July 7, 2003 -- Forget Venus, we're all trying to land on Mars. Men and women might not be as far apart in libido and sexual behaviors as we once thought.
A new study, appearing in The Journal of Sex Research, takes a close look at this ever-fascinating topic -- men's and women's attitudes and actions regarding sex. Are social expectations and attitudes squelching women's natural sex drive, her libido?
In fact, most accounts about women's attitudes on sex should be viewed with skepticism, writes researcher Terri Fisher, PhD, a psychology professor at Ohio State University in Mansfield, Ohio.
"Women are sensitive to social expectations for their sexual behavior and may be less than totally honest when asked about their behavior in some survey conditions," she says in a news release.
The Sex Surveys
In her study, Fisher sifted through questionnaires completed by 201 unmarried, heterosexual college students -- 96 men, 105 women.
The students were separated into three groups. All were instructed to complete a questionnaire about their sexual attitudes, sexual experience and behavior, and the age at which they first had sexual intercourse.
Group one filled out the questionnaires while hooked up to a traditional polygraph "lie detector," and were told it could detect any dishonesty about their answers. (However, they weren't told that the old polygraph machine didn't really work.)
Each member of group two filled out the surveys alone in a room, and were told their answers would be completely anonymous.
Group three completed their surveys alone in a room, but with the researcher sitting right outside the testing room, with the door open. They were told the researcher might see their responses.
Truth or Consequences
When the answers were tabulated, it was clear -- social pressures won out. When women thought others might see their answers, they gave answers that were more socially acceptable. Women hooked up to the lie detector gave the most honest answers, reports Fisher.
The evidence: Women reported an average of 2.6 sexual partners if they thought others would see their answers. They reported an average of 4.4 partners if they were assured anonymity. Women who had privacy during testing -- but were not attached to the lie detector -- reported an average of 3.4 partners.
On the men's side, the answers didn't vary much. The "polygraph men" reported an average of 4.0 partners; the other men reported 3.7 partners.
"Women appear to feel pressure to adhere to sex role expectations" -- to be more relationship-oriented and not promiscuous, says Fisher.
However, only the women's attitudes were different from men's -- not their actual sexual behavior or libido. The pattern was clearest for behaviors considered less acceptable for women than men -- like masturbation and enjoying erotica, she adds.