April 22, 2011

New Study: Predictors of Men’s Sexual Desire

Men's sexual desire is often overlooked and wrongly assumed to be pervasive and ever-lasting. Researchers examined the predictors of men's sexual desire.

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In a recent issue of The Journal of Sex Research, there is a paper by Carvalho and Nobre titled “Predictors of Men’s Sexual Desire: The Role of Psychological, Emotional, Relational, and Medical Factors” (2011, v.48, i.2). For all of my years as a sex researcher, I have been fascinated with women’s sexual desire. There has been a good deal of attention brought to women’s sexual desire in the mainstream media, particularly with the medicalization of women’s sexual problems and the search for the little pink pill.

So this article really caught my eye because men’s sexual desire is often overlooked and wrongly assumed to be pervasive and ever-lasting.

The Study

These University of Aveivo researchers in Portugal surveyed 205 men (average age of 35, range of 18-72). Half of the men surveyed were married (47.3%) and around 40% of the men were single. These were quite educated men, with 40% of them having had over 15 years of education.

The researchers asked the men about the following variables: psychological adjustment, dysfunctional sexual beliefs, automatic thoughts and emotions during sexual activity, dyadic adjustment, and the presence of medical conditions.

Significant cognitive and emotional predictors of sexual desire included (each of these factors negatively impacted sexual desire):

  • Restrictive attitudes toward sexuality
  • Lack of erotic thoughts during sexual activity
  • Concerns about erection in a sexual context
  • Emotions of sadness in a sexual context
  • Shame in a sexual context

Relationship satisfaction (measured by dyadic adjustment) and the presence of medical conditions were not significant predictors of male sexual desire in this sample.

All significant variables were then entered into one regression model of men’s sexual desire to assess what the strongest predictor was. They found lack of erotic thoughts during sexual activity was the only significant predictor of men’s sexual desire.

Cognitive Dimensions

These findings indicate the importance of cognitive dimensions in men’s sexual desire. It appears that maintaining attentional focus and erotic thoughts really contributes to men maintaining desire. There is a wonderful body of research on mindfulness and sexual desire by Dr. Lori Brotto at University of British Columbia that could be applied here. From my knowledge, I believe most of her work on mindfulness is applied to women’s sexual desire, but these findings lend support to the idea that perhaps this framework may be useful for men as well. Also, I found it interesting that relationship satisfaction and medical conditions did not impact men’s sexual desire.

Cultural Differences

Since this research was conducted using a convenience sample in Portugal, it does make me wonder how generalizable their findings would be to North American men. Having never been to Portugal myself, I am not sure what the climate is like surrounding issues such as sexual desire. But there are certainly areas of Europe where findings regarding sexual desire (particularly women’s sexual desire) would not be generalizable to North American women.

  • -Restrictive attitudes toward sexuality.
    -Lack of erotic thoughts during sexual activity.
    -Concerns about erection in a sexual context.
    -Emotions of sadness in a sexual context.
    -Shame in a sexual context.

    These are all self-psychological negative thoughts impacting men’s own minds, this study does not take into account the subjects of their desires which I believe could really tell us much more. It is also very interesting that relationship satisfaction did not impact men’s sexual desire when it so clearly does. But to bundle single and married men in the same research I believe is not the way to go, a single person is going to have way different influences affecting their sexual desires than a a man married with a wife. Just like I believe single women and married women should be studied separately if you are going to study female sexual desire.

  • “this study does not take into account the subjects of their desires”

    I really think this point right here needs more examination, in and of itself. When your physical ideal of a sexual partner often falls outside of mainstream definitions of beauty, there can be powerful levels of shame applied. And just like background radiation levels, it will have an effect.

  • Female sexual desire affects male sexual desire, that’s just a plain fact, if you don’t feel desired, your desire is going to decrease as well, for most men in relationships, they didn’t mention that. But studies have to be done separately for single men and men in relationships, they seem to be all bundled up into the same sort of desire research. For example, a single man could be looking to court a woman, we all know the first stages of courtship are filled with all kinds of different desires for both men and women but as the relationship progresses over time those desires change, and it seems to me that women suffer more from low sexual desire than men, men are the minority when it comes to low sexual desire. But I’m over the endless “low sexual desire” topic, I want more info on the positive sides of sexual desire, what people actually like, desire and respond to.