Are You Gay or Something? Why It’s So Much Harder When She Wants It More

Hugo Schwyzer argues that men who are less horny than their female partners are subject to another, more crippling stereotype: they must be gay or something. 

One of the evergreen topics surrounding relationships is the problem of uneven desire. As a great many counselors will attest, there are few questions more common in marital therapy than how a couple can resolve the conflict that comes when one partner wants sex more often than the other. It’s a nearly universal issue in long-term monogamous relationships; straight, gay, and lesbian couples are equally vulnerable to the problem.

But in heterosexual relationships, our assumption is that the man should be the one who “wants it more.” Most of us are raised with two messages: men are supposed to be horny all the time, while women (particularly young women) are expected to be more interested in emotional intimacy rather than sex itself. Pop culture allows an occasional exception for people over 40: the sex-starved middle-aged woman married to the sexually disinterested schlub is a sitcom staple that predates, by several decades, the “cougar” phenomenon.

Like every stereotype, this one proves true in a certain number of instances. So when a man and a woman find themselves in a relationship where he wants it more than she does, both partners have the small reassurance that they’re playing out familiar roles. Both the dude and his low-desire girlfriend or wife are aware that they are following a culturally appropriate script. Because men are “supposed” to want “it” more, men are also “supposed” to be accustomed to rejection: “it’s not me,” a man can tell himself, “it’s just that women naturally aren’t as sexual as men.” When our own experience lines up with the myths, we may be frustrated or resentful—but at least we are reassured that we’re “normal.” Higher-desire women don’t get that reassurance. Neither, for that matter, do their male partners.

♦◊♦

Earlier this year, I ran a small survey (solicited on my Facebook). I asked for responses from people in heterosexual monogamous relationships in which the woman was regularly the higher-desire partner. I got disappointingly few responses from couples, and relatively few from men. The majority of my responses (42 out of 72) were from women aged 19 to 53. Many wrote of feeling bewildered and rejected; one wrote of having grown up having fantasies about driving men crazy with desire.

“It sounds awful”, she wrote, “but I feel so ugly and unwanted when the burden is on me to initiate. Sex shouldn’t just about being wanted, but it gets me so much more aroused when I know a guy is turned on by me. My boyfriend and I only have sex when I seduce him and, at least half the time, he rejects me. I’m 25 and he’s 26, and I’m worried what will happen when I get older and hornier—and he gets even less into sex the further away he gets from his teens.”

I heard similar things from more than a few women in the survey, as well as in my office hours a time or nine. For the men who responded to my survey, the anguish was just as great. Several reported that their wives or girlfriends had questioned their sexual orientation.

“I work a lot”, wrote one 30-year-old guy, “and I swear, I’m only up for sex maybe twice a week. The rest of the time I’m too tired. But my girlfriend wants it every day and (I wish I was kidding) twice on the weekends. And half the time when I make it clear I’m not in the mood, she comes out with some sort of passive-aggressive suggestion that maybe I’m attracted to men.”

The notion that low male sex drive is indicative of closeted homosexuality remains pervasive. One straight man in the survey even reported that his wife had suggested several times that they watch gay porn together, apparently assuming that that might “do the trick” to get him in the mood. As long as we believe that male sexual desire is invariably voracious, those who buy into that myth will assume that a man with low sex drive for a female partner must be attracted to men. That’s much easier to comprehend than a genuinely modest libido. And while there may still be plenty of closeted gay men trying to fake it through a heterosexual relationship, there are a lot more men who know that they’re straight—but who, for any number of permanent or temporary reasons, just aren’t as interested in sex as their female partners. To insinuate that these guys are gay leaves no room for the idea that straight men (like everyone else) are found at every point on the “horniness spectrum,” running from omnipresent lust to near asexuality.

♦◊♦

One question I asked (and that many trained therapists will ask when this issue comes up) is whether the lower-desire partner is masturbating regularly (with or without pornography). The majority of the admittedly small number of guys who responded to my survey insisted that they weren’t. “I’m not in the mood very often,” one wrote, “so when I am, I want to share ‘it’ with my girlfriend.” But a couple of others admitted that they did use porn fairly frequently. Having sex is work, they both pointed out; it requires emotional as well as physical effort. “Sometimes you’re too tired to go through all that trouble and you just want to quickly rub one out. It’s like not having time for lunch but still needing to grab a quick snack.”

The unanswered question is whether porn vs. partnered sex is a zero-sum game, one in which the lower-desire partner’s private use of the former leads to diminished interest in the latter. It’s safe to say that a lot of higher-desire partners of porn users suspect it does.

Lastly, several men admitted that they got angry when their female partners initiated sex. “I know it’s not her fault,” one wrote, “but it feels like my manhood is on the line every time. It’s not anything she says, just this sense I have that I’ve committed a major Man Law Violation (by not initiating) and she’s seen it. It pisses me off.” Just as many women felt that their femininity was called into question by their apparent inability to arouse their husbands and boyfriends, those husbands and boyfriends reported feeling as if their masculinity was questioned.  It seemed that resentment and diminished self-esteem were the “most mutual” aspects of these relationships.

♦◊♦

Precious few long-term relationships will never experience the problem of disparate desire. When the problem does inevitably arise, everyone involved will sense the uncomfortable imbalance: whoever wants it less seems to have more power. It is almost certain that the higher-desire partner will have to cope with sexual frustration, a sense of rejection, and fears about his or her own desirability. The lower-desire partner will have to cope with a sense of guilt and the resentment that comes either with feeling pressured or consenting to unwanted sex.

If nothing else, this issue is common enough to cast serious doubt on the trope, beloved of social conservatives and evolutionary psychologists, that men are simply hardwired to be more far more interested in sex than women. But as satisfying as it may be to disprove a hoary old myth, that’s of cold comfort to those trying to negotiate their way through the problem of disparate desire. The stereotype that men always want it more may be false, but a couple who lives up to that expectation at least have the modest consolation that they’re “normal.” When the situation is reversed, and the myth disproved, the situation can be far more unsettling for everyone involved.

Photo Cia de Foto/Flickr

About Hugo Schwyzer

Hugo Schwyzer has taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College since 1993, where he developed the college's first courses on Men and Masculinity and Beauty and Body Image. He serves as co-director of the Perfectly Unperfected Project, a campaign to transform young people's attitudes around body image and fashion. Hugo lives with his wife, daughter, and six chinchillas in Los Angeles. Hugo blogs at his website

Comments

  1. My ex was into watching me jerk off when she wasn’t in the mood for sex. And sometimes the sight would make her decide that she wanted to join in, in one way or another. Either way, I didn’t feel rejected or unsexy. There was an element of performance to it, and also a real sense of acceptance. I.E. “Sure, we’re in bed, but perhaps I don’t feel like having sex. But it’s cool that you’re turned on by this situation.”

  2. MsAttitude says:

    My long term,high school sweetheart, 6+ year relationship began to end when my ex was more interested in women in adult-themed, online videos. He had an insatiable appetite that only Mrs. Right and Ms. Left could cure. While I was left alone at night, he became less and less attracted to me. It was a major blow to what little self-esteem I did have.
    If you are with someone you are no longer attracted to, no longer feel you can be with for the rest of your life, feel like you’re just not a right fit anymore…let them go, you are doing the BOTH of you an injustice, as well as 2 future possible mates.

  3. It’s sad that these ideas and roles we play are so thick, we can’t see through the fog. I like the point about checking in as to whether the partner wanting more sex is masturbating. Sex doesn’t have to be a full course meal with kissing and penetration. I had a partner who masturbated when I wasn’t in the mood for sex or there wasn’t time–I cuddled him while he jerked off and he did the same for me. It was simple.

  4. When I ended my last relationship (gay) a big chunk of the reason was that my ex girlfriend had completely lost interest in sex. Once the sex was gone, the intimacy wasn’t far behind. Having a moan to my mother, I told her I was ‘giving up on women’ as men must be more interested in maintaining that side of the relationship, surely! That’s when she pointed out that more than a few of her female friends had left their husbands during middle age, as the Husbands had lost interest in sex!

    It seems young women and older men share a lack of interest in sex.

  5. Hey, wait a minute, this was not a scientific survey and the author admitted that there was a low response rate from men. This is just empty speculation – not really of much use in understanding the issue.

  6. THIS is part of the reason sex-positivity is SO important – to break down this societal norms about what it means to be male or female in a hetero relationship.

    *EVERYONE* has a different sex drive. If we were less freaked out/obsessed with sex, we might be able to understand and spread the word on this one. And it’s SO important to be clear and accepting of this very factual fact. For one, the drive is NOT along gender lines. Men can want it less than their female partners, and that should be ok. Women can want it more, and that doesn’t make her slutty or weird, it’s also ok. Neither should feel bad about this – and yet, our societally constructed gender identities make it not ok, and make it into a significant issue on a personal level. It affects our self-esteem, our identity, our happiness and contentment.

    In addition this SHOULD NOT be overlooked in relationships as well. We so often forget how important sex is, and how important matching sex drives are. We don’t discuss it as something that can break a relationship – even though it absolutely can, and in many cases, probably should – unless something equally non-trad can be worked out (read: non-monogamy).

    I know this, as some of the other commenters did, from experience. A good relationship with a good guy was broken in my past, because I wanted sex much more than he did. It sent me into cycles, where his low libido would send my self-esteem into a nose dive (especially when, in order to publicly live up to his gender expectations, he’d talk about women on TV with his buddies – which I don’t mind, I have no jealousy regarding other people – particularly unattainable ones, but when he’d talk, and then turn around and tell me “not tonight”… ). I’d deal with it until I couldn’t take it anymore, and then I’d flip out, we’d talk, and to his credit, he would listen patiently. He’d explain (again) that it wasn’t me, he was just tired/stressed… and the cycle would start over.

    I would probably be married to this man today. But I couldn’t handle it. And, when I broke up with him, he tried SO HARD to understand what went wrong, and he wanted to fix things SO badly… but, because of our culture and the fact that I didn’t want him to feel even worse and “attack his manhood” I couldn’t just say “we have different sex drives”. Maybe I should have. I don’t know.

    • Oliver, just stay away from that person’s videos. No good can come from it. She represents only herself, and not very well at that.

  7. My husband and I drifted apart after 14 years of marriage and he stopped wanting sex.

    We are now separated…He still isn’t having sex with anyone.I have found a guy a few years younger then myself to satisfy my sexual needs.

    • If a guy said what you just said you would call him a misogynist.

      • boo hoo, sourgrapes much? you’re just assuming about her, with all tranquillity. i guess you are one of those who think feminists are crazy and have no basis for complaint. nicely done, oliver! classy!

  8. Sorry, but guys who resent their women initiating sex because it offends their big macho ego deserve nothing other than their own hand as their lifelong sexual partner. And I think in this day and age, it is perfectly legitimate for women to wonder if their partners are gay, or cheating, if the interest in sex suddenly drops, particularly with online testimonies of wives married to what turned out to be actual closet cases. Though some women, as Dan Savage reports, think that if the husband does it doggie style, he must be gay (because they think that being gay is all about rear ends). Savage, in fact, has addressed the problem at mismatched libidos at length in his column. Quite rightly, he argues that one has the moral obligation to disclose the problem of a low sex-drive early in the dating stage, as opposed to delaying the news so one can snare somebody for one’s needy and selfish (or passive-aggressive) reasons. Unfortunately that is what a lot of people do, especially it seems, women, though occasionally with men as well. He also argues that couples should negotiate the possibility of allowing a partner to seek extra-marital sex, which makes sense to me, but which has made Savage enemies even on the supposedly open-minded left.

  9. I should that when a gay man’s sex drive is low, you don’t hear “Are you straight or something”?

  10. Gay men can have low sex drives, too. I know, shocking!

    It can mean a lot of things. It can be a sign of depression. It can be a consequence of low testosterone. It can mean you’re tired of your partner (not necessarily permanently). It can also just be who you are. You owe it to yourself and your partner to find out if it’s depression or testosterone. In a long-term relationship, there are ups and downs. It’s OK. And if you’re in it for the long haul, adjusting to who you are and who your partner is is what it’s all about.

  11. Hugo de Toronja says:

    Given the difficulties of modern life, especially in these economically precarious times, I’m puzzled as to why “He/she must be gay” is the *first* explanation that jumps to so many minds when one partner wants sex more than the other.

    In the U.S., medical bills are a leading cause of bankruptcy. One industry or another is constantly being outsourced overseas. Thousands of students are being graduated from graduate schools with massive amounts of debt. Financial markets of all kinds are fluctuating wildly. (And even people who are lucky enough to have savings are watching their hard-earned savings be devoured by inflation.)

    And when you consider that heterosexual sex is so linked to procreation, and when you consider how difficult it is to discern the future lives of whatever children might result from heterosexual sex, it’s really not that hard to see why a great many people might not regularly be in the mood for makin’ whoopee.

    Fear, panic, dread, despair, and anxiety aren’t exactly powerful aphrodisiacs.

    • Exactly, and when you consider that around 10% of adults in the U.S. are taking libido killing anti-depressant meds (including almost a quarter of women over 40, as I commented above), no wonder there is an epidemic of sexual dysfunction. (I’m not saying people shouldn’t take them if they need them, but most people will experience changes in their sex life as a result).

  12. Big Lesson: somewhere out there is a woman who wants sex as much as you do.

    • My current partner still doesn’t believe his luck that I want sex as much or sometimes more than him, he is ecstatically amazed and delighted.

  13. I’ve been in this relationship twice and both time it was a crippling blow to my self esteem that lasted long after the relationship ended. In one case, I do honestly believe the guy was gay. In the other, it was a combo of antidepressants and super repressive anti-sex upbringing. Neither of those relationships could have had a future–sex matters too much to me. People should feel entitled to the level of sex that the want–or don’t want–in a relationship and to not feel like a douche if they bail because it isn’t working. Sex is an important way that people bond and if that part doesn’t work, in my view, the relationship is doomed.

  14. When I was 20 I moved in with my girlfriend the time, and after a few months her sex drive took a nose dive. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but at one point I asked her if maybe deep down she was a lesbian. Maybe she just wasn’t attracted to men anymore, I wondered out loud. Certainly it couldn’t be anything that _I_ was doing, right? Not one of my finer moments. Obviously the question goes both ways.

  15. I just read in today’s paper that 23% of women age 40-59 are taking anti-depressants. Although these medications can be life saving for some people, they are well known to kill the libido. Personally, when I took Prozac and Paxil several years ago, I went from being constantly horny to having absolutely no sex drive whatsoever. You can read the CDC study here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.htm

    • Hmmm…do the anti-depressants kill the libido or do they make it difficult to orgasm? I suppose it depends on the drug.

      • Both Prozac and Paxil killed by libido AND made it impossible to orgasm.

        • Hmmmm…that sucks. I was on Lexapro for awhile. It made it more difficult to orgasm but didn’t kill my libido. That may or may not be better…sigh…

          • Sometimes it’s not an easy choice either way. Having untreated depression ain’t so good for the libido either….

  16. so very true says:

    it is best to talk things out instead of letting it get out of control.

  17. I must thank you for this article, Hugo — I am in /exactly/ the same situation as the 25-year-old woman you quoted here: same age, my boyfriend is the same age, same problem, same outcome. I sometimes feel very “wrong”, as you suggest — being a twentysomething woman who’s more into sex than her twentysomething man is just not a narrative you ever see played out or examined by the media. It feels lonely and like you’ve made some grave error somewhere. I know many folk reading this will roll their eyes at my suggestion that “I thought I was the only one,” but this has brought me a lot of solace. Thanks.

  18. KOREAN / JAPANESE GAY COMMUNITY!

  19. I’m interested by the comments from some men (reported by Hugh) that they get angry when women initiate sex. Is this a common attitude? Don’t guys usually complain that they want women to initiate more and be more sexually assertive? is this one of those damned if you do, damned if you don’t situations?

    • I can only speak for myself and the other men I know but we are usually exceptionally happy that the woman in our relationships would initiate sexual activity or even tease/discuss/consume on a much aggressive level. It feels just as ego-stroking and flattering to know our companion finds us attractive and that they want a piece, to put it frankly.

      I think there a lot of men trapped in the socially instituted masculine/macho loop and who are embarrassed to appear anything less then what is expected, if not above and beyond, and their insecurity manifests itself in lashing out children.

    • If it’s coming with shaming tactics like saying “A Real Man Would Have Sex With Me” I don’t think I would be to surprised if a man would feel insulted.
      It’s the old problem of not living up to the idle Masquline Norm.

      • Agreed, no one should talk to their partner about sex in a way that shames them. If someone is with a person like that, they may want to look for a new relationship.

        I was thinking more of situations in general where a woman might suggest or express interest in having sex in a friendly/sexy/fun way. I admit the first time I asked my current boyfriend if he wanted to have sex, he seemed very taken aback, even shocked! but he didn’t seem angry. He seems to have gotten used to the idea now that I actually like to have sex. 🙂

    • Depends on the guy. My ex-husband hated it. Don’t know why exactly. He’s a pretty traditional guy so maybe that was it.
      I’ve had some lovers who just weren’t as sexual as me. I think they sometimes felt my sex drive was overwhelming. Usually, men are pretty receptive to having me initiate sex. Sometimes they are surprised but they almost always take me up on the offer.

    • GirlGlad4theGMP says:

      I think that in this situation (as well as many of the situations here in the comments) speaking to your partner in a non-shaming way, and expressing your desires and appetites is the best thing.

      I’ve done it, and it turned out well for that relationship…very well indeed! I outlined that there are times when, given stress, time and hormone levels, sex might be sparse…and somtimes it would be distractingly frequent. I discussed with him my needs, listened to his, and we were good! Sometimes I initiated, sometimes he did, and it was never an issue because we discussed it.

    • pillowinhell says:

      Do you have any idea the number of guys who can’t handle a woman who initiates sex or a relationship? Particularly the young ones. The stereotype is so strong about women sitting passive, or the guys are very religious. I’ve never met a guy who got angry, but I’ve had plenty who didn’t know what to do when they realized that I don’t just lie back and think of England!

  20. wellokaythen says:

    I think the basic wisdom here is “don’t assume that male partners always want sex more than female partners do.” That’s the point I glean from Hugo’s article here. If a woman wants sex more than her male partner, it doesn’t mean he’s broken or not interested in her at all or that she’s oversexed. It’s not a reason to panic or pick him apart. It happens. The flip side is “don’t just be resigned to the fact that he wants it more than she does.” When the husband does want more sex than his wife does, too often people just assume that’s the natural order of things and give up trying to improve their sex lives. There may be things that can close the desire gap a little bit, or at least make more opportunities for being sexual.

    I have never found it reassuring at all to hear that just like me, many husbands have a higher libido than their wives. I find no comfort in hearing how common that is. I am trying to dredge up some sympathy for men whose partners want more sex than they do, I really am trying to feel for them, but I just can’t seem to find the empathy right now. Maybe that’s one of the barriers to having constructive discussions about mismatched desire – envy for people who don’t feel like they’re in an envious position.

    Another way to look at it is that the person with the lower sex drive is getting all the sex he/she wants, maybe even more sex than he/she really wants. Sometimes that leads to complacency, and when that complacency is backed up by a stereotype, it’s even harder to break through.

  21. Black Iris says:

    My thought on the porn/masturbation issue is that the guy should experiment and see if it makes a difference. So if his wife wants more sex and he’s masturbating, he can go for a week without it and see what happens. And if he’s not masturbating, he might even want to try it and see if it helps.

  22. Black Iris says:

    Thanks for an excellent article on a difficult topic.

  23. Great piece. A related question is really how much of this is difference I’m sex desire and how much is sexual compatibility. Good sex leads to more good sex. Bad sex leads to problems. And good sex over a sustained period takes work.

  24. Wait, it’s really worse to many women that her guy be gay than simply not into her? I think I’d take “I like other women who aren’t you better” as worse than “I don’t even like women, turns out”.

    • Black Iris says:

      I think I understand where they’re coming from. If the guy is gay, it’s not their fault, they’re still attractive. The relationship is over, but her ego is fine. If the guy likes another woman, competition comes in. The relationship may or may not be over, but the woman’s ego is destroyed.

  25. I find that mixing it up a bit helps towards bringing some of the excitement back into the fold: taking a shower or bath together, fooling around in the car on the way to see the in-laws, sending sexy texts to each other, if it’s your thing – going to an adult sex club to mingle, during commercial breaks of the X Factor, different rooms, different times, injecting some novelty and creativity in the mix….and moving away from having sex at the end of the day, just before bed. Predictability can be comforting, but it can also suffocate desire.

    Exercise is also a great sex mood enhancer.

  26. When I see couples with mismatched desire it usually falls into two categories. When the man has more desire than the woman, usually he is being dominated by his wife. She manages the checkbook, and schedules his life. He is usually the typical ‘henpecked’ husband. And it is no wonder – women are aroused by dominant men – and when you don’t give them that, they eventually lose interest.

    When the man has less desire than the woman the problem is usually obvious: she’s gained a lot of weight, or has let herself go. You’ll deny it Hugo, but I’m sure if you look at your respondents where the woman has more desire than the man, she is usually very overweight or older than 45.

    • Stereotypes FOR THE WIN!

    • I will say that if there are underlying power issues in the relationship, then sex could be used as a weapon in those fights. But I’ve met heavy women with active sex lives and thin women who felt neglected, so I don’t think one can say…yep it’s cause the chicks are fat that their men don’t want to have sex. I’d chalk it up to a variety of issues, including power games (sadly), but also encompassing health, lives completely out of balance and boredom in long term relationships.

    • Whoa! Part of the reason why my marriage ended was due to the mismatch of sexual desire. I was 32, thin, and relatively attractive at the time. Of either of us, the one who let themselves go, it was my husband.
      Furthermore, I still have a higher and more varied sex drive than pretty much any man I have met thus far. I’m not yet 45, still thin, and not ugly.
      I call bullshit Linguist!

    • Black Iris says:

      How do you know about people’s sex drives? There could be couples all around you who don’t fit your stereotype.

      Just because you’ve never met a high sex drive woman doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    • pillowinhell says:

      According to this logic maybe all those men who can’t ” get any” better take a long look in the mirror and then at the calendar. I personally think the guy who posted that should be looking to see if he has long ears and a tail while he inspects himself in the mirror….jackass.

      Just for the record…I have never met a guy who could keep up with me in bed, I’m definitely not over weight and I don’t need to check my expiry date any time soon either.

  27. “Having sex is work, they both pointed out; it requires emotional as well as physical effort. “Sometimes you’re too tired to go through all that trouble and you just want to quickly rub one out. It’s like not having time for lunch but still needing to grab a quick snack.”

    I think this is very interesting and I wonder how many women do the same thing. It may well be that our lives are so much “work” that sex becomes one more thing we “have to do” to do things right. Masturbation is indeed easier than connecting with a partner, and sometimes snacks are absolutely necessary and lovely to have. But a life of snacks indicates that either the appetite is out of balance or the lifestyle is so encompassing that there isn’t ever time to relax and enjoy.

    What can be done about that?

  28. Maria Pawlowska says:

    I really really enjoyed this piece. Not sure where I stand on the porn issue but I really likedyour description and analysis of the problem!

  29. I’m a man married to a woman with a libido that is A LOT lower than mine.
    I’ve spent years surfing the internet looking for solutions.
    About 80% of the articles/blog posts/whatever that are supposedly abot libido imbalance are really just articles stating that sometimes women have higher libidos than men.
    Hugo has written yet another one of those articles. And like most of those articles, he fails to offer any helpful suggestions.
    Maybe next time.

    • Black Iris says:

      Maybe the articles don’t offer solutions because they just think it’s natural for women to want it less and they don’t know what to do.

      I don’t think there’s any easy solution. It depends on the couple and what’s going on with the wife.

    • Maybe you should just gender reverse the advice another article here on GMP has (How Can We Have More Sex) where they adviced this the woman with the higher libido:

      Good news is, there has never been a guy in the history of manhood who didn’t like being woken up for sex. Don’t ask, just do it.

      Don’t ask, just do it.

      Seriously though, this was sarcasm. Please do NOT follow that advice whatever the genders involved are. I am sorry that I don’t have any helpful advice either.

  30. People who have mismatched drives need to either open the relationship or part amicably. If we could see this disparity as, well, a disparity rather than reading so deeply into it, maybe we’d be better off. Some people like huge meals, some don’t.

    I believe that there are layers of masculinity, desire etc on the topic, but I think if people could just say…wow, we don’t have a well matched sex drive, what should we do….instead of WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME/YOU! people might could relax a little more.

    • Black Iris says:

      This is a common modern idea that I really disagree with. If you’re hugely, hugely different, it may be a problem. Otherwise, the couple should work it out because?

      1. People aren’t clones. There will always be things that one partner wants more than the other or that one partner doesn’t want at all. You can’t get everything you want.

      2. People change. There will be times when your partner is unhappy, sick, or busy and doesn’t want sex as much as you do. This may go on for months or longer. You don’t dump the people you love just because they aren’t meeting your needs anymore, sometimes you give things for their needs. And, of course, you might be the one who goes through a dry spell someday.

      3. Couples with a difference in sex drives are very common. The numbers I remember show the largest minority of couples say they’re even, then a large group says the man wants it more, and thena smaller group says the woman wants it more.

      4. If we really followed the idea of allowing high-drive people to cheat, the outcome would be bad for women. It really is true that there are more couples where the guy wants it more. We’d be back in the days of the double standard and women would be unhappier. (and please guys, don’t start ranting about how I’m being unfair to men. Making wives miserable is no solution to the problem)

      5. Sexual monogamy does prevent some problems like STDs or extra children that no one wants to support. It would be horrible to be pushed into letting your partner cheat because you weren’t in the mood and then having them infect you with something or present you with a baby.

      • 1. People aren’t clones. There will always be things that one partner wants more than the other or that one partner doesn’t want at all. You can’t get everything you want.
        No, Black Iris, you CAN get everything you want. I do.
        2. People change. There will be times when your partner is unhappy, sick, or busy and doesn’t want sex as much as you do. This may go on for months or longer. You don’t dump the people you love just because they aren’t meeting your needs anymore, sometimes you give things for their needs. And, of course, you might be the one who goes through a dry spell someday.
        True.
        3. Couples with a difference in sex drives are very common. The numbers I remember show the largest minority of couples say they’re even, then a large group says the man wants it more, and thena smaller group says the woman wants it more.
        What’s your point? That there are lots of sexually frustrated couples?
        4. If we really followed the idea of allowing high-drive people to cheat, the outcome would be bad for women. It really is true that there are more couples where the guy wants it more. We’d be back in the days of the double standard and women would be unhappier. (and please guys, don’t start ranting about how I’m being unfair to men. Making wives miserable is no solution to the problem)
        It is NOT cheating if done honestly and with the consent of everyone involved. It is called Ethical Non-Monogamy. I don’t see how this would be disadvantageous to women because I don’t believe that, deep down, women are any less sexual than men. Besides, monogamy and marriage are patriarchal institutions created to control women and their sexuality. I don’t see how taking down those institutions would be worse for women.
        5. Sexual monogamy does prevent some problems like STDs or extra children that no one wants to support. It would be horrible to be pushed into letting your partner cheat because you weren’t in the mood and then having them infect you with something or present you with a baby.
        Oh, Black Iris, if you saw how I have sex with my non-fluid bonded lovers…we use condoms, dental dams/plastic wrap, and gloves. Again, it is NOT cheating if done honestly and with the consent of everyone involved. Please stop referring to it as cheating when that is not what it is. That is a biased and narrow-minded perspective.

        • GirlGlad4theGMP says:

          Jeni and Black Iris: I see both of your points.
          If a person is extremely unhappy in a relationship because they aren’t getting their needs met and their partner is unwilling to enter a compromise, by all means, get out of Dodge.
          BUT, I agree with Black Iris to say that a lacking sex life shouldn’t outright end a relationship. I know a woman who is with a great man. The man has a heart problem that renders him incapable of sex. He doesn’t want to lay that on her, but he couldn’t bear for her to sleep with another man. She couldn’t bear being unfaithful to a man who is, for all intents and purposes, amazing…save this one little inability. So she goes without. Perhaps she self loves, I don’t know. They do hold hands, and kiss, and do all the small things for each other, but no sexual activity.
          They have the strongest marriage I have ever seen, and they have for over 2 decades. IN my inquiry one day, she told me that while she never willingly would have given up sexual bonding, doing so allowed them to love, understand and appreciate each other in so man other ways.

          • I agree, sex only one aspect of a relationship. But, in the example you gave, the woman is deliberately choosing not to be sexual with others. She is not complaining about her situation. It’s fine.
            Personally, I am currently celibate even though I have a boyfriend and multiple other lovers. It is my choice and I do not complain about it. My boyfriend and other lovers are free to have sex with other people…and they do. When my period of celibacy is over, I don’t know which of those people I will be sexual with at that point. Regardless, I love them and continue to spend time with them.

            • GirlGlad4theGMP says:

              Which is completely fair, totally.
              I think what BI is getting at is that people today end relationships s over things that shouldn’t be the largest part of the whole.

              I’m not saying that about you, nor am I saying sex is a small thing…but let’s take a 50 year marriage…as we age and health complications get in the way, sex diminishes or sometimes disappears altogether…does this mean we throw away a fairly good life with someone (I’m assuming circumstances where sex is the ONLY major issue)?

  31. I read this piece with great interest because it seemed you were going in a very interesting direction. Then you fell back on porn as the marital wrecking ball argument, despite your own admission that even your survey didn’t indicate that was the case in the majority of people who responded. So if the results didn’t come out that way, why harp on it?

    Frankly, I do think men want sex more. I know I do. Granted, the situation in my marriage is muddied by my wife’s health complications so there are definitely mitigating circumstances. But I try to initiate every single day without fail, most of the time unsuccessfully. Sure I get frustrated but I don’t question her attraction to me or whether she’s a lesbian. It’s pretty troubling that some women resort to calling men gay simply because they’re not in the mood.

    That having been said, even with the difficulties of raising a 3-year-old I’m absolutely the stereotype. At least once a day would be ideal for me. So I admit, when I hear guys complaining about their wives wanting too much sex, it irritates the bejesus out of me. Champagne problems…

    • @Daddy Files
      Maybe..You’re seeing yourself as a Good Man and you deserve some “Classic” Validation…
      Oh-Man that’s some drama…Lord know we don’t want to be called selfish and inconsiderate.

    • Black Iris says:

      Most men do want sex more. I think the fact that you don’t question your wife’s sexuality is kind of the point here. When a woman wants sex less, we can easily say, oh, that’s just normal. She’s a woman.

      The popular images in our culture are that men never want it less, so if they do, it creates additional stress. The woman probably feels just as rejected as you do, but the guy is wondering if he’s not manly enough. She thinks she must be ugly so she lashes out at him. Maybe he attacks her for asking for sex. The couple has all the problems of a couple where the man wants it more, but their fears and myths make it worse.

    • wellokaythen says:

      “So I admit, when I hear guys complaining about their wives wanting too much sex, it irritates the bejesus out of me. Champagne problems…”

      Yeah. Me too. Hard for me to feel sorry for someone that I want to trade places with. I like to think I would enjoy the challenge of trying to keep up….

  32. Other possibilities: Maybe you, the woman, just aren’t that exciting. I’ve been in that relationship, and I had to end it. We both deserved better than me faking desire that didn’t exist.

    Also: I wonder what “or something” means. “Are you gay OR SOMETHING?” What could the ‘something” be–impotent? distracted? a rubber fetishist?

  33. I start out every relationship being very clear that I have yet to find an individual man who is capable of keeping up with my sex drive and my variety of sexual desires over an extended period of time. For that reason, no man should expect me to be sexually monogamous with him. I don’t care what he does when he’s not around me as long as he’s honest about it, engages in safer sex practices, and he services me with regularity and thoroughness when he is with me.

    I also don’t care if a guy is gay or not. Personally, I find bisexual and gay men to be hot. If I can manage to get into their pants, I’m a happy gal.

    • Are you holding auditions for people to try? My number is…

      I get what you’re saying, but we’ve got this cultural construct that is very pro-monogamy. (Hugo takes it to the next step of eschewing porn and directing all sexual energy towards a partner.) Whether or not the man or woman wants it more, the real problem here is that the cultural insistence on monogamy means one partner is going to be frustrated and resentful.

      More power to you for breaking free of that trope.

      • You’re correct. Sexual monogamy creates serious problems that few people desire to address. Instead, they prefer to view relationships through a romantic, fairy-tale, ‘you complete me’ lens. Personally, I have little patience for it. If people choose to follow the sexual monogamy path, that’s fine but I’m not interested in hearing about their complaints when sexual desires are a mismatch. They sign up for the romance of sexual monogamy, they sign up for codependency and resentment. They’re adults and it’s their choice.

        • Black Iris says:

          Well, you’ll probably not be surprised to find me disagreeing with you here.

          First, I have to say, you’re being incredibly intolerant and narrow-minded. Co-dependency? No patience for people who prefer monogamy? We’re all silly romantics?

          Come on. Here’s an alternate way of looking at it – we’re human. We feel jealous and don’t want to share our partners. We’re also separate people. We will never want exactly the same thing in bed all the time. We’re in a relationship, we work it out, just like we work out anything else.

          The alternatives are: 1) being alone and free, but never quite as close and intimate. The advantages of this shouldn’t be looked down on, being free to do what you want is a great thing. You just have to choose.
          2) being a couple, but having sex with other people. For most people, this causes a lot of pain and makes it hard to keep the couple bond/intimacy going. You may have fewer complaints about sex, but you will have to deal with jealousy, over and over again. I’m not even convinced that it guarantees a perfect sex life either, since you can’t always walk out the door and find someone you want who wants to do what you want with you.

          • Black Iris,

            Look at the work of Georg Simmel on dyads. The only way to remain in a two person relationship is for one person to give up a part of him/herself or lose the relationship. In the case Hugo mentions, one member of the dyad has to give up his/her sexuality in order to remain in the relationship. “Codependency (or codependence, co-narcissism or inverted narcissism) is unhealthy love and a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact one’s relationships and quality of life. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others…People who are codependent often take on the role as a martyr; they constantly put other’s needs before their own and in doing so forget to take care of themselves.” (Wikipedia)
            I’m not saying that it isn’t human to feel jealousy. What I am saying is that your jealousy is your responsibility, not an excuse to try to control your partner. Please read: http://www.xeromag.com/fvpolyjealousy.html
            Then, talk with me about jealousy.

            I know plenty of people who manage to be monogamish, polyamorous, or swingers without having it cause problems in their marriage. Yes, sometimes there is more processing involved but the depth, intimacy, and strength of those relationships is incredible. Yes, you are correct, sometimes it takes time to find partners who deliver exactly what you want but they’re generally worth the wait. It took me three years to find a dom I felt a connection with but he’s the best I’ve ever seen and our kinks match perfectly.

            No, I have no patience for sexually monogamous folks who whine about their sex lives. That’s what they signed up for…boredom, frustration, and resentment. I solved that problem in my life by giving up on the monogamy myth. They don’t like sexual monogamy, then they can take responsibility and solve their problems themselves as well.

            • I think that one issue that seems to either get ignored or over looked is that the society we live in is very much against monogamy in it’s nature even though it fosters the idea of a monogamous relationship as “normal.” I agree with Jeni that people really do need to take responsibility for their lives. No I’m not surprised that a lot of people have a problem with this topic in relationships considering how little people really tend to think things through, or the fact that people really seem to have some sort of problem with asking themselves some serious questions about who they really are inside and what they really want, then going out into the world and seeing whether or not that works for them. People I find really have an issue dealing with the fact that there is a lot of trial and error in life.

            • Jeni: Whoa, whoa, whoa. I did not sign up for “boredom, frustration and resentment” when I got married. I signed up for monogamy, yes, but monogamy does not automatically translate into “boredom” as you so narrowly suggest.

              There are all kinds of reasons sex drives wane. In my marriage, it’s my wife’s medication that wreaks havoc. I’m not bored with her and I’m more attracted to her than ever. Do I whine about this? Sure, sometimes. Thankfully I wasn’t asking for nor do I care about whether you feel sorry for me. Everyone needs to bitch sometimes and get things off their chest.

              It’s funny to me that while people such as myself don’t knock your lifestyle, you take potshots as often as possible at people who do believe in monogamy. Why? I can understand if someone is attacking your decisions and the way you choose to live your life, but that’s not the case here. You’re going out of your way to call monogamy unnatural, boring and a myth. It’s a myth for you, but it’s not a myth for many of us who make different choices and have different beliefs.

              And when you talk of co-dependency it seems as if you believe the simple act of being married marks you as co-dependent. But isn’t that the whole point of being in a relationship with someone? To depend on them and have them depend on you? I absolutely LOVE that feeling. Sure you need to be able to take care of yourself as well, but having someone to lean on and vice versa is fantastic.

              If that makes me “co-dependent” in your eyes, I’ll gladly wear it like a badge of honor.

              • DaddyFiles,

                I do think monogamy is unnatural and oppressive, particularly to women.
                If you’re not bored with your wife, good for you! You’re unique! However, there seem to be a lot of men who ARE bored with their wives and who ARE not being satisfied sexually within in their monogamous relationships. I’ve read quite a few articles about this topic on this very website.
                I do understand that sex drives wax and wane for people. I was in a monogamous relationship for 15 years and I had two children during that time. I’m aware of the temporary challenges that confront folks in relationships.
                I’m not taking potshots at monogamy. I’m saying you folks signed up for the challenges of monogamy. Take some responsibility and quit whining. You don’t hear me bitching about the jealousy or fears my relationships bring up, do you? How many unbiased or positive articles on this website are written about poly or open relationships? I have not seen any yet. Of course, I am pretty sure the comment thread would read – “If you don’t want to be jealous, then you should be in a monogamous relationship”.
                Being married in and of itself does not make you co-dependent. Being in a closed, monogamous relationship makes you co-dependent. If you’re enjoying it, great! You can have people to lean on in non-monogamous relationships as well. However, when one of your partners doesn’t meet your needs, you don’t have to give up on ever having that need met. You merely go to one of the other people you’re in relationship with. Your relationship with partner A doesn’t have to end or be threatened because it doesn’t meet all of your needs. You don’t have to give up a part of yourself to remain in relationship with partner A. Do you see the difference? Do you see where I am coming from on the co-dependency thing now?
                But please, stop complaining about how women don’t want sex as often or use sex as a reward. Stop blaming women, take responsibility, suck it up, and be an adult.
                Egads! I see men all over this website commenting on how feminists don’t take responsibility for themselves but when it comes to marriage and monogamy, neither do the men. Quit giving your power over to the controlling women in your life. Stand up and be assertive about your needs, wants, and who you are.

                • “I do think monogamy is unnatural and oppressive, particularly to women.”

                  Apparently not to trans women like me then.

                  I’ve been over 2 and a half years with my boyfriend, all monogamous. HE has fantasy about something happening with a third party, possibly with him being there watching the scene. I’m quite satisfied by the frequency of sex though. And the quality.

  34. tu quoque says:

    This could have been a good essay about how female homophobia directed at men is a problem, but since this is Hugo and women are not to be blamed for anything, it’s more about men’s porn watching/masturbating and their machismo. The speed of light and Schwyzer misandry: the two constants in the universe apparently.

    • Also the article assumes all men who have relationships with women are straight. My ex was bi so if I suggested he were ‘gay’ it would be water off a duck’s back as an ‘insult’.

      Heteronormative much?

    • Black Iris says:

      You’re being unfair here. Schwyzer brings up porn as a possibility for a few of the guys, but he mostly seems to think the libido difference is just natural. He’s not commenting on men versus women so much as how men and women both buy into stereotypes of our culture.

      Why turn everything into a battle between men and women?

  35. Michael Rowe says:

    Terrific piece, as usual. Once again, Dr. Schwyzer brings into thelight an issue that many men–and women–would find hard to discuss. Well done.

  36. “If nothing else, this issue is common enough to cast serious doubt on the trope, beloved of social conservatives and evolutionary psychologists, that men are simply hardwired to be more far more interested in sex than women.”

    If we take “Men are simply hardwired to be more far interested in sex than women” to mean the somewhat more nuanced statement (which I rather suspect is more the kind of thing someone doing research in this area might actually make) that “Men, as a group, tend, by many measures, to be more desiring of sex than women, as a group, and this has a plausible evolutionary explanation” then that’s perfectly compatible with many individual men having a lower sex drive than many individual women. So no, an unscientific Facebook survey of 72 people, some of whom are relationships where this is the case, provides barely any information on the general trend or whether it’s evolutionary in origin.

    • Black Iris says:

      Although, I think if it were hardwired into our genes or hormones, you would expect it to be more absolute than it is.

      • I don’t think whether or not a trend is universal has that much to do with whether it’s biological in origin. It’s e.g. pretty much “hard-wired” that men tend to be taller than women but there are obviously numerous exceptions to the general trend.

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