Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


men-sex-drive

(ILLUSTRATION: NCHLSFT/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Why He Can’t Keep It in His Pants

• August 28, 2013 • 4:00 AM

(ILLUSTRATION: NCHLSFT/SHUTTERSTOCK)

New research suggests men and women have a similar ability to resist temptation, but men’s resistance fails more often because they experience stronger sex impulses.

Researchers, divorce attorneys, and stand-up comedians agree: Guys have a harder time resisting sexual temptation. Studies suggest married men are more likely than women to have extramarital affairs, as well as to seduce someone else’s partner.

But why, exactly, do they engage in such behavior—which is often self-destructive, and almost always hurtful to those they love? New research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin provides a possible answer.

It suggests men’s ability to resist temptation is no stronger or weaker than that of the ladies. But it gets overridden more often because of the intensity of men’s desire.

“Brief sexual encounters could have resulted in greater reproductive success for men than for women in humans’ evolutionary past.”

In two studies, “men succumbed to sexual temptations more than women,” report Natasha Tidwell of Texas A&M University and Paul Eastwick of the University of Texas-Austin, “and this sex difference emerged because men experienced stronger impulses, not because they exerted less intentional control.”

The first study featured 218 Americans—70 men, 148 women—recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Their average age was 32. All were instructed to describe a time when “you were attracted to someone who you felt it was wrong to pursue.”

They then answered a series of questions about the affair (or would-be affair), including the strength of the desire they experienced, whether they did everything they could to resist the temptation, and whether they ultimately acted on the impulse.

According to these self-reports, “Men were more likely to succumb to the sexual temptation, and this sex difference … was a function of impulse strength,” the researchers write. “Men and women did not differ in their intentional control attempts.” The men just failed more often.

The second study featured 600 undergraduates (326 men, 274 women). They performed a “partner selection game” while sitting in front of a computer. Photos of attractive or less-attractive potential mates flashed onto the screen in rapid succession, along with a prompt from the computer than the person pictured was “good for you” or “bad for you.”

Participants were instructed to accept the “good” partners (as determined by the computer) by pulling a joystick toward themselves, and reject “bad” partners by pushing the joystick away. Researchers noted when they pushed it in the wrong direction, or hesitated too long before making their choice.

They found men performed more poorly than women on the game, largely because they “experienced a much stronger impulse to ‘accept’ the desirable (that is, physically attractive) partners rather than the undesirable partners.” This difference “was much smaller for women,” they add.

To put it another way: Men performed worse than women “because they experienced a strong impulse to respond ‘yes’ to the desirable opposite-sex targets,” the researchers write, “not because they failed to exert intentional control over their responses.”

This all makes sense from an evolutionary psychology perspective, according to Tidwell and Eastwick. After all, they note, “brief, low-investment sexual encounters could have resulted in greater reproductive success for men than for women in humans’ evolutionary past.”

But while that urge goes back to our beginnings of a species, the ability to use self-control is relatively new, perhaps dating back no more than 50,000 years. If so, it’s not surprising that it is sometimes overridden by the deep-seated desire to mate with anyone who strikes a man’s fancy.

Perhaps in another 50,000 years, the self-control impulse in men will strengthen to the point where it can override the I-want-her impulse. But of course, that provides little solace to a woman whose mate is straying. This research doesn’t give him license to do so, but it does suggest that it’s not a simple matter of trying hard to resist. He may very well be doing just that—and failing.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 22 • 2:00 PM

The Paradox of Women’s Sexuality in Breastfeeding Advocacy and Breast Cancer Campaigns

We capitalize on the sexualization of the breast to raise awareness about breast cancer, yet we cringe at the idea of a woman nursing her child.


December 22 • 1:00 PM

Keep That E-Reader Out of Bed and You’ll Feel Better in the Morning

New research finds e-readers, like other light-emitting electronic devices, can disrupt normal sleep patterns.


December 22 • 12:25 PM

Stop Trying to Be the ‘Next Silicon Valley’

American cities often try to mimic their more economically successful counterparts. A new study suggests that it’s time to stop.


December 22 • 12:00 PM

Pill Mills and the Rise of Controlled Substance Use in Medicare

Despite warnings about abuse, Medicare covered more prescriptions for potent controlled substances in 2012 than it did in 2011. The program’s top prescribers often have faced disciplinary action or criminal charges related to their medical practices.


December 22 • 10:00 AM

Economics at the North Pole: Are Santa’s Elves Slaves?

A pair of economists seek to reconcile two conflicting schools of thought in order to predict what sort of environments increase incentives for labor coercion.


December 22 • 8:00 AM

What Influences Whether Owners Pick Up After Their Dogs?

The presence or absence of suitable receptacles for bags is not the whole picture.


December 22 • 7:04 AM

Coming Soon: This Is How Gangs End


December 22 • 6:00 AM

Politicians Gonna Politic

Is there something to the idea that a politician who no longer faces re-election is free to pursue new policy solutions without needing to kowtow to special interests?


December 20 • 10:28 AM

Flare-Ups

Are my emotions making me ill?


December 19 • 4:00 PM

How a Drug Policy Reform Organization Thinks of the Children

This valuable, newly updated resource for parents is based in the real world.


December 19 • 2:00 PM

Where Did the Ouija Board Come From?

It wasn’t just a toy.


December 19 • 12:00 PM

Social Scientists Can Do More to Eradicate Racial Oppression

Using our knowledge of social systems, all social scientists—black or white, race scholar or not—have an opportunity to challenge white privilege.


December 19 • 10:17 AM

How Scientists Contribute to Bad Science Reporting

By not taking university press officers and research press releases seriously, scientists are often complicit in the media falsehoods they so often deride.


December 19 • 10:00 AM

Pentecostalism in West Africa: A Boon or Barrier to Disease?

How has Ghana stayed Ebola-free despite being at high risk for infection? A look at their American-style Pentecostalism, a religion that threatens to do more harm than good.


December 19 • 8:00 AM

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.


December 19 • 6:12 AM

All That ‘Call of Duty’ With Your Friends Has Not Made You a More Violent Person

But all that solo Call of Duty has.


December 19 • 4:00 AM

Food for Thought: WIC Works

New research finds participation in the federal WIC program, which subsidizes healthy foods for young children, is linked with stronger cognitive development and higher test scores.


December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


Follow us


Stop Trying to Be the ‘Next Silicon Valley’

American cities often try to mimic their more economically successful counterparts. A new study suggests that it's time to stop.

Don’t Text and Drive—Especially If You’re Old

A new study shows that texting while driving becomes even more dangerous with age.

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.