What makes us all hot and bothered? Apparently science has the answer! Namely: touching boxer shorts makes women horny. And here I thought the answer was Ryan Gosling. But no. A recent study out of Belgium says that while men were super into the idea of sexy-times after looking at sexually suggestive photos, for women this type of response took more than photos; women needed to actually touch a pair of boxer shorts.
Over at Scientific American, Kathleen D. Vohs explains that "merely seeing a bra can propel men into reward mode, seeking immediate satisfaction in their decisions," but women are a tougher nut to crack. The theory goes that since sex can have definite negative consequences like STDs or unplanned pregnancy, having sex requires most people to switch into what they are calling "reward mode." In other words, they care more about short-term rewards than long-term risks. Since women have more to worry about in the long-term risk department because of pregnancy and social stigma, the theory goes that it takes more for women switch into "reward mode."
The Belgian researchers behind this study had some female subjects handle boxer shorts while others handled tee-shirts, both groups being under the impression they were helping a retail store evaluate their products. After handling the clothes, researchers devised a variety of ways to test for indications that the women were valuing the present over the future. In each condition of the three-part study, women who had handled boxer shorts valued present gratification more. In other words, they were in reward mode.
So what does all this mean? Well, contrary to what it might seem, it doesn't necessarily mean women have less of a sex drive than men. It also doesn't mean, as Scientific American rather bizarrely argues, that women need an emotional connection to want sex – "feeling" as in touch doesn't actually mean the same thing as "feeling" as in emotion, OK guys? Mostly this study just means that women are less likely to focus on instant gratification when it comes to sex, and that they need certain triggers to get there. Which, again, makes sense given how much shit women have to deal with surrounding the whole issue.
This study doesn't shed any light into how much of the differing responses are due to biology and how much might be the result of being socialized in a patriarchal culture, but my guess would be it's at least a little bit of both. After all, being careful about potential pregnancies is a good evolutionary mechanism, but it's also hard to believe that the social stigma for promiscuous women hasn't made it even stronger.
At the end of the day, though, the takeaway seems to be that men and women aren't actually that different when it comes to wanting sex. It just takes a little bit more to get women to focus on the short term.
Where's Ryan Gosling when you need him?