Men tend to report greater sexual desire for their partners than women, and the findings are published in the journal Biological Psychology suggest that this gender difference is at least partly explained by biology. In a diary study of newlywed couples, women reported lower dyadic sexual desire compared to their partners, and lower testosterone levels explained this gender difference.
Sexual desire for one’s partner – also called dyadic sexual desire – plays an important role in healthy long-term relationships. However, many couples experience a mismatch in sexual desire. This is particularly common among mixed-sex couples, as men tend to report higher dyadic sexual desire and higher sexual desire in general, compared to women.
Differences in sexual desire can contribute to relationship issues. For example, one study found that women’s lower sexual desire predicted lower marital satisfaction for both members of the couple. And yet a clear explanation for this gender difference has not been established.
“In mixed-sex couples, men tend to have a higher sexual desire for their partners than women. Because there are many possible factors that could contribute to this gender difference—from hormonal differences between men and women to stress or even sex roles that reflect societal gender norms—I was interested in testing the roles of these various factors. to help advance and clarify our theoretical understanding of the differences between men’s and women’s sexual desire,” explained study author Juliana E. French, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma and core faculty at the Center for Evolutionary Analysis at Oklahoma (OCEAN).
French and her colleagues conducted a study to investigate gender differences in dyadic desire among newlywed mixed-sex couples. They further sought to test the influence of biological, relational, cognitive, and emotional factors in explaining these differences.
The researchers reviewed existing data from a study of newlywed couples recruited from North Florida. The final sample consisted of 98 participants—48 husbands and 50 wives. Husbands were on average 32 years old and wives were on average 30 years old. At the start of the study, both members of the couple completed a survey that assessed knowledge tapping into their male and female gender role identification and attended a laboratory session where they provided saliva samples to be tested for testosterone.
Couples were then instructed to complete a daily bedtime survey for 14 days, regardless of their partners. These surveys assessed their daily sexual desire for their spouse, marital satisfaction, marital commitment, anxiety, self-esteem, and mood.
The results revealed that, over the course of the 14-day study period, husbands reported significantly higher daily sexual desire for their wives than did their wives. Mediation analysis further revealed that this gender difference was at least partially explained by higher circulating testosterone levels among men compared to their partners.
“We simultaneously examined the roles of biological, relational, cognitive, and emotional experiences in explaining the gender difference in sexual desire for one’s partner, and differences in husbands’ versus wives’ testosterone levels emerged as the only factor that helped explain the spouses”. relatively higher sexual desire compared to their wives,” French told PsyPost.
However, the authors note that biological factors are not the only influences on sexual functioning in couples. “Other factors were predictive of dyadic sexual desire overall,” French noted. “Take marital satisfaction, for example—people who were more satisfied with their marriages reported feeling more sexual desire for their partners—but these factors did not appear to explain the difference between men’s and women’s levels of sexual desire in the way where the differences in testosterone levels were.”
Notably, higher daily positive mood also predicted stronger daily dyadic sexual desire, although this variable similarly did not account for gender differences.
“Sexual desire for one’s long-term partner is complex and can be influenced by many factors,” French said. “We did our best to consider as many factors as we could, but there are additional factors to consider going forward. For example, women are less likely to experience orgasms from sex than men, and this difference could further lead to differences in the sexual desire of men versus women.”
The findings may also have implications for couples’ sexual therapy. “In addition to advancing theory about the processes underlying sexual desire in long-term relationships, these insights could also allow people to better understand why differences in sexual desire occur between partners and thus limit the extent to which people may attribute sexual difficulties to problems in their relationships,” French explained.
A limitation of the study was that there were no daily measures of testosterone, preventing the researchers from investigating how individual variations in testosterone might relate to daily fluctuations in sexual desire.
“Furthermore, this work can only really speak to differences in sexual desire experienced by partners in mixed-sex relationships – we need more work in the future to examine the extent to which people in same-sex relationships, as well as other different forms of relationships, do they experience differences in sexual desire for their partners, and what might be the underlying mechanisms for those differences,” French said.
The study, “An empirical investigation of the roles of biological, relational, cognitive, and affective factors in explaining gender differences in dyadic sexual desire,” was authored by Juliana E. French, James K. McNulty, Anastasia Makhanova, Jon K. Maner , Lisa A. Eckel, Larissa Nikonova, and Andrea L. Meltzer.