It’s an age-old stereotype that when it comes to sex, men want it more than women. However, a study is challenging that thinking.The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, based on three studies of long-term, established couples, found that men often underestimate their partner’s sexual desire.
The same is not true for men and women when they first meet. Past research has consistently shown that men tend to perceive a greater sexual interest from women based on their behaviour at initial contact. This is often explained by evolutionary psychology – that men cannot afford to miss out on a mating opportunity, and are thus overly optimistic about their chances.
In an article for Science of Relationships, researcher Amy Muise, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, writes that a possible explanation for the findings is because men want to avoid rejection.
“Sexual rejection tends to be associated with lower relationship and sexual satisfaction,” she writes. “In fact, we found that on days when men were more motivated to avoid sexual rejection, they showed a stronger sexual under-perception bias.”
Muise noted that men underestimating their partner’s sexual desire might also be a way of avoiding complacency in the relationship.
“If a person sees their partner as having less desire than they actually report, the person might put forth a little extra effort to ignite their sexual interest,” she writes.
Interestingly the research found that when men underestimated their romantic partner’s sexual desire, their partners felt more satisfied and committed to the relationship.
“There is more work to be done to figure out exactly what men are doing that is associated with their partners feeling more satisfied, but it is possible that when men see their partner as having lower sexual desire than their partner actually reports, men do things to make their partner feel special and entice their interest, and in turn, the partner feels more satisfied with and committed to the relationship,” Muise writes.
The research found that women do not display the same sexual under-perception bias as men, but are generally good at figuring out whether their partners are turned on.
So are women just more in tune with men? Or, do they need to be more vocal about their sexual desires?
“Men fail to pick up on a woman’s cues for sex because they’re simply too subtle or there’s a lack of communication,” says Isiah McKimmie, relationship therapist & sexologist.
“There’s also still a myth that women are less interested in sex than men and I think both men and women can fall victim to this.”
McKimmie believes that men are better at asking directly for sex and talking about it.
“Our culture generally doesn’t encourage women to be vocal about sex, and we still give derogatory labels to women who want or enjoy sex and I think this really affects women’s psyche and confidence.”