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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Libido in men vs. women

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Author Topic: Libido in men vs. women
LondonBlue
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Hi guys,

I'm having an interesting discussion with a friend and could use some information. This friend heard someone say that "girls want sex as much as boys," and this triggered a discussion about men vs. women in the sex drive department. My friend insists that is "totally absurd" and that men have higher sex drives than women.

This assertion rubs me the wrong way in any case because it is so black and white, and also because it doesn't take into account the wide spectrum of distinct genders and sexual orientations which make it impossible to generalize. But beyond that fundamental irrationality, is there any truth to what he's saying?

At first I was sure I'd be able to prove him wrong, because it seems obvious to me that men and women generally have similar sex drives, with deviations/outliers on both ends. But a cursory search (uh, webMD, lol) seems to say no, study after study apparently says men have higher libidos. Hmm. I could have sworn I read something about this on Scarleteen, but I haven't been able to find it.

So:
1. Is there an article here or elsewhere about this that I could show my friend to bolster my argument? Or...
2. Am I wrong? Have we just come to accept that men want sex more than women? I'm having a lot of trouble accepting that idea.

Thanks for your input. [Smile]

PS: My argument was basically that men and women have similar sex drives, but cultural/societal pressures have led to men's sexuality being more permissible, if you will, whereas women are taught to suppress their sexuality because it is seen as wrong. Again, am I wrong here?

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Heather
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First things first: how are you/your friend DEFINING who men are and who women are?

There's a reason I ask that question, and you obviously know what it is. Not only does the framing of these kinds of conversations so often not leave room for a spectrum of gender, it also doesn't leave room for the spectrum of biological sex, which is more than XX or XY.

The other thing you always want to ask yourself with those kinds of studies is this: how is libido being measured? Because one of the big problems in treating sexuality with a medical model when it comes to desire is that we can't really scientificaly measure libido. We can ask things like how often someone wants to have a kind of sex, for example, but that doesn't tell us very much when we're asking among genders if one group feels more entitled to sex, feels freer to express desire, defines sex as intercourse, the works. Get what I mean?

It also very much doesn't account for the fact that many men and women have a vested interest in the idea that men want sex more than women because that belief is central to some of their own values and ideas about sexuality.

Your argument in this would be in alignment with my own study and observations, as well as with where sexology as a field overall stands. Anyone who has worked with broad populations in sexuality finds out very fast that levels of libido not only vary greatly among genders, but also in individuals very situationally. We can't view libido outside the sphere of a person's life, lifelong health and embodiment, daily experiences and interpersonal relationships: because libido is about all of those things for all people, trying to just make it about chromosomes or hormones is fallacy.

At most, I think what we can say from all the study we have when it comes to differences in biology is that it does often seem that for XX people (namely heterosexual women, but mostly because we have so little study on lesbian and bisexual women), libido seems to be more easily dampened, more easily impacted, by both external and internal influences, than for XY people, and it's tough to say how much of that is biology and chemistry and how much of that is about the differences on those groups lives and roles.

But that isn't the same thing at ALL as the notion that XX people have lower sex drives: going there from that is very simplistic thinking that takes a lot of logical leaps to arrive at that conclusion.

You also have to bear in mind that most of the study on libido has been study on PROBLEMS with libido -- especially for women -- because that study tends to be done/funded by pharmaceutical corps. Historically, very few studies have been done that have been looking to investigate healthy female sexuality, primarily because you can't really make money off of healthy people that don't need anything, if you catch my drift.

I can't think of one single article that will sum all of this up, because this perspective tends to come from a lot of broad study as a whole, but even both the Kinsey and Hite studies support this well. You also might find that the pleasure-based anatomy article that explains how desire and sexual response works fills some gaps: With Pleasure: A View of Whole Sexual Anatomy for Every Body

Additionally, this sexpert advice piece that talks about the many, many different drivers for and influences on libido may help: http://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/wheres_my_sex_drive_driven_off_to

Leonore Tiefer is also a great doctor to read on this as is Gina Ogden.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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By the by, I know that was a lot of info at once, but the truth is, it barely scratches the surface. This is really a question of gargantuan proportions, which is partly a problem of the questions usually being asked and the assumptions being made, all problems you seem to recognize well in your take on this that it doesn't seem like your friend understands.

I should perhaps add that when it all comes down to it, it really kind of wouldn't matter to sexology or sociology if we ever DID get strong evidence to prove that one sex or gender or another had a unilaterally higher libido. Because we already know big variances exist, something even people who don't study sex may often know from their own relationships and experiences. For instance, without going too TMI on you, in most of my relationships with people of all genders, I often tend to have a higher libido than my partners, including a majority of my XY-male partners. So, if someone assumed I, as a woman, "wanted sex less" than men, when it came to me, that would be an incorrect assumption.

In other words, no one should ever be assuming any one sex or gender "wants sex" more or less because even if there are any broad generalizations we can make, all of us are still going to have to ge betting to know yourselves and our partners to find out what THEY/we want and tailor our sex lives accordingly.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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LondonBlue
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Awesome, thanks for all the info. I will follow up on those authors. For now, I'll open the issues of defining libido and wide variance among individuals with my friend, and see where that goes.

This:
quote:
It also very much doesn't account for the fact that many men and women have a vested interest in the idea that men want sex more than women because that belief is central to some of their own values and ideas about sexuality.
is exactly what I was thinking, but put into much better words.
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Jill2000Plus
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I would have thought another difference would be how one defines "sex" because if by that one means heterosexual intercourse then that's something that's more physically pleasurable for men generally, if that's presented by a male partner as THE thing to do with other kinds of sex being either non-existent or only brief foreplay (and the female partner may also believe that this is the way it's supposed to be) then that would account for some of the difference observed. I also think it definitely has a lot to do with how much of a taboo there still is around women expressing their desire for sex and their greater fear of sexual assault and rape. For my part I'm a woman with a high libido (by my own estimation), I think about sex a lot, masturbate a lot, think about having sex with my boyfriend a lot and thoroughly enjoy it when we do, I'm not all women, but I am a woman and I think it dishonest to dismiss me as an anomaly, I'm hardly alone. Plus I did want to have sex when I was 13, I went through extreme horniness just like the guys did when all I'd do was look at a cute boy and I'd fantasise about jumping his bones, and I masturbated four times in one day sometimes. Not to mention that there are other factors at play than just desire with these things, for instance teenage boys may masturbate to avoid "embarrassing" public erections (in quotes because I don't think it should be a source of awkwardness though sadly it can be) whereas women can be horny without it showing in any distinctively identifible way (even though I did feel selfconcious whenever I got nipple erections in clothing where you can see, but at least many people know that sometimes it's just like having a giant goosebump from the cold).

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Always knock before entering my room when I am in there alone, as I may be doing all sorts of wonderfully thrilling things that I'd rather you didn't see.

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Heather
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Jill: absolutely, how sex is defined on study with this is a HUGE factor and a big flaw often discussed, because yes, often it is defined as intercourse, a sexual activity on the whole (with a lot of individual and situational variance) more enjoyed by one gender/sex than another.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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polyprotic
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There's a really interesting/entertaining book called "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice for All Creation" by Olivia Judson that does a good job of explaining the evolutionary and biological theories of human and animal sexuality and gender roles. If you're more interested in the biological end of the topic, definitely check it out. It's also a fun book to read.

Along with the idea of evolutionary biology, in many women, the point in the menstrual cycle has a great influence on their day-to-day libido. For example, a women in days 12-16 of her cycle may feel especially horny. Around this time in the cycle, she's likely to be ovulating, and thus more fertile and experiencing a spike in libido-enhancing hormones. That can certainly be influenced by outside factors (including hormonal contraception), but it holds up as a general rule. There have been some interesting studies that show that women may actually be considered more attractive to men during ovulation.

That just goes to show, as Heather and Jill have said, just how hard it is to quantitatively measure libido.

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Heather
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Also? Not all women have a menstrual cycle. [Smile]

That can be because of being post-menopausal or having had a hysterectomy or for other reasons: most women in those situations still have the desire for sex. This is also important to remember for the millions and millions of women using hormonal methods of contraception.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Lilerse
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I had a friend who just last night said something along the lines of "Unlike for women, sex is always irresistible for men."
Obviously this is a blanket statement that is very much false, but adding my own personal experience into the discussion, I'm a girl who tends to have a much higher sex drive than her male partners - or at least I enjoy sex more. Obviously it depends on the guy, but in my experience I get more pleasure out of sexual intercourse than my partner - even though there's another assumption out there that [biological] women don't enjoy intercourse (statistically/anatomically it is supposedly true that women are less likely to, but for me intercourse is by far my most pleasure-inducing activity). My main sexual partner has guessed this is because the clitoris/G-spot has a lot more nerve endings collected in a smaller area than the penis - do you think this might be true? Or is he just unusually desensitized for whatever reason (he still enjoys sex, just not half as much as I do, I believe)?

Anyway, sorry, that was kind of a tangent. In my opinion sex drive is based on the individual and not their biological sex, but even if men did "generally" have higher sex drives, it doesn't really matter since there are always exceptions - blanket statements about sex/gender are rarely accurate or helpful in this day and age.

[ 04-09-2010, 04:04 PM: Message edited by: Lilerse ]

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Heather
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Just to be clear, the stats on women and intercourse (in which women who orgasm from that *alone* are in the minority) are generally about orgasm, not about overall enjoyment and satisfaction, which is often related, but a much bigger picture. As well, when we're talking about libido, we're not just talking about intercourse or just about partnered sex.

It's understood that the clitoral shaft (the primary eternal portion of the clitoris, not accounting for the crura, g-spot/urtheral sponge and other portion, which combined are similar in size to the penis), in general IS more sensitive than the penis in part because of a similar number of nerve endings (when we're talking about uncircumcised penises, circumcision changes that number fairly substantially) present in a smaller area. However, unless you're talking about intercourse which is engaging the clitoral shaft -- some positions do, others don't, but hands added can, too) that's a bit moot.

On the whole, though, for most people of any gender a lot of the time, intercourse, as compared to other sexual activities, tends to create less specific and more generalized sensations, especially if that's the only stimulus going on.

A male partner not finding intercourse, either on the whole, or sometimes or with some partners, to be all-that doesn't mean he's "desensitized" (a term that has no real meaning or practical use when talking about sexuality unless we're talking about emotions: it's not a word you see in sexual study). What it's more likely to mean is that he prefers, wants or needs other kinds of or more specific stimulation. And/or, it could also be about intellectual or emotional dynamics with intercourse, any number of things. Again, sex of any kind is about so much more than just genitals or the nerve endings of the genitals.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Atonement
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I know when my ex and I started having sex, I had an issue for several months because my sex drive was higher than his.

After hearing all those myths about guys always wanting sex, It was surprising to me when he would say "no thanks" or "I don't feel like it".

I was upset for quite a while, thinking he didn't "desire" me, that mine was too high, or his was too low.

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Lilerse
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Yep, I hate that so many of the stats are based on orgasm. I'm still not sure if I've ever orgasmed and either way I LOVE intercourse. It really shouldn't matter so damn much.
So you're saying the G-spot isn't necessarily more sensitive than the penis, right? Cuz I'm pretty sure that's where most of my pleasure comes from during intercourse. But I could be wrong.

Also, I should've been more specific - my main sexual partner didn't want any kind of sex as much as I did, not just intercourse. I loved giving him head but he often turned me down, as much as he claims he enjoyed receiving it.

For me, it's hard to define libido, though, because while I WANT partnered sex a lot, because it's something I enjoy doing, I don't feel like I'm actually horny/turned on much of the time except when I'm with a partner. I don't masturbate. But obviously there are a lot of girls who do get as horny/turned on randomly as a lot of guys (or any other genders) so again I think most blanket statements are kind of ridiculous.

[ 04-15-2010, 05:34 PM: Message edited by: Lilerse ]

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Heather
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The g-spot tends to be sensitive in a different way than the penis, and to boot, the penis has parts and areas just like your vulva and vagina does, so we can't compare the g-spot to the whole penis reliably.

As well, the g-spot actually isn't always very receptive to something as general as intercourse, though it can be (you can test that theory for your own body pretty easily if you wanted by comparing sensation you feel from targeted g-spot stimulation with fingers or a toy to what you feel during intercourse). But chances are you like it maybe because of that stimulus, but probably also because of things like the fact that intercourse can put pressure on all of the internal clitoris, can stimulate the vaginal introitus and also stimulate, albeit indirectly, everything around the vagina and vulva. Of course, liking intercourse or any sexual activity also tends to be emotional, psychological intellectual and interpersonal, too: it's not like we can somehow only experience purely physical sensations in a vacuum, because no kind of sex works like that.

Libido does have a standard definition, which is simply sexual desire of any kind. That definition isn't about partners or not, just about the feeling of desire.

[ 04-15-2010, 06:35 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Lilerse
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got it. then I guess I do have a high libido, I'm just not perpetually horny. Whereas my main sexual partner didn't have as high a libido (he used to moreso, and used to masturbate every day too, but it suddenly slowed down last fall even though he's only 20..)

also, Heather, I wanted to let you know, I was checking out my friend's readings for her women's studies class today and under "further reading" it suggested "An Immodest Proposal by Heather Corinna"!! It was very exciting. I'll ask her tomorrow if they've actually read anything of yours in that class. [Smile]

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Lilerse
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I just checked out the article on here. "Yes means yes!" is the book they're reading in my friend's class.
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Heather
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That is exciting. [Smile] I've had colleges use material of mine before, but that anthology is being read a lot in schools in the last year, which is really fantastic, and I love how many people love that piece.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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