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A leading researcher challenges the belief that all men have higher sex drives than women. Many feel under pressure to initiate intimacy and would prefer greater equality in bed

IT is one of the most famous phrases in the English language but it is doubtful that Napoleon ever uttered the words “Not tonight, Josephine”.

However, it remains a humorous standby precisely because of its ‘nudge-nudge, wink-wink’ unlikelihood. What man ever turned down sex when offered up to him on a plate?

However, it could be that this isn’t as unlikely a scenario as we think, according to Canadian relationship therapist Sarah Hunter Murray, who has carried out extensive research on the subject of male sexual desire. She has delved beneath the stereotype of the man who is always ready for sex, finding that many men don’t always feel ‘up for it’ and are uncertain and fearful about how to raise the issue with their partners. As a result, relationships and intimacy are at risk.

As a sex researcher, I started studying women’s sexual desires, which were complex and nuanced, with so many factors impacting whether women were in the mood or not. I started to notice there was a counterpoint. In the research, there was this implication that men’s desire was always high or they were always in the mood, and would never turn down sex,”

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Over the course of 10 years, Hunter Murray interviewed 237 men of all ages and backgrounds in an attempt to discover whether this was really the case.

“I started by interviewing men without knowing what I’d find… it wasn’t long before they showed they wanted to discuss a more complex narrative than the one we had heard.”

While in initial interviews, the subjects would suggest they had higher sex drives than their partners, when Hunter Murray probed deeper, a different story began to emerge.

“With the in-depth interviews, we would talk for an hour, and they started opening up. I’d ask ‘is there ever a time you’d say no?’ and they’d say ‘if I was sick, or tired’, and I felt the more space men had to express their experiences the more I’d hear stories like ‘my wife and I aren’t really on the same page, we’re emotionally disconnected, I’m not always so turned on, sometimes my wife will suggest having sex before we’ve had a chance to talk and I feel pressured to say yes’.

Hunter Murray found that in relation to levels of desire, about one-third of the time men have higher sex drives, one-third of the time women have higher sex drives, and the rest of the time it’s about even.

She also found that many men wanted to feel desired by their partners, to receive compliments, to be told they were sexy. “The more that happened the more validated they felt, and it wasn’t just sexual, they felt love and affection.”

Men in their late 30s and early 40s were the ones who identified being most aware of (and sometimes the most distressed about) their desire not being what it used to be.

Desire naturally changes and decreases over the course of a relationship. Companionate love, where our partner feels more like a companion and not our sexual partner, is normal and healthy.

One New Zealand study researching the female partners of men who took Viagra, found the women actually preferred the fact that their partners had softer erections as they aged, as they found Viagra-induced ‘rock-hard’ erections painful.

Murray Hunter’s research found that being sick was the main reason for men saying no to sex, with being tired in second place.

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