The tendency of men to overestimate the sexual interest of a woman is well demonstrated in numerous university studies… and confirmed by numerous testimonies! On the other hand, the evaluation of sexual desire within the couple has been little studied by sexologists. An unfortunate oversight because the adjustment of sexual desire is an important element of the couple’s harmony. Professor Amy Muise and colleagues from the University of Toronto Mississaugaa, Canada, have filled this gap in the Journal of Personality and Sexual Psychology. And her observation is clear: men underestimate their partner’s libido.
Better female perception
It is the reverse bias (overestimation) that is observed at the beginning of dating but we suspected a different perception of sexual desire in long-term relationships. This is confirmed by the series of three experiments conducted by Canadian researchers. Each time, 229 couples, a priori without sexual problems, were recruited with an average duration of conjugality ranging from one month to 39 years.
Volunteer couples had to keep (separately) for 21 consecutive days a logbook mentioning their sexual activity, their level of desire for their partner (on a scale of 1 to 7) and that which they assumed in their partner (towards them). In this little game, women were significantly better than men. While the female assessment was generally correct, men tended to underestimate their partner’s sexual desire for them.
A minor underestimation… except in couples where the man is the exclusive initiator of sexual acts (in other couples initiation is more shared). Because when he doubts as to the receptivity of his partner, the man may prefer to refrain from any attempt, for fear of being rejected (the refusal is experienced sometimes as a narcissistic wound by immature men or those lacking in self-confidence). Even though his partner would agree!
The work of Professor Muise and her colleagues also reveals an unexpected effect of this perception error on marital satisfaction. “We discovered that the days when men underestimated the sexual desire of their partner, the latter expressed better satisfaction,” explains the researcher. By what mechanism? It could be, say the researchers, that by underestimating the interest of their partner, men are more motivated to arouse them, in other words, to make efforts of seduction!
Isn’t the distinction between men and women a bit of a caricature when it comes to sexual desire? To answer, the researchers had the idea to examine the couples by taking into account the level of libido of the one and the other of the partners. The results show first of all that if the man is often the partner who has the strongest sexual desire, it can also happen to be the woman. And in this case, an unexpected result appears.
“On the whole, we see the bias of underestimation especially for men, but when we look at the differences according to desire, we see that women with the highest desire have this same bias of underperception”, remarks Amy Muise.
However, she nuances, the effect is even more marked for men. This suggests that the bias phenomenon is partly based on a high libido, but that other gender-related factors are at play. I am really curious to conduct a study with same-sex couples. That would make it possible to decide. There were not enough same-sex couples in Canadian experiences (10 out of 229 couples) to obtain a reliable result. In any case, in this series of experiences, “neither the seniority of the couples, nor the age of the two partners, had an impact on the results,” confirms Amy Muise.