Sex & Relationships

Not All Men Are Sex Crazed Horn Dogs, Not All Woman Are Prudes -- Yet Sexual Double Standards Rule Our Relationships

The sexual standard is something that creeps into our relationships and deteriorates our sex lives every time we double-check ourselves.

Does the sexual-double standard really exist in the 21st century? Is it not just an element of academic feminist discourse? Personally, if you had asked me, I would probably (rudely) not even let you finish it before I responded with a resounding YES! The sexual double standard pervades our culture to such an extent that it’s almost unrecognizable. I mean, all you really need to do is watch the first 15 minutes of the Hollywood blockbuster He’s Just Not That Into You. I say 15 minutes because that’s a long as I lasted before I turned off this [insert invective of choice] movie about how all women want is to get hitched and have a serious relationships and all men want is to fool women into giving them sex (because, obviously, it’s just the men who enjoy one night stands and women indulge their partners hoping their sacrifice will result in a relationship). I’m not saying Hollywood has it all figured out. I’m just saying if they can get the likes of Ben Affleck and Scarlett Johansson to star in romantic comedies of this sort, it’s probably not a niche societal perception.

Another telling fact is that nymphomania only got stricken off the list of mental disease when doctors realized that its definition described women who basically liked sex and were willing to pursue it ‘like men do.’ You might say that the fact nymphomania is no longer a mental illness is progress. It definitely is, however the term is still used so commonly that there is obviously an issue here. Personally, I feel that if something is so deeply entrenched in our culture, it’s guaranteed to influence our lives. So, it’s useful to understand it.


What exactly is the sexual double standard, you might ask? Quite simply, it means judgmentally applying different sexual standards—whether by others or the person themselves—to members of different sexes. For example—more often than not it will be the women worrying whether they can have sex on a first date and what their partners will think of them. Will he think she was ‘too easy’, isn’t ‘a respectful’ girl, not the ‘marry-able kind’? Similarly, you don’t normally see women bragging about the number of men they slept with and left before he even got up without leaving a phone number. It’s women who are usually left waiting for him to call. Otherwise they may appear too eager, no? What’s really nasty about the sexual double standard, however, is that it’s a double-edged sword and the men get their share of nastiness. Men are expected to be the ones initiating conversations, flings, relationships, and intercourse. They’re supposed to want sex 24/7 and spend most of the time they’re not doing it thinking about it. They should be able to support an on-demand erection, no matter the time, place, or circumstances. You never hear about men getting bedtime ‘headaches’ (and certainly don’t see silly newspaper cartoons about it).

The sexual double standard can commonly be seen masquerading as “natural tendencies” or “the product of evolution”. Who hasn’t heard at least one theory about how men are not designed for monogamy and women want to settle and have babies as soon as possible? Such biological determinism is particularly aggravating for me because I’m trained as an evolutionary biologist. I have a particular interest in the evolutionary biology, physiology, and sociology of sex. And let me assure that it’s the sociology part of things that has the greatest influence on what today’s Homo sapiens’ sex lives look like. The jury is still out on the details, but it is clear that sexual temperament is mostly down to individual variation. A wife might enjoy sex more than her husband and not be satisfied with the once a week he likes, not because she is an ‘oversexed nympho’ and he’s ‘a loser who can’t satisfy her’. It’s because—plain and simple—they have different sexual temperaments.


We’re willing to put down almost every other preference to personal variation (women can even like playing rugby and football now and boys are increasingly seen in dancing classes) but not when it comes to sex. And it’s not really our fault—from a very early age we’re socialized to believe girls and women like ‘cuddling and talking about feelings’ while boys and men are really ‘interested in just one thing’. If I got a penny for every time a friend asked me if there was really nothing wrong with her if she wants sex once a day (which is more often than her partner does) or I got damming looks for speaking about sex openly and loudly (such un-lady-like behaviour!) I could make a sizable donation to Planned Parenthood.

The sexual standard is something that creeps into our relationships and deteriorates our sex lives every time we double-check ourselves, not because we’re thinking of our likes and the dislikes of our partner’s, but rather because we’ve internalized societal expectations. Mutual consent should form the basis of sexual relationships and not our preconceived expectations of gender roles. Sex should be negotiated between the people involved—and it’s about as easy to type these words, as it is difficult to deal with it in real life. Mostly because we come with baggage—personal and cultural. But the moment we become aware of it—and realize why we’re having all these doubts and worries and that maybe our partner is having them too—it becomes so much easier to try to leave that baggage behind the bedroom door.


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