Male Libido is More Complex than You Think

Jokes abound about the relative simplicity of cis men’s sex drives. How many of us have heard some version of, “Men are like microwaves while women are like slow cookers”? In addition to excluding LGBTQ+ individuals, statements like this shame anyone who doesn’t fit within their limited bounds. Plus, they’re plain inaccurate. A growing body of research challenges this narrative and supports what sex educators have been saying forever: oversimplifying sex for anyone hurts the pursuit of freedom in pleasure for all. Here’s everything you need to know about male libido.

Debunking a white, cishet man-centric model of sexuality uncovers the complexity of male libido beyond stereotypes

As a society, America relies on a model of sexuality that centres white, cishet men. This model shapes expectations about what a “good” and “normal” sex life looks like. It tells us things like:

  • Desire is spontaneous (it’s not)
  • Someone’s physical arousal tells us if they’re ready or in the mood (it doesn’t)
  • Sexual response moves in a linear direction, from excitement to plateau to orgasm…and then sex ends (nope)
  • Orgasm needs to happen during penis-in-vagina intercourse (not required)

Both anecdotal evidence and academic research show that this isn’t how sex typically works for women. And, it turns out, it may not be how sex works for cishet men either!

Read more: Homophobia, Racism, Fatphobia, & Other Intimacy Barriers

Cognitive, emotional, and sexual functioning, as well as cultural variables, affect male libido

A recent study examined if factors beyond the physical—thoughts, cultural messages about sex, and socially determined expectations—impacted the participants’ level of sexual desire.

The researchers surveyed 450 heterosexual Italian men, who filled out surveys on their sexual desire, orgasm experiences, erections, and more. Then researchers calculated which of these factors impacted sexual desire and found four:

  1. Negative and distractive sexual thoughts (e.g. performance anxiety, erection concerns)
  2. Memories of pleasurable feelings symbolized by the orgasm (e.g. feeling connected to their partners, having fun)
  3. Positive emotions experienced during sex (e.g. having fun, feeling close to a partner)
  4. Gender and sexual expectations (e.g. having to initiate, needing a hard penis)

Read more: Want Better Sex? Slow the Eff Down & Savor Foreplay

Mindful sex is in

Having negative sexual thoughts not only reduced participants’ libido but also compounded decreased sexual desire resulting from participants’ medical conditions, regardless of whether those conditions impacted sexual functioning.

The takeaway: try one of these mindful sex practices to help you stay present and focused on pleasure.  

Make the goal of sex maximizing pleasure

In the study, participants used orgasm as a symbol for all the wonderful feelings that sex elicits. Unfortunately, struggles with arousal and orgasm reduced their sexual desire.

The takeawaystop focusing on orgasm or even a specific sex act (e.g. PIV) as the “goal” of sex. Instead, focus on positive experiences related to your sex life such as experiencing pleasure and feelings of connection and intimacy.

Read more: 7 Reasons to Prioritize Your Pleasure

The past is present

Positive emotions and memories of past fun sexual experiences both led to an increase in participants’ sexual desire and blunted the reduction from distractive thoughts. 

The takeaway: reflect on past sexual experiences to understand what contexts and sex acts turn you on and get you there, as well as which ones turn you off. Use this information to create the right context and address any issues that may be present or arise with your partner.

How you feel about an experience matters more than the experience

Both erection concerns and a lack of erotic thoughts (e.g. fantasies) negatively impacted participants’ sexual desire—but having a positive attitude reduced that impact! 

The takeaway: great sex comes in many different forms. Being excited and feeling connected with your partner are both more important than any sex act itself.

Don’t compare your sex life to others or let society tell you what it “should” look like

Participants with rigid ideas about how sex is “should” look, what “should” happen, and the role men “should” play reported lower sexual desire than those who did not. This was especially true if they couldn’t or thought they couldn’t meet those expectations.

The takeaway: fuck the shoulds. And if you find yourself comparing your sex life to others’, read this.

Read more: Common Sex Qs: Am I normal?

Male libido is characterized by a complex interaction of cognitive, emotional, sexual, and cultural elements

It’s not always as simple as them being microwaves. The more we focus on the importance of context and shake off old ideas about men being from Mars and women from Venus, the sooner everyone can have a more intimate, exciting, and fulfilling sex life.

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