Men are always looking for sex but women are just not into it … right? Listen up, men: researchers now have proof that your wives and girlfriends want sex more than you think.
The study comes from psychologists at the University of Toronto and University of Western Ontario in Canada. The researchers published their findings in May in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Although the prevailing wisdom is that men think women are more interested in sex than they actually are, this is based on studies involving a new or fictional sexual partner. The researchers in the current study wanted to find out if the same held true in committed relationships.
For a total of three studies, the researchers recruited 229 couples in long-term relationships, with an average time together of six years. Most of the couples were heterosexual, and the number of homosexual couples in the study was too small to be statistically significant, according to the researchers. The study participants were between 18 and 68 years old, and they reported having sex one or two times a week, on average.
The first study involved 44 couples keeping a diary for three weeks, noting their own level of sexual desire and what they perceived their partner’s desire level to be on the same day. They also reported their level of satisfaction with their relationship. The second study involved just one report of general desire levels, someone’s perception of their partner’s general desire level, and level of happiness in their relationship, for 84 couples. For the third study, the couples recorded desire level, perceived partner desire level, and relationship happiness daily for three weeks. In addition, they reported each day how motivated they felt to avoid sexual rejection.
When the researchers combined and analyzed the data from the three studies, they found something surprising. Although the women tended to successfully determine their male partner’s level of sexual desire, men tended to underestimate their female partner’s sexual desire. Not only that, on days when men underestimated their partner’s sexual interest, the women reported feeling more satisfied in the relationship and committed to their partner.
Men underestimating a woman’s interest in sex may seem surprising, but researchers believe they have the answer why. A man may underestimate a woman’s desire because he wants to avoid sexual rejection; if he initiates sex with his partner and she rejects him, she may feel annoyed and he may feel resentful or depressed. To compensate for the woman’s perceived lack of desire, the man may instead work harder to woo her and entice her into a sexual encounter, which could explain why the women tended to feel more content with their relationship on those days.
Although the average man tends to have a higher sex drive than the average woman, this may not be true in relationships longer than three years. A previous study found that no particular gender tended to have a higher sex drive among different couples. Researchers in the past have discovered that the man is just as likely as the woman to have low sexual desire when they are in a relationship.
According to a comprehensive 1994 study at the University of Chicago, almost 80 percent of married couples reported having sex at least a few times a month, and just under half reported having sex a few times a month. A different study in 2015 suggested that more sex does not lead to more happiness in a relationship, but happy couples were more likely to have more sex.
So where does this misunderstanding about a woman’s sexual desire come from? Psychologists suggest it stems from women simply not speaking up. Some women may not feel comfortable initiating sex, and others may think they are sending signals that they are interested, but the signals are not clear enough for the men to pick up on. In relationships where the woman has higher sexual desire than the man, she may not want the man to feel he is being pressured into sex. Other women may just not know what they desire, or have trouble communicating it to their partner.
What can a couple do about their misperceptions of sexual desire? It seems the key may be better communication. Both partners can speak up about what they want, without applying pressure; if someone is not interested when their partner initiates sex, they can explain that although they do find their partner attractive, they are not in the mood and may be interested later. Couples can also schedule sex, for example planning a date night when they will both be on the same page about their expectations. The partner not as in the mood can also go ahead and have sex anyways, since research has suggested couples doing this can better maintain their sexual desire through the years.