Why Do Men Have More Unusual Sexual Interests Than Women?

The term “paraphilia” literally means “beyond typical love.” As a result, it has become the word of choice among psychologists to describe a wide range of unusual sexual interests. However, it is important to note that just because someone has a paraphilia, it does not necessarily mean that they have a psychological disorder. Paraphilias are generally only regarded as clinically significant to the extent that they are distressing to the individual or cause harm to others.

Numerous clinicians have concluded that paraphilias are more common among men than they are among women, largely because it is rare for women to visit psychiatrists and psychologists for problems associated with unusual sexual interests. However, there has been very little research to date on paraphilias outside of clinical contexts that shed light on the nature of this sex difference. As a result, it is unclear if men in general open to more unusual sexual interests and, if so, why. A new study published in Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment sought to provide the answer.

In this study, 1,226 Canadian men and women recruited from both university and community settings completed an online survey. The sample was predominately female (58%), with most participants identifying as heterosexual and aged in their early 20s. The survey inquired about participants’ sex lives and the degree to which they found 14 different paraphilias repulsing or arousing. The paraphilias included:

·      Voyeurism: Observing an unsuspecting person who is naked, undressing, or having sex

·      Exhibitionism: Exposing one’s genitals to an unsuspecting person

·      Telephone Scatologia: Making obscene telephone calls

·      Fetishism: The use of nonliving objects (e.g., shoes or boots)

·      Transvestism: Cross-dressing

·      Frotteurism: Rubbing up against an unsuspecting person in public (e.g., on the subway or in an elevator)

·      Sexual sadism: Inflicting harm and humiliation upon another person

·      Sexual masochism: Having physical or psychological pain inflicted upon oneself

·      Biastophilia: Sex with a non-consenting person

·      Urophilia: Urine

·      Scatophilia: Feces

·      Hebephilia: Pubescent children

·      Pedophilia: Prepubescent children

·      Zoophilia: Non-human animals

Each of these paraphilias was rated on a scale ranging from -3 (very repulsed) to 0 (indifferent) to +3 (very aroused). The average rating for each paraphilia was negative for both men and women, which tells us that, in general, people were more repulsed than they were aroused by each paraphilia. However, men were significantly less repulsed than women on average for 12 out of the 14 paraphilias—men’s and women’s ratings for the other two (masochism and transvestism) did not differ.

That said, there were some men and women who reported that the thought of each paraphilia was arousing. Among those who found a given paraphilia arousing (i.e., those who provided numeric ratings greater than zero), men generally outnumbered women. For instance, whereas 52% of men found the prospect of voyeurism to be at least slightly arousing, the number of women aroused by voyeurism was much lower (26%). Likewise, 28% of men found fetishism arousing compared to 11% of women, while 8% of men were aroused by urine (urophilia) compared to less than 1% of women.

So how do we explain why these repulsion and arousal ratings differed so much between the sexes? The authors of this study tested several possible explanations (including the possibilities that men are more impulsive and/or have more sensation seeking personalities), but they only found support for one. Specifically, they found that men tended to have stronger sex drives than women, and this difference statistically accounted for the association between sex (male vs. female) and paraphilic arousal. In other words, the results suggested that men’s greater sex drive may predispose them to developing unusual sexual interests.

I should mention that the way “sex drive” was measured in this study really involved assessing hypersexuality and compulsive sexual behavior (e.g., sexual urges and behaviors that cause interference in one’s daily life). So, when we’re talking about “high sex drive” in this study, we’re really talking more about someone having sexual urges and behaviors that are getting out of control, as opposed to just an elevated desire for sex.

In short, the results of this study confirm what many psychologists have claimed on the basis of clinical samples, which is that men are more likely to have paraphilic desires than women—but this study goes one step further by highlighting there may be a difference in sex drive or sexual compulsivity that explains why men and women differ when it comes to paraphilias.

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To read more about this research, see: Dawson, S.J., Bannerman, B.A., & Lalumière, M.L. (2014). Paraphilic interests: An examination of sex differences in a nonclinical sample. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment . Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/1079063214525645

Image Source: iStockphoto.com

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