An analysis of results of 211 studies on sex drive found that men, on average, have a substantially stronger sex drive than women. Men more often think and fantasize about sex, more often experience sexual feelings, and more often engage in masturbation compared to women. The study was published in Psychological Bulletin.
Sexuality is one of the most important spheres of life in adults. Sexual experiences create intimacy and bring about intense emotions that can be both positive and negative. It can deepen or destroy romantic relationships.
Sexuality is driven by what is called sex drive. Also called libido, it is, in simple terms, the desire to have sex. Its intensity varies between people. While it is quite weak in some, making them feel the need to have sex very rarely and reaching sexual excitation only under very special circumstances, it can be strong in others, making them feel the desire to have sex very often, very intensely and making them spend a lot of time thinking about sex.
“A crucial aspect of human sexuality concerns individuals’ sex drive. People arguably differ in their dispositional sexual motivation. As a result, scientific research and party conversations alike have long been drawn to the question of whether there is a gender difference in human sex drive,” said study author Julius Frankenbach and his colleagues.
With this in mind, the researchers set out to provide a novel concept of sex drive based on psychological theory and to conduct a meta-analysis of published studies that examined gender differences in sex drive. A meta-analysis is a type of study where researchers integrate results of a large number of studies on a certain topic to determine general tendencies in results. Such studies are particularly important when different studies produce different results.
The researchers reviewed scientific publications looking for studies that measured how often a person thinks about sex (sexual cognition), has sexual feelings (sexual affect) or engages in sex (sexual behavior), but also studies where participants self-rated their sex drive or sexual feelings. Studies needed to include both male and female participants, participants needed to be over 14 years of age, and the number of study participants needed to not be too small (at least 20 males and females each).
The researchers excluded studies where participants were from clinical populations, that were published before 1997, that included any form of experimental manipulation or intervention, and those that took place in the context of pregnancy or abortion.
The search resulted in a total of 483 publications meeting the researchers’ criteria. However, 460 did not contain all the necessary information. Researchers contacted the authors of these publications with requests to provide information that was missing. A majority of authors responded, but many did not. In the end, the authors of this study analyzed the results of 211 studies that included a total of 621,463 participants altogether.
The researchers first explored potential gender differences in biased responding. One of the key indicators of this are reports of participants about how often they have sex. The reasoning is that if participants are a representative sample of the heterosexual population, whenever a male has sex, there must also be a woman doing the same. This means that there should be no differences in how often males and females have sex when only heterosexuals are considered.
Since these samples had around 11% of homosexual participants and homosexual women were expected to have sex somewhat less often than homosexual men, there could be an overall lower frequency of having sex in women compared to men, but not by much.
Results showed no gender differences in how often a person has sex on average. However, men reported having more one-night stands and the total number of sexual partners both in the last year and total sex partners, indicators on which gender differences should also not be possible.
“These analyses suggest that biased responding may have indeed played a role, but that this effect was small. The effect may be driven by social norms through unconscious or subconscious influences, such as memory errors, different estimation strategies, or differential accounting for ‘edge cases’ of having had sex, but they may also at least partly be driven by self-presentation tendencies for men to overreport and/or women to underreport their sexual experiences,” the researchers wrote.
Main results indicated that men thought about sex more often (sexual cognition), had sexual feelings more often, and engaged in sexual behavior more often. Males also reported more intensive sexual emotions (affect intensity) and assessed their sex drive as higher.
“Men think and fantasize about sex more often, experience sexual affect such as desire more often, and more often engage in solitary sexual behavior (masturbation). Biased responding may have inflated these differences, but is unlikely to fully account for the effect. The conservative, response-bias-corrected effect estimate is still of moderate size,” the researchers concluded.
The study makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge of sexuality. However, it should be noted that it was based on self-reports and that the study design does not allow for any cause-and-effect conclusions.
The study, “Sex Drive: Theoretical Conceptualization and Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Differences”, was authored by Julius Frankenbach, Marcel Weber, David D. Loschelder, Helena Kilger, and Malte Friese.