It's a common scene in sitcoms: The husband crawls into bed with a certain gusto, while his wife reads or puts on lotion or does whatever wives do on TV. It's clear the husband wants sex, because he's a guy and guys love sex. The studio audience yells Ooo as he goes to make his move. Of course, his wife, being a woman, shoots him down. "Not a chance dear," she says. The audience laughs. HA HA HA. Get it? It's funny because wives hate sex.
Unfortunately, these tropes don't just exist in bad '90s television—they're alive and well today. Case in point: A new report published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that, in long-term relationships, men grossly underestimate their partner's sexual desire. Womp. Womp.
To reach this conclusion, researchers at the University of Toronto, Mississauga performed three studies on couples in North America. The first study involved 44 heterosexual couples; the second involved 84 couples (four of which were same-sex); and the third involved 101 couples (six of which were same-sex).
In each study, couples were asked to provide daily reports on their sexual desire, relationship satisfaction, and commitment. They were also asked to report on their perception of their partner's sexual desire, satisfaction, and commitment. Every couple also divulged how often they were having sex.
Across the board, one theme emerged from the studies: Men "significantly" underperceived their female partner's sexual desire. In other words, men still think women are kinda¯\_(ツ)_/¯ when it comes to sex.
The authors offer a few explanations. First, they write, men tend to underestimate how often their partner wants sex as a way to avoid rejection. For example, on days when a man's motivation to avoid sexual rejection was high, he tended to underperceive his partner's sexual desire. Second, the authors suggest that the men might underestimate their partner's desire as a way to avoid becoming complacent. "We don't know exactly what men do when they underperceive, but it's possible that this keeps them from becoming lazy about maintaining their partner's interest," Amy Muise, the lead author on the study, told me over email. Put differently—if men think their women aren't interested, they'll try harder to pique their interest.
Curiously, when men underpercieved their partner's sexual desire, their partner saw them as more committed and more satisfied in the relationship—so perhaps there's something to this hypothesis.
Notably, men in the studies did report higher levels of sexual desire overall than woman, which the authors think could be another reason why men underestimate women's desire (they assume it's less than their own, but have trouble gauging it beyond that). Ultimately, women's sexual desire was still higher than men imagined it to be, so it's safe to say guys have gone too far with their "she doesn't want sex" assumptions. As have we all.
Consider this—when this study started making news this week, the most common headlines were some variation of "Women are more interested in sex than you think" or "Hey guys, women want sex more often than you think." These headlines assume that we, the readers, believe women are not interested in sex to begin with, and so this news is somehow shocking.
How does this myth continue to persist? Surveys have shown that women often want more sex than they're having. Books have been written about the strength of the female sex drive. And studies have shown that many women are "highly sexual" and more fluid when it comes to sexuality than men.
So while some women's baseline sexual desire may not be as high as some men's—and remember, everyone is different—this doesn't mean that people with vaginas don't want sex a lot. Isn't it about time we put this myth to rest?
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.