Men are more interested and likely to engage in casual sex than women, right? From film, to music, to magazines-- it’s one of those things everyone (seemingly) “knows” about the respective sexes that is pervasive in popular culture. Visit your local bookstore’s self-help section and you’re likely to a see volumes (for example, the "Mars and Venus" series) dedicated to understanding how such sex differences should be understood if we’re to experience relational and sexual bliss.
New research, however, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that when great pleasure is expected, women are just as likely as men to say "YES" to casual sex. The innovative set of studies1 carried out by Dr. Terri Conley at the University of Michigan support predictions consistent with Pleasure Theory.2 This perspective argues that sexual reproduction is a bi-product of sexual pleasure, rather than vice-versa. We’ve evolved to seek pleasurable experiences; if enough people are having pleasure through sex, then the species will reproduce as a consequence. And herein lies perhaps the most pertinent sex difference of all-– women generally have a more difficult time achieving sexual pleasure from a casual encounter than men. For example, recent work3 has shown that women orgasm only 35% as often as men do in first-time sexual encounters.
Conley’s work suggests that when the conditions are right, women are more similar to men in how they respond to an offer for casual sex than previously has been thought. The greatest contribution to explaining if a woman will accept an offer for casual sex is her perception of how sexually pleasurable the encounter will be. Because men orgasm more easily, they tend to be less picky about whom the casual sex is with. For women however, the sexual prowess of the person offering the sex is highly relevant. If she doesn't expect to be satisfied, she'd be less likely to have casual sex.
We’ve often believed that some young women’s preference for slightly older men could have to do with status and resources on offer. Perhaps that's true. But perhaps the likelihood for greater pleasure from an experienced lover also plays a role. They always say it takes about 10,000 hours of practice, after all, to become an expert at something!
1Conley, T. D. (2011). Perceived proposer personality characteristics and gender differences in acceptance of casual sex offers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 309-329. doi: 10.1037/a0022152
2Abramson, P. R., & Pinkerton, S. D. (2002). With pleasure: Thoughts on the nature of human sexuality. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
3Armstrong, E. A., England, P., & Fogarty, A. C. K. (2010). Sexual practices, learning, and love: Accounting for women's orgasm and sexual enjoyment in college hookups and relationships. Manuscript under review.