You and your girlfriend met at a party and you were pretty confident she was interested in you – and in having sex with you. It probably turned out you were right about the former, but less so about the latter. At the start of your relationship, anyways.
That’s often how it goes. Men tend to overestimate whether a woman they’ve just met is into having sex with them (check out Mixed signals: sex or just friends?). There’s an evolutionary explanation for this: when it comes to passing on their genes, it’s in a guy’s best interest to guess a woman is into him, rather than guess she’s not and miss out on a chance to have sex.
But how good are men at gauging whether their partner is in the mood for love once they’re in a relationship? And what about women? How do they fare when it comes to knowing if their guy wants to have sex?
Sexual desire rating
To answer these questions, a group of Canadian researchers tracked down over 200 couples of different ages in three studies. All the couples were in steady relationships, which could mean anything from dating for a few months to being married for many years.
The couples filled in surveys, telling the researchers things like how often they had sex and how satisfied and committed they felt in their relationship. The researchers were especially interested in how each partner rated their own sexual desire and also that of their significant other.
The results? Men in relationships regularly underestimate their partner's sexual desire. Women, on the other hand, are usually pretty accurate – or at least more accurate than guys – when it comes to knowing whether or not their man is in the mood for love.
For both men and women, downplaying a partner's desire has a lot to do with avoiding sexual rejection. That makes pretty good sense since it can feel awful to make a move only to have your partner turn you down, especially if this happens regularly. Not surprisingly, past research has shown that regular sexual rejection can have major consequences in a relationship.
People with high levels of sexual desire are more likely than others to assume their partner is not up for sex, the results showed. And since research has found that men generally have higher sex drives than women, this might help explain why they're the ones who tend to downplay their partner's desire, say the researchers.
How does assuming their gal doesn’t want sex affect a guy's relationship? Women feel more satisfied and committed to their partner on the days he underestimates their sex drive, the studies showed. This doesn’t happen to the same extent when women downplay their guy’s interest in sex. It might be something that happens in relationships where women have higher sex drives than their partners, say the researchers.
Reference: Not in the mood? Men under- (not over-) perceive their partner’s sexual desire in established intimate relationships. (2016). J Pers Soc Psychol. 110(5):725-42.
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