Most of you have probably heard the statistic that men think about sex every seven seconds. If this is correct, it means that sex crosses men’s minds 514 times per hour. Talk about sex on the brain! But is there any truth to this statistic? According to a recent study, even men with the dirtiest of minds do not come anywhere close to thinking about sex this frequently.1
In this provocative study, college student participants tracked how many times they thought about sex each day over the course of one week. Each student was given a tally counter, which is similar to the handheld devices that bouncers at popular clubs sometimes use to count how many customers have gone through the door. Participants carried this gadget with them at all times and clicked a button each time a new sexual thought popped into their heads.
Men thought about sex an average of 34 times per day. If we assume most men get about eight hours of sleep, this means that the average man thinks about sex twice per hour during a typical day, which is a far cry from the 514 predicted by the seven second rule! Of course, there was significant variability in how frequently men thought about sex, ranging from one to almost 400 sexual thoughts per day. Thus, some guys certainly think about sex with more regularity than others.
What about the ladies? Woman thought about sex an average of 19 times per day, or just over once per hour (assuming eight hours of sleep). This is about half as often as men thought about sex. Again, however, there was significant variability in the number of times women reported thinking about sex, ranging from 1 to 140 sexual thoughts each day.
These findings challenge several stereotypes about male and female sexuality. For one thing, it is clear that men do not think about sex constantly—certainly, the average man thinks about sex fairly often, but the “every seven seconds” stereotype would appear to be a wild exaggeration. On the other hand, women think about sex more frequently than many people would assume. Every woman in this study reported thinking about sex at least once per day, and there were some women who thought about sex far more often than the average man.
Of course, please keep in mind the limitations of these data—all participants were college students and the vast majority of them were heterosexual. Among people of different ages and sexualities, these numbers might look very different. Despite such shortcomings, however, this study serves as an important reminder that most sexual stereotypes are not an accurate reflection of reality and we should not look at them as a way of gauging what’s “normal.”
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1Fisher, T. D., Moore, Z. T., & Pittenger, M. (2012). Sex on the brain?: An examination of frequency of sexual cognitions as a function of gender, erotophilia, and social desirability. The Journal of Sex Research, 49, 69-77. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2011.565429
Dr. Justin Lehmiller – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller’s research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.
Whoever did this study should do another to correct an egregious oversight: college women are NOT comparable to college men in their frequency of sex thoughts…. You need to track women in their late twenties and early thirties — trust me, I'm speaking from personal experience I wasn't prepared for!!! 😉
Justin J. Lehmiller says
I think you're arguing that women in their 30s will have more sexual thoughts because that's supposedly when women reach their sexual peak, correct? If so, I should say that while there are certainly many women like you who seemed to "peak" in their 30s, scientific research doesn't support the notion that this is a common occurrence for all or even most women. Women can "peak" at any point in their lives. The idea that women's sex drive ramps up later than men's probably has something to do with the fact that many women don't experience their first orgasm until much later in life.
I think you're right that it would still be interesting to replicate this study with an older sample, but I'm not sure that the gender differences would really change that much if all participants were in their 30s.
Just out of curiosity, was there a difference between those in a sexual relationship and those who were not?
joseph santus says
"…this study serves as an important reminder that most sexual stereotypes are not an accurate reflection of reality and we should not look at them as a way of gauging what’s 'normal.'"
Or, does this study serve to evidence that, while stereotypes might be imbalanced, exaggerated characterizations, they nevertheless base and reflect upon reality? For, this study did find that college age men do think about sex significantly more than college age women do, indicating the reason WHY the stereotypes of "every seven seconds" and "men only think about sex" might have originated. This study serves to remind that stereotypes usually grow from a kernel of observed reality.