Women’s Sexuality Is Like Men’s?

Lovers_____by_the_river_4_by_anjelicekWomen’s and men’s sexuality are pretty much the same, says Dan Slater in a recent New York Times piece.

He goes on to critique evolutionary psych, which says otherwise: Since women have a small number of eggs they best reproduce by putting great time and effort into each child – and by making sure a dependable dad sticks around to provide resources; hence, women are genetically primed for monogamy. But men are promiscuous because, with lots of sperm, they best reproduce by “spreading their seed,” willy-nilly.

But, says Slater, if kids need a dad to provide resources then “loving and leaving” their mothers is counterproductive. Plus, men can’t be promiscuous if women are monogamous. And, women in tribal societies enjoy many partners. I could go on.

Culture must not create differences in sexuality, either, he says, since men and women behave similarly.

For instance, women claim they want fewer partners than men. But when hooked up to a (fake) lie detector, women and men report the same number of actual partners.

Or, in speed dating women are pickier than men. But when the tables are turned with women approaching men, men become the more selective sex.

Finally, early research had found women — but not men — rejecting sex with both friends and strangers. But when that stranger was Johnny Depp, or when the friend was said to be good in bed, women were just as interested in casual sex as men. (No flesh and blood movie stars were involved in this study.)

So neither evolution nor cultural norms seem to be having an effect, leaving men and women just the same.

I agree that women’s sexuality is like men’s in its natural state. In many tribal societies it seems to be.

But can women be untouched by a culture that celebrates women’s bodies — or bodies that very few women actually have — while ignoring men’s? Or that applauds men’s sexuality while repressing their own? Is women’s sexuality untouched by a society that rapes so many?

We are bombarded by “sexy women” but not “sexy men” on billboards, in movies, on Dancing With The Stars… Even women’s everyday clothing shows off their curves while men stay covered up. Amanda Marcotte says “straight women don’t get nearly the provocation on a daily basis.”

No part of the male body is fetishized, either. Men stare at breasts and butts. What are we supposed to look at?

Meanwhile, the “perfect” images that our partners consume can make women feel bad about themselves — a libido killer as women become obsessed by their “flaws” in bed instead of enjoying sex.

The double standard is loosening but sexual women may still be called: slut, ho’, tramp, skank… the list goes on.

Sexual violence also takes a toll, leaving many women fearful or uninterested in sex.

All that has no effect?

Actually, in his evidence for similarity Slater leaves things out.

When it comes to casual sex, men are very interested in their lady friends. But women will only romp with those rumored to be great lovers. Otherwise, why bother?

On sex with strangers, only gorgeous celebs interest women. They seem safe (no reports of rape) and are mega-attractive, charismatic and sexy. Women expect they’ll be great in bed. Plus, sex with a star sounds heavenly, tantamount to intercourse with the gods — or rock gods. So nabbing a guy like that tells her something pretty great about herself.

Turning to speed dating, when things switch around maybe women begin to fear rejection and want to “win” now that the setup feels like a contest. Research in cognitive dissonance suggests that if you try to get someone to like you, you like them more.

Finally, most women say that ideally they would like just one or two partners, lifetime, but Slater thinks they’re lying since they admit to four real partners under duress of lie detection. With or without a lie detector I would say that I have had 5 partners in real life, but ideally I would like just one true love. And a lot of us women need a strong emotional connection to even get aroused.

Meanwhile, the eroticism women typically seek out – romance – is very different from the endless variety of women and their body parts that men more typically “procure” in porn.   

While women’s natural sexuality is likely much like men’s, our differing experiences unfortunately pull us apart. And the root cause appears to be sexism, not nature.

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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 March 4, 2013, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Is women’s sexuality like men’s?

    there are female prostitutes for men (in matter of fact they will never run out of business)
    there are female prostitutes for women
    there are male prostitutes for men

    but there very few male prostitutes for women

    that could prove that either women don’t that much about nameless sex and/or that women can find sex whenever they desire to easier than men can.
    It’s supply and demand.
    If a woman wants sex then she can easily find many men who are willing to provide for her.
    For men it’s harder.

    • Really, there are female prostitutes for women. I didn’t know about that, at least not on any scale. If you have a link, please provide it.

      Possibly due to higher repression of women, both of these are true:

      that could prove that either women don’t enjoy nameless sex and/or that women can find sex whenever they desire to easier than men can.

      • http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/bisexual-lesbian-escorts-bicurious-women/#FxuIIT4YkxCrKQQq.97

        Most of the female escorts provide services for women too.

        But why did you find it odd that there are female prostitutes for women but you didn’t find odd that there male prostitutes for men?

      • Thanks for the link. Why did I think it odd? Well, your comment and the article help answer both of the questions that made it seem odd.

        First, I didn’t think the market would be big enough to be able to support a service. But if these are services that supply for both men and women, I can see how they could make money. However, when I looked through the comments I noticed that some people can’t find the service anymore. I googled it and can’t find it. So who knows, maybe it did go out of business. Also, women typically don’t want just sex. And from the article, it looks like more than sex is being offered. Kind of a quasi-relationship.

        This reminds me of another article I read about women who pay for sex. But you see, they don’t see themselves as paying for sex. They will go on sex tours outside of the US, pick up guys who are prostitutes (the women tell themselves that these guys are just horny and are into them) buy them things, give them money. They don’t see them as prostitutes. They see them as quasi-relationships.

        Maybe I’ll write about this sometime, too.

      • Many of the female escorts in Europe provide services for men, women and couples. I don’t know about escorts that provide services for women exclusively. I agree that wouldn’t be profitable, after all they are professionals and they are about profit.
        That could explain your “surprise” thinking that there could possibly be female prostitutes for women but you what I found odd what that you didn’t seem to be surprised about “male prostitutes for men”.

        You wanted to see a link about “female prostitutes for women” but you didn’t seem to be curious about a link about “male prostitutes for men”.

        The reason that I found that odd was because I have seen that you support the notion that men’s and women’s sexuality is pretty much the same. But here you were surprised about the first case and you weren’t surprised about the second case.

      • I think that women’s and men’s sexuality is similar at base, by nature, but that women’s sexuality is far more repressed than men. As such I would expect that men would be much more likely to hire prostitutes.

        I’ve actually written quite a bit about the repression the women’s sexuality. See this for instance (and one of the reasons that women hiring prostitutes seem strange):

        Women Want Emotionally Connected Sex. Why?

        btw, the main reason it’s easier for women to get sex is because they are more repressed, and therefore, less interested. So they’re more picky. Guys are more likely to want it with just about anyone.

  2. “No part of the male body is fetishized, either. Men stare at breasts and butts. What are we supposed to look at?”

    could that be why women prefer men’s faces over bodies?
    there is no “feeling shame” in looking at someone else’s face and besides the face is always uncovered.

  3. I’m pretty sure you’ve coined a new word here: ‘multiply’. It works well.

  4. Natthinee Sutjaitham

    “Well, if you survey women their answers show that they are less likely to enjoy sex than men. Enjoyment of sex is highly correlated with having an orgasm, and in our culture men are much more likely to have orgasms.” I agree with you that men likely get orgasm than women that expalins why they enjoy having sex. And it absolutely is not about the nature, it is the culture, the environments we live in. Women seem abstinent because the society we live in is quite judgmental about sexually active women,quickly judging them as Whores, and of course, no woman with a right mind would want to be labeled a whore. So most suppress the desire until they get a boyfriend or get married. So I think that both enjoy sex equally. Just because cultural backgrounds make men and women express it differently.

    • I don’t get how your last couple sentences can make sense given the rest of what you said.

      By the way, I agree that some women enjoy sex more than some men. But if we didn’t have sexism repressing women I suspect that even women who enjoy it a great deal would enjoy it a lot more. They would probably be more easily orgasmic and more multiply orgasmic.

  5. There should be no confusion, unless I’m being unclear. I was agreeing with your article. The sexuality of men -vs- women is different in many ways. but perhaps not quite as different as some social restrictions and cultural prejudices would lead us to believe.

  6. maxwell CHarles

    It is very interesting that both men and women feel the same way instinctually about sex. because i have not talked to alot of women about that subject so i only get one side of the story. I think that rape of women is unacceptable in every case and shouldnt be blamed on a mans sexual urges because women have the same. I think that evolutionary psychology is fascinating because it shows how we can develop as people both positively and negatively.

  7. Rohan 7 Things

    Have you read Sex At Dawn? That’s a book that sheds a great deal of light on these kinds of subjects. I definitely think that the sexes naturally are more similar than we think, and that they have been driven apart more by cultural development than evolutionary development.

    The funny thing as well is that there are women who are naturally very “male” in their sexual desires (visual, fetishistic, high sex drives) and many men who are more “female” (lower sexual drive, need for deeper emotional attachment, less visual).

    Which tells me that it’s really more of a spectrum, that no matter our gender, as human beings we all relate to sex and sexuality in different ways. Now the reasons for the generalities and biases between the sexes I would say is pretty much just a combination of hormones and cultural roles, the effects of the media, religion etc.

    Great post, thought provoking and interesting as usual 🙂


    • A friend of mine gave me the book. Haven’t read it yet because from his description it covers things I knew from other sources.

      Yes there’s a spectrum, but I suspect that even women who really enjoy sex would enjoy it a lot more in a culture that was sex positive for women.

      And women as a whole would enjoy it more if the culture were more broadly nonsexist — for instance rape and objectification and narrow beauty notions would decrease.

      • Rohan 7 Things

        Oh absolutely! That’s what I mean about the cultural effects. I think naturally the sexes are much more alike, however the historical prevalence and acceptance of rape, torture, mutilation and unfair treatment of women has shaped the way men and women approach sex and intimacy, pushing them apart.

        If the prevailing culture was not so abusive and objectifying toward women then there would not be such a discrepancy between how men and women behave regarding sex. It would be more down to preference and where the individual lies on the spectrum, rather than it being so much do to withe being a man or a woman, as evidenced by the cultures that are more egalitarian between genders 🙂

        All the best!


  8. Thanks again for your willingness to opening explore the topics of sexuality and women’s issues. God job again.

  9. I think social norms are what make up most of the difference between how we accept the sexuality of men versus the sexuality of women. It’s expected that men are naturally more open sexually, and the objectification of women plays to that expectation. Women, on the other hand, are expected to be sexually chaste and reserved. (Otherwise, they’re “sluts”) But the big ‘secret’ is that women enjoy sex just as much as men do, and would be just as willing to express that openly if society weren’t so judgmental towards such attitudes in women. Your concluding statement hits the nail firmly on the head.

    • Well, if you survey women their answers show that they are less likely to enjoy sex than men. Enjoyment of sex is highly correlated with having an orgasm, and in our culture men are much more likely to have orgasms.

      In a culture where women’s sexuality is repressed they are less likely to enjoy sex. For instance, I was much more interested in sexuality at age 10 that at age 20 (that shouldn’t happen by nature!) after undergoing a lot of repression. Repression actually dampens interest in sex. Women who have been sexually assaulted also tend to undergo a lack of interest in sex and find it difficult to enjoy. And how can women enjoy sexuality if they are distracted by worrying about their so-called body flaws? Which is extremely common!

      In cultures that are pro-sex for women, and which don’t objectify them (leaving many focused on their partners’ sexual enjoyment and not their own) or which leads them to expect that they should have a particular body type (leaving them focused on worries about their bodies and not the sexual experience) – women love sex and are both easily and easily multiply orgasmic.

      Your opinion confuses me a bit, given what I wrote in the article. For more see these:

      Surprises in Indiana University Sex Survey

      One Out of Ten Women Get Depressed After Sex

      Does Sexual Objectification Lead to Bad Sex?

      Sexual Desire & Sexism

  10. Hmmm. Quite thought-provoking. I have had five partners, but would have stopped at one. Perhaps it just takes us a while to find that “true love.”

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