According to classic psychological learning theory, having a higher drive increases the probability of engaging in dominant (i.e., well-learned) behaviors; at the same time, the likelihood of engaging in non-dominant (i.e., poorly learned) behaviors decreases. If we apply this theory to the human sex drive, the logical prediction that follows is that having a higher sex drive should increase attraction only to your desired sex. In other words, a high sex drive should make a heterosexual person more attracted to members of the other sex but not the same sex, while a gay or lesbian person should be more attracted to members of the same sex but not the other sex. But is this really the case? A fascinating set of studies recently revealed that this prediction is not universally supported. Specifically, while it does hold for men, it does not for women.1 Among most women, a high sex drive actually appears to increase attraction to both sexes.
To test this idea, three separate studies were conducted in which a total of over 3,600 men and women of varying sexuality participated. Each participant completed a survey that measured their sexual orientation, sex drive, and degree of sexual attraction to men and women. Among heterosexual male participants, high sex drive was correlated with increased attraction to women but not to men across all of the studies. Gay male participants showed just the reverse—for them, high sex drive was associated with increased attraction to men but not women.
In contrast, among heterosexual female participants, high sex drive was correlated with increased attraction to both men and women. Thus, whereas a higher sex drive appears to energize only men’s dominant sexual tendencies, it appears to energize all sexual tendencies in women. There is one exception to this, however, which is that lesbians’ pattern of responses looked more like the typical male pattern than the typical female pattern. That is, among lesbian participants, high sex drive was only linked to increased attraction to women, but not men.
So how do we explain why high sex drive is linked to different patterns of attraction in men and women? The answer may have something to do with the fact that women’s sexuality tends to be less category specific than men’s (an idea I have written about in previous articles). That is, while bisexual patterns of attraction are more common among women, men tend to be more attracted to just one sex.2 Likewise, women seem to get turned on by a wider range of sexual stimuli than men.3 Thus, women may be less likely to have just one dominant sexual response than men.
How the lesbian data fit into all of this is a little harder to make sense of, but the author of this set of studies suggests that certain subgroups of lesbians (i.e., “butch” lesbians) may simply exhibit more traits that are typical of men. It would therefore be useful to examine whether the same results are obtained in a larger and more diverse lesbian sample to see if this is truly the case.
At any rate, these findings contribute to a growing body of research suggesting that sexuality may be organized and expressed very differently across the sexes.
1Lippa, R. A. (2006). Is high sex drive associated with increased sexual attraction to both sexes? Psychological Science, 17, 46-52.
2Diamond, L. (2008). Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
3Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., & Bailey, J. M. (2004). A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal. Psychological Science, 15, 736-744.
Image Source: http://blog.moviefone.com/2008/06/17/get-the-speedometer-perked-for-sex-drive/