“What do you want?” he asked. The answer was obvious: more sex. But I couldn’t bring myself to say that. I could not get past the idea that something was fundamentally wrong with me. My sex drive was, I thought, out of control, and this was damaging the best relationship I had ever had.
As my boyfriend and I tried to discuss our options, I kept hitting a wall. While I continued to blame myself for my body, all our efforts spent in “fixing” the problem were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until I realized what the real problem was that we started to turn things around.
Tearing down the wall: the “problem” with the portrayal of female sex drives.
Whether explicitly or not, women have been told or have accepted the notion that they have much lower sex drives than men. This is often pointed at in justification of why men rape so often, masturbate, look at porn, have multiple partners, cheat on their partners, and pressure their partners into having sex before they want to. However, the idea that women have lower, less voracious sex drives is purely myth and is not fair to either gender.
Despite the fact that women are depicted in the media as sexy, tan, thin sex objects, the idea that women actually want and—dare I say?—need sex as much as their male counterparts still occurs to many people as absurd. After all, the “logic” goes, how could women possibly be able to deny men if their sex drives were comparable?
Because of this issue, many of my friends have told me that they think their sex drives are abnormal. They report having higher sex drives than their husbands and boyfriends and feel guilty about asking for or wanting sexual intercourse so often. I want to shake them and scream, “You’re NORMAL!”
Science proves my point: Male and female sex drives don’t differ as much as we think.
According to Baldwin and Baldwin (1997), female and male sex drives have more in common than society would like us to believe. In fact, in charting the separate bell curves of female sex drives and male sex drives, there is more overlap than there is difference. However, the average female sex drive as reported in the study was lower than the male sex drive.
While you think you might have me by the balls (figuratively, of course) on account of the difference of the average, it should be taken into account that Baldwin and Baldwin (1997) also conceded that both social and biological factors influence sex drive greatly.
According to a meta-analysis on a literature review of studies reporting correlations between reported sexual desire and measured genital arousal (Chivers, Seto, Lalumière, Laan, & Grimbos, 2010), men’s actual desire levels frequently agreed with their measure of physiological desire. In contrast, women’s reported sexual desire levels rarely agreed with actual measured desire. In fact, women’s physiological arousal level was often much greater than what they reported. Considering that our society ostracizes women with “high” sex drives, it is very likely that the difference in self-report for women comes from feeling uncomfortable with sharing their actual level of arousal.
Is it possible that women have higher sex drives than men?
Though I obviously cannot speak for all women, my small and biased sample size, which includes the women I know and myself, would give an affirmative “Hell, yes!” to that question.
From being ashamed to masturbate to feeling like we are a sexual strain on our male partners, it is completely possible that women, on average—all differences of self-report and societal influences aside—have more active sex drives. Obviously, there are outliers that go against that idea, but I’m sticking to it.
Societal factors can decrease the female sex drive.
For instance, women whose partners don’t want or don’t know how to help them orgasm might develop a distaste for sexual activity that might result in a decreased sex drive. Educating both males and females on ways to enjoy sex and help their partners enjoy sex would be a wonderful way to combat that problem, but our sex education system is a long way away from condoning that.
Another issue that affects female sex drive is guilt. For women, especially (but not exclusively) those who grew up religious and were always taught that sex was terrible, opinions about sex significantly influence a woman’s experience of it.
Even if a woman were to wait until marriage, it would be enormously difficult to reverse her negative thoughts about sex (for a great article about that issue, click here). Because sex, at least from my experience, happens in the mind as well as the body, those negative thoughts can be detrimental to the female sex drive.
What does this mean for women? For men?
At this point you might be wondering why this all matters. The point is that this myth is just that—a myth. It is a remnant of a society where women are not seen for who they are but what they do—a remnant that, unfortunately, persists in so many ways. This inaccurate portrayal of the female sex drive causes women to be ashamed of their bodies and makes them think that there is something wrong with them. That is NOT the case.
The myth that women have lower sex drives affects men in similar ways. If their female partners want sex more than they do, it makes the man feel inadequate. They are convinced—because of the myth of high male sex drives—that they need to be the ones always begging for sex.
This myth also has a far-reaching effect on society’s view of sexual crimes. Whether that means condoning a man’s behavior for raping a woman by chalking it up to a high sex drive or the inability to recognize that women can rape men (which is incredibly underreported), this myth has caused myriad issues in the legal system.
What’s important here is education.
I have a healthy sexual appetite. I have what might be considered an “overactive” sex drive, but I have a very understanding partner (the boyfriend from earlier) who will soon be my husband and is able to say no to me when he needs to. In the past, I have been ashamed of my sex drive, which was not helped by the fact that I was and am still ashamed to masturbate regularly. But because I understand the myth and check in with my fiancé often, we are figuring it out.
If our society educates both women and men on what a real female sex drive looks like, we might be able to turn this around. Women, you don’t need to be ashamed of your bodies. Enjoy sex. Do it safely. Men, understand that women want sex just as much (if not more) than you do, and that doesn’t mean that you are inadequate. This understanding is key in exposing the myth of the weak female sex drive.