Women Are More Interested In Sex Than You Think, Studies Show
Men underestimate their wife’s or girlfriend’s sexual desire; read her signals
Rarely are researchers’ findings so satisfying. Women may want more sex than their husbands or partners think.
New research by psychologists at the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario, published earlier this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found that men in long-term relationships often underestimate how often their wives or girlfriends want to be intimate.
The research consists of three studies, following a total of 229 long-term couples, most of whom are heterosexual. (The sample of homosexual couples was too small to be statistically significant, the researchers say.) Participants ranged in age from 18 to 68 years old; the couples had been together six years on average, and they reported they had sex an average of one to two times a week.
In study one, 44 couples kept a diary for three weeks: Partners reported on their own level of sexual desire each day, as well as their perception of their partner’s level of desire and their level of relationship satisfaction. In study two, 84 couples came into the laboratory once and reported on the general levels of their desire, their perception of their partner’s desire and their happiness in the relationship. And in study three, 101 couples kept a diary for three weeks, reporting on the same three issues. They were also asked to report how motivated they were each day to avoid sexual rejection.
MARRIED SEX BY THE NUMBERS
According to ‘The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States,’ a 1994 University of Chicago study considered the most comprehensive in the field:
Almost 80% of married couples have sex a few times a month or more.
Thirty-two percent of married couples report having sex two to three times a week.
Forty-seven percent of married couples report having sex a few times a month.
Less than 10% of married people say their last sexual event lasted an hour or more.
All three studies showed the same thing: Men consistently underestimated their female partner’s desire, while the women had an accurate read on whether or not their partner was interested in sex. And on the days when the men thought their partner was less sexually interested than she actually was, the women reported being more satisfied in and committed to the relationship.
The researchers believe that men underestimate their partner’s desire to avoid sexual rejection. If a man initiates sex and his wife rebuffs him, he may feel bad or resentful and she may feel annoyed. By assuming she isn’t interested and not initiating sex, he avoids this downward spiral. And he also may work harder to entice her, which may explain why she still feels content on those days. “It is better for the relationship for him to under-perceive, because it avoids complacency,” says Amy Muise, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto.
How much sex is “normal”? Almost 80% of married couples have sex a few times a month or more: 32% report having sex two to three times a week; 47% say they have sex a few times a month, according to “The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States,” a 1994 University of Chicago study considered the most comprehensive in the field.
Men have a higher sex drive on average, research has found. But in long-term relationships—typically defined as longer than three years—men are equally as likely as women to be the partner with low sexual desire. A June 2015, article in the journal “Current Sexual Health Reports” reviewed 31 research studies on sexual desire and sexual discrepancy and found no gender differences in which partner had the higher sex drive.
“The assumption that women are going to be the lower-desire partner needs to be thrown out,” says Kristen Mark, author of the article and director of the sexual health promotion laboratory at the University of Kentucky.
There are a number of reasons why a man might underestimate how much sex his female partner wants, psychologists say. Some women don’t feel comfortable initiating sex. Others give up initiating after their cues are ignored or missed repeatedly. And many just don’t send clear enough signals.
“I will see women in my office who will tell their husband: ‘Remember when I was joking about that sex scene in that movie we saw? Well, I was trying to come onto you,’” says Sari Cooper, a sex and marriage therapist in New York City. “He may need something more overt.”
The problem of women not communicating well about their desire is more complex than couples think, Ms. Cooper says. The woman may not really know what she wants sexually, so she has trouble communicating her wishes or would feel uncomfortable following through with what she asked for. Or she may know that she is the higher-desire partner and be trying to spare his feelings, so he doesn’t feel pressured or unmanly if he doesn’t want to have sex.
(The women in the Toronto study who said they were more satisfied in their relationship on days when their partners underestimated their sex drive are probably happier in general with their sex life than the couples who show up for sex therapy, the researchers say.)
So what can a couple do? Communicate—not just about when they want to have sex or what they like, but also about what signals they use to show their desire. They should also talk about what signals they prefer to receive. “It’s important not to initiate sex in a way that is a turn off to your partner,” the University of Toronto’s Dr. Muise says.
When talking with your partner about sex—or anything sensitive—use the word “we” instead of the word “you.” A good start is to say: “This is important to me. How can we create a situation that is comfortable for both of us?” “That way there is no blaming going on,” Ms. Cooper, the sex therapist, says. “The couple is sitting down to solve the problem together.”
If you can tell your partner is interested in sex but you aren't in the mood, acknowledge their desire. Explain that you find your partner attractive and would like to be intimate, just not at the moment. And promise to find another time.
Consider having sex even if you’re not in the mood. Research shows that people in long-term relationships who do this—it is called showing “sexual communal strength”—are better able to maintain their sexual desire over time.
Think about scheduling sex. It doesn’t sound romantic. But it is essentially what newer couples do when they plan a date. A study of strategies women use to sync their desire with their partner’s, conducted by researchers at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Ind., and the University of Kentucky and published in 2013 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, showed this to be a very effective at boosting couples’ sexual satisfaction.