There are a number of urban myths about sexuality that refuse to die. One such myth is that men think about sex every seven seconds, which would be a whopping 8,000 times for each 16-hour day that a guy is awake. The other myth is that men think about sex way more often than women do. Fortunately, a researcher whose work you can trust--Terri Fisher from Ohio State University--recently published a study in the Journal of Sex Research that runs a stake through the heart of this sexual stereotyping.
The 18- to 25-year-old males in the Fisher study tended to think about sex once an hour, or less than nineteen times a day, although the frequency varied considerably. According to the authors, "young men appear to spend only a brief fraction of their day involved with sexually related cognitions." The women in Fisher's study tended to think about sex once every two hours, with a large variation in frequency as well. And regardless of gender, 18- to 25-year-olds think about food and sleep as often as they think about sex.
The researchers found that the more discomfort a woman feels with her own sexuality, the less likely she will report having sexual thoughts. The same is true when women believe they are not supposed to be as interested in sex as men. So it is these two factors, rather than her gender, that determines how often a woman will either think about sex or will inform researchers that she is thinking about sex.
It's important to keep in mind that a person's thoughts about sex can range from a momentary sexual attraction or wondering what someone might look like naked to a full-on sexual fantasy that may or may not include masturbation. The Fisher et al. study did not distinguish between brief and fleeting sexual thoughts or thoughts that are complex and elaborate. It did not explore whether men are quicker than women to experience need states such as sleep, hunger, and sex, or if they are simply more apt to report them, or both. It did not explore whether women actually think about sex less often, or are reluctant to report they have been thinking about sex. And it did not explore gender differences in older age groups. These are all issues for future study--hopefully by Fisher and her colleagues who seem to have a better grasp than most about the complexities involved.
Click Here for an abstract of "Sex on the Brain?: An Examination of Frequency of Sexual Cognitions as a Function of Gender, Erotophilia, and Social Desirability" by Terri D. Fisher; Zachary T. Moore; Mary-Jo Pittenger
Illustration by Daerick Gross Sr., from Paul's book the Guide To Getting It On.