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Gender Differences and Similarities in Sexual Desire


Sexual desire can be operationalized as the motivation to seek out solitary or partnered sexual experiences. A large body of evidence suggests that men experience sexual desire more strongly and more frequently than do women; however, it is not clear whether sexual desire is truly gendered or if gender differences are influenced by how sexual desire is operationalized and assessed. Moreover, little research has examined similarities and differences in trait versus state sexual desire in women and men. Recent changes to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) reflect the movement away from situating desire as the onset of the traditional linear model to framing desire as a state emerging from sexual excitement. We examine evidence for gender differences and similarities in trait and state sexual desire in both clinical and nonclinical populations. We conclude that sexual desire emerges similarly in women and men and that other factors may influence the observed gender difference in sexual desire. We then discuss the implications of conceptualizing desire as responsive for sexual medicine practitioners.

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The authors wish to thank Michael C. Seto for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this review.

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Conflict of Interest

Meredith L. Chivers has received grant support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Samantha J. Dawson declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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Correspondence to Meredith L. Chivers.

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Dawson, S.J., Chivers, M.L. Gender Differences and Similarities in Sexual Desire. Curr Sex Health Rep 6, 211–219 (2014).

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  • Sexual desire
  • Gender differences
  • Gender similarities
  • Sexual motivation
  • Sex drive
  • Sexual interest
  • Incentive motivation model
  • Trait sexual desire
  • State sexual desire