GENDER DIFFERENCES IN EROTIC PLASTICITY
General idea, or hypothesis: Female sexuality is more subject to the influence of cultural and social factors (nurture). Male sexuality is more subject to innate factors (nature).
Three predictions: • Women will show more variation across time than men in sexual behaviour. • Female sexuality will be more responsive to socio-cultural factors than male sexuality. • Sexual attitude-behaviour consistency will be lower for women than men.
Women will show more variation across time than men in sexual behaviour Homosexuality: Homosexual women are more likely than homosexual men to have heterosexual intercourse. Homosexual women (56%) are more likely than homosexual men (40%) to identify themselves as bisexual. Homosexual women are more likely than homosexual men to indicate that their sexual orientation is a result of personal choice.
Consensual extramarital sex: Smith & Smith (1970) study on consensual extramarital sex: “Women are better able to make the necessary adjustments to sexual freedom […] than are men.” Bartlett (1970) study on consensual extramarital sex: Wives are more likely to participate in same-gender sexual activity than husbands. Women, in general, report smaller discrepancy between desired and actual frequency of sex than do men.
Prison: More women (50%) than men (40%) engage in same-gender sexual activity while in prison (Gagnon & Simon, 1968). Remarkable because: • Base rate of homosexuality is higher for men. • In prison men force other men more than women force other women (Propper, 1981). • Women can live without sexual contact more easily than men.
Female sexuality will be more responsive to socio-cultural factors than male sexuality Culture: Greater variation across three Western cultures in rates of premarital sex of females than of males. Greater cross-cultural variation among females than males on variety of sexual behaviour patterns (186 cultures). “Variations among the societies are apparently greater for girls than for boys” (Barry & Schlegel, 1984).
Men with college education are twice as likely to be homosexual than men without college education. Women with college education are nine times as likely to be homosexual than women without college education.
Religion: Female Catholic clergy are more successful than male Catholic clergy at fulfilling their vows of celibacy. Genetics: Genetic make-up accounts for 72% of the variance in age at first intercourse for males, but only for 40% of variance for females.
Sexual attitude-behaviour consistency will be lower for women than men. “If women’s behaviour is more malleable by situational forces than men’s, then women will be more likely than men to do things contrary to their general attitudes.” (Baumeister, 2000). More women than men have premarital sex even when this goes against their personal values. Women report higher intention than men to use condoms, but are not more likely than men to actually use condoms.
Sex without desire: More women (82%) than men (60%) indicate that they ever had sex without desiring it. Ninety-seven percent of women over the age of 25 indicate that they ever had sex without desiring it. During a two-week study of committed couples, 50% of women, but only 26% of men engaged in unwanted sexual activity at least once.
Homosexuality: Less than half the women, but 85% of the men who liked the idea of same-gender sex had actually participated in same-gender sex in the previous year (Laumann et al., 1997) Gap between homosexual feelings and homosexual behaviour is much larger for lesbians (22%) than for gay males (3%) (Bell & Weinberg, 1978). Golden (1987) found that some women identify themselves as lesbians, often for political reasons, but are exclusively heterosexual. Other women identify themselves as heterosexual but are exclusively homosexual.
Three explanations: • Male strength and power • Change and the female sexual script • Strength of female sex drive
Male strength and power “Men can coerce women to do what they want, and so as men pursue their sexual desires, women must go along with what want to some extent.” (Baumeister, 2000). Two possibilities: Evolution may have selected for flexible females who could adapt to dominant males. Women are conscious of greater power held by males in society and hence learn to be more flexible.
Change and the female sexual script “Change is an inherent part of the female role in sex, and so women are required to have some degree of flexibility in their patterns of erotic response.” “Females constitute the restraining force on sex. When sex happens it is because the woman has changed her vote from yes to no.” (Baumeister, 2000). It is important for women to be selective, yet keep an open mind about potential partners.
Patterns in heterosexual relations: In heterosexual relations, men are ready for sex long before women (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Men are more willing than women to have sex with someone they have just met (Clark & Hatfield, 1989). Men fall in love faster than women (Baumeister et al., 1993). More men than women report they have remained virgin because their romantic partner refuses sex (McCabe, 1987). More men than women cite their partner’s unwillingness as a reason why they are not having sex (Mercer & Kohn, 1979).
Temporal patterns in sex: There are daily and weekly, but not monthly, patterns to sexual behaviour. Couples are more likely to have sex in the evening and on Sundays. Monthly variations in female sexual desire are significant, yet there is no monthly pattern to sexual behaviour. Thus, female sexual desire does not correlate strongly with sexual behaviour.
Strength of female sex drive “Women have a milder, weaker sex drive than men and this difference allows the female sex drive to be more easily moulded” (Baumeister, 2000). Women think about sex less often than men. Women have fewer sexual fantasies, involving fewer partners, and less variety of activity. Women initiate sex less often and refuse sex more often than men. Women desire fewer partners and seek out fewer extramarital partners than men.
Critique from the socio-cultural corner: Hyde & Durik (2000) Data reviewed by Baumeister can be explained by a socio-cultural theory which assumes that: • Men have more power than women at many levels of society. • Education increases women’s power more than men’s power. • Those with less power adapt their behaviour to those with more power. • Heterosexuality is a more important element of the male role than the female role.
Are men and women really that different? Andersen, Cyranowski, & Aarestad (2000) Meta-analysis: A statistical technique for synthesizing the results of multiple studies on a given topic. Magnitude of effects is expressed as difference between conditions in standard deviation units (d). Trivial: d < .2 Small: .2 < d < .5 Moderate: .5 < d < .8 Large: d > .8
Trivial differences: Sexual satisfaction Oral sex incidence Petting incidence Attitudes toward homosexuality Small differences: Number of sexual partners Frequency of intercourse Homosexual incidence Age at first intercourse Moderate differences: Sexual permissiveness Intercourse-engaged Large differences: Casual intercourse Masturbation incidence
Baumeister rejoinder 1) Education does not increase women’s power more than men’s power. Highly educated men marry highly educated women and uneducated men marry uneducated women. Husbands tend to outrank their wives on various status indices, including education (“marriage gradient”) Highly educated men are less likely to end up with no sex partner than less educated men.
2)It is unclear whether heterosexuality is a more important element of the male role than the female role. All relevant studies show higher rates of male than female homosexuality. Baumeister et al.: “We doubt that even Hyde and Durik’s fellow feminists would agree that heterosexuality is relatively less important to the female role.”
3) There is evidence that women, rather than men, exert control over sexual behaviour. “Greater congruence between desire and experience for women than men” (McCabe, 1987). Men (53%) were more likely than women (34%) to agree with the following statement: “My partner’s sexual pleasure is more important than my own.”