Unpacking the 7-second myth. – maude Skip to content

Unpacking the 7-second myth.

Unpacking the 7-second myth.

Sex on the brain.

Certain facts get thrown around so much that, despite nobody knowing quite where they came from, they somehow become part of the cultural canon of knowledge, largely unquestioned. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A human year is seven dog years. It takes seven years to digest swallowed chewing gum. And men think about sex once every seven seconds.

This last one, the idea that in any given fifteen seconds, any given man has thought about sex at least twice, gets repeated ad nauseam, drummed into (often teenage) heads as absolute fact. But if you dig into it, well, what does it even mean?

If the man in question is awake for sixteen hours a day, thinking about sex every seven seconds results in 8,229 sexy thoughts. That’s a lot of thoughts. And that’s day in, day out. 57,600 a week. You’d need more than just eight hours of sleep after all that. 

But what is one incident of “thinking about sex”? If you see the word — as you have done several times since beginning to read this article — your mind processes it: there’s thinking involved, and it regards sex, but is that really “thinking about sex”? That’s very different from being completely consumed by an erotic reverie, which is also “thinking about sex”. And what if that reverie lasts longer than seven seconds (which an erotic reverie feels like it probably should)? Or what if the man in question is engaged in sexual activity — which also should probably take substantially longer than seven seconds? How many thoughts is that?

It is, of course, nonsense — the fairly simple idea that men are obsessed with sex, given an oddly-specific statistical sheen. 

How true is that simple idea, though? In 1995, the Kinsey Institute — of Kinsey Scale fame — did a survey asking men and women of all ages how often they thought about sex. The result was that 54% of men and 19% of women reported thinking about it daily, 43% of men and 67% of women a few times a week, and 3% of men and 14% of women less than once a month.

There’s a large difference between the genders’ responses, with men reporting thinking about sex a lot more than women, but more notable than that is that both sets of figures are pretty low — while the seven-second idea would have men thinking about sex over 8,000 times daily, in reality only slightly more than half of men thought about it even once every day. 

A 2011 paper published in the Journal of Sex Research entitled “Sex on the Brain?: An Examination of Frequency of Sexual Cognitions As a Function of Gender, Erotophilia and Social Desirability,” gave students pocket clickers — like the ones that used to be used in the 1990s to keep track of people going into and out of nightclubs — and asked them to record whenever they thought about certain things: there was a sex group, a food group and a sleep group. 

In the sex group, who were told to only click if they were thinking actively erotic thoughts, not abstract ones, men on average clicked 19 times per day, and women 10 times. However, there was a big range, and while several participants clicked only once a day, one man managed 388 clicks in a day. Both men and women in the food and sleep groups clicked a lot more than the sex group (men clicking more in both cases).

The factor that turned out to be much more of a predictor of thinking about sex a lot than gender was… being into sex. Participants who had self-identified as being more sexual ended up thinking about sex more, which makes a lot of sense really.

“It’s amazing the way people will spout off these fake statistics that men think about sex nearly constantly and so much more often than women do,” said study author Terri Fisher. “If you had to know one thing about a person to best predict how often they would be thinking about sex, you’d be better off knowing their emotional orientation toward sexuality, as opposed to knowing whether they were male or female.”

A third study, this one in 2012, texted participants at random times of day to ask whether they’d thought about sex (or sleep, food, alcohol or tobacco) in the previous half-hour. They were only texted seven times daily, so that was the most they could report for any of them, but only about 4% of the text cues resulted in a report of thinking about sex — dwarfed by the results for food, sleep, coffee and the desire to check their email.

So there’s not just nothing to the idea that men think about sex every seven seconds, there’s possibly slightly less than nothing. However much it might seem like everyone’s running around with nothing on their minds but sex, most people simply have too much other stuff to do to have truly one-track minds, regardless of gender. Thoughts about sex might linger in the mind more than thoughts about, say, coffee, because they’re more interesting. In fact, as with so many other elements of sex, when it comes to thoughts, it might be more about quality than quantity.

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