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4 Myths About Men and Sex

Some of our sexual stereotypes about men are surprisingly tenuous.

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Conventional wisdom suggests that men and women differ in their sexual desires. But some of our beliefs about men and sex are surprisingly dubious.

Fact or Fiction?: Men Think About Sex More Than Women

How often did you think about sex today? This question may be difficult to answer because we may not accurately recall how many times we think about sex during the course of a day. As reviewed by Fisher et al. (2012), research on this issue is surprisingly inconsistent. Some prior research does suggest that men think about sex more often than women, but others find no differences. In an effort to more accurately assess the frequency of sexual thoughts, Fisher et al. (2012) first asked men and women to self-report the frequency of their sexual thoughts. Men reported thinking about sex around eight times a day, and women around six times a day—a very small difference. (Interestingly, men also thought more than women about other needs, such as food and sleep.) Then the researchers asked men and women to carry golf tally counters with them and to click the counter each time they thought about sex. Both men and women recorded more frequent thoughts about sex, with men clicking about 34 times per day on average and women clicking about 19 times per day on average. Importantly, the lower women’s tally counts of sexual thoughts, the higher women scored on a measure of social desirability, indicating that women may be more reluctant to admit their sexual thoughts, perhaps due to concerns about sexual double standards. Further, the researchers could not rule out the possibility that carrying the tally counters actually caused both men and women to think about sex more often than they normally would.

So do men think about sex more often than women? This question is difficult to answer, but the majority of evidence suggests that men think they think about sex more frequently than women do, even though the differences between the sexes may be smaller than traditionally assumed.

Fact or Fiction?: Men Have More Sex Partners Than Women

In a puzzling line of research, heterosexual men consistently report having more sex partners than heterosexual women (Alexander & Fisher, 2003; Jonason & Fisher, 2009; Petersen & Hyde, 2010; Wiederman, 1997). When reviewing heterosexual encounters, each time a man has sex, a woman should have sex, too. The question then becomes, if men are having more sex, who are they having sex with?

In countries such as the U.S., Great Britain, Norway, France, and New Zealand, men self-report greater numbers of sexual partners than women with similar ratios in the difference of men’s to women’s estimates (Wiederman, 1997). Wiederman has considered a number of explanations for this difference, including the use of prostitutes, considering partners in other sexual acts (such as oral sex) in their totals, or large numbers of men having sex with small numbers of highly active women. When analyzing the data carefully, Wiederman noticed that individuals with higher numbers of sex partners were disproportionately likely to report a number of sex partners ending in a zero or a five, suggesting that when we are unsure of our exact number of sexual partners, we may round our estimates. Wiederman believes that women may round their estimates down, while men round their estimates up. Wiederman also suggests that due to their greater emotional investment in sex, women may be more likely to accurately recall their exact number of sexual partners than men.

In an interesting project, Alexander and Fisher (2003) asked men and women to report their number of sexual partners while attached to a “physiological monitor,” which participants were told was similar to a lie detector. In this instance women actually reported slightly more sexual partners than men.

So do men have more sex partners than women? At least among heterosexual partners, this sexual stereotype is probably false: Although men admit to more sexual partners than women, when we examine the data more closely, this difference is likely due to men's overestimation, and women's underestimation, of their actual number of partners.

Fact or Fiction?: Men Are More Likely Than Women to Be Unfaithful

Similar to thoughts about sex and number of sex partners, men self-report more unfaithfulness than women (see Blow & Hartnett, 2005; Fincham & May, 2017; Petersen & Hyde, 2010). However, as Fincham and May (2017) state, the difference between men and women in the incidence of infidelity seems to be narrowing, and men and women under 40 are reporting similar rates of infidelity. Petersen and Hyde (2010) also show that the gender difference in engaging in extramarital sex is narrowing. Although men may report a stronger desire for affairs, this desire may not necessarily translate into a behavioral difference between the sexes (see Blow & Hartnett, 2005). When considering gay men and lesbians, there is some evidence that lesbians are less likely to be unfaithful than gay men (see Blow & Hartnett, 2005). So are men more likely than women to be unfaithful? This sexual stereotype may be supported at present. At present, men seem more likely than women to be unfaithful; however, for better or worse, this gender difference is quickly shifting to gender parity.

Fact or Fiction?: Men Are More Interested in Threesomes Than Women

Have you ever had a threesome? Would you ever engage in a threesome? Morris et al. (2016) found that men were more interested than women in a future threesome and were more likely to suggest a threesome to their sexual partners. Similarly, Hughes et al. (2004) found that twice as many men as women said they would desire a threesome. These authors also found that men were more likely to prefer sex with two women, whereas women were more likely to prefer two men, or one man and one women. Hughes et al. speculate that women may be less willing to engage in sex with multiple partners at once because of concerns about their reputations. These concerns may reflect reality for women; Jonason and Marks (2009) found that women were judged more harshly than men for engaging in threesomes. So this sexual stereotype seems to be supported: Men are more interested in threesomes than women are.

Portions of this post were taken from The Social Psychology of Attraction and Romantic Relationships. Copyright 2015 Madeleine A. Fugère.

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Alexander, M. G. & Fisher, T. D. (2003). Truth and consequences: Using the bogus pipeline to examine sex differences in self-reported sexuality. The Journal of Sex Research, 40(1), 27–35.

Blow, A. J., & Hartnett, K. (2005). Infidelity in committed relati0nships ii: A substantive review. Journal of marital and family therapy, 31(2), 217-233.

Fincham, F. D., & May, R. W. (2017). Infidelity in romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 70-74.

Fisher, T. D., Moore, Z. T., & Pittenger, M. (2012). Sex on the brain? An examination of frequency of sexual cognitions as a function of gender, erotophilia, and social desirability. Journal of Sex Research, 49(1), 69–77. doi:10.1080/00224499.2011.565429

Hughes, S. M., Harrison, M. A., & Gallup, G. G. (2004). Sex differences in mating strategies: Mate guarding, infidelity and multiple concurrent sex partners. Sexualities, Evolution & Gender, 6(1), 3-13.

Jonason, P. K., & Fisher, T. D. (2009). The power of prestige: Why young men report having more sex partners than young women. Sex Roles, 60(3–4), 151–159. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9506-3

Jonason, P. K., & Marks, M. J. (2009). Common vs. uncommon sexual acts: Evidence for the sexual double standard. Sex Roles, 60(5-6), 357-365.

Lippa, R. A. (2009). Sex differences in sex drive, sociosexuality, and height across 53 nations: Testing evolutionary and social structural theories. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38(5), 631–651. doi:10.1007/s10508-007-9242-8

Morris, H., Chang, I. J., & Knox, D. (2016). Three’s a Crowd or Bonus?: College Students’ Threesome Experiences. Journal of Positive Sexuality, 2.

Petersen, J. L., & Hyde, J. (2010). A meta-analytic review of research on gender differences in sexuality, 1993–2007. Psychological Bulletin, 136(1), 21–38. doi:10.1037/a0017504

Wiederman, M. W. (1997). The truth must be in here somewhere: Examining the gender discrepancy in self-reported lifetime number of sex partners. Journal of Sex Research, 34(4), 375–386. doi:10.1080/00224499709551905

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