Men as horndogs and the problem with sex research

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
June 04, 2012 /

Click here to view original /

Two oft-repeated myths about male and female relationships get exposed – and debunked – in each and every female powwow I’ve participated in. 1.) Men’s sexual appetites are higher than women’s. 2.) Women are moodier than men.

I’ll address the latter myth another time. Today I’m sticking to the man-so-horny fairytale.

For reasons that I suggest are political, conservative and pretty damn embarrassing, both men and women frequently repeat the tale of men pestering for sex and women doling menstrual and headache excuses. It’s told and retold so that everyone’s role in our little gender regatta gets played.

Sex researcher Bettina Arndt recently wrote a piece regurgitating the line she’s stuck to for years now: husbands, apparently, are undersexed. Tragically, mournfully, often suicidally undersexed. Wives, apparently, just aren’t putting out. Egos are being crushed, infidelities are being had, all because wives won’t spread their legs and submit to their marital duty.

I’m going to suggest, statistically, that for every sex-starved bloke, there’s a sex-starved wife. Violins rarely play for her though. Because ours is a culture notoriously uninterested in talking about women’s sexual appetites. Alas, a story for another day.

My interest in this topic today is the problematic nature of sex research and our ceaseless appetite for folklore. Social scientists know that when asked about sex, both men and women lie. Habitually. Sure, there’s the thoroughly unscientific rule of three lie where men overestimate their partners and women downplay theirs, but more accurate is that people simply tell the researcher the story they think sounds normal. What emerges, therefore, is a picture reflecting aspiration than accuracy.

These lies help perpetuate the simple and stereotyped tale that Arndt tells and that society repeats: that men aren’t getting enough, that they should want more, that women should give more.

My interest in the Arndt article isn’t to condemn yet another piece excusing men’s behaviour, nor is it to detail how abrasive I find it that women are being urged to lie back and think of England. Instead, I’m choosing to focus on questioning the validity of the eternally horny man thesis.

Men, so the story goes, are so filthily lascivious that it is women’s responsibility to keep their behaviour in check. That women need to gate-keep, to halt men’s dirty proclivities, to keep their legs closed. If unbridled, apparently, men’s urges will lead us all into a Sodom and Gomorrah, Satyricon/Caligula rapid dissent into sexual anarchy.

I’m not so convinced. Loud alarm bells should ring anytime a story can be boiled down, sitcom-style, to men simply being virile and vibrant and women only ever being frigid and forbearing.

Not only is it rare that our culture will ever question this myth, but worse, there seems to be so much more support and compassion for the randy horndog than for women who know such ideas are preposterous but who promptly get dubbed nymphos dare they object.

Every woman who has ever lain next to a bloke who has chosen to go to sleep rather than to scrunch up the sheets with her knows the score. Men are the ones telling the undersexed story. Triumphantly, sometimes Bettina Arndt will even tell it for them. But that doesn’t make it the full story nor the only story, just the popular one. Just the easy one.

© Lauren Rosewarne