A new study challenges the old adage that men think about sex non-stop.
Researchers from Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus asked 283 college students to track their thoughts about sex, food or sleep for a week. Most men who counted thoughts about sex reported 19 per day — or a little over once each waking hour, a departure from the absurdly high but oft-cited once every seven seconds.
“When there’s a popular conception that is so removed from reality, it’s really important to set the record straight,” said Terri Fisher, professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus and lead author of a study coming out in the Journal of Sex Research.
Fisher teamed up with Zachary Moore and Mary-Jo Pittenger, students in her human sexuality class, to conduct the study in which 163 people (72 men and 91 women) were randomly assigned to track thoughts about sex.
“What we found was so far away from this strongly held stereotype,” she said, citing non-scientific estimates that have men pondering sex 8,000 times in 16 waking hours. “For men to grow up being told that men think about nothing but sex, I think, is discrediting toward men.”
Men’s 19 thoughts about sex per day barely beat out thoughts about food, which reached 18. Most women, on the other hand, reported 10 thoughts per day about sex and 15 about food.
Men and women tracking thoughts about sleep reported 11 and eight thoughts per day, respectively.
The study suggests men do think about sex more than women, but less than expected.
“Males did think more about sex but they also thought more about food and sleep,” said Fisher. “It’s not clear whether they’re just more focused on need-related states than females or whether they simply recall thoughts more often or are more willing to report them.”
Although the median number of thoughts about sex in men was 19, the numbers ranged from one to 388, depending on the guy.
“What’s remarkable about our data is the degree of variability,” said Fisher. “It makes it very difficult to generalize among men.”
A more accurate predictor of the frequency of sexual thoughts than gender was a person’s comfort with his or her own sexuality.
“We used a sexual opinion survey to measure erotophobia and erotophilia,” said Fisher. “Individuals who scored higher in erotophilia tended, not surprisingly, to report more sexual thoughts.”
When study subjects were asked to predict how often they thought about sex before they started keeping track, men tended to overestimate.
“It sort of fits the popular conception that males think more about sex than other things,” said Fisher. “Sometimes these popular conceptions can become prescriptive.”
Fisher said she plans to extend the study into older adults, as women don’t reach their sexual prime until their 30s. Men, conversely, reach their sexual peak in their college years.
“Yet these males were still not sex-obsessed,” said Fisher. “They clearly did not come anywhere close to thinking about sex every seven seconds.”