Gender and Libido

post by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-03T14:20:40.660Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 60 comments

There was a historical shift in beliefs.

But the one we’re concerned with is that women’s libidos went from being considered as powerful or more so than men’s to being essentially erased. Pre-Renaissance examples of horny ladies abound, from the Greeks onward; make your own list, but do include Chaucer. He’s such fun. This change in attitudes appears to have been religiously motivated, and based on the idea that women are more spiritual and sacred than men, meaning less horny. Again, make your own list of contemporary leftovers of this attitude; there are plenty.
By the 18th century, it was taken as read that a woman who did experience (or at least express) sexual desire was suffering from a disorder. One important 1775 study of the subject linked the problem to “secret pollutions”, i.e. wanking, and (I swear I am not making this up) eating too much chocolate. I guess that’d go a ways toward explaining this advertisement. Women were diagnosed with, treated for, and often operated upon for “nymphomania”, the dread condition that causes a woman to want sex. (Talk to your doctor; you may suffer from it yourself!) And yes, by “operated upon”, I mean clitoridectomy. And yes, that’s fucking appalling.

I find this very odd. How could a major cultural lineage be wrong about something so much a part of ordinary experience?

When I say wrong, I don't necessarily mean that we're right, or the ancients were right, though there's a lot of evidence that the Victorians were wrong.

My favorite theory is that people's amount of desire for sex varies sufficiently that there's enough noise to make it easy to see patterns that aren't there. I leave the possibility open that there was a change (possibly dietary) which affected libido levels differently between men and women.

People are sufficiently punitive about sex that there's going to be lies and misdirection to support the current theory about how people are supposed to be.


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comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-07-03T19:20:13.044Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

All kinds of other possibilities occur to me, other than the "repressive hypothesis". In no particular order:

Women actually were the hornier sex in antiquity, but something in the Western diet changed our hormone balance.

Women actually were the hornier sex in antiquity, but some disease (the Black Plague? syphilis?) selectively killed or rendered infertile the horniest women and/or the least-horny men.

The claim that women were the hornier sex acted as a justification for rape: "that slut wanted it!" writ large. Since women didn't write the histories, we have no idea what they thought of this claim. As the status of women rose from near-slaves to near-equals over historical time, this claim has been increasingly untenable.

The claim that women were the hornier sex was reported by the tiny fraction of men who were literate, who also tended to be the highest-status, best providers, most well-spoken, most artistic, having the most leisure time, best-fed. In other words, among the ancients, the literate men (who wrote the histories, the plays, etc.) were by far the most attractive to women. We don't have any records of whether illiterate ancient men, who were the majority of the population and who were less attractive, also believed that women were sexually insatiable.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-07-04T22:45:10.547Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm currently having a hard time finding the study, but I distinctly recall reading an article that tried to address the question of relative sex drives by looking at the sex drives of people who took hormones as part of the gender reassignment process. Female->male sex changes reported greatly increased libido when they began taking testosterone.

I can see why one might be reluctant to generalize to the population as a whole, but it is at least weak evidence that the current conventional wisdom correctly reflects the difference in sex drives today.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz, MixedNuts, henryaj
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-05T07:33:05.444Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One more piece of weak evidence-- a woman I know was taking testosterone for a medical reason I've forgotten, and was pleased to find that it increased her sex drive.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-07-05T07:06:26.430Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Everyone I talk to reports a big increase, so most of the effect probably comes from having the right (for some value thereof) hormones. But yeah, the increase is much larger in that direction.

comment by henryaj · 2011-07-05T17:52:55.772Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My understanding is that testosterone, gram for gram, affects the female body more potently than it does the male body. So bringing up a female's testosterone level to that of a male might not be dose-equivalent.

Or to put it another way: men's and women's physiologies are different. I'm not sure it's safe to assume that someone who has transitioned from female to male through hormone replacement is identical (and so directly comparable) to someone who was born male, so I'd question the validity of comparisons made between the two.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-04T06:59:45.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wouldn't trust the quoted article very much. It sounds like a narrative constructed around a few datapoints that are not necessarily representative (or even authentic), and certainly not like the writing of someone with in-depth knowledge of the subject. In particular, the concluding claim about ideas "made up by the church 400 years ago" is completely absurd -- by that time, there had been no such thing as "the church" in the West for almost a century.

The subject is certainly interesting, but in order to come up with any sensible theories, it would be necessary to do a far broader and in-depth study of all kinds of extant sources that offer relevant information. The fact that some people published various crackpot theories that gained some following doesn't mean that the prevailing opinion was the same, even among the intellectual classes, let alone in the general population. Just think what an absurdly distorted view of the prevailing 20th century opinion on any subject could be created by focusing selectively on various fringe ideas that gained some traction at a certain point in time.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-04T11:19:26.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think popular fiction offers some legitimate clues about what people found plausible.

There are caveats, of course-- fiction exaggerates for the sake of a good story. However, if there's fiction about horny women for a while, and then there's no such fiction or very little of it, I think there's an indication that something's shifted.

comment by lucidfox · 2011-07-03T14:51:12.804Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find this very odd. How could a major cultural lineage be wrong about something so much a part of ordinary experience?

Perhaps because women weren't allowed much say in the writing of medical books at that time? I may be wrong, but there weren't many women doctors around to begin with before the 20th century.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-03T15:18:45.805Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't just mean the Victorians-- either the ancients were wrong about women being the hornier sex, or we're wrong that men are.

Replies from: lucidfox
comment by lucidfox · 2011-07-03T15:53:10.536Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or both.

comment by lucidfox · 2011-07-04T02:12:20.293Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An acquaintance of mine said about this thread: "no-one seems to be raising the idea that there may be strong cultural factors related to gendered expressions of libido".

To elaborate, perhaps the issue is not so much with "natural" sexuality as with social discouragement for one gender or the other at different times to be open about it.

Replies from: Eugine_Nier
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-07-04T07:26:16.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To elaborate, perhaps the issue is not so much with "natural" sexuality as with social discouragement for one gender or the other at different times to be open about it.

Could you Taboo "natural" in that sentence, or would an equivalent formulation be: "the issue is not so much with 'natural' sexuality as with social pressure for one gender or the other at different times to exaggerate their sexuality"?

Replies from: lucidfox
comment by lucidfox · 2011-07-05T04:59:57.455Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Social pressure for one to exaggerate and the other to suppress, yes.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-07-03T21:19:22.752Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't remember the exact source, but I've done Web searches for relevant scientific literature, and today, when psychologists survey people (admittedly, mostly WEIRD people), they do indeed confirm the conventional wisdom: the statistically average man has more interest in sex than the statistically average woman.

Replies from: Kaj_Sotala, hairyfigment, Unnamed, NancyLebovitz
comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-07-04T11:24:03.388Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The following is from Naisten seksuaalinen valta, Henry Laasanen's Master's thesis in Sociology. The translation is mine.

Among everyone, everywhere in the world, men are more likely to want sexual relationships with more partners than women do (Kinsey 1948; Rhoads 2004, 114). [...] According to Baumeister et al. (2001; see also Oliver & Hyde 1993), a meta-analysis of studies regarding sexual desire shows all the evidence to suggest that male sexual desire is stronger than female sexual desire. Not a single study has reported female sexual desire to be greater than male sexual desire. Men think about sex more frequently, have more sexual fantasies, are aroused more often, want more sex (both during the early and late stages of a relationship as well as outside a relationship), want a greater amount of sex partners, masturbate more often, are less interested in passing over a chance for sex, are worse at staying celibate, take more risks and use more resources to get sex, refuse sex less frequently, report a lack of desire less frequently, and are more tolerant towards most forms of sexuality than women and also estimate their sexual desire to be greater than that of women.

Reports from a multicultural study, covering 16 288 people around the world, show that gender differences in sexual desire are culturally universal. In the context of the dating market, men's greater sexual desires are a result of three factors: (1) men have a greater interest in short-term sexual relationships (2) men want more sex partners than women do and (3) men want sex faster than women do. The results are statistically significant no matter what indicators used. (Schmitt et al. 2003). [...]

According to Miller ja Fiskin (1997) women on average want to have maybe two to three sex partners during the rest of their life, while the equivalent number for men is 64. Similar results have been reported in other studies (Buss & Schmitt 1993). [...]

Tests made by Clark and Hatfield (1989; Clark 1990) indicate that a moderately attractive woman can get sex from very attractive men simply by asking for it. When moderately attractive women asked to have sex with very attractive men previously unknown to them, 71 per cent of the men agreed. In other words, if the woman asked three men for sex, they would almost be guaranteed to get it (Baumeister & Tice 2001, 191). [...] When the same experiment was conducted the other way around, so that moderately attractive men asked very attractive women for sex, none of the women agreed. [...]

Among married heterosexual men, 7 per cent have had over 20 partners, while among homosexual male couples 43 per cent have had over 20 partners. Among lesbian couples only less than one per cent has had over 20 partners. (Rhoads 2004)

Baumeister et al. (2001). Is there a gender difference in strength of sex drive? Theoretical views, conceptual distinctions, and a review of relevant evidence. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5 (3), 242-273.

Baumeister & Tice (2001). The social dimension of sex. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Buss & Schmitt (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100 (2), 204-232.

Clark & Hatfield (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 2, 39-55.

Clark (1990) The impact of AIDS on gender differences in willingness to engage in casual sex. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 20, 771-782.

Kinsey (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders.

Oliver & Hyde (1993). Gender differences in sexuality: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 29-51.

Rhoads (2004). Taking sex differences seriously. San Fransisco: Encounter Books.

Schmitt et al. (2003) Universal differences in the desire for sexual variety: Tests from 52 nations, 6 continents, and 13 islands. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 85-104.

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-07-04T04:41:49.572Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What type of sex? Women certainly show less interest in sex with strangers who propose it:

As for why, here’s the first headline: women rated sexual competence at 2.82 (1.25) and men at 3.83 (1.14). Men thought the proposer — knowing nothing about her — would be a middle-of-the-pack sex partner, while women thought the male proposers would be mediocre. Here’s the second headline: women rated danger at 4.19 (1.62) against 2.75 (1.52) for men. Women rated danger in the top half of the scale, men in much lower, when all they knew about the proposer was the gender and that they had made the offer described.

Beyond gender, however, only the perception that the proposer would be a good lover (consistent with pleasure theory) significantly influenced participants’ likelihood of agreeing to the sexual offer.

Neither status, nor tendency for gift giving, nor perceived faithfulness of the proposer (nor, more precisely, the interaction of any of these variables with gender) predicted whether a participant would agree to the sexual offer

Replies from: henryaj
comment by henryaj · 2011-07-05T18:02:26.954Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the parts of this study involved quizzing men and women on their likelihood of accepting sex from a stranger using pictures of either an attractive or an unattractive person of the opposite sex to see if that affected the subject's likelihood of accepting the proposition, and found:

For the proposition by the attractive person, women were at 4.09 [out of 7] to 4.16 for men — just about a tie.

Which seems to suggest that, in this particular domain—sex with an attractive partner—men and women are equally desirous. It's the perceived danger (and lower sexual prowess) that the female subjects imagine come with the average proposer that makes them less likely to accept the offer than men.

This seems inconsistent with the notion that women are innately less desirous of sex than men; rather that they have more to lose from a casual encounter (as has been said) so are more guarded when accepting such a proposition.

comment by Unnamed · 2011-07-03T22:08:12.657Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Baumeister, R. F., Catanese, K. R., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Is there a gender difference in strength of sex drive? Theoretical views, conceptual distinctions, and a review of relevent evidence. Personality & Social Psychology Review, 5, 242-273. pdf

The sex drive refers to the strength of sexual motivation. Across many different studies and measures, men have been shown to have more frequent and more intense sexual desires than women, as reflected in spontaneous thoughts about sex, frequency and variety of sexual fantasies, desired frequency of intercourse, desired number of partners, masturbation, liking for various sexual practices, willingness to forego sex, initiating versus refusing sex, making sacrifices for sex, and other measures. No contrary findings (indicating stronger sexual motivation among women) were found. Hence we conclude that the male sex drive is stronger than the female sex drive. The gender difference in sex drive should not be generalized to other constructs such as sexual or orgasmic capacity, enjoyment of sex, or extrinsically motivated sex.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2011-07-07T01:02:01.108Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I think this is the one that I found.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-03T22:11:03.221Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you remember whether these were surveys of what people said about their sex drives, or whether sex drives were measured in some other way?

Replies from: Douglas_Knight
comment by Douglas_Knight · 2011-07-04T04:12:57.799Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe that there are surveys of sex rates between gay, straight, and lesbian couples. While these are self-reported, at least the number they are attempting to measure is fairly objective.

comment by drethelin · 2011-07-03T18:49:41.036Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ancient cultures were so comedically wrong on so many things that I have a hard time finding this odd. they simply had no or almost no idea how many parts of the universe worked. Female genital mutilation is appalling but it's no more nonsensical than bleedings, taking mercury as a cure-all, or wasting decades of your life trying to transmute lead into gold.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-07-03T19:26:35.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find this very odd. How could a major cultural lineage be wrong about something so much a part of ordinary experience?

Part of why there could be disagreement is that the question is very hard to answer. How does one determine that one group of people has a greater libido than another group?

It would be easy if the two groups were presented with the same choices, and one group consistently chose sex more often than the other. But this historically has not been the case with men and women. Choosing sex typically involved very different consequences and opportunity costs for the different groups.

The next best thing would be to have an empirically verified robust theory that lets you play out counterfactuals. Then you could say, "Yes, in reality the members of groups A and B confront different choices. But, using our robust theory, we can see that were an individual in group A to confront the choices faced by members of B, that individual would choose to do X, in contrast to the members of B, who choose to do Y." Unfortunately, no such robust theory of the libido was available in historical times.

Libido is a part of personal experience. But answering the question "Who has a stronger libido, men or women?" requires much more than personal experience. Personal experience doesn't tell me whether I would choose sex more or less often than women do if I were faced with the same choices that they have.

Answering such questions amounts to evaluating counterfactuals. But, historically, people evaluated these counterfactuals without the help of a theory that could be expected to correlate strongly with the truth of the matter. This meant that people gave answers based on intuition and religion and other considerations that track the truth very poorly. It is therefore unsurprising that their answers differed so much from one another.

comment by Emile · 2011-07-03T17:56:50.743Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right now (I haven't researched the subject in too much depth), I'm inclined to believe that women's libido has never been considered more powerful than men's, and that the "evidence" presented here was cherry-picked or over-interpreted.

Does anybody have a link to a more thorough research?

Replies from: togivecogoneupvote
comment by togivecogoneupvote · 2011-07-04T03:22:06.973Z · LW(p) · GW(p)Replies from: Normal_Anomaly
comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2012-01-08T19:34:59.600Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whatever comment you attempted to make didn't show up. You might want to post again.

EDIT: Never mind!

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-08T21:03:52.422Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the grandparent was retracted and edited. (there are no vote buttons)

Replies from: Normal_Anomaly
comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2012-01-08T22:44:53.986Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're probably right.

comment by MrMind · 2011-07-14T12:35:39.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It should be noted that if you try to fit two multidimensional quantities over a single dimension, one is greater than the other depending on which axis you do the projection. In the case of a married couple in which the woman wants to have sex with her husband every single day, while he is bored and avoids her because of the lack of variety, who has more sex drive?

Besides, making studies without understanding the generation of female attraction is rather moot: the experiment where moderately attractive men simply ask women for sex makes my inner seducer smirk. In my experience, healthy women experience a sharp surge in sex drive, both in frequence and in variety, when they feel they are in safe environment, both from physical injuries and from social stigmatization.

Replies from: EphemeralNight
comment by EphemeralNight · 2012-01-08T08:42:37.812Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience, healthy women experience a sharp surge in sex drive, both in frequence and in variety, when they feel they are in safe environment, both from physical injuries and from social stigmatization.

And healthy men don't?

These sorts of statements always seem loaded to me, when they refer to just one gender despite being applicable to everyone.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-01-08T18:48:28.737Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand MrMind to be implying that they have much more experience with health-induced sex-drive variations among women than they do among men. To conclude that something is true of men based on my experience with women, or vice-versa, is not obviously less biased than to refrain from such a conclusion.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-03T19:23:59.451Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Has anyone considered the idea that many people judge how sex crazed the opposite sex is by the interest the opposite sex gives them? All stereotypes are true after all, what if most are starved for attention but the few who are getting lots and lots of attention aren't socially celebrated or perhaps even accepted? What stereotypes will form about the genders in such conditions? I mean X, Y and everyone I know that I've asked say they aren't getting any. Gee I guess the opposite sex just generally isn't interested in it.

Couldn't changing perceptions of female or male horniness be partially due to changes in the balance of the sexual marketplace?

Replies from: lucidfox
comment by lucidfox · 2011-07-04T02:10:33.628Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"All stereotypes are true"?

That's a really bold statement. Does it also include negative racial and ethnic stereotypes?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-04T05:30:02.560Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

ll stereotypes are true after all

The statement is a bit tongue-in-cheek, hard to see out of context I suppose. It was meant to convey that stereotypes very seldom form with no relation to actual shared subjective experiences by the group. In other words stereotype memes spread among a population because in their personal experience they seem to be true or prevalent. This is not controlling for any biases (besides all the common ones, distortions of reality due to mass media exposure also seem relevant for example ).

Also many stereotypes seem to be objectively true if they are applied statements about averages rather than the straw man of every X is/does Y. The French do indeed drink more wine than the Irish. On average. C group does commit more violent crime than D group. On average. (no need to unfairly single out anyone here, the set of potential C,D pairs is quite large)

All I was saying is that reality effects how likley stereotypes are to formed and/or spread.

Replies from: lucidfox
comment by lucidfox · 2011-07-04T06:00:45.290Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stereotypes are memes, forming similarly to superstitions, in that a) whatever real-life context originally spawned them was likely exaggerated, and b) they get shared without proper understanding of said historical context.

Not to mention that stereotypes present the danger of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies, in that they'll make people more likely to try to conform to them just to avoid social backlash.

Replies from: Vladimir_M, None
comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-04T07:16:37.437Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stereotypes are memes, forming similarly to superstitions, in that a) whatever real-life context originally spawned them was likely exaggerated, and b) they get shared without proper understanding of said historical context.

What evidence do you have for any of these claims? In particular, how do you know that stereotypes are on average exaggerated relative to the true conditional probabilities, or that they are slow to update in changing circumstances?

In any case, "stereotype" is just a judgmental term for statistical discrimination, which means decision-making in situations with incomplete information based on statistically derived conditional probabilities, and that is something everyone does all the time, usually because there is no practical alternative. I find it an absolutely fascinating question what exactly motivates and determines the present respectable opinion about the boundary between common-sense reasoning about conditional probabilities and evil stereotyping.

Replies from: lucidfox
comment by lucidfox · 2011-07-04T07:25:48.433Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What evidence do you have for any of these claims? In particular, how do you know that stereotypes are on average exaggerated relative to the true conditional probabilities, or that they are slow to update in changing circumstances?

...Common sense?

I really didn't think it would be something I'd need to prove.

Evaluate various stereotypes about ethnical, religious, political or really other social groups you've heard. How many of them are objective? How many of them are accurate? How many of such generalizing statements are made about groups so diverse that you really cannot say much about them in general? And finally, how many of these groups have you personally interacted with enough to authoritatively evaluate those opinions?

Replies from: Vladimir_M
comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-07-04T07:47:44.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The article to which I linked lists a few stereotypes that seem clearly true to me, and any reasonable person would readily act on them. (Would you really get equally scared of old ladies and young men when walking in a bad neighborhood?) So how exactly does your common sense alone let you sort out true stereotypes from false ones, and to conclude that most stereotypes (by whatever measure) fall into the latter category?

Moreover, if you believe that acting on some kinds of stereotypes is unethical, that's a defensible position which I'm not going to dispute in this discussion. However, this position leads to the awful problem of what to do when some stereotypes are at the same time unethical and accurate -- and a common attempt to get out of this problem is to argue that all these unethical stereotypes must be inaccurate, which you seem to be doing. But this is clearly wishful thinking; reality is never aligned so conveniently with abstract moral theories.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-04T07:29:18.799Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stereotypes are memes, forming similarly to superstitions, in that a) whatever real-life context originally spawned them was likely exaggerated, and b) they get shared without proper understanding of said historical context.

Its hard to think of a case where a) even though clearly exaggerated had no basis in reality. This naturally dosen't automatically mean it is useful, let alone appropriate.

Before this derails, let me just say that I was claiming that in context changes in the dynamics of the sexual marketplace (changes in the attractivness of subgroups of males and females, availability of the opposite sex, ect.) would probably result in a perceptible change of stereotypes related to sexuality.

Not to mention that stereotypes present the danger of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies, in that they'll make people more likely to try to conform to them just to avoid social backlash.

This has nothing to do with thinking about whether determining whether a particular sterotype is currently true or not or even whether employing it or not as a heuristic is rational.

Replies from: lucidfox
comment by lucidfox · 2011-07-05T12:33:28.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

availability of the opposite sex, ect.

Assuming heteronormativity here, are we? :)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-05T21:39:54.296Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Not really, since in the time span in question I can't think of a time where access to other people of the same sex was made purposefully difficult because of their sex. Segregation by sex has however been a norm in many different times and places (its with us even today whenever you go to perform your bodily functions in a public restroom).

comment by scientism · 2011-07-03T15:14:51.598Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The evidence in the article is pretty scant. I'm not sure I'd read much into "horny ladies" abounding in fiction (or joke books). My guess is that the ancients, the Victorians and we moderns are all wrong when it comes to sexual desire, male and female. Sexual desire is a sort of appetite (like hunger and thirst) but it's the only appetite we suffer no consequences from not satiating. It's subject to tremendous variability. People have different levels of sexual desire at different times throughout the day, from one week or month to another, it changes as we get older, it varies between individuals and I don't doubt that the prevailing sexual culture changes it immensely (we have to eat and yet food culture has a tremendous influence on how we satiate hunger including some cultures systematically under-eating). It's possible (although unlikely) that for many women sexual desire was a sign of a disorder in the context of the prevailing sexual culture of the Victorian era.

Replies from: nazgulnarsil, endoself
comment by nazgulnarsil · 2011-07-03T15:23:31.161Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

we suffer no consequences from not satiating.

disagree strongly.

Replies from: scientism
comment by scientism · 2011-07-03T16:11:51.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right. I overstated my case. There are consequences, but relative to the consequences of not satiating hunger and thirst, they're minor. A person can't live without food or water but can live without sexual relief.

comment by endoself · 2011-07-03T17:24:28.077Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I'd read much into "horny ladies" abounding in fiction (or joke books).

They do reflect the culture of the time. A illustrative example is the play Lysistrata, where the plot is based on women denying sex to men as a punishment. This was considered hilarious because people though it could never happen. Now, cultural expectations have changed and it happened.

Replies from: Yvain, Emile
comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-07-03T19:38:01.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also addressed directly in the myth of Tiresias

comment by Emile · 2011-07-03T18:47:56.418Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A illustrative example is the play Lysistrata, where the plot is based on women denying sex to men as a punishment. This was considered hilarious because people though it could never happen.

The exact same story could equally be used to support the claim that men have always been considered to have greater libido than women; the explanation would just be different.

Replies from: endoself
comment by endoself · 2011-07-03T19:05:06.391Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is a general consensus, AFAIK, that this opinion of women it clear from the text; it is not inferred from our expectations about Greek gender roles. The wikipedia summary seems to back this up; both genders are portrayed as desperate for sex in the play, but women are portrayed this way to a far greater extent.

Replies from: Emile
comment by Emile · 2011-07-04T08:17:25.145Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with the interpretation of the text, but I don't agree with the "people thought it could never happen" bit - or at least, I see no reason to privilege that explanation over say "the 'women withhold sex' scheme was considered plausible, but the women's sex drive was ramped up to increase conflict make the play funnier (and dirtier)".

It's not as if entertainment media has a history of realistically depicting sex-related topics.

Replies from: endoself
comment by endoself · 2011-07-04T17:15:26.809Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just to be clear, do you agree that people believed women's sex drives to be stronger, just not to as great an extent as my original comment implied? If so, I have mostly updated to your position, though it is still possible that someone has stronger evidence for "people thought it could never happen", but only told me their conclusion, not their evidence.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-07-04T17:19:32.310Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Its an interesting pattern that the people who are most inclined to claim women are uninterested in sex are the same groups as those who most restrict womens sexual choices and punish those deviating from the norm.

If it were true that women had lower sex drives there would be no need for repressive cultures to have mechanisms to limit them, any more than they have mechanisms to limit flying.

However, if ones goal, for whatever reason is to restrict female sexual choice then propagating a belief that sexual desire among women is abnormal is instrumentally useful for that goal.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-07-05T07:36:14.130Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure whether this is true. From what I've heard, cultures that go in for female genital mutilation do it to lower women's sex drives, and I'm not sure what underlying beliefs the Taliban has about women's sex drives.

The Saudi restriction on women driving is at least partly based on a desire to make infidelity more difficult.

comment by knb · 2011-07-03T18:45:03.811Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's pretty easy to see why the Victorians were wrong. The social norms (especially middle class) cherished female chastity, since chastity is an important virtue for monogamous societies. This is because men are more reluctant to form long-term mating commitments to women with a reputation for strong sex desire (this increases paternal uncertainty). So over centuries, the parochial assumption that women were genuinely chaste would have become common among men. Now that female chastity is out, marriage rates are declining, and we seem to be evolving to a more "forager" sexual style (this trend is currently incomplete).

I've also read anti-porn radical feminists who argue that women only pretend to accept male use of porn (or bondage/discipline in the bedroom) to seem "cool", when really they find it disgusting/evil.

Replies from: Mercy
comment by Mercy · 2011-07-03T18:52:14.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've also seen "women can't enjoy Penis-in-Vagina sex and any who believe they do are sufferring from Trauma Bonding" but only among people who, as far as I can tell, identify as anti-third wave feminists first, and radical feminists second.

comment by MugaSofer · 2012-10-01T11:14:38.648Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd already seen the evidence for this, but your link is broken, and was apparently less than rigorous. You may wish to replace it.

Replies from: MugaSofer
comment by MugaSofer · 2012-12-24T21:31:49.986Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by tenshiko · 2011-07-07T17:07:16.070Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To me it seems obvious that one of the primary causes of differences in end sexual conduct has its roots in the anatomical differences of men and women. While accidental and satisfying self-stimulation of the penis is for most males very easy, the commonly elusive and non-prominent positioning of the clitoris makes masturbation difficult for many females. It doesn't help that due to its auxiliary role in reproduction, in some countries it is extremely common for young women to go on completely oblivious to the existence of the clitoris. Hence the ultimate development of male and female sexuality diverges widely. Cultural evidence? The narrative of discussion of masturbation among men, adolescents, and even young boys is extremely vibrant. The narrative on female masturbation is virtually nonexistent and in most cases doesn't develop until post-adolescence at the earliest, and has only really blossomed in the twentieth century as a result of (well, besides the sexual revolution) development of machine-based stimulation.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-03T19:26:17.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also considering the time scales we can't discount natural selection playing a role. Both in humans and various pathogens (which might alter human sexual desires and behaviour - rabies and toxoplasmosis being two known examples that seem to influence sexual behaviour, desire and even desirability).

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-03T19:26:08.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

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