Whether it’s “locker-room talk” on the silver screen or discussing libidos with your friends IRL, there has been this ongoing narrative in the world of sex for as long as I can remember: men think about sex all the time, and women don’t. This plays out in a variety of other stereotypes as well - and you can spin it any way you want, this is something you’ve likely been spoon-fed your entire adult life - maybe without even realizing it.
Men “only want one thing” - and it’s sex.
Women “need intimacy” to be satisfied during sex.
Men are more perverse than women.
Men watch more porn than women. Do women even like porn?
And then there are the double standards - for ages, women with multiple (or “too many”) sexual partners have been labeled a whore, but men who have multiple partners are “just being men”...there is no shortage of these narratives, and the latest question to be posed is: who thinks about sex more - men or women? Essentially, which is the hornier sex?
Well, despite what you may believe, that question is much, much more complicated than you think.
That’s right - various studies have proved men think about sex more, only to be clapped back at by other (just as accredited) studies that are somehow able to prove that women think about sex more.
You may have heard this weird misconception floating around the men think about sex every 7 seconds per day - but that’s totally false. In fact, there was never any research anywhere to back this claim, and psychologists and researchers everywhere are just absolutely baffled at where this number came from or why it spread like wildfire.
So...are there any real statistics about this? Yes - and as I said, they have been clashing against each other in the battle of who thinks about sex more often.
Study one: men win.
The first study we will look at was conducted in 2011 by Ohio State University. The study parameters included 163 females and 120 males between the ages of 18-25. Of these, 59 people were randomly assigned to track thoughts about food, 61 people were assigned to track thoughts about sleep and 163 people were told to track thoughts about sex.
To ensure the study was as unbiased as possible, the pre-survey questionnaire filled out by each participant included questions that measured positive and negative emotional orientation towards sex.
The results of this study concluded that the male participants thought about sex up to 388 times per day and the female participants thought about sex up to 140 times per day.
Something really interesting to note about this study (that will heavily factor into what I have to say about all of this at the end of the article) is that when the analysis considered the male and female thought patterns towards sex separately, there was no distinctive variable or attitude about sex (or lack of desire for sex) that could be defined as a predictor of how often sex popped into their heads.
Study two: women win.
Jumping forward a few years to 2014, we find what was considered to be one of the largest surveys of sexual desires ever - with 10,500 men and women from 114 different countries around the world participating. This was a monster survey that had some very interesting results...one of which was that women think about sex more often than men.
This survey also showed some other interesting tippings of the scale, including that women are more open-minded about porn and that, in relationships, women place higher importance on a good sex life than men do.
Study three: men masturbate more than women.
This poll of over 900 Europeans and Americans about their masturbation habits prove that 98% of men and 88% of women masturbate. Not only that, but this survey concluded that men masturbate longer and more often.
Men in the study claimed to masturbate up to 4 days per week and last an average of 14 minutes each session - whereas women claim to masturbate up to twice per week and claim to last up to around 13 minutes per session.
Study four: women fantasize more than men.
In 2012, researchers surveyed 2,250 Spanish people between the ages of 18 and 73 who had been in a heterosexual relationship for at least 6 months. The results of this study showed that women have sexual and romantic fantasies more often than men do.
Four different studies...all kinds of different answers.
What does this mean? Well - it means we aren’t that simple.
Sexuality is a complex, intricate, and unique part of all of us that can’t be quantified in a study or research paper. Not only that, but the results of all of these studies cannot possibly take into account everyone’s sexual histories, libido, health conditions, and all the other things that impact our sex drive.
Your sexual identity is made up of so many different things - it’s a combination of biological, hormonal, and environmental factors that flow together like an ever-changing stream. Who we are today, the things we want, how we see ourselves as sexual beings - that won’t be the same person we see 5 or 10 years from now.
Even if you remain the same sexual orientation throughout your life, the things you find attractive, your libido, your sexual needs, your emotional needs - all of that will change as you do. This is one of the biggest reasons there can never really be an answer for which sex enjoys sex more, who watches more porn, etc - these things change and evolve with our sexual identity.
The link between mental health and sexual happiness is more of a circle than a straight line - if you are struggling with depression or anxiety (or other mood disorders), your libido takes a hit. And yet, studies have proven time and time again that sexual activity (whether it be with someone or alone) can have a beneficial impact on our physical and mental health, maybe more than we realize.
“Since I started treating my anxiety and depression with prescription medication, I have no sex drive.”
“I feel like it’s always an extreme: I either want sex all the time or not at all. It can be for any length of time…”
“My fiance thinks that when I don’t want to have sex for a long period of time, it’s because I don’t want him. The real reason is that sometimes my anxiety makes me so paranoid about getting pregnant that I simply just can’t.”
These are all quotes from this article on The Mighty, released in 2018. The article allows 25 people to anonymously share how much their mental health conditions impact their sex life. It’s quite an emotional read, as you may see some of these problems mirrored in your own life. But that’s the point - mental health has such a big impact on your sex drive, it’s important to understand and acknowledge that.
If you find yourself struggling with your libido due to mental or physical health concerns, please don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor and try to find alternative solutions. Sex isn’t everything, but it can be such an intimate, important part of a healthy relationship and if you are unhappy with your current sex life, there may be things you can do to try to improve it.
You could also seek out couple’s counseling or individual therapy to attempt to work through any emotional/mental barriers you’ve put up due to trauma, illness, etc.
Just like you’re not rocking the same “Rachel” style haircut as you were in the early 2000s, your sexual preferences, desires, and motivations have likely changed a lot since then, too.
Your sexual identity is more than just your sex and sexual orientation - it’s built up of a seemingly infinite combination of factors that change all the time. Maybe your mental health isn’t doing so well, and that impacts your libido. Or maybe you’re experiencing a hormone flux and your libido is soaring, but you’re finding yourself struggling with a mental or physical health condition that makes having sex difficult. There is any number of things that can factor into our sexual identity and each one of those things can change other things that also factor into our sex drive.
And because of that, your sexual identity and desires are constantly changing as you do. This, of course, also impacts who, at any given time, wants sex more or less in your relationships or in any of the studies listed above.
This is why studies like the ones mentioned can’t ever be truly accurate when it comes to sexual desire...they can’t ever give us a complete picture of who we are as sexual beings because the picture is always developing and changing in different hues of light.
Sexual stats are a great thing, don’t get me wrong. The amount of education and awareness these studies bring prove their worth - but it’s always important to keep in mind that studies are a mere snapshot, not the bigger picture.
Back in 2011, 50 Shades of Grey burst into book stores everywhere and damn - women found those things page-turners. Along with the uprise in E.L James’ Book sales came a different kind of uprising...the rising of female voices everywhere.
Although I have my own concerns over the franchise’s interesting take on BDSM, I will give it merit where merit is due: women have become so much more comfortable talking about their sex lives (particularly what they want) since the first book was released.
While it’s been no surprise (to any women reading this, at least) that women have, for a very long time, been more open about sex with their close friends than men have been with their close friends, something changed around the release of 50 Shades of Grey.
Somehow, seemingly overnight, it became more “acceptable” for women to share their fantasies (or to have these kinds of fantasies at all) - it became “mainstream” and “normal” to want to re-enact various parts of the books with your partner. In fact, the sex toy industry saw a 400% rise in the following year, after the first book was released.
Not only that but in the last few years, porn statistics are showing that more and more women are becoming frequent porn users. PornHub’s Year in Review stats from back in 2013 doesn’t even mention the male-female ratio - but if you look at 2019’s Year in Review, you’ll see that they’ve not only included how many women are logging onto their platform (which was 32% of their overall userbase in 2019), but they’ve also allotted women their own sections in the “most commonly viewed” graphs.
While men still take over the porn industry views by sheer numbers, there is also something interesting happening with men that factors into our little battle of sexes...men are becoming more open and honest about their sexual desires (or lack thereof).
In a 2012 survey, 34,000 British men and women were asked to report how many times they’d had sex in the last month - and for people over the age of 25 who were married or in a long-term relationship, the odds of having sex 10+ times in the last month was half as much as it was when a similar survey was held back in 1991. People are having less sex these days than they were back in 1991...why is that?
While this was initially reported back in 2012, which is quite a few years ago now, it’s interesting to note the lead researcher’s theories on why this may have been happening: “We probably have become more relaxed about ignoring social expectations when it comes to sex. Men are maybe not so intent on boasting as they once were.”
Along with that, the lead researcher suggests that the change in gender roles and dynamics may have also contributed to the decrease in sexual activity, stating that women may have become less inclined to be seen as just objects of desire.
One instance I can point to in recent years (well, this year, in fact) that proves men are becoming more open and honest about their sex lives is the expected rise in male lingerie. From the photo that sparked lingerie company Playful Promise’s social uprising to the market seeing a real demand in male lingerie items - it’s becoming more common for men to indulge in their romantic and intimate sides.
Taking this back to our original point (the battle of the sexes) - all of the studies I linked at the beginning of this article were done in a time when women weren’t as loud and proud and when men were not as comfortable sharing their more intimate sides.
It would be interesting to see one of these studies conducted now, in 2020, when so much has changed.
Aside from speaking our minds more and more when it comes to sex than we ever have before, we’re also just starting to understand more about sexual health and happiness.
With sexual health guides online including things like “value who you are and decide what’s right for you” and “build positive relationships”, we’re starting to become more aware as a society that our sexual health means more than just keeping STIs at bay.
Sexual health, in today’s age, means creating healthy boundaries, setting limits you know your partner will respect (and you respecting their limits) as well as normalizing masturbation and all the benefits of orgasms.
Sexual health, in today’s age, is about creating your own sexual happiness, whatever that looks like for you, instead of adapting to society’s version of what that should look like based on your sex, gender, and sexual orientation. We’re becoming a more understanding and knowledgeable society of people who really get that sexual desire and happiness is made up of so many different intricate components. We, of course, still have a long way to go - but it’s safe to say that we’re living in an age where sexual happiness and health awareness is on the rise.
While there are still many people who would find the idea of pegging or knife play to be “weird” or “not normal” - those numbers are dwindling, fast. Taboos that have long since been kept out of the public eye now have full platforms and forums that celebrate them.
With platforms like Sofia Gray, Cosmopolitan and many others, kinks, fetishes, and sexcapades of all kinds are becoming more normalized, more exciting and more common to talk about - and with that rise in taboo normalcy will come a drastic change in some of the statistics that we use to measure what sex means for couples and individuals everywhere.
People are being more honest, more open, and more experimental than ever before thanks to the world of sex becoming more normalized. As I said, with the latest study at the beginning of this article being back in 2014, it will be really interesting to see what the next few years of sexual research has to offer, considering how much has changed between then and now.
Although you may have just glanced at the stats and decided either men or women want sex more, the truth is, we are all too unique to fit inside the box of “horny or not”.
We need to stop spreading these narratives that women hate porn, that men want sex all the time, that men can’t have a low libido, that women need emotion and romance to hook up...it’s all just so silly when you box it up like that. To imagine that one person’s entire sexual identity (their desires, their wants, their needs, their relationship with sex) can fit into one little sentence...it’s absurd.
It becomes even more absurd when you consider that these broad statements don’t leave any room for growth or adaptation. If you struggle with sex in one relationship, that doesn’t mean the next one will bring on the exact same feelings. Or, if you’re going through a bout of bad health during the “sexual prime” of your life, that doesn’t mean (at all) that you can’t have a new sexual prime once the health matters are resolved.
We all have our own unique desires and sexual histories that link us to our sexuality in a plethora of ways that cannot be broken down into simple terms like how often we think about sex. We can’t possibly know who the “hornier” sex is because it’s not that simple.
This narrative that people can be separated and broken down into sex and gender, and based on where they fall, this is how they think. It’s very...singular. It’s an ancient way of thinking that will have us going backward instead of forwards in this sexual revolution. Things, especially in the sexual world, are very rarely that simple and easy.
It’s not just black and white, it’s 50 million shades of grey (pun very much intended) - and when you stop to think about it...isn’t that just wonderful?