[Proposal] Do women experience sexual desire differently than men do?

1. Why should we care?

Low sexual desire is the #1 sexual complaint that women report (Rosen, 2000). Low desire and its resulting “sexual incompatibility” have major effects on both relationship health and women’s mental health (Laumann, 1994). This field has been given increasing attention in recent decades, but without much success. One reason for this paradox is the different mechanics behind women’s and men’s sexual desire. Treating women’s low sexual desire the same way men’s low sexual desire has traditionally been treated (e.g., testosterone therapy), hasn’t worked (Brotto, 2017). Before we can “cure” women’s low sexual desire, we must first understand precisely how women’s sexual desire functions and how it is different to men’s. Evidence is increasingly pointing to greater context-dependence in women’s sexual desire (e.g., Carvalho, 2010), and our past data has shown that women find fewer individuals sexually attractive at the same levels of libido/sexual desire as men (Lesko & Haselton, 2019), but a longitudinal study controlling for individual differences has yet to be done. This study will illuminate as-yet ignored and unstudied differences in the psychology of women’s sexual desire in order to improve the wellbeing of women everywhere.

Specific Aims

This study aims to measure fluctuations in sexual attraction and sexual desire within individuals, by sex, controlling for stress and daily activities. It has been shown that stress impacts sexual desire differently in women and men (Raisanen et al., 2018), but we don’t know if different stress sources matter (e.g., more time and energy spent caretaking, managing a home, or working), or if stress impacts different kinds of desire differently (e.g., desire for a long-term partner vs a new potential partner). Increased time spent on household labor has been shown to decrease desire for long-term partners (Harris et al., 2020), but does it impact desire for new potential partners? This study will identify which specific factors differentially impact sexual desire in women and men, and will both guide future research into the psychology of sexuality as well as normalize women’s experiences, ultimately reducing the hyperpathologization of female sexuality.

2. Methodology

Participants will be recruited from Prolific. Participants must be over age 18 and fluent in English.
Five surveys will be administered longitudinally across days, months, and years. The first three surveys will be administered on three consecutive days. The fourth survey will be administered one month later, and the fifth and final survey will be administered one year later. The survey window for the fourth and fifth surveys will be left open for seven days in order to re-acquire as many of the original participants as possible.

Each survey will contain a measure of sexual attraction and sexual desire that we have previously developed (as yet unpublished), the Perceived Stress Scale (Cohen et al., 1994), a questionnaire measuring time spent on daily activities (where the time will be forced-choice to sum to 24 hours), and basic demographic questions.

3. Sample Size

1000 participants will be recruited. To detect a moderation effect of .3 at 80% power with our longitudinal dataset, we will need at least 220 participants per group. With two groups (male and female), we will need at least 440 participants. We expect a one-third attrition rate across waves of the study. To end with 440 participants, we must start with 1,000 participants.

4. Study Costs

$7.00/hour for a 10-minute survey = $1.17 payment per participant per survey.

Survey 1: $1.17 (participant payment) x 1.33 (service charge) x 1000 (number of participants) = $1,556 (or ÂŁ1123)

Surveys 2-4: $1.17 x 1.33 x 667 (number of participants after expected attrition) = $1,038 (or ÂŁ749) each

Survey 5: $1.17 x 1.33 x 445 (number of participants after expected attrition) = $692 (or ÂŁ499)

Total= $5,362 (or ÂŁ3,869)

5. Pre-registration

The pre-registration is available by going to this link: https://aspredicted.org/49bw4.pdf

6. Open Science

After the results have been published, the data and analysis code will be made publicly available on OSF.

7. References

Brotto, L. A. (2017). Evidence-based treatments for low sexual desire in women. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 45, 11-17.

Carvalho, J., & Nobre, P. (2010). PSYCHOLOGY: Sexual desire in women: An integrative approach regarding psychological, medical, and relationship dimensions. The journal of sexual medicine, 7(5), 1807-1815.

Harris, E. A., Gormezano, A., & van Anders, S. M. (2020). Gender inequities in household labor predict lower desire in women partnered with men. Invited talk at the Gender Preconference, Society for Personality and Social Psychology, New Orleans, U.S.A.

Lesko, L., & Haselton, M. (May 2019). Distinguishing between sexual attraction and sexual desire: The case of asexuality. Poster presented at the 2019 annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society

Raisanen, J. C., Chadwick, S. B., Michalak, N., & van Anders, S. M. (2018). Average associations between sexual desire, testosterone, and stress in women and men over time. Archives of sexual behavior, 47(6), 1613-1631.

Rosen R. C. (2000). Prevalence and risk factors of sexual dysfunction in men and women. Current psychiatry reports, 2(3), 189–195. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-996-0006-2

Laumann EO, Gagnon JH, Michael RT, Michaels S: The Social Organization of Sexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1994.

**Edited 07/17/21: fixed typo, updated citations, added “specific aims” header