Who Has a Higher Sex Drive?

While some women want more sex than their partners, generally the pattern goes the other way.

Why?

Researchers at Indiana University say,

Women had a wider range of response, with some loving sex, and others feeling uninterested. Generally, women have more difficulty with arousal for both anatomical and psychological reasons.

And that psychology is tied to culture. Some cultures are more sex-positive toward women than others. And surprisingly, even biology is tied to culture.

Let’s start with biology, or more accurately, the nature-nurture dance.

The brain, and its social construction

According to Louann Brizendine, author of the books, The Female Brain and The Male Brain, the area governing sexuality takes up twice as much space in the male. And the part that controls desire to pursue is 2½ times greater, and more quickly activated. (This is exaggerated and stereotyped in the accompanying photo.)

Brizendine tells us that when the male brain is sexually activated pretty much everything but thoughts of sex shut down. Women certainly can stay focused, but they are more likely than men to be distracted with concerns about the kids’ lunches, a scheduled business meeting, whether they look hot enough, or whether they’ll be labeled a “slut” the next day.

And therein you see the effects of culture, too. Like thoughts about the kids’ lunches. Or distracting worries about whether women will be labeled as slut. Or hoping they look hot enough for their partners. Men, not so much.

Dr. Brizendine’s book has met criticism. Dr. Cordelia Fine is a University of Melbourne professor who specializes in social psychology and neuroscientific research. She points out that 1) neuroscience is in its infancy, 2) you cannot determine whether any particular brain is male or female at the individual level, and 3) brain structure is affected by experience. If a woman’s sexuality is punished and repressed, the parts of her brain associated with sexuality will be affected. If a man’s sexuality is celebrated, his brain will also be affected.

Testosterone?

Of course, men do have much more testosterone, crucial to sex drive. Even when women and men are both treated with testosterone for low libido, the hormone is less effective in women, according to Dr. Glenn Braunstein of Cedars Sinai Medical Center. But women are more sensitive to the testosterone that they do have.

So the effects of testerone are more confusing than you might expect.

Anatomical differences

But anatomy could have an effect. A penis must ejaculate on a regular basis to create fresh sperm. A penis is also larger than a clitoris. Both of these things might make its workings more obvious so that boys are more likely to masturbate, and girls are less likely to get to know their bodies and what arouses them. An erect penis also gives men a lot of feedback, while women’s genitals seem to provide less: Men looking at a naked body are much more likely to feel aroused than women doing the same thing. But women’s bodies are also much more sexualized by our culture — that may play a role. And the repression of women’s sexuality in our society may also affect genital feedback to the brain.

On the other hand, women seem to be more capable of multiple orgasm. Some think women’s sex drive could be innately stronger than men’s for that reason. Who knows?

Women’s sexuality is punished

Because psychology affects biology, I’ve already mentioned that women’s sexuality is more punished and repressed in our culture. Men who have sex have been variously praised as players, studs, Casanovas, Don Juans, and lady killers. They are “high-fived” for “scoring.” But women are called sluts, hoes, whores, skanks… Men sport a cocky cock, while a vagina is more unmentionably, “down there.”

And who gets screwed? Since women are thought the more passive partner (though they needn’t be), we are more likely to think of women as getting screwed, rammed, nailed, cut, boned, banged, smacked, and f’d, in street parlance. Not so nice.

In another sort of punishment, sexual violence also makes sex seem scary. And it’s something that more egalitarian, sex-positive societies lack. Among the egalitarian American Indian Iroquois, rape and battering were virtually unknown, for example.

Women are sexualized much more than men

Whether on billboards, TV ads, movies, Olympic ice skating, or professional football, women are more often half-dressed while men are more fully-clothed. The camera hones in on women’s breasts and butts and largely ignores men. Yes, we see more hot guys these days but scantily clad men are nowhere near the number of scantily clad women. Even the everyday clothing that women and men walk around in show off women’s bodies more. And, more often, hide men’s.

Then, because women’s bodies are so much more sexualized and sexually revealed, men get far more provocation on a daily basis.

Meanwhile, since women are so much more sexualized both men and women can come to see women as the sexier sex. So men can be with someone who’s very physically alluring. But women aren’t taught to see men in the same way. Men can focus on a breast fetish. What are women supposed to pay attention to? No fetish is attached to the male. No wonder we’re less interested.

In bed, women are likely to be focusing on how sexy they, themselves are. And they’re usually worried that they don’t measure up. (Eighty-eight percent of my female students say they spend at least some time in bed doing this.) Not erotic.

Women enjoy sex more in sex-positive societies

In societies where women’s sexuality is not repressed and not objectified, they greatly enjoy sex and behave in ways that are similar to men.

But in our repressive world, women experience more sexual problems. In fact, nearly half of American women report having experienced some form of sexual dysfunction. University of Texas, Austin researchers reported in Why Women Have Sex that one-third of women, aged 18-23, felt little sexual interest in the prior year. But only 14% of men did. Meanwhile, 30-40% of women reported difficulty climaxing.  Among those in a relationship, 75% of men said they always had an orgasm, but only 26% of women did. This difference likely affects how much each gender desires sex, since one is more consistently rewarded.

Interest and enjoyment needn’t be such a problem for women. And culture, more than biology, seems to be the culprit. The University of Texas researchers note that women are easily orgasmic in cultures where women are expected to enjoy sexuality. But they aren’t in places where they are repressed.

While women are taught that they are “bad girls” if they like sex too much, men are taught the opposite. The male role casts men as being ever-desirous, which could propel them to live up to expectations.

Sex provides men emotional closeness

Sex also provides one of the few vehicles for men to experience both physical and emotional closeness. Men need that intimacy, yet the male role leaves them repressing their need for it. Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, feels that “For men, sex is the connection. Sex is the language men use to express their tender loving vulnerable side.”

So that may be another reason why men are typically more desirous of having sex.

By the way, sex is not a drive

By the way, there is no such thing as a “sex drive,” says Emily Nagoski in her book, Come as You Are. Drives sustain the life of an entity, and there is no tissue damage if you don’t get sex. Plus,

A drive is a biological mechanism whose job is to keep the organism at a healthy baseline—not too warm, not too cold, not too hungry, not too full.

Sexual desire is an “incentive motivation system,” she says. There is a hunger drive, yet desire for food can act as an “incentive motivation system,” too. That’s why we sometimes eat too much instead of sustaining a healthy baseline.

Why does it matter? Ms. Nagoski worries that when we think men have a sex drive — in the form of a hunger that must be fulfilled — we are more likely to promote the idea that men “have to have it” in a way that supports rape culture, discounting the suffering of girls and women and making sexual assault seem more okay.

How do women and men come together?

So how do women and men come together? Large cultural changes would help. Seeing women, primarily, as the sexy half of the species doesn’t aid women’s sexual desire. It would help if women lived in a less sexually repressive culture, while men would gain from a less emotionally repressive society.

But given that this is our reality, both women and men could probably use some counseling. Communication and acting from a place of love to accomodate each other would surely help, too.

Sure, some women really take pleasure in sexuality, but the heightened and more widespread enjoyment of our sisters who come out of non-shaming cultures tell us that women could be loving sex a whole lot more.

This was reposted on The Good Men Project.

Popular Posts on BroadBlogs
Sex Drive: How Men and Women Match Up
Women Seeing Women as Sexier than Men
Orgasm: It’s All in the Mind

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 November 9, 2015, in feminism, men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. “Sexual desire in women is extremely sensitive to environment and context.What turns women on?

  2. Catalina Becker

    This is a very eye-opening post! To get a little personal: I, myself, have never had sex, and honestly it stems from little interest in it and underlying fear of the whole act. Bottom line is, I’m not going to do it unless I know I will feel 100% comfortable with it, because last thing I want is to feel insecure and distracted for all the reasons mentioned above, and as I understand it, that’s what leads to the regret and depressed-like symptoms many of my women friends feel afterwards. If something doesn’t seem like a good time, why bother? I think in the case of many other virgins, they “learn” sex from pornography, but that’s never been my thing (what’s the bigger turn off: voyeurism or blatant misogyny?). So my impressions of sex, at least up until recent years where I’ve become more interested in feminism, were based in other media and were riddled with a lot of the problems that are mentioned here. It’s incredibly difficult to combat the effects of a society I’ve been raised in that makes it near impossible for me as a woman to feel “at home” during sexual activity. I believe that researching these things, and having them brought to the attention of not only me but other women too, can help reconstruction of the self, and to be a more equal presence in the sexual world.

  3. What a great post! Thoroughly enjoyed every word. Let me ponder on my fetish??? 🙂 LOL

  4. This is a great post, educational, and very much sighed at the reality that “…both women and men could probably use some counseling.”

  5. In the article “Who Has A Higher Sex Drive” the author talks about the different ways male and females view and feel about sex in our society. Men want more sex then women do for the most part, that’s just how it is. Looking at biology first the article explains that men have higher testosterone which could be a reason for their high “sex drive”. But the author explains this isn’t the only reason and I completely agree. Men aren’t viewed as sexy in our society, maybe now more than before but compared to women simply not sexy. Men are shown beautiful women every day, whether on billboards, television commercials, or women walking around in more revealing clothing then ours. Women are just viewed the sexier gender. So is it really surprising women don’t want as much sex? When they get to look at us looking like we just rolled out of bed, with our baggy clothes and our occasional butts when we don’t pull our pants up high enough. And we look at women who clearly spent some time getting ready sometimes wearing skin revealing clothing.

    Should be no surprise that men desire more sex than women with our current society.

  6. Fantastic article! I have come to find this subject fascinating while frustrating at the same time. Especially this true statement:

    “women are taught that they are “bad girls” if they like sex too much, men are taught the opposite. The male role casts men as being ever-desirous, which could propel them to live up to expectations.g at the same time.”

    I really resent the judgement women are faced with for simply having sex. I hate the term “good girl” and especially any statement that eludes to women who “should respect themselves”. But the saddest part is, it’s women who have the power to REJECT that sexist notion but many still buy into it and often preach about it themselves. Why do so many women still allow men to decide when they are allowed to “respect themselves”. Having sex has nothing to do with it.

    Women are so worried about degrading themselves for having sex that in reality they are actually degrading themselves by accepting that discrimination.

    I just hope this mentality is something that will fade when new (and hopefully more progressive) generations take over our culture.

  7. Well from reading this, like I thought, generally the male mind is more geared toward sex and driven toward sex. So there’s the capacity if given the emphasis and focus to be aroused easily and to more easily influenced visually by sex, and straight forward focused as well as less wavered. Women are less focused innately, so culture can have a bigger effect and women more sensitive to culture and context. Sure culture and repression isns’t helping matters. But isn’t a sex drive stronger when it’s not as easily taken off focus and less sensitive to culture and context? Men are stronger toward the sex they are attracted to, whereas, women can waver on arousal and turn ons.

    • There is no evidence that women are less sex-focused innately. In societies that are sex-positive in terms of women’s sexuality, women are very into sex and behave very much like men (as I mentioned). And women are much more capable of multiple orgasm.

      In our society women’s sexuality is strongly repressed. And women’s bodies are more sexualized and fetishized — and men are less so. Men have had more control over media, art, literature, and sexualize women more. So no wonder men are more visual. In societies where you don’t really have media, art, culture… men aren’t any more visual than women.

      However, women’s sexuality does seem to be easier to repress. Can’t remember whether I’ve written about that or not yet. Long story short: the theory is that in utero boys are more aware of their penis than girls are of their clitoris (because the penis is bigger). Which continues once they’re born (same reason).

      Now add all of those cultural factors.

      So it’s the perfect storm:

      1) more strongly repress women’s sexuality
      2) more strongly sexualize women’s bodies, And ignore men’s bodies
      3) all within a backdrop where women’s sexuality is more easily repressed

      • According to Louann Brizendine, author of the books, The Female Brain and The Male Brain, the area governing sexuality takes up twice as much space in the male. And the part that controls desire to pursue is 2½ times greater, and more quickly activated. ”

        If men have more of their brain taking up space governing sexuality than that’s a bigger sex drive or gear toward it. If women are easier to repress with their sexuality compared to men, then that’s a weaker sexuality. If women’s sexuality is easier controlled and more “fluid” to culture and context, then it’s weaker because it’s more malleable. A man is more rigidly heterosexual to women’s bodies

      • But did you read the next paragraphs? Where I talk about how how our social environment affects our brain?

  8. Honestly the way that women’s sexuality is controlled is downplayed because we prefer to think of ourselves as having advanced past that. When in reality culture continues to shame women and congratulate boys for doing the same exact thing–sex. Women are expected to engage in as little sex as possible while males are encouraged to have multiple partners… for no other reason than to simply establish dominance and independence. Misogynys is encouraged in every aspect of society. Because men can be insecure about various things (penis size, sexual ability, ability to relate to women, etc.,) women are intended to be accessible but not to appear that way. Essentially women are supposed to be available to individual men but not other men, a very close-minded and self-centered mindset, which is also an oxymoron.

    • Yeah, women find themselves in a really crazy double-blind. They are simultaneously expected to be on the monogamous side — and a lot of repressive forces are aligned with that. And yet also expected to be sexually ravenous when having sex with her partner.

  9. A great write-up. I feel women are not interested much beyond a certain age, while men feel like going on!

    • There is a social pattern that finds what you describe to be fairly common — of course, sometimes it goes the other way and I do know women who are more interested in sex and the partners. But usually it’s the other way around. And largely because women’s sexuality is more punished and repressed.

  10. So much our problems with sex is in our heads- put there by all the conditioning and judgment. I find it ironic for all the efforts to repress healthy sexuality out of the fears of what might happen if we were all to inhabit our “gone wild” sides- there is so much dysfunction, violence, and dissatisfaction related to sex. Obviously there are incongruencies here that are not working!

    • Yeah, this is not well thought out. I’ll write more about how the double standard is grounded in patriarchy. (Patriarchy, not men. Both women and men internalize and re-create patriarchy, a system that privileges men and masculinity.)

  11. But did you read the next paragraphs? Where I talk about how how our social environment affects our brain?”

    The next line made it seem like culture makes things worse or exaggerates these differences, but there still are the differences. But culture just makes the difference wider, but there still is a difference in an innate sense, but just more so when culture has an influence.

  12. Being twenty something women in a rather sex-positive environment, I rather think that the “decreased sex drive” has a lot to do with decades of sexual repression that continues so blatantly to this day. I’m not saying there isn’t a biological factor but I do think that the difference is heightened to a detrimental degree because of women’s sexuality is punished and women’s bodies are shamed. I mean, it can get so bad that even bare shoulders are shamed!

    “Among those in a relationship, 75% of men said they always had an orgasm, but only 26% of women did. This difference likely affects how much each gender desires sex, since one is more consistently rewarded.”

    Maybe there’s the reason for women having significantly less orgasms? There might be less focus on women’s pleasure during sex or male partners simply don’t know how to pleasure a women. And women whose sexuality is often shamed are rarely taught to pleasure themselves. I’ve read a general statistics that says that most women don’t have orgasms with PIV sex, which is seen as the “normal” way to have sex. I think it’s patriarchy that has dictated how to have sex based on what is most pleasurable to men and it’s affected women’s view of sex.

  13. It was a very interesting post. I totally agree with your suggestion that female got lower sex drive than male. Especially I follow the biological (anatomical and hormonal) difference as a reason. I think male has more sex drive because of genetic imprint (this can be anatomical different). Since male, not only in humans, but also in general living things wants to spread their seed more (or sperm) to various mates. This big difference will give huge effect to the difference between sex drive in two genders. Moreover, as you mentioned in the passage, sociologists suppress can be the big reason. Males usually boast their sex life to his friends while drinking. And this fact is considered as a source of pride. However, this situation can apply in different ways. If the women show off her sex life in a drinking session, many people will be considered as a slut after that time. This sociological difference drive women’s right to a darker area. However, since sex is important to both genders in various ways, society should change its behavior to accept right of sex in two genders.

    • Hmmmm, in societies that are sex-positive for women, women and men seem to have equal interest in sex. That’s why I don’t think that biology is the cause.

      Did you see how I weaved in nature and nurture throughout — because our society actually affects our biology.

      Your comment makes me think that I should repost this and be more clear on that point.

      And there are problems with evolutionary psychology saying that says it’s all about eggs and sperm. As I just mentioned, in sex-positive societies women and men behave similarly. Even Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology, made a critique of evolutionary psychology, noting cultural differences. See more here:

      Are Women Naturally Monogamous?
      https://broadblogs.com/2010/12/20/are-women-naturally-monogamous-2/

  14. I would have to completely agree with everything in this post. Women can have a high “sex drive” but it always seems to be hidden because if a women acts on it then she gets looked down upon while the male it praised. Also, most men seem to be very selfish when it comes to sex. They think when they finished, the female is finished, which is obviously rarely the case. In my experience, very rarely does the guy seem interested in making sure I climax or that I was satisfied. This made me not really care if I had sex or not, because I would be in the mood and then just end up disappointed in the end. I think that happens to a lot of women. “Among those in a relationship, 75% of men said they always had an orgasm, but only 26% of women did. This difference likely affects how much each gender desires sex, since one is more consistently rewarded.”

    As a society we are conditioned to think women shouldn’t have sex with lots of men and if they do they are gross and slutty, but with men the more women they sleep with the better they are and the cooler they are. They are praised, while women are shamed. This makes men go out a look for it more and pursue women more and it makes women stay away from that so they do no get the negative reaction. I remember thinking in high school that girls were sluts of they had sex because thats what i grew up hearing and what I was taught by society, but I didn’t think anything about the guys having sex. Looking back I realized how naive that was, but also crazy how I didn’t even realize that what I was thinking really didn’t even make sense and it wasn’t my own original thought. It’s what other people put in my head.

  15. I think it’s very interesting that what influences sex drive has so many different facets. Hormones, culture, personal experience, sex-linked differences in the brain. In regards to the point that men being more likely to masturbate than women can contribute to this apparently disparity in sex drives, do girls who discover masturbation as early as boys typically do tend to have higher sex drives? I think that would be very interesting to look at. Another thing I think would be interesting to look at would be if there are any shifts in sex drive after a transgendered person has transitioned. I read a paper about how trans people’s experiences changed in the workplace after their transition. I wonder if societal pressures about sex influence them differently as well after they transition.

    Separately, I have noticed in several articles you mention how we fetishize women and have no equivalent fetish for men. While I agree the penis is not fetishized in the same way, what about muscles? Also the newer and trendier ideas of the dad bod or the man bun? I think the difference socially is that when men do it is seen as being more aggressive and when women do it is seen amongst women as good fun. (At least what I have seen.) I can see the argument for a level of difference in the types of fetishes, but I don’t see how the argument can be made that there is no fetishiziation for men with the way the media treats Ryan Gosling.

    • You ask some good questions. Would be interesting to understand whether sexuality shifts after a sex change.

      Regarding “Do girls who discover masturbation as early as boys typically do tend to have higher sex drives?” I wondered the same thing. I would suspect that they do. But it is a good topic for research.

      With regard to fetishizing body parts I suspect a lot of people don’t understand what the word means. It means that it’s enough to create arousal. But women don’t really masturbate to guys’ chests. Even though they are attractive and beginning to be more sexualized. To create a fetish you have to do something that we don’t do in our society with regard to men’s body parts: 1) selectively hide and reveal — Which creates sexual tension 2) Cover the body part “because it’s so sexy” and then tell people, “Don’t look!” Which creates sexual tension and 3) culturally obsess over the body part. I’ve seem plenty of camera shots focusing on women’s butts or breasts. If they ever do the same thing with men’s chests I haven’t noticed it, so it must be rare. But even then we don’t two #1 or #2 either.

      Maybe I should define it every time I talk about it, But it can get pretty repetitive for people who read my blog on a regular basis. Maybe I’ll write a blog post specifically talking about this and then link to it each time.

  16. Armen Garabedian

    I think its quite awful how women are shamed for having a “sex drive” and men are put on a pedestal for having the need for sex. Plus, all this talk about the size of the part of the brain that is related to sex drive and the ability to control yourself is different in each and every person. However, in the states to be sexually active as a woman is looked down upon, and that is the main reason why women’s sex drive does go down a huge percentage. Its not that they don’t have any sex drive, its their ability to control themselves so they don’t get labeled as a slut and have their reputation go down the drain.

  17. Viviana Barragan

    I agree, our society makes it hard for women to enjoy sex. One is shamed upon while men are praised. What could help reverse this? Whould it help if we make more sexy ads of men and sexualize them? I don’t know because then that might create unintended consequences for men in society. What our some proposals to make a greater sex positive society? Of course the tone we set in society is important but is there any concrete things we can do? Any risks we can take to directly tackle the problem?

    • We need to have conversations about the sexual double standard. Both men and women need to stop slut-shaming women. And we need to Open up how are notions of what is attractive and appreciate variety us the spice of life, because too many women get distracted worrying that they aren’t attractive enough — who can enjoy themselves when they are doing that?

  18. Hi there. (: I’ve read a lot of your articles and I have to say, it’s really awesome how much you bring to light in the realm of sexuality. Having said that, I would like to share with you a couple of articles, I think you would find them very interesting. After reading your blogs and these articles, I am further reinforced how complex sexuality is.

    This article talks about the effects of testosterone on women, and the correlation between men having higher sex drives due to higher levels of testosterone (they indicate this may not be as true as we have presumed).
    http://www.livescience.com/21114-testosterone-sex-drive-masturbation.html

    This one mentions how sexuality can be learned, and also discusses gender myths.
    http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/10/biology-based-gender-myths/

    I’m no sexologist or expert on biology, but I wonder what people are without cultural and societal influences affecting their sexuality. What if in general, there isn’t a definite difference between males and females (excluding anatomical differences and function)? I can’t find the article I read regarding hormones in men and women, but it states that estrogen is actually a beneficial component to the male sex drive, and not testosterone alone. The same was true with women, even though we don’t associate estrogen being crucial to the female sex drive (women have more estrogen than men, and little testosterone; men have more testosterone than women, and little estrogen). So, men and women pretty much have the same hormones, but in different amounts. It makes me wonder if naturally, our hormones, while different in amount, serve the same purpose but are just vice-versa, if that makes sense.

    I’ve also read some forums where a guy was asking if it was normal that his sex drive fluctuates, and many other men reported that their sex drive wasn’t constant. I’ve also read about women reporting that they’re sex drive is high before, during, and after their cycle, and others of course fluctuate.

    At this point, I question if men and women, are generally speaking, similar; but we live in a culture where sexuality is encouraged in men and ignored/denied of women. I’m not surprised more boys and men are more expressive about their sexuality or more interested in sex when our culture acknowledges and encourages such behavior while girls and women aren’t as interested, ashamed if they are, and don’t explore their sexuality due to societal factors.

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