What turns women on? Not
even women always seem
to know. Northwestern
University researcher
Meredith Chivers and
colleagues showed erotic
3. Women’s sexual
inclinations are more
complicated than
films to gay and straight
men and women. They
asked them about their
level of sexual arousal,
and also measured their
actual level of arousal
through devices attached
to their genitals.
For men, the results were
predictable: Straight men
said they were more turned
on by depictions of male-
female sex and female-
female sex, and the
measuring devices backed
up their claims. Gay men
said they were turned on
by male-male sex, and
again the devices backed
them up. For women, the
results were more
surprising. Straight women,
for example, saidthey were
more turned on by male-
female sex. But genitally
they showed about the
same reaction to male-
female, male-male, and
female-female sex.
“Men are very rigid and
specific about who they
become aroused by, who
they want to have sex
with, who they fall in love
with,” says J. Michael
Bailey, a Northwestern
University sex researcher
and co-author with Chivers
on the study.
By contrast, women may be
more open to same-sex
relationships thanks to
their less-directed sex
drives, Bailey says.
“Women probably have the
capacity to become sexually
interested in and fall in
love with their own sex
more than men do,” Bailey
says. “They won’t
necessarily do it, but they
have the capacity.”
Bailey’s contention is
backed up by studies
showing that homosexuality
is a more fluid state among
women than men. In
another broad review of
studies, Baumeister found
many more lesbians
reported recent sex with
men, when compared to gay
men’s reports of sex with
women. Women were also
more likely than men to call
themselves bisexual, and
to report their
orientation as a matter of
4. Women’s sex drives
are more influenced by
social and cultural
In his review, Baumeister
found studies showing
many ways in which
women’s sexual attitudes,
practices and desires were
more influenced by their
environment than men:
Women’s attitudes
towards (and willingness
to perform) various
sexual practices are
more likely than men’s to
change over time.
Women who regularly
attend church are less
likely to have permissive
attitudes about sex. Men
do not show this
connection between
church attendance and
sex attitudes.
Women are more
influenced by the
attitudes of their peer
group in their decisions
about sex.
Women with higher
education levels were
more likely to have
performed a wider
variety of sexual
practices (such as oral
sex); education made
less of a difference with
Women were more likely
than men to show
inconsistency between
their expressed values
about sexual activities
such as premarital sex
and their actual
Why are women’s sex
drives seemingly weaker
and more vulnerable to
influence? Some have
theorized it is related to
the greater power of men in
society, or differing sexual
expectations of men when
compared to women.
Laumann prefers an
explanation more closely
tied to the world of
Men have every incentive
to have sex to pass along
their genetic material,
Laumann says. By contrast,
women may be hard-wired
to choose their partners
carefully, because they are
the ones who can get
pregnant and wind up
taking care of the baby.
They are likely to be more
attuned to relationship
quality because they want a
partner who will stay
around to take care of the
child. They’re also more
likely to choose a man with
resources because of his
greater ability to support a



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