Sex Question Friday: How Many Times Per Day Do People Think About Sex?

A reader submitted the following question:

"How many times a day does the average person think about sex? Do guys really think about it a lot more than girls?"

Thanks for these really interesting questions! For the answer, let's take a look at a 2012 study published in the Journal of Sex Research in which 283 U.S. college students aged 18-25 were asked to track their thoughts about sex over the course of a week. The results revealed that men think about sex less and women think about sex more than most people probably assume.

Students were randomly assigned to keep track of the number of thoughts they had each day specific to one of three types of needs: food, sleep, or sex. Each participant kept track of their thoughts via a handheld tally counter, which is similar to the type of device that bouncers at popular bars and clubs use to keep track of how many people have gone through the door. Every time participants had a relevant need-related thought pop into their heads, they clicked a button on the counter in order to register it. The table below shows the average number of times per day that male and female participants thought about each of the three needs.


As demonstrated in this table, men indeed thought about sex more often than women (34 vs. 18 times per day, respectively); however, men thought about all three of these needs more than women. So, sex was not unique in that regard; rather, it appears that men simply spend more time thinking about all needs. However, it is not at all clear from these findings what accounts for this. Is it that men are biologically compelled to think more about their needs, or are there psychosocial reasons for this sex difference?

These results also tell us that men aren’t thinking about sex every seven seconds, contrary to popular claims. Instead, guys (at least college-age guys) have sex on the brain an average of twice per waking hour. In comparison, it seems that young women are thinking about sex about once per hour on average.

Although these results suggest that men think about sex twice as often as women, this gender difference may be exaggerated due to social pressure on women to underreport their sexual thoughts. As some support for this idea, among female participants (but not male participants), those who had the least favorable attitudes toward sex and those who were the most concerned about presenting themselves in a favorable light reported the fewest sex thoughts. This suggests that some women may not have been accurately reporting how often they were thinking about sex.

Again, it is important to highlight that this study involved college students only and these numbers may not speak to persons in other populations. Thus, it is probably not wise to try and generalize these findings broadly until further research is conducted.

That said, these results challenge the common stereotype of the sex-crazed man and the sex-averse woman. In reality, both men and women think about sex several times per day and, while men do indeed seem to think about sex more often, it is far from the only thing that they have on the brain.

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To learn more about this research, see: Fisher, T. D., Moore, Z. T., & Pittenger, M. (2012). Sex on the brain?: An examination of frequency of sexual cognitions as a function of gender, erotophilia, and social desirability. The Journal of Sex Research, 49, 69-77.

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