Men Have Complex Sex Drives Too, but Nobody Cares
It's interesting to note not only what kinds of studies about sex get published, but which of those studies get reported on in the general media. News agencies tend to rely heavily on a couple of journals as sources for sex news and they tend to focus on articles that fall under a certain category. You may have noticed that there's a flurry of sex stories about once every two months. That's because the main go-to journal for sex science, The Archives of Sexual Behavior, is published bi-monthly. If you actually look at the articles in Archives and the other major sex journal (at least as judged by media attention), The Journal of Sexual Medicine, you'll notice that they feature a lot of articles on "men who have sex with men." And yet, these articles rarely make it into the pop culture sphere. Articles of female sexuality, on the other hand, are frequently picked up and written about on blogs and news sites. Women's sexuality is a major focus of a lot of research, since we're considered "more complicated," and the general public is always greedy for any tidbit about the weird and alien world of female sex drives. There's less interest in the seemingly endless line of studies on homosexual male behavior.
Scientific articles on heterosexual male sexuality - with the exception of erectile dysfunction studies - are few and far between in these journals. Which makes it all the more frustrating when a study that focuses on male sexuality from a psychological perspective is virtually ignored by the media. Take, for example, this nice little study in last month's Journal of Sexual Medicine, titled "Biopsychosocial determinants of male sex drive." A team of Portuguese researchers decided to not assume that men are all body and no brain when it comes to sex and looked at the relationships between various psychological and social factors and the sex drives of 205 men. The results won't surprising to anyone who believes men can be just as varied and complicated as women, but it's nice to see a study that treats male sexuality as something affected by a complicated interplay of factors rather than simply, "Penis. Hole. Good."
The study looked at a group of men from the general population. The mean age was 35 and all participants were in relationships (the study also restricted itself to heterosexual men). They were given questionnaires that assessed their sexual function (as determined by erectile function, orgasmic function, sexual desire, intercourse satisfaction, and overall sexual satisfaction) and the effects of various factors on said function. These factors included their attitudes toward sex, their thoughts and emotions during sexual activity, their relationship quality, and their medical condition. The researchers found that the best predictors of sexual desire in men were cognitive. Restrictive beliefs about sex negatively impacted desire, as did a lack of erotic thoughts and worries about erectile function during sex itself. Relationship quality, age, and medical factors were not found to have any direct impact on men's sex drive, although they did find that these factors could interact with others to affect sex drive - for example medical concerns correlated with worry about erectile function and age correlated with negative attitudes to sex.
I know there are those among our commenters who like to assume that all men are the same and want the same things during sex, as well as those who understandably find that attitude offensive (Hi Jay!). This study only looked at a limited number of factors and doesn't necessarily give us in depth understanding of how social and psychological factors affect men's sexuality, but it does indicate that these factors may be just as important to men's sexuality as purely physical ones. The very attitude that men will fuck anything that's available and enjoy sex more than women is based largely on cultural stereotypes (which produce men who feel they need to live up to said stereotypes - hi Pookie! - which in turn gives people who are inclined to believe the stereotypes the impression that the behavior is indeed biological, creating a feedback loop in which the stereotypes and learned behavior constantly reinforce each other). I find the ways in which the study found that men's thoughts during sex affected their sex drives particularly interesting. Men who don't have erotic thoughts during sex - who, for instance, are completely focused on being manly men with manly, long-lasting erections - have lower sex drives. When sex is about performing a specific role as dictated by society rather than a potentially mutually pleasurable encounter, men enjoy it less, just as women do. The idea that sexual enjoyment is rooted in the brain is widely accepted for women but for some reason we assume that all men need is a physical sensation. It's much more reasonable to expect that both factors play into how men and women enjoy sex.
There are plenty of factors not discussed in this particular paper that I'd be interested in seeing studied. How men rate their sex drives in relation to how attracted to their partner they are, for example. Or what exactly constitutes "erotic thoughts." It would also be interesting to see how these factors affect single men and homosexual men. I'd especially be interested to see how men in different cultural climates behave. This is an understudied aspect of human sexuality and I hope to see more studies along these lines in the future, though I won't expect to see them reported on. Men, on average, may get off easier. Men, on average, may require less foreplay. But men, on average, are also complex human beings (just like us ladies!), who require more than just a hard-on and something warm to stick it in. But nobody wants to report on that for some reason.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she's had a little whiskey.