Who Wants a Manwhore?

images (6)Yesterday I wrote about the twisted, deformed definition of masculinity that depends solely on a man’s level of sexual experience with many partners. The men who subscribe to this view willingly forfeit all control of their identity by asking women to judge their desirability as the sole measure of their worth. They believe that manwhore status is the ultimate chick bait. Are they right?

We know that social proof is powerful reinforcement – but is there any limit to the promiscuity women desire or find acceptable in men? Past research has demonstrated that both women and men have a vested interest in securing a partner with limited sexual experience:

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Men Exhibit More Confirmation Bias Than Women Do

confirmation biasThis post reviews the paper The Effect of Gender on Cognitive Structuring: Who are More Biased, Men or Women?

Here is the common assumption in popular culture:

Ample evidence demonstrates the existence of stereotypes about gender differences: men are more rational than women, while women are more emotional, intuitive and biased.

We’ve certainly gotten an earful of this at HUS over the years! Female solipsism, anyone?

Back in 1989 researcher J. Meyers-Levy found evidence for another, counterintuitive hypothesis:

In her Selectivity Hypothesis Meyers-Levy theorizes that men are considered to be “selective processors” who often do not engage in comprehensive processing of all available information before rendering judgment. Instead, they seem to rely on various heuristics in place of detailed information processing…Women, on the other hand, are considered to be “comprehensive processors” who attempt to assimilate all available information before rendering judgment.

Yoram Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University and Maria Jarymowicz of Warsaw University sought to test the hypothesis further, conducting the three separate studies that comprise this paper.


Two different thinking approaches prevail among human beings:

Cognitive Structuring

“CS has been defined as “the creation and use of abstract mental representations (e.g., schemata, prototypes, scripts, attitudes, and stereotypes)—representations that are simplified generalizations of previous experience.”

Piecemeal Processing

“Piecemeal processing involves vigilant behavior, consisting of a bottom-up, systematic and effortful search for relevant information, and the evaluation and unbiased assimilation of that information. 

CS allows individuals to attain certainty most efficiently because it is relatively automatic, effort-free and faster than piecemeal processing. It helps reach certainty by filtering out inconsistent and/or irrelevant information and may make use of previously stored information if needed to attain certainty as to the validity of the inference. CS is often identified with holistic and top-down processing. These characteristics make CS very effective….using CS helps the perceiver to make the world a meaningful, orderly, and predictable place.

In addition, however, to the very functional characteristics of CS it is also characterized by the use of:

  1. crudely differentiated categories
  2. stereotypical thinking
  3. heuristic, biased cognition

The association between CS and the use of biases is explained by the lower utilization of the relevant information as well as the relying on previously stored information that might be in form of stereotypes or other schema.”

One obvious example might be the categorical rejection of numerous sources of relevant data in favor of anecdotal evidence gathered while “working at a bar” or “according to my cubicle mate who is a player.” See where this is going? :)

Previous Research

Among the few studies that have examined this question is Martin’s study (B. A. Martin, “The influence of gender on mood effects in advertising,” 2003), which showed that men and women are affected differently by promotional messages. Women were found to process promotional information more comprehensively than men, while men focused on more peripheral information.

This implies that men use schema based heuristic strategies to process information. Hayes, Allinson and Armstrong found, similarly, that women use more analytical (less intuitive) information processing than men (J. Hayes, C. W. Allinson and S. J. Armstrong, “Intuition, Women Managers and Gendered Stereotypes,” 2004).

The three studies in this paper further examine how gender predicts the use of available diagnostic information (explicit measurement) rather than relying on a “self-schema” (implicit measurement).

Significant Findings

Study 1

“Confirmation bias is defined as the tendency, when examining the validity of a hypothesis, to prefer corroborative rather than refuting evidence. Study 1 focuses on the tendency to avoid examining rival hypotheses.”

A t-test showed that men’s confirmation bias (M = 1.43 SD = 1.09) was significantly higher than women’s (M = 1.09 SD = 0.96), which supported the study hypothesis that women tended to use cognitive structuring less than men.

Study 2

The second study examined the effect of subliminal priming messages while asking men and women to guess which photos represented people who were in relationships, and in a second set of photos, which people made the most money.

Women’s judgments were not affected by the priming, while men showed a significant shift.

Study 3

The third study aimed to discern whether gender plays a role in the extent to which personality traits influence decision making. Specifically, the personality trait anxiety was studied in relation to decision making during a health crisis.

The correlation between trait anxiety and the measures of state anxiety, distress, and well-being was significantly higher for men than women. Thus, this study validates the hypothesis that men use schematic thinking more than women do.

The data and findings of the three studies clearly support the idea that men tend to use more CS (and therefore use more cognitive biases) than women do.

As someone who is fairly analytical and logical, I have often been described as being “male brained,” and I tend to think of myself that way. I appreciate learning about research that illustrates my own biases, so that I may correct them. 

Don’t let anyone tell you that as a woman your judgment is compromised by your being emotional, solipsistic or irrational. Turns out you’re very good at piecemeal processing. My experience as a blogger dealing with confirmation bias, while anecdotal, is considerable, and very much in keeping with the research findings. YMMV, as always. 


Gender Differences in Casual Sex

In 1978, a psych prof at FSU was discussing gender differences and suggested to his class that men have a much harder time getting casual sex than women do. His female students were incensed and one even hurled a pencil at him. He set up an experiment, now legendary, in which student volunteers asked strangers for sex. 75% of males and 0% of females accepted the casual sex offer. 

The study results have never been replicated, but 35 years later there are amusing YouTube videos making the rounds that once again explore the willingness of strangers to accept an offer of sex.

What’s changed?

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Sexual Dysfunction, Free of Gender Politics

libidoSexual dysfunction strikes terror into the hearts of both sexes. We don’t want to lose our mojo, as our identity is often closely aligned with our sexuality, especially for men. Nor do we want our partners to lose their sexual appetites – something that nearly always is experienced as rejection, even when the underlying cause is unrelated to a partner’s desirability.  As research into human sexuality continues apace, we’re beginning to gain some understanding of our own sexual responses, though this science is essentially still in its infancy – there are many questions, but as of yet few answers. 

In addition, there is a battle being waged among researchers, with the evolutionary psychologists, who rely heavily on innate sex differences for their theories, on one side of the battlefield, and gender theorists, who rely heavily on cultural influence, on the other. The latter group posits that men and women are very similar in their sexuality, usually adopting a sex-positive stance (see Sex at Dawn) that implies promiscuity is the natural inclination of both men and women. Some researchers have noted that sociosexuality is highly variable within both sexes, half heritable and half cultural. In this view, the population of both sexes lies on a spectrum of promiscuity. And there are those whose work reflects elements of all of the above, such as Helen Fisher, who relies heavily on evolutionary psychology but also believes that both sexes seem programmed to couple with someone new every four years or so, in the interest of genetic diversity. 

Daniel Bergner, who penned There May Be a Pill For That. in yesterdays NYXs magazine, is in the Sex at Dawn camp. The article includes much more speculation than fact – it’s got a strong flavor of propaganda. Ha, something new and different for the New York Times. :P  Despite various errors and misinformation, the article is fascinating and does include some worthwhile topics for discussion. 

Who Doesn’t Have a Boner?

The clinical name for lack of lust is HSDD – Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. Bergner cites its prevalence among women at 10-15%, and notes that women who “don’t quite meet” the criteria drive that number up to “around 30%.”

WebMD puts the male incidence of HSDD at 20-25%. According to sex researcher Irwin Goldstein, MD:

Many, many men — about one in five –have such low sexual desire they’d rather do almost anything else than have sex…almost 30% of women say they have more interest in sex than their partner has.

 According to the Daily Mail, a survey in the UK had similar findings:

But a recent survey for online pharmacy ukmedix.com found 62 per cent of men turn down sex more frequently than their female partner, with a third admitting they had lost their sex drive.

Another poll revealed one in four men is no longer having sexual intercourse at all – and the figure rises to 42 per cent for men over 55 – while a quarter said they had been affected by erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives.Studies show that when men are surveyed about erectile dysfunction, 10% say they’ve struggled with it in the past year, and 30% of men report difficulty with premature ejaculation during the same time period. Because virility is such a culturally significant part of male identity, researchers believe these numbers are underreported, and that men often delay or avoid seeking treatment when problems arise. 

The causal relationship between ED and PE with HSDD is not known, but it seems likely there is some correlation.

It should be noted that Bergner does not correlate HSDD with infidelity. The lack of lust may be present and problematic in couples deeply invested in their relationship. Indeed, one woman he interviewed felt like sexual prey at bedtime, even though she cherished her husband and saw him as tender. 

Potential Culprits

Bergner cites a factor that may explain a great deal of HSDD for both sexes:

For a sizable segment of the undesiring, the most common antidepressants, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, can be the culprit. Millions of American women are on S.S.R.I.’s, and many of them would have good use for a pill to revive the libido that has been chemically dulled as a side effect of the pill they take to buoy their mood.

Helen Fisher has been sounding the SSRI alarm for some time:

Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher, for one, believes SSRIs are wreaking havoc on human courtship. SSRIs alleviate depression by upping the levels of serotonin in the brain and curbing the production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Unfortunately, dopamine is also responsible for the feelings of elation and ecstasy that accompany falling in love. By suppressing dopamine, Fisher argues, drugs like Prozac block your ability to have these feelings, thus making it harder to fall in love and stay in love.

..Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who manage to find love while taking SSRIs, you still have some obstacles to overcome, says Fisher. You may lose the ability to orgasm, and this could cause long-term relationship issues. Orgasms trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin—one that has been linked with pair bonding.  

 Fisher has actually referred to the SSRI effect on women as a “chemical clitoridectomy.”

In addition to the treatment for depression, there’s depression itself. A common cause of low sex drive is psychological, in the form of stress, anxiety and depression.

Stress can cause a decrease in testosterone production, and an increase in stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin, which causes resistance to testosterone. There’s a clear link between stress and low libido. When a person is under severe stress they go into survival mode. Oxygen is diverted to the heart and lungs, and away from the sexual organs. Reproduction is the last thing the body wants to engage in.

Medical problems may contribute as well, suppressing testosterone levels. For example, half of men with Type II diabetes are testosterone deficient. 

Large studies done in America show that every decade there’s a decrease in testosterone levels by as much as ten per cent. 

Rising estrogen levels in the environment – caused by hormones from the contraceptive pill finding their way into the water supply and food chain – may have a counter-effect to testosterone. 

Research has also shown a link between exposure in the womb to gender bending chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates, (found in some food packaging and other plastics), and lowered testosterone levels.

Testosterone isn’t just important for men – it plays a starring role in the sex drive for both sexes. From Bergner’s article:

A number of …biochemical ingredients are critical to the most basic understanding of sexuality. But two of them — the hormone testosterone and the neurotransmitter serotonin — are especially important. Rising from the ovaries and from the adrenal glands that sit atop the kidneys, testosterone rides the bloodstream to the brain and, by means not fully known, stokes the production and release of dopamine.

…And then there’s serotonin, dopamine’s foil. It allows the advanced regions of the brain, the domains that lie high and forward, to exert what is termed executive function. Serotonin is a molecule of self-control…Roughly speaking, dopamine is impulse; serotonin is inhibition and organization. And in sexuality, as in other emotional realms, the two have to work in balance. If dopamine is far too dominant, craving can splinter into attentional chaos. If serotonin overwhelms, the rational can displace the randy.

In addition to the environmental question, scientists believe strongly that much of this hormonal activity is hardwired into brain chemistry, resulting in strong differences around sociosexuality, or the level of “unrestrictedness” of the sexuality of individuals. Discussing trials of medication, Bergner cites the importance of sociosexuality in diagnosing HSDD and treating it:

To help predict which women will most benefit from which drug, Tuiten has blood drawn from each subject and examines genetic markers related to brain chemistry. Tuiten also asks subjects questions about their comfort with sexual feelings and fantasies…He believes that the answers may provide clues about a given woman’s neurotransmitter systems, which he uses as part of his diagnostic method.

There’s one last potential culprit worth mentioning: the Soulmate Myth.

Esther Perel, a couples therapist and author of “Mating in Captivity,” emphasizes a separateness at the heart of longstanding passion. “Many couples confuse love with merging,” she writes. “This mix-up is a bad omen for sex. To sustain élan toward the other, there must be a synapse to cross. Eroticism requires distance.”

Bergner hopes that this merging will work out OK with the help of a libido drug:

Perhaps the fantasy that so many of us harbor, consciously or not, in the early days of our relationships, that we have found a soul mate who will offer us both security and passion, till death do us part, will soon be available with the aid of a pill.

I think this would be a disaster. Lust requires a strong sense of self, with identifiable wants and needs separate from that of your partner. Successful sex occurs when two people cross the distance between their own desire and the strong wish to satisfy their partner’s desire. The idea of an actual merging, of “two people becoming one” permanently rather than in that one moment, is a dangerous one, in my view. It creates a blurring of identity at best, codependence at worst, and neither of those leads to good sex. 

Discussion of sexuality in general and sexual dysfunction in particular is heavily loaded. Environmental factors, gender politics, the economy, and our stressed out, multitasking way of life may all be wreaking havoc on both our systems and the ensuing discussion. The odds are that at some point in your life you’ll confront a loss of libido in your relationship, whether your own or your partner’s. The worst thing you can do is avoid addressing it. Sexual dysfunction predicts relationship dissolution, not because the difficulty cannot be addressed in most cases, but because feelings of rejection and resentment take hold early on and build over time. 

Finally, Bergner suggests that “foreboding not only about sex itself but also about female empowerment may be expressed in a dread of women’s sexual anarchy.”

Gaining control of their reproduction in the ‘60s affected not just women’s sex lives but also everything from their social standing to economic empowerment. What might it mean for conventional structures if women could control, with a prescription, the most primal urge? So many things, personal and cultural, might need to be recalibrated and renegotiated, explicitly or without acknowledgment. The cumulative effect of all those negotiations could be hugely transformative, in ways either thrilling or threatening, depending on your point of view.

What Bergner fails to observe is that a quick fix for low libido wouldn’t apply to women alone. If a pill could control sex drive, and both sexes had the ability to choose just how far to indulge that primal urge, I believe what we’d see is a more pronounced magnification of what we have now. That is to say, a distribution of desires, values and preferences across the spectrum of human behavior.


Individual Traits Trump Sex Differences in Determining Relationship Success

Anthony Weiner - is it cheating?

Anthony Weiner – is it cheating?

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times concluded that “categorical” sex differences are based on an “indefensible model of human behavior.” In A Tangle of the Sexes, researchers Bobbi Carothers and Harry Reis claim that sex differences do not explain behavior choices, which should be ascribed to “various personal qualities.” They studied a wide range of behaviors and found that they exist on the same continuum for both sexes, rather than eliciting choices generalized to either sex. 

Across analyses spanning 122 attributes from more than 13,000 individuals, one conclusion stood out: instead of dividing into two groups, men and women overlapped considerably on attributes like the frequency of science-related activities, interest in casual sex, or the allure of a potential mate’s virginity.

Even stereotypical traits, like assertiveness or valuing close friendships, fell along a continuum. In other words, we found little or no evidence of categorical distinctions based on sex.

I am particularly intrigued by their focus on promiscuity and the value individuals place on virginity. This has been found elsewhere – specifically in the study of sociosexuality. From my post on the orientation of the population on the continuum of restricted to unrestricted:

 While men in general are more unrestricted in sociosexual orientation than women, the variance within each sex is much greater than variance between the sexes.

For example, when subjects were asked whether they’d ever had sex with someone the day they met, here’s how the percentages break down for an affirmative response:

  Females Males

Top 20%: unrestricted

 59%  78%
Bottom 20%: restricted  6%  12%


While there are profound biological sex differences, including hormonal activity and various brain characteristics, it’s true that much of mating behavior is not explained by gender. There is indeed great intrasexual variation, and this is a cornerstone of my own understanding of how the SMP works. “All women are like that” is essentially from a pre-literacy stage of understanding sex differences. If we instead focus on sociosexual compatibility, we can easily see that the top 20%, or unrestricted folks, are going to be far better matched with one another than with someone in the bottom 20%, or restricted group. 

A new study on cheating provides additional valuable insights. The research examines how individuals regard a variety of behaviors when undertaken by a long-term partner, and explores what constitutes cheating. Specific actions studied include the sexual, erotic, and romantic, as well as those providing financial support to another member of the opposite sex.

Three key individual differences predicted subjects’ responses:

1. Those who perceived limited availability of alternative mates were more likely to identify ambiguous behavior as cheating.

2. Religiosity predicted lower tolerance of ambiguous behavior.

3. Women were more likely than men to consider behaviors aimed at actively deceiving one’s partner as cheating.

That last one surprised me – I wonder if men are more willing to be deceived. For the record, here’s the definition:


  1. Act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage
  2. Deceive or trick

Synonyms:  deceive, swindle, trick, defraud, fool, delude, dupe

I’m not really seeing how “actively deceiving” one’s partner is not synonymous with cheating…

In any case, the first factor – the unique perception of the individual – had a much larger effect than gender. More on that in a minute. Here’s how the whole sample ranked cheating behaviors in a monogamous, long-term relationship. (Who on earth are the 2.3% who don’t think P in V qualifies? Or the 17.4% who are OK with texting erotic messages?):

  % Consider it cheating
Penile-vaginal intercourse 97.7
Oral Sex 96.8
Taking a shower together 96.2
Kissing on the lips 88.7
E-mailing pictures of themselves
Texting erotic messages 82.6
Watching a pornographic movie
Sleeping in the same bed 68.4
Holding hands 63.2
Staying in the same hotel room 52.7
Forming a deep emotional bond 52.4
Spending lots of time together 52.2
Sitting in lap 52.2
Accompanying to a formal event 43.4
Going out to dinner 41.4
Talking on the phone several times a
Giving $500 to the other person 37.6
Kissing on the cheek 36.9
Sharing secrets 36.5
Supporting the other person financially 35.8
Hugging for more than 10 seconds 34.5
Calling when upset about their
relationship partner
Taking a road trip out of state 32.6
Telling dirty jokes 25.9
Calling when upset about work 19.2
Hugging briefly (less than 10 seconds) 12.2
Giving $5 to the other person 8.1

Note: N = 456, 67%F, 33%M, 2 public midwestern universities

More women than men considered 10 behaviors cheating, mostly in the sexual and erotic categories (though there was the least variation in the responses about sexual activity). A much higher percentage of men felt that giving financial support to someone else constituted cheating. 

However, by far the most important predictor of attitudes about cheating was an Insecure Attachment Style. This also predicted those most and least likely to cheat. Impulsivity in sex and aggression are most prevalent in those who have experienced disturbed family relationships. “When caregivers do not provide a safe and emotionally warm environment, children can become insecurely attached.”

Insecure Attachment can go one of two ways: Avoidant or Anxious

Avoidant Attachment Style

Characterized by chronic attempts to inhibit attachment:

  1. Minimizes expressions of distress.
  2. Dislikes intimacy, prefers psychological distance.
  3. Denies anything is wrong.
  4. Experiences less jealousy.
  5. Grieves less after a breakup.

Not surprisingly, Avoidant types are less likely to identify ambiguous behaviors as cheating. They had lower scores on five of the survey items.

Anxious Attachment Style

Characterized by hypervigilance to threats to the relationship:

  1. Perceives lower availability of alternative mates.
  2. Overestimates threats to the relationship.
  3. Underestimates partner’s level of commitment.
  4. More likely to perceive partner as insensitive.
  5. Experiences more jealousy.
  6. Imagines relationship difficulties.

Anxious types are more likely to identify ambiguous behaviors as cheating. They had higher ratings for 18 of the 27 behaviors.

The study found no sex differences in who had an Insecure Attachment Style. However, I think it’s fair to say that in general, women will prefer Avoidant men to Anxious ones, and men will prefer Anxious women to Avoidant ones. Anxious men and Avoidant women are likely to struggle in the SMP.

It’s clear that what constitutes cheating is contextual – it depends on the individuals in the relationship. I’ve always found that the best definition of cheating relies solely on deception: If you’re doing something you wouldn’t want your partner to know about, it’s cheating. 

Clearly, if your partner is Anxious, you may hide what other people would consider perfectly appropriate and platonic behavior. If your partner is Avoidant, you may find that you need to act out just to get him to pay attention to you. Obviously, neither of these matches is compatible, and neither of these relationship dynamics is healthy. 

Insecure Attachment Style is correlated to a whole bunch of bad stuff. It’s tragic, because many of these individuals are damaged through no fault of their own. But you don’t want to pin your hopes on a head case. That’s a disaster in waiting. 

Some people are always searching for the loophole, so when you do enter a committed relationship, make sure to talk about your expectations around fidelity.

In my view, there is definitely a Mars Venus thing going on. But when it comes to relationship fitness and compatibility, the most important predictors of success are not specific to gender, but to personality traits (nature) and shared environment (nurture).