Women want more sex than their partners, according to a new study. Naturally, as a sex researcher, I was intrigued - I wanted to see the paper and learn more. However, I was disappointed to learn that this was not actually a scientific study and that many media outlets were reporting on it as if it were legitimate science. Let's take a closer look at this "study" and see what it can and can't tell us.
The study, conducted by website Voucher Codes Pro, involved 2,383 UK adults in long-term relationships. They were asked questions about their sex lives. So, this is not a study by scientists published in an academic journal, but a survey by a private company I've never heard of. I suspect it may just be trying to get some free media attention (at least I say so cynically) by publishing its findings.
Private companies do such surveys all the time, and their results may be informative, but you can only know for sure by evaluating their methods. Unfortunately, there are few details about their methods. I searched extensively on the Internet and found only a series of linked media articles (sort of like a game of "telephone"). Most seem to point to an article on Metro as a source (curiously, despite this, no details can be found on the Voucher Codes Pro website). The Metro News article simply tells us how many people were surveyed and summarizes the findings. However, this is not enough for me to assess whether this is a high-quality survey.
First of all, we don't know the exact question or answer options. This is a big deal. We don't know if they used valid and reliable questions from previous studies, or if they just made them up. I often teach a class called the Psychology of Social Attitudes. In this course, I spent half a semester learning best practices in survey writing. I can attest that most people aren't very good at writing survey questions - you really need scientific training to understand how to write survey questions (e.g. avoid eliciting and loading questions, understand how the order and wording of the questions affects the answers you get, etc.). .
On the other hand, we don't know how participants are recruited. Where did they come from? Social media? Market research team? Somewhere else? In addition, how is the survey publicized, produced what kind of selection effect? For example, is it billed as a survey of couples experiencing sexual and relationship problems? In addition to that, apart from being British adults in LTR, what are the other characteristics of the sample, such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomic status? This information is important for understanding whether certain groups are overrepresented or underrepresented. Finally, are there differences in age or other demographic characteristics between the male and female subsamples that could potentially account for their findings?
If this "study" is submitted to an academic journal, it will be peer-reviewed, and the review process will ask questions like this. However, because it is not, I have no way to evaluate the data. So, I'm very reluctant to draw a sweeping conclusion from them (as many media outlets do), especially when you consider that the main finding (that women desire sex more than men) goes against most of the published scientific research on gender and sex drive.
"To say that men on average have higher sexual desire does not mean that women have lower sexual desire or do not want to have sex."
For example, a 2009 article published in Archives of Sexual Behavior involved a sample of more than 200,000 adults from 53 countries.The study concluded that, on average, men have higher libido than women, and that this effect is consistent across cultures. Interestingly, though, the study also found that women's libido changed more than men's. What this tells us is that there are a lot of women who do have higher libidos than a lot of men. But on average, the sex drive of men and women varies greatly, with men tending to be higher than women.
Similarly, a 2001 article published in Personality and Social Psychology Review analyzed evidence from dozens of studies and found a consistent pattern that men, on average, have higher sexual desires than women.
To be clear, there are no studies showing low sexual desire in women. To say that men on average have higher libido does not mean that women have lower libido or do not want to have sex. Women are sexual creatures, and the fact that there are gender differences should not be taken to mean that women are not interested in sex, or that their sexual needs are less important.
Let me also clarify that the average difference between groups tells us nothing about specific individuals. "Sex drive" has many variables. Women are even more variable than men, according to the study. Therefore, it is important to avoid making assumptions about the sexual drive of particular individuals based on the average of the group.
Having said that, I'm disappointed -- but not surprised -- that so many media outlets give this false impression of "research," equating it with scientific research. The results revealed by this survey are certainly interesting, and I can see why they have attracted so much attention; However, I hope you now understand why it's wise to avoid reading too much into them -- especially until we know more about these methods.