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This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

Sex drive: How do men and women compare?

Experts say men score higher in libido, while women's sex drive is more "fluid."

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Birds do it, bees do it and men do it any old time. However, women will only do it if the candles are scented just right - and their partner has done the dishes first. This is a stereotype, but is it true? Do men really have stronger sex drives than women?

Well, yes, they do. Study after study illustrates that men's sex drives are not only stronger than women's, but much more straightforward. The sources of women's libidos, by contrast, are much more difficult to pin down.

It's common wisdom that women place more value on emotional connection as a spark of sexual desire. However, women also appear to be heavily influenced by social and cultural factors as well.

"Sexual desire in women is extremely sensitive to environment and context," says Edward O. Laumann, a professor of sociology and lead author of a major survey of sexual practices, The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States.   

Here are seven patterns of men's and women's sex drives that researchers have found. Keep in mind that individuals may vary from these norms. 

1. Men think more about sex.

The majority of adult men under 60 years old think about sex at least once a day, reports Laumann. Only about one-quarter of women report this level of frequency. As men and women age, each fantasise less, but men still fantasise about twice as often.

In a comprehensive survey of studies comparing male and female sex drives, Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, found that men reported more spontaneous sexual arousal and had more frequent and varied fantasies.

2. Men seek sex more avidly.

"Men want sex more often than women at the start of a relationship, in the middle of it and after many years of it," Baumeister concludes after reviewing several surveys of men and women. This isn't just true of heterosexuals, he reports: gay men also have a higher frequency of sex than lesbians at all stages of the relationship. Men also say they want more sex partners in their lifetime, and are more interested in casual sex. 

Men are more likely to seek sex even when it is frowned upon or even outlawed:

  • About two-thirds say they masturbate, even though about half also say they feel guilty about it, Laumann says. By contrast, about 40% of women say they masturbate, and the frequency of masturbation is less among women.
  • Prostitution is still mostly a phenomenon of men seeking sex with women, rather than the other way around.
  • Nuns do a better job of fulfilling their vows of chastity than priests. Baumeister cites a survey of several hundred clergy by Sheila Murphy in which 62% of priests admitted to sexual activity, compared to 49% of nuns. The men reported more partners on average than the women.

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