Women like casual sex as much as men if the stigma is removed from accepting the offer and the experience involves a “great lover,” a U-M study notes.
“Men are clearly not universally driven to accept casual sex more frequently than are women,” says Terri Conley, an assistant professor of psychology and women’s studies.
For decades, researchers have studied gender differences in sexuality. Those findings, as well as common wisdom, suggest that men like sex more than women do. Women are perceived more negatively than men for accepting casual sex — “and women recognize this,” Conley says.
The new study, however, indicates that gender differences regarding casual sex evaporate when two factors — removing the stigma and expecting a great sexual experience — are added to the equation.
Adult respondents of all marital status were given hypothetical situations involving strangers and real life events from the past. The study sought to explain gender differences in casual sex, which researchers defined as sex without a commitment.
In situations involving strangers, women were less likely to accept hypothetical offers from opposite-sex strangers than men were. The gender differences, however, diminished when both men and women considered sexual offers from an attractive person or unattractive famous individual.
When they recalled a real-life casual sex experience with a close friend, both men and women who participated in the study said they accepted offers if they thought the person had high sexual capabilities.
“Women accepted fewer casual sex offers from men than vice versa because the men who proposed the experience were perceived to have relatively poorer sexual capabilities,” Conley explains.
The stigma associated with engaging in casual sex for women also explains their reluctance to accept offers for casual sex; women are perceived more negatively than men for accepting casual sex, she says.
“Gender differences are minimized when women feel that they can avoid being stigmatized for their behavior,” says Conley, who collaborated with U-M graduate students Amy Moors, Jes Matsick, Ali Ziegler and Brandon Valentine.
The study, which appears in the latest issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, also looked at other research findings involving gender differences in sexuality. Other analyses were:
• Men think about sex more than women, but they also think more about their own physical needs (such as food or sleep).
• Women are “choosier” than men, but only because they are approached more often than men are.
• Men and women do not have gender-specific preferences for qualities of partners.
Conley says studies like hers are important to shed light on prevalent misconceptions concerning sex-related gender differences.
“I think a lot of my work is just about applying common sense,” she says. “Are we really going to believe women do not like sex as much as men?”
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