It seems to be common wisdom that men have a stronger sexual drive then women. I feel this is not really accurate. I have seen in various studies and from my own experience that this is probably not the case—at least with the average man and woman. Sexual desire is actually fairly equal between the genders. There are five major factors among the differences between men and women that may lead to misconceptions about sexual desire. I will place these under the following headings:
- Adolescent Development
- Sexual Desire Level Cycle
- Arousal Time
- The Menstrual Cycle
- Emotional vs. Visual Traits
When the average male reaches puberty his sexual interest is sparked and develops quite rapidly. By age 13 or 14 he is well on his way to reaching his peak in sexual interest. By age 18 he has reached that peak and remains there pretty consistently the rest of his life, declining only slightly, until about age 60.
The average female’s sexual desire develops more gradually. Sexual interest begins at puberty, like the male, but develops comparatively slowly until about age 18 then begins to develop a little more rapidly. She does not reach the same level of sexual interest of the average male until around age 25.
Studies have shown that the average female’s sexual desire level actually exceeds, slightly, the male’s in her mid to late 30s. Her body may be telling her that her biological clock is winding down and she better start reproducing soon. Her sexual desire soon returns to the same level as the male’s.
So, there is a gap or area of variance between the developmental experiences of males and females (see figure 1) where conflicts, pressures, and other divergent misconceptions about sex can be formed, particularly in females, that can be carried on and influence the rest of a person’s life and attitude toward sexual relations. The boy is fully developed and “ready to go,” so to speak, considerably earlier than the girl. He is also learning how to manage this new, and quite powerful, desire and may make some mistakes in the process. The girl, not yet at his level, may understandably develop habits of resistance if she is overexposed to sexual pressure before she has reached a coinciding interest.
Although these differences in development are eventually negated, the effects of adolescent experiences during the process, whether traumatic or benign, can have a powerful effect on adult perceptions. A woman who was continually pressured about sexual matters in her teenage years may read more into her husband’s sexual advances than is really there—thinking his sexual desire (like those gross teenage boys) far exceeds hers. Likewise, a man who had met continual resistance to physical attraction in his younger years may think all women don’t desire sex nearly as much as he does. If both are fully aware those experiences may only be a result of developmental differences, they may come to realize their sexual desire levels are probably more on a par than they thought now that they are older.
Advise to young men: It is important you understand that although your passions may be fully developed, your experience and maturity are not. You are not ready for the powerful emotions and responsibility that comes with that passion, and you will only hinder its enjoyment later on by not harnessing and channeling it towards constructive results now. Anything you try too soon will come back to haunt you, usually pretty quickly.
Advise to young women: Understand that there is a reason those boys are a little crazy right now. You must also know that you will not fully comprehend their motivations or desires right now, but you eventually will. Meanwhile, you need to beat those boys off with a stick while at the same time having compassion for their predicament and realize that with your own maturity and experience you will fully enjoy such passions in the future, when you are ready.
Sexual Desire Level Cycle
Probably the most apparent difference between the sexes is the “mood” cycle. Anyone who has been married for more than a day will understand this perfectly. Men are predicable, very predictable, when it comes to being in the mood for sex. People say the man wants sex all the time. Well that’s not quite true. There are times when he wants it, and times when he is indifferent, but these desires are pretty consistent and don’t vary much or go to any great extreme, usually.
Women, on the other hand, can change their mood almost continually. There are infinite variables that have an influence on her sexual desire level. It is not uncommon for a woman to change her clothes several times a day to match the mood she is in at the moment, whereas a man would wear the came outfit indefinitely if it didn’t start to smell bad. This cycle in women, like everything else about women, is multifaceted and complex. The woman is capable of reaching much higher highs and much lower lows than a typical man on a daily, weekly, monthly, and even seasonal basis. The female mind is more adept at processing variable data than the male’s; she therefore may have many more sources of influence having an effect on her mood and desire level. These influences and moods can change rapidly or slowly and can overlap on many levels. She may be in a “funk” for several weeks, with periods of excitement, or she may be energetic and happy overall for a time, but have occasional episodes of melancholy. It is all typically more extreme than men’s emotions, and is almost completely unpredictable.
Thinking of men as some sort of “Steady Eddie” while women are “Wacky Wanda” can be misleading when forming ideas about sexual desire levels. Yes, men seem to want sex a lot, but if you look at the graph (see figure 2), you may notice that he typically does not have very far to go to change his mood from indifference to wanting sex. But, there is a trade off. You will notice that his desire level usually does not exceed a certain level. Women, on the other hand, are capable of reaching much higher planes of sexual enjoyment than men, but they can also have periods where the very idea of sex is abhorrent.
Another factor in the misconception of sexual drives is the difference in the time it takes for men and women to “get in the mood.” Women usually need 15 to 20 minutes—sometimes more, sometimes less—of romantic and emotional stimuli before they are ready for a sexual or even sometimes just a physical experience. The typical man, on the other hand, can be ready in as little as 30 seconds. (If he is over 40 years old, 32 seconds. Sigh…)
Simply because men can be easily aroused does not mean their level of interest is necessarily greater than a typical woman’s. Likewise a woman’s sexual drive may be just as powerful as a man’s, but simply needs more effort to be aroused.
Menstrual Cycle Influence
A major influence in the woman’s sexual interest level is her monthly “period.” This may have a wide range of different effects on different women and may not always have the same influence every month. In addition to the 4 or 5 days where sexual intercourse is not reasonably practical, there is the period of time just before menstruation begins and the couple days after it has ended that can have a strong effect on the woman’s mood. Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMS, can have a profound influence in attitudes towards sex and can be quite negative. When someone is experiencing cramps and hormonally-induced mood swings, sex is usually the furthest thing from their minds, and in fact they can even get hostile to the very idea. PMS is not an issue with some women, and some may experience it only infrequently, but it still may have some effect. On the plus side, though, there is a period of about 3 days or so about 14 days before menstruation begins when the woman’s body is ovulating (an egg cell within her ovary is ready to be fertilized) where she may be particularly interested in sex. An observant and caring husband can be aware of his wife’s cycle and be conscience of her body’s needs. Knowing when, and when not to suggest intimacy will go a long way in dispelling misconceptions about sexual drive.
Emotional vs. Visual
Finally, there is one major disparity between the sexual motivations for men and women. Men are primarily influenced by visual stimuli whereas women tend to enjoy the emotional and romantic side of sex more. In one study, men and women were shown a picture of a couple making love and then asked a series of questions about what they thought when they saw the image. Almost all the men described how they thought it would be like to have sex with the woman in the picture, and almost all women described how they thought it would be like to be the woman in the picture.
Now, this does not mean men are necessarily more “shallow” than women, or even have stronger or more “depraved” sexual needs. It is only a matter of emphasis. Women, of course, care about a man’s appearance and can be “turned on” by the sight of a handsome man, but it is a much less important factor to her than the emotional. These emotional factors include the man’s ability to provide for her and protect her; to give her security, comfort and peace of mind. Romance and seduction are much more powerful in the woman’s sexual experience than for the man. However, men need the romance as well. Both desires are there in both sexes—it is just a matter of what is emphasized more and what is emphasized less.
Because women desire the romance and “seduction” of intimate relations more than men, it is generally up to the man to creatively initiate sexual experiences. Likewise, the woman should do her best to be physically appealing to her husband. Both desires are also present in the other partner, however, so the needs go both ways—just to a lesser or greater extent. Taking these differences in emphasis into account, as a general rule men should be expected to initiate sexual experiences about 2/3 of the time, and women about 1/3.