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

November 26 • 4:00 PM

Turmoil at JPMorgan

Examiners are reportedly blocked from doing their job as “London Whale” trades blow up.


November 26 • 2:00 PM

Rich Kids Are More Likely to Be Working for Dad

Nepotism is alive and well, especially for the well-off.


November 26 • 12:00 PM

How Do You Make a Living, Taxidermist?

Taxidermist Katie Innamorato talks to Noah Davis about learning her craft, seeing it become trendy, and the going-rate for a “Moss Fox.”


November 26 • 10:28 AM

Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals’ actions pile up quickly.


November 26 • 10:13 AM

Honeybees Touring America


November 26 • 10:00 AM

Understanding Money

In How to Speak Money, John Lanchester explains how the monied people talk about their mountains of cash.


November 26 • 8:00 AM

The Exponential Benefits of Eating Less

Eating less food—whole food and junk food, meat and plants, organic and conventional, GMO and non-GMO—would do a lot more than just better our personal health.


November 26 • 6:00 AM

The Incorruptible Bodies of Saints

Their figures were helped along by embalming, but, somehow, everyone forgot that part.


November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.



November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


Follow us


Attitudes About Race Affect Actions, Even When They Don’t

Tiny effects of attitudes on individuals' actions pile up quickly.

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

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.