Contrary to the common belief that women have much lower sexual desire than their male partners, men in long-term relationships actually underestimate how often their wives and girlfriends want sex, according to new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The researchers conducted three studies, following a total of 229 long-term, heterosexual couples (the sample of same-sex couples was too small to be statistically significant) who ranged in age from 18 to 68. On average, the couples had been together six years and reported they had sex one to two times a week.
In two of the studies, couples kept a diary for three weeks, recording their own level of sexual desire each day, as well as their perception of their partner's level of desire and their level of relationship satisfaction. They were also asked to report how motivated they were each day to avoid sexual rejection. In a separate study, couples came into the lab and reported their general levels of desire, their perception of their partner's desire, and their happiness in the relationship. (Next: Does More Sex Lead to a Better Relationship?)
All studies showed that while the women had an accurate read on whether or not their partner was interested in sex, men consistently underestimated their girlfriend or wife's desire. The psychologists explain that this under-perception is a way for men to avoid rejection and tension. (Makes sense. Think about how often you've seen this scenario play out in sitcoms and romcom plots: Eager husband or boyfriend reaches over to initiate sexy time with his lady only to be rebuffed by a hand slap or a 'not tonight'.)
This causes men to try harder to entice their partners, which is why the researchers believe women reported feeling more satisfied in their relationships on the days when men under-perceived their sexual interest. To put it another way: "It is better for the relationship for him to under-perceive, because it avoids complacency," lead study author and sex and relationship psychologist Amy Muise, Ph.D. told the Wall Street Journal.
Of course, sometimes you just won't want to have sex and more effort on your partner's part is far from helpful. The takeaway? Communication. Talk about what kinds of signals you use to show your desire, and what kinds of signals you prefer to receive, Muise explains.