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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tens of Millions of Exceptions

posted by on March 13 at 16:08 PM

When you make generalizations about three billion men on the one hand and three billion women on the other—when you write a book like this one or a column like this one—you gotta know there are gonna be tens of millions of exceptions out there.

So I knew what to expect after I wrote a column that accepts the central premise of Joan Sewell’s new book I’d Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido. Sewell argues that women naturally have lower sex drives than men and that women need to embrace their low libidos and stop buying into the lie that a woman with a low libido—defined as “lower than her mates”—is somehow sexually dysfunctional. And straight men? They just need to deal.

So I knew when I wrote…

Back when women with low libidos were regarded as abnormal—way back at the beginning of the month—it was fashionable to blame the man in a woman’s life for her lack of desire. For years, whenever I printed a letter from a guy who wasn’t getting any, or wasn’t getting much, mail would pour in from women insisting that he had to be doing something wrong.

I called them the “if only” letters: If only she didn’t have to do all the housework, she would want to have sex. If only he would talk with her about her day, she would want to have sex. If only she weren’t so exhausted from taking care of the kids, she would want to have sex. If only he didn’t ask for sex, she would want to have sex. Well now, thanks to Sewell, straight guys everywhere know that it doesn’t matter how much housework you do, or how sincerely interested you are in her day, or how much of the child care you take on: She still won’t want to fuck you. So leave the dishes in the sink, grab a beer, and go play a video game, guys. Your “if only” nightmares are over.

…that I’d be on the receiving end of some angry emails….

I know I’ll be just one of many, and don’t think I didn’t miss your sarcasm, but I wanted to pipe up as one woman who has never—I mean never met a man whose libido could match mine. If it were up to me, I’d be having sex twice a day. I’ve never met a man who could handle sex once a day (every day) after the first flush of lust. Several months in, everyone’s slowing down. I spent a long time wondering what was wrong with me (or wrong with our relationships) before I accepted that I just have a very high libido….


You wrote in your column about differing sex drives: “Well, I should say that He designed straight men and straight women to be sexually incompatible. Lesbian couples, with their bags of Doritos, and gay couples, with our mutually insatiable sexual appetites, seem pretty intelligently designed.”

To you I say: Not! I am a 34-year-old lesbian. I want it CONSTANTLY. I would happily do daily. Hell, at this point twice, even once, a week would be nice. My girlfriend prefers the Doritos. In my previous life, when I was with men, I wanted it constantly too. So don’t spread vicious rumors that women who want it constantly are a hoax. We are out there. We are frustrated too.

Wants It All The Time

Women with high libidos don’t exist? The hell you say. Here I am. I’m a woman with a high libido. Once-a-day sex? Bring it on. Twice a day? Even better. My partners and I (I have three of them — two husbands and a wife) have widely varying libidos, but I can say that of the four of us, mine is the highest charged. Maybe I should get my testosterone levels checked?

Serene (in Oakland)

Thanks for writing, ladies. It’s my considered opinion—16 years into this sex advice business, and after reading literally hundreds of thousands of letters from straight men and women—that women on average have lower libidos than men. The existence of horny exceptions does not disprove the rule.

I will be swamped with letters like these over the next couple of weeks. Because not only is the existence of tens of millions of exceptions to Sewell’s rule a given, the odds that exceptions to this male/female generalization—women with sky-high libidos—are regular readers of my column as well are also sky high.

RSS icon Comments


It just might be a case of basic biology. But we live in politically-correct times where everything must be perceived as equal...or at the very least "forced" to be equal, biology or not.

It seems that there is a direct relationship between testosterone levels and libido...for both men and women.

There are many factors involved with sexual desire, but if testosterone is one of the basic components, it looks like women may have less desire than men, generally...being that women have less testosterone than men, generally.

It will be interesting to see the rabid responses from the PC police on this one. Looks like one of those rare times when I might actually agree with Mr. Savage.

Posted by BD | March 13, 2007 5:06 PM

re: "The existence of ... exceptions does not disprove the rule."

It has never ceased to disappoint me (though it has ceased to surprise me) how many people don't grasp this concept.

Posted by Rhymeswithlibrarian | March 13, 2007 5:14 PM

I must be one lucky, lucky man then. Either that or she is totally out to lunch.

Maybe, just maybe, it might have something to do with the fact that many men may not be:

a. considering foreplay fun - and more than five minutes.

b. noticing that she doesn't want to have sex when she's angry (ok, sometimes that isn't true, but ...) and or sleepy/tired and or upset and or having a bad day.

c. not having any of her needs met (notice this usually means the guy has to get her to tell him what she really likes, not always easy at first).

Oh, and BD, you sound way too PC.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 13, 2007 5:16 PM

I'm afraid you're right, Dan. I've occasionally suggested the same thing, and gotten the same sort of protests from women, but I'm as yet unconvinced they're anything more than exceptions to the rule.

This is why I don't want to get married - at least not unless at some point I find myself unexpectedly prepared for a lifetime of celibacy.

Posted by tsm | March 13, 2007 5:16 PM

"Maybe, just maybe, it might have something to do with the fact that many men may not be:"

Please - we've heard the "uninterested wife/girlfriend = man's failing" line over and over. Yes, maybe, just maybe, it does have something to do with that. And maybe it doesn't.

Posted by tsm | March 13, 2007 5:21 PM

I have had sex with literally, well, 25 women, and after a few months all of them just kind of tired out of the daily sex. Of course it's biological, their biological clock just wants some sperm, getting some makes it happy and so the need for just hot sex diminishes.
Guys are wired differently, spreading as much sperm as possible is a animal goal.
People should be honest about this going in. Perfect relationship, a hot babe who loves to get banged and a hotter homo who loves to give head.

Posted by rufus | March 13, 2007 5:47 PM

Sex without context is a difficult topic to discuss.

Posted by Soupytwist | March 13, 2007 6:03 PM

So true.

Posted by yup | March 13, 2007 6:07 PM

Look, I know I'm just going off the basis of myself and my friends, not a representative sample or anything, but most of the women I know have really high libidos.

Why it would matter whether either sex has a tendency one way or the other... the key thing is that you need to try and work out any differences with your partners. That's true no matter which sex(es) they, or you, are. What's the point in generalizing?

I'm calling bullshit on rufus, too - if you've got a study that shows women are "happier" when they get a load of sperm in them, I'd love to see it.

"The existence of ... exceptions does not disprove the rule."
The problem is, what's the "rule"? Has there been a lot of research about this and I just missed it? Did I sleep through the part where Redbook was now considered a scientific journal? Because what I hear on the subject of comparative libidos is a) hearsay/personal experience and b) assumption.

Besides, why would a self-respecting woman with a high libido would be reading a Redbook survey, anyways? Talk about self-selecting... ;)

Posted by wench | March 13, 2007 6:08 PM
...women may have less desire than men, generally...being that women have less testosterone than men, generally.

I hear this statement being thrown out all the time and it is dead wrong. If this were the case then women with high libidos would have MORE testosterone than men with low libidos. This is NOT the case. Hormones are more about balance that absolute amounts.

And that whole socio-biological theory that men want to spread their seed as much as possible while women only want want ONE man is utter hogwash, not to mention unscientific.

Posted by Jeff | March 13, 2007 6:34 PM

If a sky-high female libido correlates with reading your column, then how come you've purportedly received so many letters complaining about low female libidos... from readers of your column? Perhaps you have the correlation backwards...

Posted by huh? | March 13, 2007 6:53 PM

Any talk about women being ___er than men or blacks being ___er than whites or jews being ___er than shiites is dumb. It doesn't matter if women are less horny than men on average. That just means 57% (or whatever) of men are hornier than the average woman. That also means that 43% (or whatever) of women are hornier than the average man. It's MEANINGLESS if you're dealing with ONE man or ONE woman who have unique places on that spectrum. Only racist sexist homophobes make these comparisons.

Posted by jamier | March 13, 2007 7:20 PM

Let me chime in with a little skepticism about "the rule" which these letter from readers apparently don't disprove. If they do not, it is presumably because your evidence base for the rule is so solid that a few conflicting cases don't undermine it. But Dan has not provided us with a rigourous evidentially supported defense of "the rule." I realize that's what Sewell's book supposedly does, but since few of us slog readers have likely read that for ourselves, we don't have much to judge these claims with.

And if the claim is just that women ON AVERAGE have lower libido, then any advice Sewell or Dan gives to women generally is really only responsible given the statistical particulars.
What is the standard deviation? How much lower libido are we talking about?

Dan wrote, "Well now, thanks to Sewell, straight guys everywhere know that it doesn’t matter how much housework you do, or how sincerely interested you are in her day, or how much of the child care you take on: She still won’t want to fuck you."
But of course these other things MAY ALSO be playing a role too, particularly if we recognize that at best the lower-libido thing is an "on average" thing.

Posted by ben | March 13, 2007 7:52 PM

Well, count me as one more exception.

Along with my girlfriend, and my best female friend.

And my girlfriend's ex.

Best-female-friend and I have always had higher sex drives than almost all of the men in our lives.

Boy, seems like this rule has a lot of exceptions. . .

Posted by Violet_DaGrinder | March 13, 2007 8:08 PM

Why is it, that a Certain Kind of Retard is always allowed to extrapolate from the flimisiest of "evidence", whereas nobody else -- regardless of years and years of personal experience -- is allowed to do the same?

Hmm? Ben? Wench? Care to defend your reasoning? Because I'm far more likely to believe a sex columnist when he generalizes based on thousands of letters, than I am to believe either of you.

Posted by A Nony Mouse | March 13, 2007 8:48 PM

I think we need to distinguish between "being horny" and "desiring to have sex with a particular person" (in this case, one's partner). I can be really horny, but if he's left the dirty dishes in the sink AGAIN, forgotten to pay the rent on time AGAIN, and is gaming until 2 am AGAIN... I am not going to want to have sex with him... AGAIN.

Posted by paradox | March 13, 2007 9:04 PM

Violet: Only four women out of all the women you know have high sex drives? Looks like only a few exceptions to the rule after all.

Posted by Chris | March 13, 2007 9:36 PM

Please note that the book is about married couples in long term relationships, wheras many (not all) of the posters here claming an exception are talking about experiences earlier in a relationship.

Here's a few links that may explain what's going on, from

A team from the University of Pisa in Italy found the bodily chemistry which makes people sexually attractive to new partners lasts, at most, two years.

When couples move into a "stable relationship" phase, other hormones take over, Chemistry World reports.

The Italian researchers tested the levels of the hormones called neutrophins in the blood of volunteers who were rated on a passionate love scale.


Levels of these chemical messengers were much higher in those who were in the early stages of romance.

Testosterone was also found to increase in love-struck women, but to reduce in men when they are in love.

But in people who had been with their partners for between one and two years these so-called "love molecules" had gone, even though the relationship had survived.

The scientists found that the lust molecule was replaced by the so-called "cuddle hormone" - oxytocin - in couples who had been together for several years.

Also, look into the "Coolidge Effect"

Posted by Abby Fuller | March 13, 2007 11:30 PM

The answer to these exceptional women is pretty obvious: just tell them to ask all the men in their lives how many other women they've known with higher sex drives. I'll bet the answer is close to zero. Then they can ask all the married men they know how many of their wives fall into that category (after the first couple of years of marriage). I guarantee the answer is zero.

Of course, women look for something different in marriage than they look for in hook-ups. That's why, given the opportunity, a lot of women will marry the rich guy and freeze him out of the bedroom so they can screw the personal trainer or the pool boy.

Posted by Carl | March 14, 2007 3:29 AM

Abby, the "Coolidge Effect" doesn't explain why these letters are saying "My wife won't fuck me, although I still want her" rather than "I'm not attracted to my wife but want younger, hotter women instead".

Posted by Fernmonkey | March 14, 2007 7:11 AM

Savage you're right! Sure there are exceptions, I like to think of myself as an exception, but as a rule you are correct, women tend to have lower drives then men. Accept it. Try to find someone who is compatible with you, if they aren't, move on.

Posted by Suz | March 14, 2007 9:11 AM

There are other factors that could result in a woman's lowered libido. I know I have a very high libido. Luckily, the guy I'm with does as well. We only see each other once or twice a week, but we make up for our lost time by having sex anywhere from 3-6 times on each day we see each other. There have been two times I can think of where we only had sex once in a day, but one or the other of us was sick.

However, I know when I'm on birth control, my sex drive goes down to an incredibly low rate. It sucks!!! That's why I prefer to stay off any pill/patch/ring/shot and stick with condoms.

Posted by Faux Show | March 14, 2007 9:58 AM


I don't know a lot of women well enough to know about their sex drives. Most of my friends are guys.

I'm not claiming that men don't have higher sex drives on average. I'm saying that there are so many exceptions that it seems stupid to even call it a rule.

That's all. :)

Posted by Violet_DaGrinder | March 14, 2007 5:01 PM

You should look up something called Confirmation Bias on Wikipedia.

While I respect that you get a lot of letters dealing with women of low libido, you are hardly a computer who counts accurately, nor are these letters an accurate sampling of women.

Maybe women just don't ask for as much advice when their lover's aren't up to the task? Perhaps we always assume it is because we aren't attractive or there is something wrong with us, rather than with them!

Your perceptions are not proof, any more than exceptions are disproof as all the evidence up till now is anecdotal.

Why can't a discussion about partners with unequal sex drives be had without automatically assuming that the culprit is one gender or the other. Oh wait, I forgot, because women are delicate blushing flowers that just want to have babies and make a home, and men just want to fuck and watch the football game. Right? I mean "on average" aren't we all exactly the same?

Posted by Shinobi | March 15, 2007 12:03 PM

Let's not bog down in the science here. Joan Sewell's methodological accuracy is not fatal to the import of this work. What is striking is that she is triggering useful discussion by giving herself as an example of that which is intuitively obvious, yet somewhat taboo, i.e. that straight guys are generally way hornier than their straight female partners.

Given that marriage is supposed to be an equal partnership, this book's success triggers useful dialogue about coupledom.

Dan's made his points, but there are others. For example: to be more honest about what brings you together as a couple. Maybe it is about baby-raising, financial enmeshment, division of household tasks, friendship, and cuddling, and not about gettin' it on.

I love gettin' it on, but the other things are immensely valuable too, and so Suz's advice (move on, to try to find one of the hornier women) is not practical to me.

It is unfortunate that society compells us to lie about our true selves during courtship. I pretended that monogamy would satisfy me, no matter what; she pretended to be open-minded and randy.

By noting the obvious, i.e. that your sex drives are likely to be quite different (and I have done all I can in the way of being fit, clean, foot-massaging, chore-sharing, non-pushy etc.), Sewell is something of a revolutionary, honestly.

Posted by Reasonably Sane Husband | March 15, 2007 4:13 PM

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