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Sex Drive: How Do Men and Women Compare?

Experts say men score higher in libido, while women's sex drive is more "fluid."
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3. Women's sexual turn-ons are more complicated than men's.

What turns women on? Not even women always seem to know. Northwestern University researcher Meredith Chivers and colleagues showed erotic films to gay and straight men and women. They asked them about their level of sexual arousal, and also measured their actual level of arousal through devices attached to their genitals.

For men, the results were predictable: Straight men said they were more turned on by depictions of male-female sex and female-female sex, and the measuring devices backed up their claims. Gay men said they were turned on by male-male sex, and again the devices backed them up. For women, the results were more surprising. Straight women, for example, said they were more turned on by male-female sex. But genitally they showed about the same reaction to male-female, male-male, and female-female sex. 

"Men are very rigid and specific about who they become aroused by, who they want to have sex with, who they fall in love with," says J. Michael Bailey. He is a Northwestern University sex researcher and co-author with Chivers on the study.

By contrast, women may be more open to same-sex relationships thanks to their less-directed sex drives, Bailey says. "Women probably have the capacity to become sexually interested in and fall in love with their own sex more than men do," Bailey says. "They won't necessarily do it, but they have the capacity."

Bailey's idea is backed up by studies showing that homosexuality is a more fluid state among women than men. In another broad review of studies, Baumeister found many more lesbians reported recent sex with men, when compared to gay men's reports of sex with women. Women were also more likely than men to call themselves bisexual, and to report their sexual orientation as a matter of choice.

4. Women's sex drives are more influenced by social and cultural factors.

In his review, Baumeister found studies showing many ways in which women's sexual attitudes, practices, and desires were more influenced by their environment than men:

  • Women's attitudes toward (and willingness to perform) various sexual practices are more likely than men's to change over time.
  • Women who regularly attend church are less likely to have permissive attitudes about sex. Men do not show this connection between church attendance and sex attitudes.
  • Women are more influenced by the attitudes of their peer group in their decisions about sex.
  • Women with higher education levels were more likely to have performed a wider variety of sexual practices (such as oral sex); education made less of a difference with men.
  • Women were more likely than men to show inconsistency between their expressed values about sexual activities such as premarital sex and their actual behavior.

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