Lust, Lies and Libidos
Updated: Jul 19
The truth about women’s sex drives
The Truth About Women’s Sexual Appetites
Women may be even more sexual than men, which probably comes as a shock to most of you. Generations of media mythology and contradictory urban legends, sometimes powered by male insecurities, are smothering the truth.
Please don’t make lazy assumptions about women’s sexuality based on what they’re allowed to do, or feel safe doing. History and our entire culture is littered with cautionary tales of what happens to women who dare to be sexual, or even just trust a man sexually. Sex can be a dangerous business for women.
Instead, let’s rationally examine the assumptions clouding the truth about female sexuality, and reframe the narrative to fit the facts.
In our systemically sexist world, women are conditioned to try to suppress our sexuality except when male approved, and coerced by societal pressure into mistaking performances for the male gaze for our own sexuality.
I know I have a healthy sex drive and I always have. So why am I always being told that women aren’t sexual? My own experiences made me start to ask questions. Am I a throwback, an exception, or is there something else going on?
I decided to dig a little deeper.
In my late 40s I had a brief dance with dating apps. I was careful to affirm in my profile that I was looking for a full relationship, and was a tactile person. Women walk a knife-edge on dating apps. We can’t just say “I want to pursue a sexual relationship” unless we want to actually encourage every creeper to crawl into their messages. Despite making it crystal clear I had zero interest in hookups I was still the lucky recipient of messages from several booty call beggers.
I went on a few dates with one man a decade older than me, who’d apparently read my bio and dismissed it. He asked me in a hopeful tone if I was dating him because I assumed that an older man might not want sex. Pure projection based on what society had taught him. The thought hadn’t even occurred to me. I wasn’t an expert yet on the ins and outs of prostate issues and faltering male libidos and was fully anticipating and hoping for a healthy, monogamous sexual relationship. (Fortunately for me, I later found one).
It turns out there’s clear evidence that many men have low sex drives, and many women aren’t particularly happy about that.
Psychologists & Medical Experts Speak Up
Psychology Today tells us: “A common distortion in our society views men as wanting sex more than women. In my personal experience as a therapist, I have found this to be untrue. Many couples I’ve seen have complained of the opposite dynamic, with the woman feeling frustrated over her partner’s lack of interest in sex… When people wrote in about the discrepancy of frequency and desire [for sex], about 40% of the time it was men wanting less.” Irwin Goldstein, M.D., director of sexual medicine at San Diego’s Alvarado Hospital and editor in chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine further stated to WebMD that one in five men have a low libido, and almost 30% of women say they have more interest in sex than their partner has.”
But even if we accepted the trope of frustrated highly sexed men and disinterested women, surely that argues for males being wired naturally for monogamy. If a man can still be physically interested in his partner years into the relationship — and there’s no hiding a lack of desire if you’re a man — clearly he can handle monogamy.
Either way, forcing men to follow bloke culture notions about sex isn’t doing them, or women any good. Men are allowed to desire sex infrequently. Many would find this a relief. Allowing both men and women to have differing sexual appetites allows honest discussion of what that means for relationships. Acceptance of these realities gives women the freedom to seek what works for them too. We all benefit from honesty, and truth.
Women’s Choices ≠ Men’s Choices An often overlooked but very important point is that women are not always partnered with men they find genuinely sexually attractive, for all sorts of reasons based around systemic inequality.
Because of the way societies are engineered, many women feel, or actually are, compelled to accept sexual partners they’re not physically interested in. In many countries, this practice has degenerated into outright bride purchasing.
In fact, marital coercion is rampant throughout the world. And Australia, Canada and other Western countries are still filled with the tales of women driven into marriages against their will. And where they’re not being compelled into marriage, it’s still often prohibitively difficult for women to earn a living, remain safe or receive societal acceptance without a man. The reality for millions of women is a choice between accepting the man they’re told to accept or setting themselves up for calamity.
It’s hardly surprising that this impacts upon the female libido.
The Caring Conundrum
“Having children and caring for others is also still relentlessly marketed at women. It’s made clear to women in every aspect of life, from birth till at least middle age, that their function is to be attractive, gain a mate, have children and look after the family.”
It cannot be denied that having children is an exhausting physical task. In today’s society we still expect the labour of childrearing and caring to be done by women. Day in and out drudgery, resentment and exhaustion would deplete anyone’s interest in their partner as a sexual being.
So if you’re not physically interested in your mate at the outset, the odds of finding him attractive later are negligible. And even if you were physically attracted to him to begin with, carrying the caregiver and mental load can swiftly lower even the raciest woman’s sex drive. And that can’t be fixed by a backrub or “helping” in the kitchen, it’s a core issue at the heart of many relationships.
The Madonna/Whore Complex
As we’re all aware, there’s also a double standard between female and male sexual desire. It can be dangerous for women to admit they even like sex, let alone pursue what they want sexually.
Speaking honestly about sexual desires, or following those desires can result in death, shaming, penury, reputational harm and societal shunning.
It’s no surprise that few of us feel we can be honest and clear about sexual desire, considering the impact of systemic abuse and misogyny.
Hardwiring Doesn’t Cut It
Fruits from the poisoned tree of sexism bloom widely, and one of those is the notion that men simply can’t help ogling women, can’t help their natural urges.
But we all know men (in fact the majority) who simply don’t behave in such an entitled fashion, so it makes no logical sense to claim it’s necessary for men to gawk, intimidate, and disrespect. When it suits them, or when they have to, men control their impulses all the time. If men really couldn’t avoid ogling they’d endanger themselves regularly, and face severe sanctions in some situations.
Just as with sexual assault, the men who indulge in gawking, catcalling etc. ensure it’s reasonably safe and consequence-free before they do so.
It turns out that the main difference between the sexes when it comes to being obvious about finding someone physically appealing is entitlement.
Science Seals The Deal
Though women don’t tend to eye track to the penis, that could well be because you can’t actually see much of the penis in most modern clothes. If we were all walking around in beachwear (terrifying thought!) that might rapidly change.
Studies confirm that women do indeed have a preference for a larger penis (to a point). So, what I already understood to be true through my own experiences was again proven through science. Women are well aware of men’s physical appearances. But because we’re not so overt about appraising men, while many men insist on being obvious, society once again mistakes horses’ hoofbeats for the thunder of zebras.
The main difference between how men and women appraise one another lies in the way women are conditioned to hide their sexuality: to stay safe from men physically, to appear non-threatening, and to be polite. If you’re making it obvious you’re looking, it’s because you want to be obvious.
With all these similarities piling up, it’s starting to look like men and women might be the same species.
Lies and Libidos
Since at least Darwinian times, we’ve been force-fed the notion that men are natural cheaters and women are naturally monogamous, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
As the Guardian noted in an article on prehistoric societies “When it comes to women’s “low libido”, Ryan and Jethá simply disagree, arguing in fact that women have evolved for sex with multiple partners. They look, for example, at women’s ability to have multiple orgasms in a sexual session, to have sex at any time during their menstrual cycle and their propensity to make a lot of noise during sex — which they argue is a prehistoric mating call to encourage more men to come and join in. These evolutionary traits have occurred, they argue, to ensure breeding is successful.”
And let’s think how that might work, practically. If women are naturally monogamous, then all the cheating men must be carnally enjoying one another. Or maybe there’s just one really busy, exhausted woman running around sleeping with lots of desperate dudes.
Another unsupported and largely irrelevant claim is that women cheat because “reasons”. Women, like men, undoubtedly have many reasons for cheating. We don’t know why they’re sleeping around, we just know they are.
And then there’s pesky nature again, revealing her true intentions. Why do women have a clitoris with thousands more nerve endings than a penis, and why are we capable of multiple orgasms, if we aren’t naturally designed to be sexual? And did you know that sperm is designed to fight foreign sperm if it comes across it?
When You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Bury ‘Em
In 2013 one book was hailed as a breakthrough in the way we examine female desire. In his groundbreaking treatise “What Do Women Want”, Daniel Bergner used scientific studies and research to prove that not only are women as sexual as men, they may even be more so.
The book was then swiftly lost at sea, swept away by oceans of fact-free sexist narratives.
It was a similar tale with Nancy Friday’s Secret Garden. Back in 1973, her book detailing in women’s own words their sexual fantasies struggled to even find a willing publisher, so entrenched was the notion that women couldn’t possibly feel this way. Every now and then it resurfaces, only to vanish again in a sea of unsubstantiated urban legends.
But despite being largely ignored by the world, the book What Do Women Want has some fascinating insights for those who are truly interested. It explains how women simply are not naturally monogamous or low in libido, but in fact female sexual desire is just as ravenous as male sexual desire. Not only are women just as easily aroused sexually as men, often they’re more easily aroused and have a broader sexual appetite than men. However, one key difference is that women begin to lose sexual interest in their partner around the three year mark.
This bombshell explains so much about sex issues in relationships.
“According to Bergner, this view, based on what he calls “flimsy, circular science”, just does not hold up. Because scientists expect to find evidence for this common perception of female sexuality, they tend to ignore evidence suggesting that women and female animals are far from passive when it comes to sexual desire. Essentially, researchers have been blindsided by a culture that is so hostile to female sexuality that it has sought to control it for centuries…”
It's Not That She Doesn’t Want Sex
My own experience includes women who appear to have gone off sex, yet feel a resurgence of desire once a man they’re really attracted to is offered as a partner. There’s a reason some women use an active fantasy life to boost their libido with their actual partner.
Research, science, common sense and our own experiences have already proven that though women do seem to lose sexual interest in their long-term mates, this doesn’t advance the argument that women are naturally monogamous. Quite the opposite.
The Man-Made Myth of Man The Hunter
The latest theories indicate humans are probably closer to bonobos than anything else. Bonobos make up just as much of our DNA lineage as chimps, and we have a lot in common with them. Bonobo females are bi-sexual and move from one partner to another.
The man the hunter theory, which seems to have been invented by men looking for an excuse to sleep around, has been largely debunked.
Current theories conclude that prior to agriculture, early humans lived in much more equal societies, and moved in small groups from place to place, with females copulating with several different males in each group.
From a biological standpoint, this makes perfect sense. This arrangement provides the best chance of strong, healthy sperm, given that sperm is competitive with other sperm. Sleeping with multiple partners also offered the pregnant female and her subsequent offspring protection. If a male is unsure if it’s his baby or not, he’s less likely to kill or harm it. And being pregnant, of course, brings all sorts of risks, including death, so having several willing males around who have a vested interest in keeping you and your growing belly fed and protected makes sense.
Look to women who are child-free by choice and in consensual relationships with men they’re attracted to if you want a more reality-based discussion of the female libido.
But good luck finding many of those.
But What About Ethics?
Humans seem wired for polygamy, physiologically speaking, although anecdotally men are more naturally monogamous, since men regularly report being easily physically aroused by long term partners, and report the opposite in their female counterparts.
Emotionally however, most of us, male and female, prefer - and are wired for - monogamy.
“In this study, young men and women reported how important they thought fidelity was to a successful marriage or committed relationship. The average of the responses was 9.8 out of 10 (SD = .86) for women and 9.7 (SD=1.15) for men. So, both young men and women still believe monogamy is extremely important — not just as a wistful ideal, but as a key part of a successful marriage. …This study also seems to be in line with recent national polling data that shows that more than 90 percent of American adults say that a marital affair is morally wrong. Another recent poll found that 64 percent of American adults say that monogamy is “fundamental” in romantic relationships”
Humans simply prefer the pair bond partnership, despite our natural interest in other sexual partners. Although this sometimes makes life difficult, monogamy is definitely always within the realms of choice. For both sexes.
The Jury Is In
With all this in mind, it’s simply sensible to discard debunked assumptions, and consider matters more rationally.
It’s unsurprising that women are forced to hide or suppress their sexual appetites when you consider societal dogma, promotion of our objectification, and the physical and emotional dangers women face in their desire to exert their own sexuality; the fact that women’s sexual desires are often hidden, truncated, mutated or impaired is understandable.
What’s truly astonishing is that so many of us still admit “Yes, I like sex” and can override the conditioning, shaming and dangers in our desire for desire.
Society, however hard it tries, just can’t keep women’s sexual appetites down.
How Brave Are You?
Can you appraise the evidence and re-frame the misconceptions you’ve been regurgitating your whole life and allow the facts to speak for themselves? Can you face the reality that many of the men who’ve researched women’s sexuality were biased and blindsided by a sexist culture? Can you cope with the shocking truth?
If the answer is yes, then help me spread the word.
Logic, research, common sense and personal experience all indicate the same thing. Women are just as sexual as men, when all else is equal.
The sad reality is that if she says she doesn’t want sex, what that probably means is not that she doesn’t want sex with anyone. It probably means she just doesn’t want sex with YOU.
But how we approach that disconcerting truth, and what that means for human relationships: well, that’s a whole different story.
For clarity, throughout this article I’m referring to heterosexual attraction, and when I say women or men I’m referring to the groups “women as a sex” and “men as a sex”.
Alison Tennent, Queensland, Australia, July 2021 Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but The Garrulous Glaswegian, Vocal+ or Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.
Sources which are also linked within the body of the article: