We are still trying to understand what differences, if any, exist between men’s and women’s sex drives, and how these differences might impact social differences. The problem gets trickier because it looks like social expectations impact how often men and women will report feeling aroused, as discussed in this Kinsey Confidential report. Researchers found that men reported thinking about sex quite often (though not as often as the “every 7 seconds” stereotype), while women reported thinking about sex pretty often too… but they might’ve under-reported because of social norms that are more permissive about men thinking about sex than women doing so.
Why does this matter? Well, researchers are still struggling with the tendency for the media to run away with studies claiming to “prove” that men and women are completely different. Scholars for instance argue instead that “there are no clear cut and easy answers to why we do what we do, and why men and women sometimes have problems getting along. To ignore the enormous wealth of data on how men and women are similar AND different and to try to tackle this enormously complex reality via one-dimensional approaches is just poor science.”
Moreover, these sorts of claims do have effects on concepts of equality and sexism. A little while ago, an article on Cracked trying to explain misogyny as an unfortunate side effect of men’s higher libidos got a lot of attention. The premise: men are enculturated to hate women, in part because men have higher sex drives that women just don’t get and won’t accommodate. I like the part that attributes sexism to culture, because as a social constructionist, I really do believe that hateful behavior is something we learn. No one comes out of the womb mocking or oppressing others.
However, as Amanda points out at Pandagon: “This article, while well-meaning, couldn’t get past the notion that women are dull, because we don’t have those all-important sex drives to create sharpness and ambition.” It’s worth giving the essay a read, because the author deconstructs a lot of the consequences of believing that sex drive differences create misogyny, such as the notion that men are automatically more creative than women, that men’s sexuality is this primal and inevitable force of nature, and thus that the differences between the sexes are also totally inevitable and immutable.
As discussed above, scientific research doesn’t really support the idea that men’s and women’s sex drives are undeniably, empirically Different Types Of Things. So explaining misogyny as an unintended result of the libido difference is misguided at best. Rather, misogyny is about the desire for control, power, and domination, which is, unfortunately, something that men all over the world are socialized to expect and want. This stuff is harder to talk about, because we’re all implicated in it, but it’s important.
Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor. Follow Jeana, the author of this post, @foxyfolklorist.