Women are morally superior prudes, who barely think about sex, and men are never-satisfied, sexually hungry beasts, right? That’s the stereotypes of sexual desire in both sexes we are used to seeing in media and our culture on a daily basis.
Interestingly, though, this understanding of sex drive in women and men we have to this day is quite a recent trend in history. According to sex therapist Leigh Noren, up until the 18th century, we regarded both men and women equally sexual.
She writes, “The notion that women’s sexuality is somehow lesser than men’s is actually quite new. Before the 1700s, we regarded both sexes as obscene, passionate, and immoral. This meant we believed women and men were equally sexual and that sexual pleasure wasn’t just a male priority.”
Only in the 18th century the society started villainizing female sexual pleasure and desire, bringing us to the 21st century where we struggle to understand the true nature of sexual desire in women and men.
Before we dive into the discussion on the differences between male and female sex drive, let’s start with understanding the basics of the sex drive first.
Sex Drive vs. Sexual Arousal
Sex drive or libido is a term that’s often used interchangeably with the term sexual arousal. While these two terms are similar in nature because they refer to our response to sexual things, they are actually very different at their core.
Sexual desire or sex drive is more about the psychology of sex, how your mind and brain perceive sexual activity and whether or not you’re into participating in the action.
Sexual arousal, on the other hand, is the physicality of it. It’s how our body reacts to something sexual and how it responds to it. Noren explains, “sexual arousal is the physical part – the physical response of lubricating, or getting and sustaining an erection.”
It’s important to know the difference between the two to avoid any misunderstanding about your own sexuality and libido level. Most people believe that in order for them to be sexually aroused, they need sexual desire and vice versa.
But in reality, it’s not really necessary.
Do you know why sometimes you might feel “in a mood” for some sexy play, yet your body doesn’t seem to share the same feelings? Like, your genitals are just not responding to the call, no matter how “hot and heavy” you’re feeling?
Well, there is a reason for it. And it’s called arousal non-concordance.
Sex therapists use this term to explain the phenomenon when there is a disconnect between your mind and body being aroused to sexual activity. You might be feeling in the mood for sex, but your genitals might not be ready, and it’s a completely normal occurrence.
The best example of arousal non-concordance would be the way your body responds to unwanted sexual advances. You might become physically aroused, resulting in vaginal lubrication or an erection while not being psychologically interested in the sexual intercourse.
This is where the conversation about verbal consent is very important. Just because your body is showing the signs of arousal, it doesn’t mean that you’re consenting to the sexual activities taking place.
At the same time, understanding the difference between sexual arousal and sexual desire and the concept of arousal non-concordance can help the victims of sexual assault get rid of shame.
Noren writes, “a lot of times, people who have been subjected to sexual trauma feel an extra weight of shame because their body became physiologically aroused during the abuse. Understanding that this is just a purely physical reaction to our genitals or bodies being touched can reduce the shame and stigma surrounding this reaction.”
The Never-Ending Conflict of Libido in Opposite Sexes
Researchers have found a difference between sex drive in women and men for many years. Most of that research claims that the difference in the sex drives between two sexes comes down to the varying levels of testosterone.
Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister believes that men indeed have a higher sex drive, and he spent an elaborate amount of time studying people to prove his theory.
After his research back in 2010, he determined that “Every marker we could think of pointed to the same conclusion. Men think about sex more often than women do. Men have more sexual fantasies, and these encompass more different acts and more different partners. Men masturbate more than women, much more.”
Around the same time, New York Times published an article written by Daniel Bergen, which claimed that sex drive in women is way higher than in men and that, in fact, their sexuality is way more fluid than mens’. So much that Bergen believed women to be unsuited for monogamy.
With all the conflicting information, you might be wondering — so, which way it is? Do we have the same sex drive or not?
The Newest Research Shows That We’re Not So Different
Sex drive in women and men might not be so different after all, recent research tells us. Researchers suggest that the true measure of desire for sex in both genders might depend on how we view and assess sexual desire in general.
We tend to view sex drive as a sudden spark of intense sexual desire to have sex. We tend to think that we experience sexual desire in a similar way that we experience thirst or hunger.
And while some people might experience sudden and spontaneous sexual desire, it’s not the only way our sex drive operates. In fact, there are two different types of sexual desires.
“There are, in fact, two distinct styles of sexual desire – spontaneous and responsive. The spontaneous libido is the one we’re most used to. It’s a feeling that appears out of the blue, right in the middle of us having dinner or going for a walk,” Noren explains.
Now, responsive sexual desire is something very different that doesn’t come out of the blue but rather is provoked by certain actions. Noren says, “For responsive desire to take place, it needs to be sparked by something – perhaps a sexual fantasy, a glance from an attractive stranger, or sensual touch.”
She then adds, “Generally speaking, men are more inclined to have a spontaneous desire style, whereas women drift more towards a responsive desire style.”
Spontaneous desire is how we’re used to seeing men experience sexual desire, and it is how, for the longest time, women were expected to experience it as well. Because of the perception that sex drive in women and men starts the same, it’s natural that research in the past deemed women as not as sexually responsive.
Sex drive in women is not lower than sex drive in men; it just has different and changing patterns. Research shows that women’s sexual desire changes depending on their menstrual cycle. When women experience the peak of their sexual arousal during the ovulation period, their sex drive is as strong as men’s.
Testosterone is the hormone in males that is responsible for their sex drive, and researchers previously believed that it was also responsible for the sex drive in women. However, the newest research shows that testosterone makes no difference to a woman’s sex drive.
All of this new research shows that we view sexual desire in men and women the wrong way. Instead of comparing sex drive in women to men’s standards, we should focus on broadening our views on how we understand sexual desire in general.
Sexual Desire Triggers in Women Are Different, Though
While the difference between men and women when it comes to their sex drives is not as significant as we believed before, there is a huge difference in what drives both sexes to have sex.
In one study conducted in 2014, 406 participants were asked to complete a survey on sexual desire and what drives them. Researchers have found that men and women were motivated by different things.
Men’s sexual desire is driven by a desire for sexual release and orgasm, as well as pleasing their partner. While women, on the other hand, are motivated by intimacy and emotional closeness to their partners as well as feeling sexually desired by men.
Intimacy with a partner, in fact, is one of the most common requirements for a lot of women to feel sexual desire to have sex. Noren writes, “for a lot of women, not all – emotional intimacy is a necessary precursor to sexual intimacy. Experiencing emotional intimacy is, in effect, what triggers sexual desire. For sex to even be on the cards, you need to feel close to your partner or spouse.”
Sex drive in women also depends on how they feel about themselves and their bodies. When a woman finds herself attractive, she is more prone to desire sex. Women also want others to desire them in order to be in the mood for sex. In fact, it’s one of the most common sexual fantasies women have.
Noren shares, “This is showcased in women’s sexual fantasies where a lot of the fantasies are centered around the idea of being desired – sometimes by a lot of people at the same time. This isn’t to say that men and people of other gender identities don’t need this to feel horny. But when it comes to what triggers sexual desire in women – this factor comes up time and time again.”
The difference between what triggers women and men to desire sex can also be attributed to the false belief that women have a lower sex drive than men.
Because women desire different things and have a different sexual response cycle, it’s easy to write women off as “not as sexual as men,” even though it’s not necessarily the truth.