It has been a truism in both secular and Christian culture that “women want romance and men want sex” or “women give sex to get love and men give love to get sex.” I have always HATED these sentiments because, although I know they ring true for many they have NEVER rung true for me. I am, personally, a big fan of love, romance, sex and everything that has to do with marriage and, frankly, I am more the man for it. Beyond my personal experience, however, this message has always seemed inconsistent to what Christian men and women are called to and, as I began learning in college, what the Theology of the Body asserts is true for both women and men.
The idea that men primarily want sex and men primarily want romance casts all men as predators and all women as frigid and suggests that there is something wrong with a woman who enjoys her sexuality or a man who has a romantic soul. This has always struck me as deeply offensive to the Christian anthropological view. God is a passionate God who seeks nuptial union with us. The Song of Songs demonstrates how God pursues us with an enviable passion. Our Christian mystical tradition sings of the romantic feelings God’s love inspires in both men and women. We are made in God’s image and likeness. It would only be fitting that Christian men and women would be able to respond to each other and to God’s invitation to union with as much joy and fervor as they are both capable of expressing. I have no doubt that men and women express their romantic and sexual love in different and complementary ways but it is difficult for me to imagine how a couple can achieve the heights to which they are called by the Sacrament of Matrimony if one partner is forced to drag the other along in sex, romance, or both. Why would God play such a cruel trick? The answer, of course, is that he wouldn’t. Catholic theology has argued this for quite some time now–especially as articulated through the Theology of the Body. Now science is giving greater weight to those claims.
What the Latest Research Says…
This study sought to overcome the difficulties that occur from self-report. When people respond to surveys, they often answer as they think they are supposed to as opposed to how they actually feel. The researchers thought that men and women would feel pressure to conform to the strong stereotyping that exists around male and female attitudes toward intimate relationships, so they developed a way to get past this bias to ascertain how men and women actually felt about sex and romance. They used a test that had participants make snap judgments regarding whether to assign various romantic or sexual words/images to the categories of “pleasant” or “unpleasant.” The design of the study required a quick response that made conscious decision-making difficult if not impossible. Presumably, this forced respondents to reveal their first responses before their judgment and bias could kick in.
What they Found:
What they found was that while women did have a stronger reaction to romantic stimuli both men and women valued romance highly. As for preference for sex, the differences did not manifest between the sexes as much as they did between extraverts and introverts. In general, extroverted males and females have stronger sexual preferences and drives than introverted males or females. That makes sense, since extraverts are just more comfortable expressing themselves in every aspect of life and sexual attitudes and behavior merely represent a concentrated version of the person’s values, personality and behavior as a whole.
There is obviously more work to be done on teasing out the real vs. false differences between man and woman, but I, for one, am excited about the new direction of the research in the field of sex and romance and I look forward to seeing whether or not the differences between men and women in these areas are dynamic and subtle as I believe they are. Early reports would suggest that the answer is “yes.”