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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."

5. Women take a less direct route to sexual satisfaction.

Men and women travel slightly different paths to arrive at sexual desire. "I hear women say in my office that desire originates much more between the ears than between the legs," says Esther Perel, a New York City psychotherapist. "For women there is a need for a plot -- hence the romance novel. It is more about the anticipation, how you get there; it is the longing that is the fuel for desire," Perel says.

Women's desire "is more contextual, more subjective, more layered on a lattice of emotion," Perel adds. Men, by contrast, don't need to have nearly as much imagination, Perel says, since sex is simpler and more straightforward for them.

That doesn't mean men don't seek intimacy, love, and connection in a relationship, just as women do. They just view the role of sex differently. "Women want to talk first, connect first, then have sex," Perel explains. "For men, sex is the connection. Sex is the language men use to express their tender loving vulnerable side," Perel says. "It is their language of intimacy."

6. Women experience orgasms differently than men.

Men, on average, take 4 minutes from the point of entry until ejaculation, according to Laumann. Women usually take around 10 to 11 minutes to reach orgasm -- if  they do.

That's another difference between the sexes: how often they have an orgasm during sex. Among men who are part of a couple, 75% say they always have an orgasm, as opposed to 26% of the women. And not only is there a difference in reality, there's one in perception, too. While the men's female partners reported their rate of orgasm accurately, the women's male partners said they believed their female partners had orgasms 45% of the time.

7. Women's libidos seem to be less responsive to drugs.

With men's sex drives seemingly more directly tied to biology when compared to women, it may be no surprise that low desire may be more easily treated through medication in men. Men have embraced drugs as a cure not only for erectile dysfunction but also for a shrinking libido. With women, though, the search for a drug to boost sex drive has proved more elusive. 

Testosterone has been linked to sex drive in both men and women. But testosterone works much faster in men with low libidos than women, says Glenn Braunstein, MD. He is past-chair of the department of medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and a leading researcher on testosterone treatments in women. While the treatments are effective, they're not as effective in women as in men. "There is a hormonal factor in [sex drive], but it is much more important in men than women," Braunstein says. 

A testosterone patch for women called Intrinsa has been approved in Europe but was rejected by the FDA due to concerns about long-term safety. But the drug has sparked a backlash from some medical and psychiatric professionals who question whether low sex drive in women should even be considered a condition best treated with drugs. They point to the results of a large survey in which about 40% of women reported some sort of sexual problem -- most commonly low sexual desire -- but only 12% said they felt distressed about it. With all the factors that go into the stew that piques sexual desire in women, some doctors say a drug should be the last ingredient to consider, rather than the first.

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Reviewed on August 22, 2013

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