Women are more faithful than men. Women cheat for love; men cheat for sex. Women are less sexually adventurous than men. It's a script that many of us -- whether clinicians or Hollywood -- follow when thinking about female sexuality. Yet it's a script based on unfounded assumptions about the way women view, pursue and engage in sex, writes Wednesday Martin, author of "Untrue," in which she mined the data and interviewed 30 experts and women from all walks of life to uncover the facts about female sexuality.
In her book, Martin addresses some of the most common myths and misconceptions about women and sex.
Myth: Women cheat for 'emotional' reasons.
When women are unfaithful, it's easy to assume that they cheat out of dissatisfaction with their relationship, because they fall in love with someone else or because they're looking for a way to end their marriage.
"I'm convinced that we believe this because we presume it, and then socialize other people to believe it," Martin said. "But peel back the language, pay attention to the storytelling and the data, and you'll hear similar things from both sexes: Infidelity is exciting and gratifying for many men and women, emotionally and physically."
Indeed, studies have shown that more than a third of married women who have sex outside their relationships describe those marriages as "happy" or "very happy." Other research, detailed in Alicia Walker's book "The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife," on women who use the internet to find affair partners shows that they do so primarily for sex.
Myth: Women have affairs, not one-night stands, when they cheat.
It's not necessarily that women don't want sexual one-offs but that they have fewer opportunities for lower levels of so-called micro-cheating.
"Men have 'infidelity gray zones,' tensional outlets -- like lap dances at strip clubs and 'happy-ending' massages -- that make it easy for them to have sexual experiences outside their marriage or long-term partnership that may not be considered cheating," Martin explained. "Since studies suggest women need variety and novelty in their sexual experiences at least as much as men do, it's a shame we don't have such gray zones."
Myth: Women are less sexually adventurous than men.
The stereotype of women as preferring plain vanilla sex is just that: a stereotype. Research suggests that women in their 20s are quite sexually adventurous. In one recent study, they were twice as likely as their male peers to go to a swingers' party, dungeon or other sex function.
"It's important to avoid presumptions that men are more sexual and are the drivers of female sexual behavior," Martin said.
Myth: Monogamy is easier for women.
Many of the experts Martin interviewed suggested that monogamy can be challenging for women, too. It's a long-held belief that women "turn off" to sex and relationships more quickly than men do because they enjoy sex less and have lower libidos. However, recent research findings fly in the face of this assumption.
For instance, women who have low sexual desire and are in long-term relationships admit that they still feel lust for new partners. Other studies have found that women's bodies respond to a wider variety of sexual stimuli than do men's. And in studies of primates, the single most observable preference among females is for novel male partners. "This makes a pretty persuasive case that women struggle with monogamy at least as much as men do -- and likely more," Martin said.
Such insights add to our growing understanding of female sexuality, helping destroy stereotypes about the way both women and men approach sex, monogamy and infidelity.
In my own research with Kristen Mark on relationship boredom, according to 3,341 respondents in committed relationships, half reported being either bored or on the brink of boredom in their relationships. And women were twice as likely to report that they were bored in the first year, and in the first three years, of a relationship. That's a whole lot of relationship boredom on both sides of the bed, with women seemingly bored more quickly.
But the good news is that the majority of the respondents were also entirely interested in trying something new in the bedroom that their partner suggested. And in a separate study Mark and I conducted on sexual adventurousness, we found that women were significantly more likely than men to have engaged in a wider variety of sexual activities, indicating that women are perhaps more sexually open than society often constructs them to be. For example, women were significantly more likely to have engaged in talking dirty during sex than men, as well as sharing fantasies verbally.
So, in the spirit of Martin's book, let's discard the myths about female sexuality and, instead of letting boredom get the better of us, turn to each other for that sexy suggestion.