The growing male sex drought
Midst the salacious reporting following the 2015 Ashley Maddison sex website hack there was one particularly startling revelation. Contrary to the site’s claims about plenty of female as well as male users, it turned out there were about 28 million men and 5 million women in the account list. Only 14 per cent of the users of the site were women. “The Ashley Madison hack proves men are dogs. But the Ashley Madison service itself proves men are suckers,” gloated Naomi Schaefer Riley in the New York Post. Perhaps it proves something very different. For all the male blaming that went on over the hacking scandal, the malicious delight at male cheaters and scumbags getting their comeuppance, there was remarkably little attention paid to what drives these huge numbers of men to seek sexual relief outside their marriages. The missing part of the puzzle is strong evidence that many men are facing an increasing problem in achieving sexually fulfilling marriages or long-term relationships. With swelling numbers of sexually-disinterested women determining the sexual frequency in their relationships, men face a male sex deficit which shows every sign of growing stronger. Surveys from across the world are now reporting dropping sexual frequencies, more celibate marriages and an increasing gap between male and female sexual desire with even young women reporting loss of sexual interest. British sociologist Catherine Hakim produced a report that same year, Supply and Desire: Sexuality and the Sex Industry in the 21st Century, which argued for decriminalization of prostitution. In the paper, published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, Hakim summed up a series of international sex surveys which show male sexual desire is manifested as least twice as often as female desire. “The gap is growing over time so the sexual deficit among men is growing steadily,” she wrote, spelling out the many reasons why this situation is likely to get worse for men. “Male demand for sexual entertainments of all kinds is thus growing and ineradicable,” Hakim concluded. Her most recent book, The New Rules, examined internet sex sites and found a sexless or low-sex marriage to be the most common cause for people choosing to use such sites. Around the same time another sex news story was making a splash – approval by the US Food and Drug Administration of Flibanserin, the libido-enhancing drug for women. It’s not particularly effective – only 8-13 percent of users have increased libido – and it had already been rejected twice due to possible side effects like fainting and dizziness but many were applauding this first cab off the rank in the pharmaceutical race to find some means of helping women with low desire. Yet the drug attracted critics who argue the manufacturers are exploiting a “natural mismatch” between female and male expectations of sex by creating a creepy “on” switch for female lust. The answer, according to these critics, is for men to curb their unreasonable, unseemly desires. Whilst arguments rage over solutions to the male sex deficit, the more important question is why is it growing? It’s over fifty years since the arrival of the contraceptive pill was celebrated by the women’s movement as launching the liberation of female sexuality. Women’s sexuality began to blossom: less guilt, more desire, more pleasure, more orgasms. The gap between men and women decreased with more women openly enjoying their sexuality. So why has this progress now derailed? Why the sudden drop in female desire and response? These questions have long been shaping the work of one of the leading lights in the current world of sexology. In 2015 I spoke to the head of The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) Finish sociologist, Osmo Kontula, who was preparing his presidential address to be delivered at their November conference. Kontula was pondering the results of sex surveys he’d been conducting since 1971 which revealed some startling results:
- A big drop in female orgasms. More women, particularly young women having trouble climaxing.
- More arousal and lubrication problems, especially in younger and much older women.
- An increasing desire gap between men and women, with more women going off sex.
- Even young women experience loss of desire, with one in four losing interest even less than two years into a relationship.
- A big drop in sexual frequency, with more and more couples celibate.
1 Also known as the Australian Study of Health and Relationships ASHR2 (2014).
2 Also known as ASHR2 (2014)