Breaking the Gender Stereotype

By Erina Lee, Ph.D.

Breaking the Gender Stereotype

There is an old notion that men want sex more than women. Does this still apply today? 

In one study, men and women strangers were asked to interact with one another, while another cross-gender pair observed. Compared to women, men who were either interacting or observing rated those who were interacting as being more sexually oriented (Abbey, 1982). What men thought was sexual intent, women thought was friendly. Repeated findings like these led researchers to believe that men were more interested and motivated by sex compared to women.

In a recent issue of PSPB, however, Alison Lenton and colleagues found that both men and women projected their own sexual feelings onto others. Those who were highly sexually motivated, both men and women, saw others as being highly sexually motivated; while those who were low in sexual motivation saw others as being similarly low in sexual motivation (Lenton et al., 2007). In other words, if I was interested in sex, I assumed you were interested too. These findings were especially true when others were similar to themselves or when there was little information to go on.

Instead of rating in line with the sexual stereotype of men wanting sex more, the current findings show that men and women project their own feelings onto both men and women equally. Although the researchers suggest complexity of similarity may explain these findings, another explanation may be that stereotypical differences in sexual desire are not as prevalent as they once were, especially among younger adults as assessed in this sample. If we weren’t given enough information and didn’t believe in old stereotypes, then we might have relied on what we thought when making decisions about others.

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