Is Monogamy Harder for Men or Women?

man looking at the eyes of a woman

The confirmation bias is a tendency to prefer information that confirms whatever you already believe. It’s dangerous, because under the influence of the confirmation bias, you cherry-pick only facts that reinforce your arguments. The first thing I think of when I hear “confirmation bias” is Fox News, but that is, admittedly, my own bias. And I work very hard not to fall into the trap of having a fixed mindset on things.

It’s with this framing that I want to present to you this article, which contradicts a previously held belief of mine: that belief that men are more likely to prefer a variety of sexual partners. So, why would I hold this belief if it may not be true?

Are there some women who want to sleep with hundreds of men? Sure. But there are more men who want to sleep around.

Well, it’s hard to say. Thinking about it critically, it’s somewhere between experience, society and faith. I was a promiscuous guy. I know men who are a lot worse than I was. There’s an entire industry around pick-up artists. Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. Porn for men dominates the internet. I’m a dating coach for women who complain that men are commitmentphobes and cheaters. So yeah, there is a LOT of evidence that men have sex on the brain, at least more than women do.

Then some studies came out that women get bored with monogamy faster than men, and suddenly everything I wrote above has been called into question.

Amanda Marcotte, writing for Slate XX Factor, sees this as a sea change. But I don’t. And while it may be my own confirmation bias speaking, here’s the reason:

Marcotte harps on studies that show that women respond to novelty in porn (duh) and fantasize about sex with strangers (double duh). All that proves is that, yes, women can get bored with routine sex as well. I don’t think there’s any right-minded person who ever thought otherwise. What this doesn’t prove, however, is that women are MORE driven by sex than men. While it’s useful to recognize that women and men are similar in many ways, I think it’s shortsighted to suggest that we are the SAME, as if gender was simply a societal construct and not somewhat tied to biology.

Are there some women who want to sleep with hundreds of men? Sure. But there are more men who want to sleep around.

Are there some women who can separate love and sex and have no emotional attachment after physical contact? You bet. But there are more men who do.

Are there more women who give up on sex within a marriage? Apparently. But that might just mean that she’s married to a jerk for 20 years and can’t summon any more amorous feelings for him. It doesn’t mean that she’s more likely to cheat or that she values sexual variety as much as he does.

So, to me (and my confirmation bias), this study is much ado about nothing, in that it’s verifying something we already know. The reason that Marcotte is jumping on it is because it confirms what she wants to believe (women and men have the same take on sex), not because it represents a true shift.

Because for every study that says (rightfully!) that women get bored with monogamy, there’s another one that confirms what most of us already know: men are more driven by sexual variety than women. One highly publicized study doesn’t negate that.

Read the article here and please share your thoughts below.

Join our conversation (168 Comments).
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  1. 41

    @ Rose #40: Interesting article. Thank you for sharing the link. I especially enjoyed the last paragraph:
    Psychologists   —   including me   —   always have to be looking beyond their own biases. They need to avoid getting so attached to a particular theory or perspective that they go out of their way to protect the theory,” Conley said. “Data should be the guide, and you have to look at data in every way you can think of to see if the story you are telling is really the best one.”

  2. 42

    Evan, how can men as a group be more promiscuous than women as a group? Who are all these promiscuous guys  having sex with? Each other? If not, then numerically it all averages out between the genders.
    Let’s say you’re on an island with 10 men and 10 women who have 1 sex partner each. That means 10 men have sex with 10 women. The genders are equal on the promiscuity scale. But if 1 man has sex with 10 women, 9 men do not have sex. In which case 1 man would be more promiscuous than the women, but 9 men would be less promiscuous. If all 10 men have sex with 1 woman, 9 women do not have sex. In which case 1 woman would be more promiscuous than all the men and 9 would be less promiscuous. But in any of these cases, the average promiscuity between the genders does not change.
    So how can men as a group be more promiscuous than women as a group? This isn’t a logical statement at all unless the men are having sex with each other. Explain, please.

    1. 42.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Glad to explain, Jeannie. This isn’t about a number of sexual conquests. This is about desire. Who is more likely to desire a one-night stand? Who is more likely to join a sex site? Who is more likely to cheat? Who is more likely to be dissatisfied with sleeping with one person forever? The answer: the gender that is more driven by testosterone. From the linked Wikipedia page:

      Men producing more testosterone are also more likely to engage in extramarital sex.[35]

      When testosterone-deprived rats were given medium levels of testosterone, their sexual behaviors (copulation, partner preference, etc.) resumed, but not when given low amounts of the same hormone. Therefore, these mammals may provide a model for studying clinical populations among humans suffering from sexual arousal deficits such as hypoactive sexual desire disorder.[44]

      In one study, almost every mammalian species examined demonstrated a marked increase in a male’s testosterone level upon encountering a novel female.

      When females have a higher baseline level of testosterone, they have higher increases in sexual arousal levels but smaller increases in testosterone, indicating a ceiling effect on testosterone levels in females

  3. 43

    Evan, promiscuity does mean that the people are having sex,  not just thinking about it or having sexual feelings. So men are not more promiscuous than women are. Men and women are equally promiscuous if what we are talking about is consensual heterosexual sex. If you want to say that men think about sex more or join sex sites more, those are  different statements. The first is pretty hard to measure–what people think about, and who cares, really. The second is measurable, so I’ll take that on your word. Maybe that would be different if they had better sex sites for women. I mean, really, it’s hard to find a decent porn site, and by decent I mean that the woman seems to be present and not doing some fake thing she thinks turn men on, she is having a good time and has a real  orgasm, and  the people having sex might actually  kiss or touch each other. And coming on someone’s face or boobs is just not about her having a good time at all, and I would not believe any woman who said that she gets off by having a guy come on her face or her boobs. That kind of thing is quite distracting from the woman’s pleasure, actually, and it takes a little bit more on the guy’s part to please a woman. So why would any woman want to watch that boring stuff? If that’s what having testosterone leads to–random ejaculation onto a listless female body–well,  nothing to be so proud of there. I’d keep that thought to myself if I were a guy.   

  4. 44
    Karl T

    Jeannie #46,
    I can;’t tell ya how many women I know actually like watching gangbang or rough style porn.   Maybe not the majority, but still a good deal.   Even average typical everyday women.   Some like it even more than I do!!   They might not watch it all the time, but sometimes they like watching it.   I have known personally several women who actually get off on giving a guy oral sex and loved doing it so much they pretty much demanded it.   I’m not entirely huge on receiving it (I’m very sensitive and find it painful sometimes)  and that was actually a big let down for them!   Wow, bet that surprised ya, huh Jeannie??!!!!!!!   Again, I’m quite shocked at the discrepancy there appears to be between what women on this blog proclaim and my actual real life experiences of talking and interacting with  women.   Again, perhaps it’s the age group on here??    I talk to 25-35 year olds.   Most on here  seem to be  50 plus.  

    1. 44.1

      Wow Karl, I bet every one of those women that wanted to give you a BJ really, really meant it. Unfortunately most women feel that they need to act this way in order to gain a man’s trust and to hook a guy. They are brought up feeling lesser important than a man and need to be submissive, do what a guy wants. I’ve been there so what about your study now.

      Your comment – Oh, and surprised Jeannie? Karl……really these are your real life experiences. Anyone that ‘has to give a guy a bj or it’s a big let down for them….. those folks have some serious issues.

  5. 45
    Karmic Equation

    I think another way to answer this question is to switch up the question to: Is polyamory harder for women than men?

    In another post a while back, I said that once I was out of my then current relationship, I would try to start my own male harem. To some extent I’ve been trying to do this but it’s very very difficult to do–as a woman.

    I didn’t count on a couple of things:

    1) Logistics – Even though I would LIKE to try to see/date a different guy every day of the week or even try to put men on a schedule, e.g., Guy A Monday, Guy B Tuesday, Guy C Wednesday, etc. — it’s simply not possible because initiating contact with men who are not my bf for a date goes against my basic instincts. I suppose if I were simply initiating booty calls, it would go quite well, but that would definitely make me feel slutty and give off the impression of desperation. So no-go on initiating booty calls on a schedule. Nor even calling for dates on a schedule. Both leave bad impressions.

    2) Weirdness – by a twist of fate, I had sex with two different men four days apart. I’ve NEVER done this before. EVER. Or since. And while I didn’t feel slutty, per se, I felt naughty, in a good way. But also weird in a not so good way. To some extent I felt like I was being disloyal to both men even though I owed neither any loyalty. I’m sure if I were a man, I’d be high-fiving myself for a week and bragging to my friends. I didn’t do either, but I did mona-lisa smile quite often for a while for no reason.

    I think due to the combination of social programming as well as innate biological hunter/prey programming, it’s just really really difficult for women to build male harems, e.g., guy monday/guy tuesday, etc., whereas I know for a fact that my reformed player ex-bf definitely had that kind of arrangement with his women.

    And since women, in general, can have sex any time they want; the supply and demand nature of the universe dictates that women don’t need to think about sex as often as men since it’s there for the asking. Not so for men. Therefore, men think about sex more often because there is no guarantee they can get it when they want it.

    Polyamory (if harem = polyamory) for women is just not easy — on a logistics level and on some biological level (hunter/prey programming) with a big dose of social programming (feeling of disloyalty) — at least for me. I actually WANT to be promiscuous, but DISCREETLY so (because my reputation matters to me), and I can’t do it. Culturally, logistically, biological-programming-ly…all conspire to prevent me from being as promiscuous as men.

    So is monogamy harder for men than women? I’d say yes. Simply because the converse of that – polyamory for women – is not easy to pull off without a woman’s reputation or self-esteem taking a hit. You add oxytocin effects to that, and there’s just a low-to-no ROI for women to indulge in it.

  6. 46

    Karl T–not buying it. And no, nothing surprises me much about sex.

  7. 47
    Sparkling Emerald

    I also think the reverse of what KE   said could also be true.   Whereas she WANTS to be a free spirited sexual adventurer with many partners, but it’s just not working out for her, many women WANT to be in a monogamous relationship, but that’s not working out for them.   It could be due to sleeping with someone HOPING or THINKING that it’s a relationship, and it’s not. It could be sleeping with someone who has declared themselves to be a boyfriend, and it just either legitimately didn’t work out or the guy lied or mislead about his intentions to get a booty call.     After a sexual encounter that turns out   disappointingly to be not a relationship, it’s try, try, again.   I’ve been out of the loop so long I don’t know what constitutes a lack of monogamy, promiscuity, polyamory, or whatever you want to call it,   but I think more women than men DESIRE monogamy, even if they end up with many partners before they attain monogamy.   And I think more men desire to sow their wild oats before they settle down with just one woman, although they may not fullfill that desire either.   It could be because they go looking for sex and find love early on in life, or it could be that they look for sex and have little success finding it, and then decide that looking for love may be a better way to go.   Please, before anyone jumps on me for making sexist generalizations, notice I did not say ALL of any gender ALWAYS does anything.   These are just my observations, your results may vary 🙂

    1. 47.1

      It is a sexist generalization. But you are not doing this because you are a sexist, but because you are brain washed too by society. The greatest myth of all is “spreding the seed” myth. But now probably I will be “jumped on” 🙂 by men on this blog by saying this. It is yet another myth that men use to be promiscuous. Nothing else. How on earth is it possible that only men seeds are of importance, and not the wombs of women??!! Those need to be fertilized too!! So if we can’t say that women are less monogamous because their womb is less important than seed of a men. I think this is fundamentaly wrong. Remember the lions back in history..the alpha males….They would put their seeds into the lioness, but the liones would also be copulated by many different alpha males. She definatelly did not say “”Oh but this new alpha male that is going to fertilize me now is not my husband, so I am not going to have sex with him!!!!??? For sure not….But it is not fault that there are soooo many stereotypes out there making people think like this. Even the official science supports these kind of nonsences….still….Luckuly for me I am not a “mass thinker” . I think with my own head, independently and without taking anything as set in stone. Spreading of seed is yet another try to even teh men with God, and state that only men are important and women are there as objects to satisfy men’s needs.

      1. 47.1.1
        Evan Marc Katz

        If, by “not a mass thinker,” you mean a poor critical thinker who doesn’t understand biology, you’ve nailed it.

  8. 48
    Sparkling Emerald

    Jeanie #44 – In your example you said:
    “If all 10 men have sex with 1 woman, 9 women do not have sex. In which case 1 woman would be more promiscuous than all the men and 9 would be less promiscuous. But in any of these cases, the average promiscuity between the genders does not change.
    So how can men as a group be more promiscuous than women as a group? This isn’t a logical statement at all unless the men are having sex with each other. Explain, please.”
    Jeanie – There are times when “averages” are meaningless for statistical analysis. For example if you have a roomful of great-grandmas, and each great-grandma is there with one of her infant grandchildren, that might give you an average age of 25, which is a meaningless number as there isn’t a single person in the room that is 25.  
    In your example, I wouldn’t call men having sex with one woman promiscuous at all, that would be 10 monogamous men. Let’s say that all ten men are having sex with 4 of the women.   That makes makes 10 men “promiscuous” and 4 women “promiscuous”.   So you have more than twice as many promiscuous men as women.   The fact that the 4 women   are “more” promiscuous has no bearing on the 6 celibate women, what four members of their group are doing does not “average” into their behavior.   And the fact those 4 women are “more promiscuous” than those 10 men, because they each have 10 partners, whereas the men only have four, has no bearing on the men as a group, because 100% of the men in the group are still “promiscuous”.       I am putting the word “promiscuous” in quotes, because it is one of those words that   different people define differently, and it’s also a loaded & judgemental word.   Feel free to substitute a phrase such as “person with multiple simultaneous sex partners” if you wish.
    Also, even as someone who came of age during the so called sexual revolution, I never thought I would see the day   when women would be clamoring to proclaim female promiscuity for their gender, as if it is some sort of girl scout merit badge.
    Not judging the free spirited women in the group, just a little surprised to make the observation.

  9. 49

    @ Karmic Equation #48:
    It’s hard for all but a handful of men to have a harem, too.
    Maybe I could have one, but it would be more work than I am willing to do, and take more out of my life than I am willing to take.   From what I’ve read about PUAs, the activity often seems to take over their lives.   I have so many other things I want to do with my life, other than working to bed a different woman every night.

  10. 50
    Karl T

    How old are you Jeannie???

  11. 51

    promiscuous = someone who has had more sex than you

  12. 52

    Emerald: We’re talking about the veracity of Evan’s claim that men are more promiscuous than are women. Promiscuous was his word, not mine. Given this statement, it certainly does matter if even a few women are more promiscuous than the men. If female behavior skews to either end of the spectrum and male behavior clusters in the middle  it doesn’t change the average or the median for either gender. In  the perfectly binary system that sex is  (one erection/one vagina or vagina-equivalent), they would both be the same. So again, if the men are having sex with women, how can they be having more sex than are the women these men are having it with? No matter how you slice and dice the numbers,  there is still no way that you can say that men as a group  are having more sex/are more promiscuous  than women as a group, unless these men are having sex with  children,   animals, or other men.
    Karl T: I’m not going to go out with you, so stop fishing.

  13. 53
    Sparkling Emerald

    Jeannie –
    Evan said “But there are more men who want to sleep around.”   What part of that don’t you understand ?

  14. 54

    Evan, I know you think and believe you know what I am thinking and what i believe from the link I posted.. And I understand why you came to that educated guess, Your educated guess on my thoughts and beliefs on that link in this case in incorrect.

  15. 55
    Karl T

    Jeannie #55,
    Please, don’t flatter yourself.   Plus your math is bad.   What if there is an island with 100 men and 100 women on it and 20 of the women had sex with 80 of the men, and the remaining 80 women had sex with just one of 90 of the men.   The remaing 10 men had sex with no one.   In the end we have 80 women who had sex with one guy, 80 men who had sex with at least 20 women, 10 guys who had sex with 1 or 2 women, and 20 women who had sex with over 80-90 guys.   So we have 80 guys who were very promiscuous, 20 women who were extremely promiscuous, 20 women who were not very promiscuous, 10 guys who were not very promiscuous, and 10 guys who wished to hell they could have been more promiscuous, but couldn’t get laid.      Therefore, your law of medians and averages fizzles out here.  
    LOL.   I like your response!

  16. 56

    Karl, that’s nonsense. If there was an island of 100 men and 100 women. Half of those people will couple off. The other half will most likely sleep with 2-3 men/women. There will probably be a handful of slutty men and probably 1-2 slutty women. There will be 1 loner man and probably 4 loner women.
    Good observation of facts preceeds mathematical skill

  17. 57
    Karl T

    You don’t get it Paula.   My example was not showing what people would actually do.   It was to show Jeannie that things don’t have to AVERAGE OUT as she stated.   It was purely a mathematical EXAMPLE and nothing more!!!   I don’t care if you swapped men with monkeys and women with giraffes.   Get it now?
    Good observation of reading carefully before commenting.

  18. 58
    Karl S

    I have a few gay friends who have told me that it is really, very easy to get casual sex but difficult to find people willing to commit to a relationship in their community. To me, that appears to be another indicator of how men are naturally more inclined towards variety if they can get it.

    1. 58.1

      Karl, not true! I have a gay friends too. Do not mistaken this with women, do not transpose this fact that you mentioned either to women or to heterosexual man !! The difference is huge . Women and hetero-men experience the “call of nature”…they have to commit at certain point. Thats why we have 80% of failed marriages (the rest of 20% is by chance good because the two found to be very good friends with each other) . There are many, many statements everywhere on the net stating that women are less sexual which is absolutely not true. Everybody needs variety.

  19. 59
    Sparkling Emerald

    Just another un-scientific observation from moi –
    When I was in grade school I noticed that girls generally   tended to be “monogamous” in their same sex friendships.   Girls walked to school in pairs with their best friend.     Boys tended to roam around in packs. Girl best friends tended to become inseparable, jealousy would ensue if a new girl moved into the neighborhood threatening the girl best friend pairing.   Usually when you saw groups of girls, they were actually clusters of girl pairs.     I am still friends with my BFF from my childhood.   (We met when I was 6)   Of course there were exceptions, but that was the general trend I noticed with early childhood same sex friendships.

  20. 60

    Nature vs nurture? The most children a woman has ever given birth to is 69. The most children a man has ever sired is over 800. Hmmm…I think nature wins. There’s no way women are equal to or more promiscuous than men. Men are just made to keep seeding to keep the human species from dieing out. Mother Nature makes women much more selective as they have a lot more at risk.

    1. 60.1

      69???? Is that a typo? How is that even possible?

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