married to someone rich or just enough to make ends meet, and my conjugate partner will find a way to make it work”, and in the U.S. it’s even worse, because of the easy access to government programs or unemployment, which will make it work even better, so there’s no need to do a lot at that point.

    I am not arguing that these programs shouldn’t exist or that women don’t have the right to want that kind of life for themselves, by all means do as you wish. I am arguing that many women give themselves such little credit than they deserve or are worth. I think if we are to change anything in a society like this, is to raise girls from the time they are babies that they have the power to do anything and everything in the world. The world is in the palm of their hands, so why raise them to sell themselves short in life? The morale is we are born winners, stop letting others teach you how to lose.

  3. Men and women are culturally initiated to sex differently therefore have different behaviors when it comes to sex. Women are more passionate and sexually submissive. They are raised to be an object of male satisfaction, a wife and a mother. All of their actions incline towards it. In fact the way they conduct themselves outside of the private sphere leads them to catch the eye of a man, leading to a committed relationship and possibly marriage which is the ultimate goal. Women are expected to be pure, thus save themselves for marriage. Nevertheless, society does allow women to experiment with sex freely during a short period of time without being shunned.
    Actually during their college years, some women go through several sexual partners trying out more risqué acts such as threesomes and making out with girls on spring break. However as they get older, women revert to their initial values and start cleaning their acts up in hope to catch a husband. The ones who show similar sex drives as men or still have multiple partners are being called names such as sluts and loose.

    On the other hand, men are praised for their sexual conquests. Their first sexual encounter is perceived as a rite of passage to adulthood. The more partners they have, the more popular, wiser and manly they are assumed to be. They grow up to embrace their sexual desires and the number of partners they have is seen as an accomplishment. The image of being sprung, in love and faithful to one woman is overrated and sometimes considered as being weak.

    To conform to the norms of this patriarchal society, some women pretend to be less interested in sex or just stay unhappy in the relationship in fear to have already had too many partners. Women’s approach about sex is more submissive, passive, conscious and calculated compared to the men’s approach, yet only beneficial to men. Women tend to attach more value to it while some men use it as any other activity. For instance Women are likely to feel guilty after losing their virginity while men are somehow pleased and anxious.

  4. I agree completely that women are culturally monogamous. As a male, throughout my lifetime I’ve been exposed to this ideology that men “can, but should not hook up with too many women” while women are told “women should save themselves for one man”.

    My sister and I for example, she is four years older than I am. Whenever we are at family parties she is always pestered about what guy she’s with and whether or not she’s monogamous, while I’m asked jokingly about how many girl’s I’ve gone on dates/hooked up with. This shows a huge disparity between male and female perception of dating. This perpetuation of how men can but shouldn’t while women are told to be prude immediately puts women in a very tight spot. If she dates one guy she could be nervous about whether or not the guy cheats, or if she dates openly she is seen as a slut. While men are put on a pedestal when he is monogamous, but is also put on a certain pedestal when he is dating multiple women.

  5. I think that there are many approaches towards having sex. I think that when one wants to have sexual relations that it should be made clear between the two (or more) what their intentions are. Once that is made the two (or more) can choose what they would like to do from there. The only thing that I think really needs to happen when it comes to sex, is communication. Communication vital in any friendship, relationship, and common day encounters with everyone. If this were to become the case, and people made their intentions clear from the start then there wouldn’t be as much of an issue between men and women and misunderstandings of intentions. I also think it would bring the community/ society to a better understanding of others and far less judgmental. The reason girls are called whores is because the topic of sex isn’t a relaxed one that can simply be talked about fluidly and calmly.

    • I agree with most of what you say. But the reason that girls are called whores isn’t so much that you can’t communicate, It’s because there is a double standard that privileges men. It says that men are free to do what they want, And to enjoy what they want, But women are not. They get punished for doing the same thing that men do. And that may well have come from old societies where having sex with a lot of men gave women a lot of power: if you don’t know who daddy is then property passes through women, lineage is traced through women, and women had family clans. Once you move into patriarchy, men in power are going to want to avoid that.

  6. shelby mancini

    I think it’s true that women are more culturally pressured to be monogamous than men are. There is definitely a double standard when it comes to sex. If a man has 14 partners over his lifetime, it is deemed normal by society. However, if a woman were to have 14 partners, she would be shamed by society and called a slut. It seems that men are more pressured into not being monogamous as pop culture tells us that a man’s power lies in how many women he sleeps with and how macho his cars look. Pop culture also tells us that a woman’s worth lies in how she looks rather than her accomplishments. She is expected to look a certain way to “catch” a man to take care of her. This perception causes the difference between how monogamous each partner is.

  7. I feel that you are correct western women tend to be a lot more monogamous but it also it would depend highly on what culture you come from because some cultures believe that sex i forbidden and should only be okay when married. but now a days our western culture has began change and now you see them being okay with some casual sex. I think that both men and women are equally sexually driven but because of the culture they come from can definitely impact their perception and their desire for it because of their morals taught to them.

  8. Lindsey DiSilvestre

    I feel that how a person thinks about sex and relationship depends highly on their culture. Nowadays in western culture casual sex is acceptable by some however most believe sex should be for two people alone. In the study mentioned above women had lower numbers of sexual partners they want to have in their life time, whereas guys estimated a lot higher numbers. I don’t think that guys should be going through their partners like a notch in their belt, but I also think that sex is a act of pleasure and that women should not be hindered to have as much consensual, safe sex as they want to. Women shouldn’t have to live a life where they are looked down on for being with a lot of men. Also, men shouldn’t have to base how ” macho ” they are on how any women they can sleep with.

  9. Both men and women have the same demand for sex. Since ancient times, the thought that women have received is that women should have the chastity. Such a thought makes women feel great pressure in morality, so the derailment ratio is low. If a woman cheats, she would get much more public opinions than a man. It is such public opinions that make women dare not to pursue too much in terms of sexual needs. I hold the opinion that both men and women need sex. Women’s less needs for sex are just caused by cultural pressures.

  10. Jeff janakes

    Women and men both gain arousal from intercourse, both have an orgasm, and both naturally want sex. Culture definitely represses women into feeling more guilty about sex, especially if the sex occurs outside a committed relationship. Media more recently has been encouraging random sex for women, but the ideologies of old still haunt the minds of women, whether it come through their parents, friends parents, or peers who have more old school ways of thinking on sex. The test results were most likely way off for women, because they have a self-made paychological block to ever admitting things like wanting many sex partners.

  11. I think that you hit the nail on the head when you stated “Western women are much more monogamous than our Tahitian or American Indian sisters were before European contact.” Native American women were also the land and property owners in the tribe. They chose their spouses and in order to be chosen….men had to PROVE their worth. At least in Cherokee culture. That all changed when European came on the scene to teach the “heathen” what was right.

    I think it plays into what I call “the scared white man” mentality. They possess some deep seeded need to always be in control and “on top”

    To segway a tad: Even the traditional “lay in a bed with feet in stirrups” childbirth was initiated by a king so that he could see better. Not for any medical of childbirth comfort reason.

    Over and over again I see historical changes, some very petty, just as a way to prove to themselves that the European man is in control.

    The truly ironic thing is that many European countries are actually more in-tune with sexuality than we are here in the States. Many women I know, and remember I live in the Bible belt of the mid-west, would not agree with just having one or two partners. Many have had the number of 14 and beyond. The men here would say that none to one is their preference for their women (of course). I think that plays into their idea that they OWN their women. They are are possession, chattel if you will. Versus the same Mid-Western men who have no issue with many more than the 14 they are claiming. Some even have the idea that “something on the side” is no big deal. AND social structures and media play into that.

    I don’t think any of us are pre-wired to remain with one person all 80 plus years that we walk this earth. Man or woman. As humans we make that CHOICE to do so. I agree that women are more repressed than what is healthy and yet we are subjected to cat-calls, sexual harassment, slave trade, battery, you name it, just to follow along with the idea that men control everything and therefore MUST be right that women are objects.

    On the flip side I think that being a man has a pressure to conquer at all levels. Again something that is shown to us in the media and taught by various “teachers” including ones own church. I do not believe that this is fair to them either.

    What it comes down to is one having their own mind. (without getting into the individual psyche) Neither man nor woman should continue to be concerned with what current society dictates. Sex is a personal choice and should be addressed on a personal level. Quite frankly, from what I have been seeing, we are back-peddling in this area. It is time that women stand up and tell the mean scary man of society to “Kiss their grits” and do as they please.

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