The Sexual Secrets Women Keep, Even From Themselves

Women may not be consciously aware of these sexual thoughts and desires.

Posted Jan 29, 2018

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Many of the factors which shape women's sexual thoughts and desires remain undetected by our conscious minds. For example, can you count the number of times you think about sex? Do you consciously realize who activates your sexual desires? Do you know why you chose your current partner? Below we review some of the sexual secrets women keep...even from themselves.

1. Women Think About Sex More Often Than They Realize

How often do you think about sex? It's difficult to accurately count your sexual thoughts, but they may occur more often than you realize. Most research assessing sexual thoughts involves retrospectively estimating how often we think about sex. Retrospective reports, however, can be compromised by inaccurate memory, sexual stereotypes, and even concern over sexual double standards (Fisher et al., 2012). In an effort to more accurately assess the frequency of sexual thoughts, researchers first asked women to estimate how often they thought about sex per day. Women self-reported thinking about sex about 6 times a day on average (Fisher et al., 2012). However, then the researchers asked women to carry golf tally counters with them and to click the counter each time they thought about sex. Using this method, women recorded more frequent thoughts about sex, clicking the tally counters about 19 times per day on average. The authors interpret this finding to show that women think about sex more often than they consciously realize, although they could not, of course, rule out the possibility that carrying the tally counters actually caused women to think about sex more often than they normally would. Still, this finding, along with other similar research, indicates that women and men are more sexually similar than our popular gender stereotypes would suggest (Fisher et al., 2012; Petersen and Hyde, 2010).

2. Women May Be Subconsciously Sexually Attracted to Both Sexes

Fascinating research shows that women may not be fully aware of what activates their sexual desires. While straight and gay men seem to accurately detect their sexual attraction toward women and/or men, straight women and lesbians may not. Researchers presented men and women with three different sexual films, one depicting two women, one featuring a man and a woman, and the last showing two men. The respondents reported their own feelings of sexual arousal and the researchers objectively measured physiological genital arousal. While men’s self-reported arousal and physiological arousal matched their declared sexual orientation, the authors found surprising results for both straight and lesbian women. Although straight women thought they were more aroused by the film depicting a man and woman, and lesbians thought they were more aroused by the film involving two women, both heterosexual and lesbian women were equally physiologically aroused by all three films.

Importantly, the authors do not believe that this research suggests that women are inherently bisexual; rather, they believe that women’s sexual attraction is more fluid or flexible than men’s (Chivers et al., 2004). Further, the stronger women’s sex drive, the more they seem to be attracted to both sexes, regardless of their declared sexual orientation (Lippa, 2006). Although women may not realize it, their sexual desires may be a “generalized energizer of sexual attractions to both women and men” (Lippa, 2006, p. 51).

3. Women’s Sexual Partners Resemble Their Brothers

You may be familiar with research suggesting that humans are attracted to those who resemble their opposite-sex parents (Fraley and Marks, 2010; Little et al., 2003). However, heterosexual women may be surprised to learn (and may also want to quickly forget) that their partners likely resemble their brothers as well (Saxton et al., 2017). In recent research, female respondents compared facial photographs of a woman’s male romantic partner to faces of four other men—one of whom was the woman’s brother—and the women’s brothers were ranked as more similar to the women’s romantic partners than the unrelated individuals. Although this finding may seem intuitive, because women’s brothers likely also resemble their fathers, the reasons behind these results may not be as obvious. The authors propose that a prospective partner’s facial similarity to a family member might cue an optimal compromise between genes that are too similar and genes that are too different to optimize reproductive success (Saxton et al., 2017). The authors also suggest that during our evolutionary history, even when fathers did not stay with their families, women and their brothers were still likely to be raised together.

While this study only involved women’s partners and brothers, the researchers do speculate that heterosexual men are likely attracted to partners who resemble their sisters as well. The authors emphasize that women are not attracted to their brothers themselves, only to men who resemble their brothers. It is also important to note that not all women are attracted to partners who resemble their brothers.


Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., and Bailey, J. M. (2004). A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal. Psychological Science, 15(11), 736-744.

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

Fraley, R., & Marks, M. J. (2010). Westermarck, Freud, and the incest taboo: Does familial resemblance activate sexual attraction? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36(9), 1202–1212. doi:10.1177/0146167210377180

Lippa, R. A. (2006). Is high sex drive associated with increased sexual attraction to both sexes? It depends on whether you are male or female. Psychological Science, 17(1), 46-52.

Little, A. C., Penton-Voak, I. S., Burt, D. M., & Perrett, D. I. (2003). Investigating an imprinting-like phenomenon in humans: Partners and opposite-sex parents have similar hair and eye colour. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24(1), 43–51. doi:10.1016/S1090-5138(02)00119-8

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

Saxton, T. K., Steel, C., Rowley, K., Newman, A. V., & Baguley, T. (2017). Facial resemblance between women's partners and brothers. Evolution and Human Behavior, 38(4), 429-433.