Originally published on Mic.com
If we took a peek inside the male brain, what would we find? Jada Pinkett-Smith — and society at large — is pretty sure it’d be sex, sex and more sex. Something the ladies would know nothing about, right?
During an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers on Thursday, the Magic Mike XXL star said being constantly surrounded by the “tastiness” of her nearly nude male costars helped her, as a woman, finally understand what it’s like to be ruled by another “head.” That is, a little guy “down there” who demands relentless procreation. Pinkett-Smith said:
“That was the moment I was like, I feel really bad for guys, because all day long, you’re constantly dealing with that kind of stimulation.”
This representation of men as sexual fanatics is off the mark. Pinkett-Smith’s comments only serve to perpetuate the myth that men are highly sexualized beings constantly fighting the urge; it also implies that women, being lesser sexual beings, are not. Those dual assumptions, deeply entrenched in society already, can be damaging for how we view ourselves and each other in the bedroom.
Men aren’t as sex-obsessed as we all think. Everyone has heard the “conventional wisdom” that men think about sex every seven seconds. However, this somewhat bold-faced claim isn’t backed up by actual research, and real science paints a different picture.
In 2014, researchers at Ohio State University provided 18- to 25-year-olds with tally counters and asked them tocount every time they thought about sex. Among men, the average number of sexual thoughts per day was 19, or once every 1.26 hours — a far cry from every seven seconds.
And it’s not true that men are consistently “ready to go.” Erica Marchand, a psychologist and sex therapist from Los Angeles, told Mic that relationship issues, emotions, stress, self-perception and distraction affect men’s sexuality and desire, just like women’s.
“Both men and women are sexual beings and are motivated to have sex and there is variability in sex drive for both genders, with some people thinking about and wanting sex a lot, and others not as much,” she said.
While we oversexualize men, we undersexualize women. Though women have historically been portrayed as merely tolerating sex, newer research into female sexuality suggests what many women have known all along: They can get pretty horny too. In his book What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, Daniel Bergner found years of research to support that women crave sex just as much as men. And Marchand pointed out that while men have more of that libido-fueling ingredient, testosterone, women actually have it too.
Biology aside, anyone who still thinks women aren’t very interested in sex is clinging to an outdated view of female behavior. Newer survey research, not to mention anecdotal evidence, proves women are down for casual sex. A 2011 poll of 2,000 women by TresSugar and SELF magazine found that 82% had casual sex, and other research has suggested that women, like men, often engage in casual hookups for pure physical reasons — their partner’s attractiveness, the pursuit of bodily pleasure or just feeling “horny.”
Shame all around: But gendered sexual expectations, the kind that assume men are the ones with all the sexual urges, can deal a serious blow to women’s confidence. The stigma of women being perceived as “slutty” or “nympho” if they express sexual feelings can prevent them from talking as openly about sex, or even cause them to feel wrong about having sexual desires in the first place. It’s been found that women are more likely than men to underreport their number of sexual partners for fear of judgment.
“Sexuality is often such an important part of human beings’ experience, contributing to pleasure, excitement, connection, relationship, personal growth and self-expression,” Marchand said. “The stereotype of women as sexually less interested or more ‘neutral’ denies women ownership of all that.”
Men too are damaged by society’s expectations to be constantly ready and willing. Feeling ashamed for not being in the mood or failing to bring a woman to orgasm like a porn star can cause anxiety. By the same token, the assumption of men as uncontrollably oversexed creates a culture in which men aren’t expected to exhibit self-control.
Instead of stoking the fires of the “men vs. women” dichotomy when it comes to sexual desire, Pinkett-Smith, and the rest of us, would be wise to accept that we’ve all got sex on the brain sometimes — but we’re also all complicated sexual beings. Acting shocked that women can get as turned on as men doesn’t do a service to any gender. Plus, hasn’t the existence of a Magic Mike sequel proved that already?