7 Misconceptions About Male Sexuality

Think you know everything about male sexuality? Andrew Smiler explains why you’re probably wrong. 

“Guys just want sex and aren’t interested in relationships.” “Men are just Casanovas, players or studs.” It’s the story we typically hear about male sexuality, whether it’s guys like Barney on “How I Met Your Mother,” Charlie on “Two and A Half Men” or even General David Petraeus. It’s the experience many women say they’ve had. Some researchers say male behavior is the result of evolution and one of the functions of testosterone. We tend to think guys have always been like this and that if you’re going to date a guy, you just need to deal with it.

But we haven’t been given the whole story, and some of what we’ve been told is bad information. Here are seven commonly held misconceptions.

1. Mass Media & The Confirmation Bias

The Reason: We only seem to notice or “count” the guys that fit our existing ideas about male sexuality.

Why It Doesn’t Support the Stereotype: On many TV comedies, the Casanova character is usually the male lead, yet we fail to notice that he’s often outnumbered by other guys. Why highlight Charlie (“Two and A Half Men”) or Barney (“How I Met Your Mother”) and dis-count guys like Alan, Ted and Marshall? On TV dramas and older comedies like “Cheers” and “Happy Days,” the ratios are even more un-Casanova like.

2. Cheating

The Reason: Men are more likely to have an extramarital affair.

Why It Doesn’t Support the Stereotype: It’s certainly true that men are more likely to have an extramarital affair. But if it’s really an affair and not just one-time sex with a stranger (or prostitute), then that guy is still choosing sex in a relationship over a series of one-night stands. Instead of just saying “men are dogs,” maybe we need to ask why that original relationship and sexual partner are no longer fulfilling. We have all experienced the excitement of a new relationship and sexual partner, and we certainly hear a lot about couples falling into a rut and slowly disconnecting with each other over the years. I think it’s time to start talking more regularly and more openly about how to refresh the relational and sexual aspects of a marriage and how to maintain that into older age.

3. Hitting on women at clubs

The Reason: We all have friends who can tell us that they get hit on by married men every time they go out.

Why It Doesn’t Support the Stereotype: I have no doubt that there are women who do get hit on repeatedly by guys in “committed” relationships, and there are certainly guys who live up to our stereotypical conception. The numbers tell us a small minority of guys have three or more partners per year. According to data from 1,880 survey-takers from the 1988, 1991 and 1995 National Survey of Adolescent Males, about 15% of guys do this in any single year and, according to a longitudinal study of 991 men and women, about 5% of guys maintain this rate for three straight years. Your friend is saying something important, but her perception of the numbers may be off-base and may be influenced by the confirmation bias described above. Can she tell you what percentage of guys with partners are NOT hitting on her? Does she get hit on every time she leaves the house, like when she’s grocery shopping, at the mall or at work, or is it just when she’s out at a club, especially a club that has a reputation for being a meat market?

4. Evolution:

The Reason: We’ve all heard that according to evolutionary theory, men should spread their seed widely in order to maximize the number of children they’ll have, whereas women should choose one partner carefully.

Why It Doesn’t Support the Stereotype: Evolution has also built in an attachment system that creates very strong bonds between a child and each of its caregivers; that system even has its own neural circuitry.Perhaps more important, studies indicate that children in pre-technological cultures who are raised by two biological parents are more likely than children with any other parenting configuration to live long enough to reproduce. From an evolutionary perspective, passing your genes along to your grandchildren — the third generation — is the big win.

5. Testosterone

The Reason: Testosterone makes boys and men horny.

Why it doesn’t support the stereotype: It’s true that increased levels of testosterone have the ability to increase sex drive. But being horny is different from being promiscuous. From a practical standpoint, it’s easier to have lots of sex with the same partner day after day than to keep finding a new partner every day.

6. Guys Have Always Been Like This

The Reason: Guys have always been like this and aren’t going to change.

Why the stereotype is wrongGiacomo Casanova was certainly real, and documented his exploits. In fact, there have always been some guys who do sleep around. But they are and always have been the minority. As far as we can tell, most men (and women) who ever lived had a single long-term partner, even in places where having multiple partners was allowed. Until some point in the 1970s, we believed the typical guy was respectful, decent and certainly not promiscuous.

7. Guys Can’t Change

The Reason: Guys won’t change, so if you’re going to date them, you just need to deal with it.

Why the stereotype is wrong: Men have changed. They have become less sexist than they were forty years ago. Two generations ago, most guys believed their wife shouldn’t have to work, except maybe to keep busy or if the family was trying to get some extra money. Today, most guys expect their partner to have a career and hope to achieve and maintain something close to equality within their marital relationships. Guys have also become increasingly comfortable with the idea that women will pay some of the dating expenses. Then again, since most guys are not Casanovas, maybe it’s our personal and cultural expectations about what’s typical that need to change.

Originally appeared at The Huffington Post 

Follow Andrew Smiler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@andrewsmiler

About Andrew Smiler

Andrew Smiler, PhD is a therapist, evaluator, author, and speaker residing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (USA). He is the author of “Challenging Casanova: Beyond the stereotype of promiscuous young male sexuality” and co-author, with Chris Kilmartin, of “The Masculine Self (5th edition)”. He is a past president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity and has taught at Wake Forest University and SUNY Oswego. Dr. Smiler's research focuses on definitions of masculinity. He also studies normative aspects of sexual development, such as age and perception of first kiss, first “serious” relationship, and first intercourse among 15-25 year olds. Follow him @AndrewSmiler.


  1. Lisa Scott says:

    Ok except for the one about men having more extra marital affairs. All the evidence suggests that as women have become more financially independent and have more opportunities to stray – they do. Also ‘if your husband stays you should look at what is missing in your marriage’? Seriously? shades of this if you ask me http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZ7WT02wFOk

  2. “From a practical standpoint, it’s easier to have lots of sex with the same partner day after day than to keep finding a new partner every day.”

    Ha! I truly scoff at the notion.

  3. Erin, I think with point #2 Andrew is attempting to ‘Debunk’ the sterotype ‘Men cheat for sex while women cheat for emotional fullfillment’. While sometimes this is true( Believe me, I’ve known Men in my life who felt the more sex partners you had, the more of a man you were!). To say this an ‘Absolute’ truth totally does neither Men or Women any favors. The sad fact is I,ve read this myth repeated in articles of studies done by academics as their ‘Scientific Conclusion’!

  4. I have a major issue with point 2. Cheating. Such as the idea that when a man skips out on the relationship he already has to serially cheat with another is an indicator that men are choosing sex in a relationship over a series of one-night stands. I guess if you automatically demonize one-night stands and automatically put any kind of relationship on a pedestal, then I could see how you would view it this way. But not all relationships are created equal and certainly not all relationships are healthy. Just because you have a “relationship” of some sorts with someone else, doesn’t mean it’s a good situation or that a man truly just loves relationships. If a man was truly choosing sex in a relationship, he would work out whatever was going on in the relationship he already had instead of escaping it toward another “relationship”. And obviously when someone cheats, usually other things are going on, but at the end of the day, that man is still making the choice to go behind the back of his probably already unhealthy-needs-help relationship to seek out another unhealthy relationship.

    But I like the other points otherwise. And I like the distinction between men with high sex drives not being equal to men having lots of partners. I also never liked the old “boys will be boys” saying that go along with points 6 and 7 made in this article.

  5. Sterling85 says:

    I think the case with some players, much like in Barney’s case, they were at some earlier stage in their lives in a commited relationship (or so they thought) and had a lot of emotional stock in the relationship only to have it come crashing down around them. And rather than putting their emotions in others hands they focus more inwardly on loving themselves or “being awesome” yet are still sexually driven. In the case of TV archetypes though they take it to a jestful extreme of selfish, deceitful and narcissistic.

  6. Apparently I need to watch “How I Met Your Mother”, “Rules of Engagement” and “Two and A Half Men” to fully understand and appreciate the comments made on this articel/blog. But aside from that, I do agree that there are misconceptions about male sexuality, and if you (in general) attempt to match or compare the lives of actual men to the characters ‘as seen on TV’, it limits the ability to truly see men as somthing other that sexual predators, cassanovas and a**holes…which is my I am SO thankful for The Good Men Project.

  7. Charlie, Barney and Russell (Rules of Engagement) are essentially all the same character at different points in his life. They are all incredibly (and at times, unaccountably) wealthy and use their wealth to attract women. They are all averse to long-term commitment, yet each has had a least on on-air brush with a committed relationship: Charlie and Chelsea, Barney and Robin (Nora might also count), and Russell and Liz. They have few qualms about deceiving women in order to gain access to sex, and actually seem to prefer it. And in each case, their pathological dating behavior is linked back to a bizarre or unstable family upbringing.

    One thing I do find interesting about all three is that, with the exception of their long-term outliers, the women they attract are not exactly the cream of the crop either – at least not personality-wise. Shallow men attract shallow women. The tricks they use to attract these shallow women would never work on most of the women I know. The more “mainstream” relationships on each show – Alan and Ted the serial monogamists, Marshall + Lily and Jeff + Audrey the longterm couples – have more substance to them. In other words, the classic quantity vs. quality dynamic, and the underlying assumption that you can’t have both.

    The disconnect happens when the Casanova archetype who experiences lower quality relationships is presented as a cooler model to follow than the Monogamist who experiences more long-term happiness and fulfillment. Even the characters seem to be aware of this one some level – despite how “awesome” their respective Casanova is, none of them actually envies him or wants his life. But, it is assumed, at least SOME of the viewers do.

    • The fact of the matter is, being a Casanova, or a Charlie Sheen character(a ‘Playa’) is a concious decision that some men make and is , if you will, a learned and technical skill! That is you follow a pre conceived plan. The fact that MOST men don’t validates what andrew is saying!

    • @KKZ:
      I haven’t seen “2.5 men” in quite a while now, but the Alan character has actually never struck me as the one having a long-term relationship with happiness and fulfillment… 😉 (Save, possibly, for his son. But that’s not the kind of relationships we are talking about)

      Also, the mainstream relationships in the shows are by default more substantial in that you get to know the people involved, since they all are main characters in the shows. Which the others are not.

  8. Jonathan G says:

    This reminds me of a thought experiment that I devised to explain this phenomenon to friends:

    Imagine a large cocktail party at which the (possibly OCD?) host has finagled the guest list so that there are exactly 100 single men and 100 single women in attendance. (And assume they’re all interested in the opposite sex.) In this particular group of men, let’s say that 20 of them are players who are only interested in sex, not relationships. As they mix and mingle, and the men pursue women, what do the women experience about the men?

    Well, let’s review the characteristics of a player: By definition, a player is a person who constantly pursues partners for sex, not a relationship. Those 20 men at the cocktail party looking for sex with a woman have basically one requirement for a partner: That she have a female body. On the other hand, the 80 men looking for a relationship, or at least a deeper connection, have to interact with a woman for some amount of time to decide whether her personality attracts them, too. Checking out a person’s body happens almost instantaneously and sub-consiously, whereas getting to know somebody even a little bit requires an investment of time.

    The players, then, can approach a woman, hit on her, and move on if she refuses. By the end of a long night, they’ve hit on every woman at the party. The other, non-player men are similarly dedicated and keep on their task of finding a partner. But they have to invest the time in talking to the women and getting to know them a little bit to find out if they like them. By the end of the party, each of them has clicked with and asked out five women.

    And there you have it: By the time everybody goes home in a buzzed-out alcoholic haze, each woman has been hit on by players 20 times, and asked out by a non-player man an average of 4 times. (80 men x 5 asks / 100 women = 4 asks/woman)

    Logical conclusion: The vast majority of men are players.

    Better conclusion: The vast majority of approaches by men will be from players because players do the vast majority of approaching.

    When I explained it this way to one friend of mine, she was a bit taken aback, and wanted to know, “How do I get invited to this cocktail party?!”

  9. Why highlight Charlie (“Two and A Half Men”) or Barney (“How I Met Your Mother”) and dis-count guys like Alan, Ted and Marshall?

    – Alan does not have less of a sex drive than Charlie has. It’s just that he as a Beta (or Omega?) role male doesn’t get the chance to act it out in the sack.

    – Ted is chasing women not much less than Barney does, he’s just more honest about it and less prone to cut corners to get it.

    – Marshal’s engaged (or married?) and has to the best of my knowledge a somewhat healthy sexlife. Even if his “drive” is being held hostage by Lily on occasion.

    • You totally missed the point. The article isn’t about high sex drive it’s about guys always wanting multiple sex partners. Barney and Charlie weren’t looking for a long term partner while Alan and Ted were actively searching for a long term partner and Marshall was in one.

      Having a high sex drive has nothing to do with having multiple partners, someone can have a high sex drive and be commited to one person, see your description of Marshall.

      • So, the article wasn’t really about “7 Misconceptions About Male Sexuality” as stated in the title, but about one single misconception painted in 7 different disguise(s)? 😉

        But anyhow, I still stand by my objection. What people do, or seem to do, isn’t always what they actually really want, as much as (sometimes) what they think is most likely to succeed.
        The real question, I think, is “Why?”.
        Why are Charlie and Barney not looking for a longterm partner?
        Why are Alan and Ted looking for one? Are their sex drives, wants, wishes and dreams inherently different compared to the first two persons’? Or do they think they have a higher chance of success to fulfill at least parts of those wishes in a longterm relationship than they have in “landing” a string of short-term partners?


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