There’s a great scene in the 1977 film “Annie Hall” in which a therapist asks the main character Alvy (played by Woody Allen) how often he and his live-in girlfriend Annie (played by Diane Keaton) have sex. Alvy answers, “Hardly ever, maybe three times a week.”
Then the film, in a split screen, cuts to the same therapist asking Annie how often she and Alvy have sex, to which she replies, “All the time, like three times a week.”
The message couldn’t be more obvious: When it comes to sex, men and women have very different needs. This used to be something people understood (my mother told me as much when I was young, although I didn’t believe her), but in a culture that insists the sexes are “equal,” as in the same, that understanding has vanished. As a result, so has any sympathy for men’s unique sexual desire.
Here’s a great way to explain the difference between a man’s attitude toward sex and a woman’s: How many men do you know who’d be offended if a woman told him she’d like to use his body for sex? Now turn that scenario around. If a man told a woman he’d like to use her body for sex, it would be grounds for sexual harassment. Apples and oranges.
There’s a Disconnect Between the Sexes on Sex
My favorite description of the male sex drive was explained in the book “Letters to My Daughters,” by former political consultant Mary Matalin. In it, Matalin shares a funny anecdote about her mother, who once said to Mary, “Men would screw a snake if it would sit still long enough.” That had me in stitches!
We don’t laugh at messages like this anymore (well, clearly I do). Instead, we’re hostile toward the idea that a wife should have sex with her husband if she isn’t “in the mood.” But most women’s sexual desire isn’t as dire at most men’s. From a physiological standpoint, a woman’s sex drive is tied to her menstrual cycle, whereas a man’s is fairly constant. Moreover, a man doesn’t need much preparation for sex, whereas a woman prefers romance and foreplay first. So by all accounts, there’s a disconnect.
The way we connect as men and women is simply different. For a man, sex is his number one mode of communication. A woman is more emotionally expressive and nurturing and, as a result, seeks intimacy via cuddling, talking, and so forth. It’s not that women don’t like sex or that men never want to talk, it’s that these respective desires differ in their intensity.
For Men, Sex Is Communication
As a rule, men communicate via sex. Via action. Your husband isn’t being insulting when you walk by and he grabs your butt. He’s not being rude when he turns some innocuous statement you made into something sexual. (If I had a dollar for every time that happens in our house!) He’s trying to get close to you. So let him. If he didn’t do those things, you’d have a problem on your hands.
That’s not to say all men and all women have the exact same sex drive. But it is to say there’s a general rule or framework at play. In the same way women need to talk, to release whatever’s on our minds, men need a release of a different sort. But that release isn’t just a physical act any more than your need to talk is just a physical act. When you talk to your husband and he gives you his undivided attention, that makes you feel loved, doesn’t it?
It’s the same way for men. Your husband wants to have sex with you because that’s how he feels loved. And it’s how he shows his love for you. If you hold this against him, or if you deny him the ability to show you his love, you’re effectively telling him you don’t love him. Ergo, to turn your husband down in bed is akin to telling him you need to talk to him about something and him responding, “Sorry, not interested.”
That this is true doesn’t mean wives need to be sex slaves (although the culture will insist otherwise). All it means is that women need to be sympathetic toward the fact that men’s sexual needs differ from theirs. If we reject this fact outright, bad things happen, as sociologist Catherine Hakim wrote about here. Men’s increased libido, she says, is like “hunger”: it cannot be ignored. Testosterone is powerful stuff.
Indeed, women who take testosterone to transition to a male appearance “always say within a day, ‘I wanted to go out and f*** everyone and fight everyone.’” She adds, “I have met young men who have said that hormonal lust was such a problem for them that it should be possible to go to the doctor and get chemicals to tone them down. It had infected all their relationships. Men know it’s for real.”
Smart women do, too.