Put another way, male sexual desire tends to be driven by physiological rather than psychological factors. This is why porn sites created for male users feature short scenarios focused on body parts and overt sexual acts and little else. Even porn literature for men tends to focus more on sexual acts than on relationships and feelings.
Not so for women. Open up a romance novel, or tune in to True Blood, the Twilightmovies, or other female-oriented romance/erotica, and you’ll see this rather clearly. In such stories, you’ll find very little in the way of purely objectified, non-relational sex. Instead, you’ll encounter broad-chested, square-jawed, deep-voiced bad boys who melt when they spot the story’s heroine. This is true even of the more overtly sexual Fifty Shades of Grey series, in which a really bad boy meets a really nice girl who knows in her heart that she can find the good in him and make the relationship work.
Men typically do not need to be in love to enjoy sex. In fact, they don’t even need to be in like; they just have to be turned on. Generally, it’s more difficult to get a woman interested in sex because they want a deep voice AND big biceps AND a sense of humor AND a guy who listens AND a desire to have kids and fix up a house together AND a whole bunch of other stuff.
This difference is most likely the product of thousands of years of evolution. Researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam describe this as well as anyone, writing in their book A Billion Wicked Thoughts:
“When contemplating sex with a man, a woman has to consider the long term. This consideration may not even by conscious, but rather is part of the unconscious software that has evolved to protect women over hundreds of thousands of years. Sex could commit a woman to a substantial, life-altering investment: pregnancy, nursing, and more than a decade of child-raising. These commitments require enormous time, resources, and energy. Sex with the wrong guy could lead to many unpleasant outcomes.”
Ogas and Gaddam call this feminine need to thoroughly vet a potential partner’s physical and character traits before becoming both physically and psychologically turned on “Miss Marple,” referencing Agatha’s Christie’s celebrated female detective. They note that this internal safety mechanism is not willing to give cognitive approval for sex until multiple conditions are met. (Of note: Women with histories of sexual trauma tend to not have this self-defense mechanism, and as such, are more likely to engage in casual cheating and to be further victimized as adults.)
Men have less of a need to guard against the dangers of casual sex, so they have not developed this inner detective. They will sometimes cheat just for the sex, even when they are perfectly happy with their primary relationship. This is why a relationship damaged by a man’s infidelity might be more likely to survive after infidelity is uncovered, as opposed to when a woman has cheated. Men can and do cheat on a good relationship, and good relationships are worth saving. Meanwhile, women are more likely to cheat when their primary relationship is not going well, and that type of already-troubled connection might not be worth the pain and effort required to rebuild relationship trust, emotional intimacy, and long-term harmony.
For more about the ingrained emotional and psychological differences between men and women, I recommend John Gray’s book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. For specific information about overcoming infidelity and healing damaged relationships, I recommend my own book, Out of the Doghouse: A Step-by-Step Relationship-Saving Guide for Men Caught Cheating.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is a digital-age intimacy and relationships expert specializing in infidelity and addictions. He is the author of several highly regarded books. Currently, he is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, creating and overseeing addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities. For more information please visit his website, robertweissmsw.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.