Does Romance Kill Men’s Sex Drive?

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November 26th, 2014

Romance primes her body for the bedroom. But for men, it may have the opposite effect. (Dylan & Sara/Stocksy)

Turns out, there may be a scientific reason why movies based on Nicholas Sparks novels are called “chick flicks.” Watching romantic movies revs women’s sex drives — but it also dampens men’s desire to hit the sheets, according to a new study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

In the world of sex research, there’s a theory about sexual desire called the “incentive motivation model.” That’s a technical way of saying arousal starts with a rewarding stimuli (for example, seeing your partner naked), which automatically leads to a boost in below-the-belt blood flow. Once you realize your body is responding, your mind joins the arousal process, which only heightens your physical response, compelling you to seek sex.

As simple as that sounds, the first step — the sexual stimuli that kicks off the whole arousal process — can vary dramatically between men and women. Take porn, for example. “In a lot of research, when women watch porn movies, their body reacts — they’re genitally aroused — but they don’t feel anything,” lead study author Marieke Dewitte, an assistant professor of clinical psychological science at Maastricht University, told Yahoo Health. However, “we know that if you let women watch porn that is more female-oriented, embedded in a story, they respond with more sexual arousal.”

This suggests that, for women, it’s not just what the sexual stimuli is that matters, but also the context in which they encounter it. “Their sexuality is more dependent on the relationship context,” Dewitte explained.

That’s what inspired the design of her study: 86 men and 78 women watched three video clips — shots of a couple having sex; the scene from Titanic when Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet share their first smooch, along with a romantic clip from Indecent Proposal; and snippets of a documentary about English history. After watching each clip, the study participants rated how turned on they felt, both mentally and physically. They also completed a survey that measured how much they wanted and liked sex.

Women reported a greater desire for sex after watching theTitanic and Indecent Proposal clips, compared to the sex scenes. Men, on the other hand, were most inclined to do the deed after watching the explicit clips. And, surprisingly, they felt more desire after seeing the boring English documentary than after watching the romantic movies.

romancing

What’s going on? Simple: Women may use romantic scenes as a jumping-off point to conjure their own sexual fantasies — say, imagining being seduced by someone like Jack Dawson in Titanic. By contrast, “men need more visual information,” said Dewitte. As a result, guys tend to favor explicit sexual stimuli (like pornography), possibly because they’re wired to reproduce with lots of partners, rather than nurturing a romantic bond with one woman. “For women, the attachment system is more important, so the partner stays with them and raises the child,” she said. “So it makes sense that sexuality is much more related to the relationship.”

We’ve all heard the “men are more visual” spiel before. But, more importantly, this study helps debunk the long-held theory that men are simply more sexual than women. Dewitte found that in a test designed to measure “implicit” feelings — that is, automatic responses, rather than thought-out replies — women liked sex just as much as men. “If you put women in the right context, they experience as much — or even more — sexual desire than men,” she said. “They don’t always like sex the way men like it. They like kissing, they like intimacy.”

So how can couples overcome this mismatch in cues for sexual desire?

Men: Invest in the relationship

You’ve heard it before: Foreplay starts outside the bedroom — and we don’t necessarily mean fooling around on the couch. “Invest in the relationship during the day,” Dewitte said, which can including sending a lovely message, bringing her a gift or telling her she’s beautiful. These little acts of romance help kick her arousal system into high gear: When a woman senses her partner is emotionally invested, she’s more likely to be primed for fun in the bedroom later. “Men, if you want to have sex with your partner, don’t wait until you’re in the bedroom, and then quickly caress her,” she said.

Women: Pay attention to your body

Learn to listen to your body: Can you feel your heart beating faster? Your arousal building? Make sure to do the same for your partner, too — if you try to detect when he’s aroused, you might just find your own body responding.

Women: Figure out what excites you

As a sex therapist, Dewitte often asks her female patients this question: In order to become sexually aroused, what do you need? “A lot of women don’t know what they need,” she said. “So I ask them to go on the Internet, read books, learn for yourself, ‘What turns me on?’” In her experience, erotic stories often do the trick for women since, unlike porn, naughty reading material allows them to conjure up their own visuals. “Men have to watch — they have to see a breast or an explicit visual cue,” she said. “For women, it’s much more about fantasy.”

Women: Take time to fantasize

If you feel awkward fantasizing, that’s totally normal — it actually can take practice. “Sometimes, in the beginning, it’s not spontaneous at all,” Dewitte said. Her advice: Set aside five minutes a day, and try to script your own sexual fantasies in your head. You may find it tough at first, but eventually you’ll get the hang of it. “You can learn to fantasize,” she said.

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