On Libido, part 1

I recently came across an interesting post about a very interesting study concerning high-libido women. It was striking for me how much it resonated with my own experiences as a high-libido man, and very revealing in how it differed.

The study talks about how the women interviewed all described needing multiple relationships to be sexually satisfied, and I thought “Whoo, I know how that is.” It’s not practical for me to ask any one woman to be everything I want in a lover, so I stopped trying ten years ago. Polyamory has proven to be a much better fit for me emotionally and sexually. The study also talks about high-libido women consciously organizing their lives around sex to some degree, and again I thought “Oh yeah, right there with you.” I prioritize nookie over some things other folks might consider more important, and when I think about the things I consider successes in my own life, getting laid a lot tends to be near the top of the list.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say. My culture tells me I’m supposed to like sex, supposed to make it a high priority, indeed supposed to define my worth as a person by it. I’m a man, after all. The study also talks about very sexual women having to fight slut-shaming, both internal and external, and having to deal with a culture that wants to pretend they don’t exist. These are not problems I have as a very sexual man. One of the perks of male privilege, I guess.

Except that like all privilege, it’s got the fucked-up dark side. Yeah, I get validated by mainstream American culture, because I largely fit the stereotype of the horny dude. What about low-libido guys? They get erased and denied as much as high-libido women do, to say nothing of asexual folks. A guy who would rather finish his homework than fuck is basically flat-out told that he’s not a real man. That’s not cool, and it can’t be good for anyone’s GPA.

Hell, there have been occasions when I’ve told a sexual partner that I wasn’t in the mood. Of course, as a guy who questions gender assumptions and thinks deeply about these issues and so on, I was totally cool with saying that to them. Nah, just kidding. It was awful. It was wrenching. I literally spent a lot of time trying to think of any alternative or excuse I could offer other than “I’m not in the mood”, and when I did say it, it felt like a failure. It felt like an admission of something shameful. I very keenly felt the idea that I had failed as a man by having one evening where I wasn’t wildly horny. And that’s going into it knowing that this stuff is bullshit.

So that’s the situation with regard to high-libido folks: horny men and horny women have, in my experience, a lot in common in terms of desires and lifestyles. However, we both deal with the same cultural shit that damages and constrains us in different ways. Not trying to say those ways are perfectly symmetrical or equivalent, just that I’m as validated by the current system as anyone is likely to be, and I still get mindfucked by cultural expectations.

On deeper examination, of course, cultural ideas about libido are even more fucked-up and creepy than that. More to come in part two.

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Noah Brand is a mysterious figure with a very nice hat.
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18 Responses to On Libido, part 1

  1. mythago says:

    It’s an interesting piece, although the study’s very small sample size and uniformity kinda limit its conclusion for ‘high-libido women’ as a group.

  2. noahbrand says:

    Yeah, it is hardly an ideal scientific study, and it’s several years old already. But as a collection of a few dozen women’s experiences, I think it’s not without value.

  3. Kaija says:

    It’;s a step in the right direction to even acknowledging that some women have high libidos, just like some men. In fact, some HUMANS have a higher sex drive and some have one that is lower. It doesn’t break down into a biomodal distribution by gender. Erasing the high libido women, or assuming that they are sluts, is problematic as is erasing the low libido men, or assuming that “they are secretly gay” or “not real men”. Assumptions and blanket stereotypes really limit our understanding of human beings and can cloud our relationship decisions. I know many women who are the person with the higher sex drive in their partnerships and Dan Savage says he gets letters every day from women who want more sex in their relationship or have a partner who can’t keep up.

    One thing I wish I would have learned earlier in my dating life is that sexual compatibility is a big deal for a successful longterm relationship. If both partners aren’t at least reasonably well matched in sex drive, it can create a lot of ongoing conflict. And sex IS important in a romantic relationship…it’s what makes it something different than a close friendship. Quizzical Pussy had a great post that covered this topic in a way that didn’t make assumptions about the genders: http://quizzicalpussy.com/guest-post-shelf-life/

  4. (Author of linked post here) It’s a piece of exploratory qualitative research and is not *meant* to be (nor does it claim to be, and nor did I claim it to be) representative. Nonetheless, it resonated with me and I found it interesting and heartening…. That’s like saying of a large-scale survey “But that doesn’t tell me about the nuance of people’s experience and opinions”. Exactly. Different research methods, different objectives. /end rant/

  5. Anyhow, thanks for linking… Love your post and totally agree on low-libido (or even average) libido men, which is something I bang on about a bit. Will keep reading your interesting blog!

  6. Kaija says:

    I really enjoyed your post and your blog. Glad you’ll be around and reading and commenting too, I hope? πŸ™‚

  7. ozymandias42 says:

    And even if the average man is hornier than the average woman, the same way the average man is taller than the average woman…

    there are a whole fuckload of short man/tall woman couples out there.

  8. Kaija says:

    Most definitely. Then there are same-sex couples, who also struggle with differing libidos…it’s not true that all gay men fuck like rabbits and all lesbians just cuddle and watch movies. Also, many couples with differing libidos have openness arrangements of various kinds, because not everyone is monogamous, though they may go through monogamous periods in their relationships and more poly arrangements at other times. Again, viva le difference! We are a creative and intelligent species that is capable of coming up with all kinds of variations and compromises that can work. What doesn’t work for many people is “shoulds” and “you must do it this way or you are wrong”.

  9. noahbrand says:

    Thank you for digging up such an insightful and interesting study; I was glad to have your excellent post to cite. πŸ™‚

  10. Meatloaf says:

    I’ve never been flat-out told that I’m not a man because I don’t really care about sex. It’s implicit in some, so I keep it hush-hush for the most part. I’m not going out of my way to proclaim that “Hey, guess what, guys? I didn’t have sex again last night”. Not that this is how many people behave, I imagine, but nonetheless.

    I came to terms a while ago with the fact that I’d probably be a heavily ostracized member of “normal” society, because I’m a nerd, overweight, mediocre in looks, into programming, and have no real sexual intentions whatsoever. I looked at my culture’s expectation of a “man”, and thought “Well. If that’s what you think a man is, then I certainly don’t care to be measured by your standards. Good day.” I then took up learning D&D and video games and programming, because nerd.

  11. noahbrand says:

    See, that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about, and exactly the reason I’m writing on this blog. Those “standards” are crazy, unattainable, gender-policing bullshit.

  12. Commenting, yes, why not? I always have actual work to avoid πŸ™‚

  13. mythago says:

    Deep cleansing breaths, sir. Not sure why you’re ranting; I didn’t say “this article sucks” or “it’s not a statistically valid sample thus it’s garbage”.

  14. mythago says:

    Um, yeah. I know any number of overweight, conventionally “average” looking, nerd guys (often programmers) who have plenty of sex.

  15. Meatloaf says:

    That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m sure there are plenty of people more or less exactly like me who do have plenty of sex. That’s fantastic, I’m sure they’re having a great time. I’m not trying to be all “BOO HOO EVERYONE HAS MORE SEX THAN ME”. I’m saying that I don’t really care about having sex or dating or marriage, and because I’m male, people have been confused/put off by that.

    Nothing angry or overt, but I’m pretty sure a few members of my family think I might be homosexual. Which is fine, they’re decent folks, they wouldn’t ostracize me for it or anything. For all their conservative religiousness, they’re pretty cool about that stuff. it’s just they can’t really deal with the concept of a young, conventionally eligible male not dating anyone or trying to date anyone or even accepting offers/suggestions of dates. I’m just not interested in an exclusive relationship.

    Clarification: not all relationships revolve around sex. A lot of them do. Some of them don’t. That’s fine. I am not interested in a sexual one. A normal, platonic, emotionally/mentally intimate relationship? I’ve got my brother and a few other close friends to take care of that. I’m not interested in the exclusivity that a 1-on-1 relationship affords. It’s exclusive – it excludes others. I don’t like that I’ve seen so many people withdraw from everyone else around them once they start dating someone, and rely entirely on that person for support. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but I’m extremely skeptical of it.

    All that said, it’s not as if I’m striving to be considered a societal success of a male. I reject those standards and substitute (4d6 drop lowest) x6, and I’ve found a place with friends who do the same. So we’re doin’ alright.

  16. eurobrat says:

    I agree that this doesn’t necessarily break down by gender. I think in our modern society, low-libido people of both sexes are viewed as being somewhat off. Think about how much of our pop culture imagery revolves around getting laid. I was single for a long time, and during that time, did not really feel the desire to chase men either for serious relationships *or* casual sex. I just had other things I was more interested in. But I definitely got the feeling that my friends and loved ones were wondering what was wrong with me, or more likely, thought I was in denial and desperate for a man somewhere deep down inside.

  17. kaija24 says:

    I had a similar experience, eurobrat. Even though I am generally a high-libido type, I found myself in a lengthy period of “time out” from dating, which though it began after a wrenching breakup turned into a time of great change and professional growth for me that had nothing to do with licking my wounds but more about taking some time to concentrate on starting some new projects, travelling, and focusing solely on myself…it was a wonderfully rich and productive time that helped to launch to where I am now in my personal and professional life and I am grateful for having it! However, friends and acquaintances were always pushing me to “get back out there” but you know, I just had zero interest at the time. And though I would politely and directly turn down requests for dates, I did get the vibe that I was irritating and wrong for not supplying some sex to SOMEBODY and selfishly keeping it to myself for “no good reason”. But eventually I stumbled across someone who roused me out of my sexless slumber–the brother of a grad school friend of mine–and I felt like it was right and he was right and it’s been a good partnership ever since (two high-libido types are an excellent match!). So yeah, interest in pursuing sex can come in and out like the tide over time, and we should be mindful and respectful of that.

  18. eurobrat says:

    Exactly! Glad to know I’m not the only one. I too have been roused out of my slumber and it’s very nice–but it would have been horrible if I had tried to force the matter back when I wasn’t interested in it.

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