Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Gender Differences in Sexual Interest

  • Published:
Archives of Sexual Behavior Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

A common gender stereotype is that males are more interested than females in sex for purely physical reasons. Sociobiologists claim that this difference is biologically determined. In contrast, many sociologists and anthropologists claim that the difference is cultural. The debate about nature versus nurture regarding sexual interest has been long-standing without resolution. We propose a biosocial model that integrates data about nature and nurture to show (i) how several biological factors tilt males and females in different directions related to sexual interest, and (ii) how numerous social factors influence the way the biological tilts can be redirected in countless different ways as individuals grow up in subsets of their culture and subculture. This interactionist approach does not down-play the importance of either biological or social factors: It avoids nature–nurture debates that pit nature against nurture by showing how biological and social factors act in concert, combining their influences. The resulting work contributes to both the theoretical and practical literature, not only showing how sexology can deal with issues of nature and nurture but also providing information useful to people who are troubled about common gender differences in sexual interest.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

REFERENCES

  • Abraham, S., and Mira, M. (1989). Psychosocial forces in premenstrual syndrome. In Demers, L. M., McGuire, J. L. Philips, A., and Rubinow, D. R. (eds.), Premenstrual, Postpartum, and Menopausal Mood Disorders, Urban & Schwarzenberg, Baltimore, pp. 65–80.

    Google Scholar 

  • Abramson, P. R., and Mosher, D. L. (1975). Development of a measure of negative attitudes toward masturbation. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 43: 485–490.

    Google Scholar 

  • Abramson, P. R., and Pinkerton, S. D. (1995a). With Pleasure: Thoughts on the Nature of Human Sexuality, Oxford University Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Abramson, P. R., and Pinkerton, S. D. (1995b). Introduction: Nature, nurture, and in-between. In Abramson, P. R., and Pinkerton, S. D. (eds.), Sexual Nature Sexual Culture, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 1–14.

    Google Scholar 

  • Anastasi, A. (1958). Heredity, environment, and the question “How?” Psychol. Rev. 65: 197–208.

    Google Scholar 

  • Atwood, J. D., and Gagnon, J. (1987). Masturbatory behavior in college youth. J. Sex Educ. Ther. 13: 35–42.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baldwin, J. D., and Baldwin, J. I. (1981). Beyond Sociobiology, Elsevier, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Baldwin, J. D., and Baldwin, J. I. (1998). Behavior Principles in Everyday Life, 3rd ed., Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bancroft, J. (1984). Hormones and human sexual behavior. J. Sex Marital Ther. 10: 3–21.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barash, D. P. (1977). Sociobiology and Behavior, Elsevier, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Basow, S. A. (1992). Gender Stereotypes and Roles, 3rd ed., Brooks/Cole, Pacific Grove, CA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Beck, J. G., Bozman, A. W., and Qualtrough, T. (1991). The experience of sexual desire: Psychological correlates in a college sample. J. Sex Res. 28: 443–456.

    Google Scholar 

  • Becker, J. V. (1989). Impact of sexual abuse on sexual functioning. Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, 2nd ed., Guilford, New York, pp. 298–318.

    Google Scholar 

  • Belcastro, P. A. (1985). Sexual behavior differences between black and white students. J. Sex Res. 21: 56–67.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bem, S. L. (1993). The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berger, J., Rosenholtz, S. J., and Zelditch, M., Jr. (1980). Status organizing processes. Ann. Rev. Sociol. 6: 479–508.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blumstein, P., and Schwartz, P. (1983). American Couples: Money, Work, Sex, Pocket Books, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brigman, B., and Knox, D. (1992). University students' motivation to have intercourse. Coll. Student J. 26: 406–408.

    Google Scholar 

  • Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences. Behav. Brain Sci. 12: 1–49.

    Google Scholar 

  • Buss, D. M. (1994). The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating, Basic Books, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carroll, J. L., Volk, K. D., and Hyde, J. S. (1985). Differences between males and females in motives for engaging in sexual intercourse. Arch. Sex. Behav. 14: 131–139.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chilman, C. S. (1983). Adolescent Sexuality in a Changing American Society, 2nd ed., Wiley, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chilman, C. S. (1990). Promoting healthy adolescent sexuality. Fam. Rel. 39: 123–131.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coe, C. L., Smith, E. R., and Levine, S. (1985). The endocrine system of the squirrel monkey. In Rosenblum, L. A., and Coe, C. L. (eds.), Handbook of Squirrel Monkey Research, Plenum Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cole, E., and Rothblum, E. D. (eds.). (1988). Women and Sex Therapy, Haworth, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coles, R., and Stokes (1985). Sex and the American Teenager, Harper & Row, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Crook, J. H. (1989). Introduction: Socioecological paradigms, evolution and history: perspectives for the 1990s. In Standen, V., and Foley, R. A. (eds.), Comparative Socioecology: The Behavioural Ecology of Humans and Other Mammals, Blackwell Scientific, Boston, pp. 1–36.

    Google Scholar 

  • Davenport, W. H. (1977). Sex in cross-cultural perspective. In Beach, F. A. (ed.), Human Sexuality in Four Perspectives, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, pp. 115–163.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Deaux, K., and Major, B. (1987). Putting gender into context: An interactive model of gender-related behavior. Psychol. Rev. 94: 369–389.

    Google Scholar 

  • DeLamater, J. (1987). Gender differences in sexual scenarios. In Kelley, K. (ed.), Females, Males and Sexuality, State University of New York Press, Albany.

    Google Scholar 

  • Denney, N. W., Field, J. K., and Quadagno, D. (1984). Sex differences in sexual needs and desires. Arch. Sex. Behav. 13: 233–245.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dey, E. L., Astin, A. W., and Korn, W. S. (1991). The American Freshman: Twenty-Five Year Trends, Higher Education Research Institute, Los Angeles.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eagly, A. H. (1987). Sex Differences in Social Behavior: A Social-Role Interpretation: Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ.

    Google Scholar 

  • Finkelhor, D., Hotaling, G., Lewis, I. A., and Smith, C. (1990). Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence, characteristics, and risk factors. Child Abuse Neglect 14: 19–28.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ford, C. S., and Beach, F. A. (1951). Patterns of Sexual Behavior, Harper & Row, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frazier, P. A., and Esterly, E. (1990). Correlates of relationship beliefs: Gender, relationship experience and relationship satisfaction. J. Soc. Pers. Rel. 7: 331–352.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freedman, E. B., and D'Emilio, J. (1990). Problems encounterd in writing the history of sexuality: Sources, theory and interpretation. J. Sex Res. 27: 481–495.

    Google Scholar 

  • Friedrich, W. N., Grambsch, P., Broughton, D., Kuiper, J., and Beilke, R. L. (1991). Normative sexual behavior in children. Pediatrics 88: 456–464.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gagnon, J. H. (1985). Attitudes and responses of parents to pre-adolescent masturbation. Arch. Sex. Behav. 14: 451–466.

    Google Scholar 

  • Galenson, E., and Roiphe, H. (1974). The emergence of genital awareness during the second year of life. In Friedman, R. C. (ed.), Sex Differences in Behavior, Wiley, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gallo, A. M. (1979). Early childhood masturbation: A developmental approach. Pediat. Nurs. 5(5): 47–49.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gartrell, N., and Mosbacher, D. (1984). Sex differences in the naming of children's genitalia. Sex Roles 10: 869–876.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gooren, L. (1988). Hypogonadotropic hypogonadal men respond less well to androgen substitution treatment than hypergonadotropic hypogonadal men. Arch. Sex. Behav. 17: 265–270.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gray, J. P. (1985). Primate Sociobiology, HRAF Press, New Haven, CT.

    Google Scholar 

  • Greer, A. E., and Buss, D. M. (1994). Tactics for promoting sexual encounters. J. Sex Res. 31: 185–201.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hatcher, R. A., Dammann, S. M., and Convisser, J. (1990). Doctor, Am I a Virgin Again? Cases and Counsel for a Healthy Sexuality, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hatfield, E., Sprecher, S., Pillemer, J. T., Greenberger, D., and Wexler, P. (1988). Gender differences in what is desired in the sexual relationship. J. Psychol. Hum. Sex. 1: 39–52.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heiman, J. R. (1977). A psychophysiological exploration of sexual arousal patterns in females and males. Psychophysiology 14: 266–274.

    Google Scholar 

  • Heiman, J. R., and LoPiccolo, I. (1988). Becoming Orgasmic: A Sexual Growth Program for Women, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hendrick, C. (1988). Roles and gender in relationships. In Duck, S. (ed.), Handbook of Personal Relationships: Theory, Research and Interventions, Wiley, New York, pp. 429–448.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hölldobler, B., and Wilson, E. O. (1990). The Ants, Springer Verlag, London.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hsu, B., Kling, A., Kessler, C., Knapke, K., Diefenbach, P., and Elias, J. E. (1994). Gender differences in sexual fantasy and behavior in a college population: A ten-year replication. J. Sex Marital Ther. 20: 103–118.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hunt, M. (1974). Sexual Behavior in the 1970's, Playboy Press, Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kantner, J. F., and Zelnik, M. (1972). Sexual experience of young unmarried women in the United States. Fam. Plann. Perspect. 4: 9–18.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan, H. (1979). Disorders of Sexual Desire, Simon and Schuster, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan, H. S., and Sager, C. J. (1971). Sexual patterns in different ages. Med. Aspects Hum. Sex. 5(6): 10,14–16,19,23.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kieren, D. K., and Morse, J. M. (1992). Preparation factors and menstrual attitudes of pre-and postmenarcheal girls. J. Sex Educ. Ther. 18: 155–174.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., and Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C. E., and Gebhard, P. H. (1953). Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, W. B. Saunders, Philadelphia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Knoth, R., Boyd, K., and Singer, B. (1988). Empirical tests of sexual selection theory: Predictions of sex differences in onset, intensity, and time course of sexual arousal. J. Sex Res. 24: 73–89.

    Google Scholar 

  • Knox, D., and Wilson, K. (1983). Dating problems of university students. Coll. Student J. 17: 225–228.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koss, L., Gidycz, C., and Wisniewski, N. (1987). The scope of rape: Incidence and prevalence of sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of higher education students. J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 55: 162–170.

    Google Scholar 

  • Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., and Michaels, S. (1994). The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lehrman, D. S. (1953). A critique of Konrad Lorenz's theory of instinctive behavior. Quart. Rev. Biol. 28: 337–363.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lehrman, D. S. (1970). Semantic and conceptual issues on the nature-nurture problem. In Aronson, L. R., Tobach, E., Lehrman, D. S., and Rosenblatt, J. S. (eds.), Development and Evolution of Behavior, W. H. Freeman, San Francisco.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leitenberg, H., Detzer, M. J., and Srebnik, D. (1993). Gender differences in masturbation and the relationship of masturbation experience in preadolescence and/or early adolescence in sexual behavior and sexual adjustment in young adulthood. Arch. Sex. Behav. 22: 87–98.

    Google Scholar 

  • LoPiccolo, J., and Friedman, J. M. (1988). Broad-spectrum treatment of low sexual desire: Integration of cognitive, behavioral, and systemic therapy. In Leiblum, S. R., and Rosen, R. C. (eds.), Sexual Desire Disorders, Guilford, New York, pp. 107–144.

    Google Scholar 

  • Martinson, F. M. (1994). The Sexual Life of Children, Bergin & Garvey, Westport, CT.

    Google Scholar 

  • Masters, W. H., Johnson, V. E., and Kolodny, R. C. (1994). Heterosexuality, Harper Collins, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • McCabe, M. P., and Collins, J. K. (1984). Measurement of depth of desired and experienced sexual involvement at different stages of dating. J. Sex Res. 20: 377–390.

    Google Scholar 

  • McKeever, P. (1984). The perpetuation of menstrual shame: Implications and directions. Women Health 9: 33–47.

    Google Scholar 

  • Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps, Irvington Publishers, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Money, J. (1991). The development of sexuality and eroticism in human kind. In Haug, M., Brain, P. F., and Aron, C. (eds.), Heterotypical Behaviour in Man and Animals, Chapman and Hall, New York, pp. 127–166.

    Google Scholar 

  • Morris, N. M., Udry, J. R., Khan-Dawood, F., and Dawood, M. Y. (1987). Marital sex frequency and midcycle female testosterone. Arch. Sex. Behav. 16: 27–37.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mosher, D. L., and MacIan, P. (1994). College men and women respond to X-rated videos intended for male or female audiences: Gender and sexual scripts. J. Sex Res. 31: 99–113.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nolin, M. J., and Petersen, K. K. (1992). Gender differences in parent-child communication about sexuality: An exploratory study. J. Adolescent Res. 7: 59–79.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oliver, M. B., and Hyde, J. S. (1993). Gender differences in sexuality: A meta-analysis. Psychol. Bull. 114: 29–51.

    Google Scholar 

  • Oliver, M. B., and Sedikides, C. (1992). Effects of sexual permissiveness on desirability of partner as a function of low and high commitment to relationship. Soc. Psychol. Quart. 55: 321–333.

    Google Scholar 

  • Person, E. S., Terestman, N., Myers, W. A., Goldberg, E. L., and Salvadori, C. (1989). Gender differences in sexual behaviors and fantasies in a college population. J. Sex Marital Ther. 15: 187–198.

    Google Scholar 

  • Plomin, R., Own, M. J., and McGuffin, P. (1994). The genetic basis of complex human behaviors. Science 264: 1733–1739.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quadagno, J. S. (1979). Paradigms in evolutionary theory: The sociobiological model of natural selection. Am. Sociol. Rev. 44: 100–109.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quilliam, S. (1994). Women on Sex: Woman of All Ages Talk Intimately About Every Aspect of Their Sexuality, Smyth Gryphon, London; Barricade Books, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Quinn, T. C. (ed.). (1992). Advances in Host Defense Mechanisms, Vol. 8: Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Raven, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rierdan, J., and Koff, E. (1990). Premenarcheal predictors of the experience of menarche: A prospective study. J. Adolescent Health Care 11: 404–407.

    Google Scholar 

  • Roberts, E. J., Kline, D., and Gagnon, J. (1978). Family Life and Sexual Learning, Vol. 1, Population Education, Cambridge, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Robinson, I., Ziss, K., Ganza, B., Katz, S., and Robinson, E. (1991). Twenty years of the sexual revolution, 1965–1985: An update. J. Marr. Fam. 53: 216–220.

    Google Scholar 

  • Roche, J. P. (1986). Premarital sex: Attitudes and behavior by dating stage. Adolescence 21: 107–121.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rose, S., and Frieze, I. H. (1989). Young singles' scripts for a first date. Gender Soc. 3: 258–268.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rutter, M. (1971). Normal psychosexual development. J. Child Psychol. Psychiat. 11: 259–283.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sahlins, M. (1976). The Use and Abuse of Biology: An Anthropological Critique of Sociobiology, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schneirla, T. C. (1956). The interrelationships of the “innate” and the “aquired” in instinctive behavior. In Grassé, P.-P. (ed.), L'Instinct dans le Comportement des Animaux et de l'Homme, Masson, Paris, pp. 387–452.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schwartz, I. M. (1993). Affective reactions of American and Swedish women to their first premarital coitus: A cross-cultural comparison. J. Sex Res. 30: 18–26.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sherwin, B. B., and Gelfand, M. M. (1987). The role of androgen in the maintenance of sexual functioning in oophorectomized women. Psychosom. Med. 49: 397–409.

    Google Scholar 

  • Singer, B. (1985). A comparison of evolutionary and environmental theories of erotic response. Part I: Structural features. J. Sex Res. 21: 229–257.

    Google Scholar 

  • Small, S. A., and Luster, T. (1994). Adolescent sexual activity: An ecological, risk-factor approach. J. Marr. Fam. 56: 181–192.

    Google Scholar 

  • Smith, S., and Schiff, I. (1989). The premenstrual syndrome—diagnosis and management. Fertil. Steril. 52: 527–543.

    Google Scholar 

  • Southern, A. L., and Gordon, G. G. (1975). Rhythms and testosterone metabolism. J. Steroid Biochem. 6: 809–813.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sprecher, S. (1989). Premarital sexual standards for different categories of individuals. J. Sex Res. 26: 232–248.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sprecher, S., Barbee, A., and Schwartz, P. (1995). “Was it good for you, too?”: Gender differences in first sexual intercourse experiences. J. Sex Res. 32: 3–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sprecher, S., and McKinney, K. (1993). Sexuality, Sage, Newbury Park, CA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sprecher, S., McKinney, K., and Orbuch, T. L. (1987). Has the double standard disappeared?: An experimental test. Soc. Psychol. Quart. 50: 24–31.

    Google Scholar 

  • Spuhler, J. N., and Jorde, L. B. (1975). Primate phylogeny, ecology and social behavior. J. Anthropol. Res. 31: 376–405.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sudd, J. H., and Franks, N. R. (1987). The Behavioural Ecology of Ants, Chapman and Hall, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Symons, D. (1979). The Evolution of Human Sexuality, Oxford University Press, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tavris, C., and Wade, C. (1984). The Longest War: Sex Differences in Perspective, 2nd ed., Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thompson, S. (1990). Putting a big thing into a little hole: Teenage girls' accounts of sexual initiation. J. Sex Res. 27: 341–361.

    Google Scholar 

  • Trivers, R. L. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. Quart. Rev. Biol. 46: 35–57.

    Google Scholar 

  • Trivers, R. L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In Campbell, B. (ed.), Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man, 1871–1971, Aldine, Chicago, pp. 136–179.

    Google Scholar 

  • Udry, J. R. (1990). Hormonal and social determinants of adolescent sexual initiation. In Bancroft, J., and Reinisch, J. M. (eds.), Adolescence and Puberty, Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 71–87.

    Google Scholar 

  • Watson, D. L., and Tharp, R. G. (1997). Self-Directed Behavior: Self-Modification for Personal Adjustment, Brooks/Cole, Pacific Grove, CA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Weideger, P. (1977). Menstruation and Menopause, Dell, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Weinrich, J. D. (1987). Sexual Landscapes: Why We Are What We Are, Why We Love Whom We Love, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wells, B. L. (1986). Predictors of female nocturnal orgasms: A multivariate analysis. J. Sex Res. 22: 421–437.

    Google Scholar 

  • Whitfield, M. (1989). Development of sexuality in female children and adolescents. Can. J. Psychiat. 34: 879–883.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, S. M., and Medora, N. P. (1990). Gender comparison of college students' attitudes toward sexual behavior. Adolescence 25: 615–627.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson, E. O. (1975). Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wright, R. (1994). The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life, Pantheon Books, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yankauskas, E. (1990). Primary female syndromes: An update. N.Y. State J. Med. 90: 295–302.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yates, A. (1978). Sex Without Shame: Encouraging a Child's Sexual Development, William Morrow, New York.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zilbergeld, B., and Ellison, C. R. (1980). Desire discrepancies and arousal problems in sex therapy. In Leiblum, S. R., and Pervin, L. A. (eds.), Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy, Guilford, New York, pp. 65–101.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Baldwin, J.D., Baldwin, J.I. Gender Differences in Sexual Interest. Arch Sex Behav 26, 181–210 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024510528405

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024510528405

Navigation