From hormones to hearsay.
Stereotypes around libido are in no short supply. At best, the story goes: Men are tirelessly horny, women are prudish—and even in a world where that mode of thinking feels flagrantly outdated, many of those core, tired beliefs linger (often, without our realizing). The trust of the matter is, gender is a spectrum, and so is libido. No matter your sex organs or your sex drive, you’re equally subject to spikes and dips in libido—and there’s no standard normative way to quantify your degree of lust or sexual fervor.
That said, when it comes to libido levels in folks with differing sex organs, there are some key differences to note (though, of course, none are quite so basic as “men are eternally hornier”).
On a super base level, one of the reasons it’s often presumed that the male libido is eternally higher than that of women has to do with testosterone. Because the male body generally produces more testosterone than the female body, a certain degree of sexual fervor is implied. According to research from the National Library of Medicine, it’s often these hormone levels that allow for the fact that men think with more frequency of sex, or feel sexual desire without requiring any contextual sexual stimuli. That said, testosterone levels do vary from person to person (even across biological sex)—and there are any number of factors that can have an even more potent impact on a person’s libido.
Libido vs. Arousal
It can often seem that we’re conflating the terms “sex drive” and “sexual arousal”—and in many cases, they do indeed share a great deal of crossover. But when it comes to gender differentiation, there are still a handful of things that differentiate them from one another. While lower levels of testosterone might make for a less inherent and constant hunger for sex, much research points to the fact that sex drive for women can be just as easily stimulated as a product of arousal. Simply put, research has shown that, for many women, enjoying sex acts as a stimulant that leads one to desire more sex. Arousal can raise libido quickly and easily, but rather than operating as a de facto way of walking around the world, it’s more closely linked to one’s ability to be stimulated. Outside factors are important.
Varying Approaches to Arousal
Gender aside, we all have different kinks and turn-ons—things that inevitably get us in the mood. Across the board, this is personal—and it can even change for any one individual with different partners. The only gendered matter of differentiation is categorical. According to medical research, women are more likely to be sexually stimulated (read: aroused) by a non-uniform set of factors, while for many men, standard pornography of any variety can be enough to ramp up the ‘ol sex drive. Historically, women require a bit more decoding—which isn’t to say they’re any less horny, but rather, that there’s no go-to skeleton key for arousal to rely on.
Social & Cultural Factors
As much as we’d like to think of things like libido as purely biological it’s an objective truth that all of our libidos can be impacted by things like shame, cultural mindset, and experience. For folks with traditionally religious backgrounds (who may have been raised to castigate sex on the whole), it’s highly likely that libido levels will diminish due to the brain’s aversion to the act. Additionally, the ways we think and talk about sex in our social circles can impact how comfortable we are pursuing sex—and thus how much we desire it. And while all these factors are equally impactful for men and women, it is often the case that women face more social stigmatization in this regard, which may be among the reasons women are generally believed to have lower sex drives.
Moreover, all people are equally impacted by medications like SSRIs, mood swings, depression, and anxiety—all things that actively work to diminish libido, no matter who you are.