Mythbusting #1 : Women Don't Like Sex

What history can tell us about sexual stereotyping

Go to the profile of Emily Dubberley
Apr 13, 2014

It is commonly accepted that it is the man’s role to pursue sex and the woman’s role to decline it – until date three at the very least. The idea that a woman might want sex for her own pleasure, rather than using it as bait for a romantic partner is anathema to many. (Sex between women is, of course, brushed under the carpet in mainstream media as it doesn’t fit the convenient heteronormative theory.)

However, the idea that men are more sexual than women is a societal belief rather than fact – something that becomes clearer when you study how this perception has changed over time. Aristotle’s Masterpiece (1684) stated that women ‘Have greater pleasure and receive more content than a man . . . whereby she is more recreated and delighted in the Veneral act.’ This was based on the belief that both men and women ejaculated in order to procreate – the woman internally, the man externally. Modern science has found that climax increases a woman’s chances of getting pregnant so this is more forward-thinking than it may sound.

And it is far from the only historical text to suggest women are just as sexual as men – if not more so. Jenny M Bivona says, ‘Western culture’s treatment of female sexuality, beginning with the story of Adam and Eve, is a history of suppression, incomprehension, suspicion, and denial. This history includes the male fear of women’s insatiable sexual appetite, the myth of vagina dentata, the presumed linkage between female witchcraft and wanton union with the Devil, and the Victorian counter-assumption that women are asexual beings (Allgeier & Allgeier, 2000; Baumeister & Twenge, 2002).’ Stick a pin in a timeline and women will be presented as either sexual and dangerous or sexless and virtuous. Both of these are equally untrue – and equally damaging.

In painting men as sexual and women as sexless, female sexual pleasure is negated and sexual women are placed outside the norm. Slut-shaming is used to justify sexual women’s rape, because ‘nice girls’ wouldn’t wear short skirts, flirt or want casual sex. If a woman does, she is considered to be ‘up for anything’.

However, the inverse of this myth is just as harmful: painting women as sexually voracious and men as powerless to their desires has also been used to justify women’s rape. Garthine Walker argued that historically, representations of women as libidinous made it hard for women to demonstrate or describe rape. ‘There was no popular language of sexual non-consent upon which women could draw.’

These beliefs can still be seen reflected in the way that women of colour, working-class women and trans-women in particular have been hypersexualised, often as a way to justify their sexual exploitation and abuse. Both positions validate the virgin/whore myth. Both positions help society have an excuse for rape. And in both positions, that excuse is ‘women’.

We need to put the virgin/whore myth to bed once and for all and admit that female sexuality is just as diverse as men’s. In reality, some women are asexual, some are hyper-sexual and some fall in between these two points. The same is true of everyone. Defining someone’s sexuality based on their gender (or any other singular trait) rather than assuming everyone is different and taking people on an individual basis places expectations and limitations on our sexuality – and opens the door for judgement, stigma and worse.

Extract taken from Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Female Sexual Fantasy (£10.99, Black Lace),

Go to the profile of Emily Dubberley

Emily Dubberley

Writer, sex researcher and founder of, -

Emily Dubberley is author of 28 internationally published books on sex and relationships, most recently Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Female Sexual Fantasies and erotic romance, Blue Mondays. She founded sex website, has launched and edited magazines including Scarlet and the Lovers' Guide magazine and co-wrote the last five Lovers' Guide films. She is a keen member of and helps curate Brighton Science Festival, including last year's Science of Sex weekend.


Go to the profile of Claude Bolling
Claude Bolling 12 months ago

I agree and disagree on all points that can be spread over the bell curve. The desire for sex between men and women overlap at the mid point of of the bell curve, where the extreme for women touching on mens mid point and mens laggard section touching the center of the curve for women. If you would put the two bell curves together they would look like two boobs :). sorry. Men have no reason to have sex. Women need a reason. Dawkins reason is to spread genes. Womens reason is to nurture them. Mens pleasure is physical and womens emotional.....until there is no reason at all. Other reasons for women are stability (financial). That is where the fundamental difference is and I think therefore women actually don't like sex physically, rather emotionally. The core of the reason is; women will receive payment for sex and men will pay for it. If you like something you will want it for free. Like sex. The fact that women do it is fundamental to the theory that they actually don't like it. UNLESS, there is an emotional connection such as procreation or some promise of stability in their lives (such as the assurance of keeping her genes or offspring alive). The whole statement about social norms, change etc is not applicable. That has to do with your personality and not character. Your personality is what you are in front of other people (socially), your character is what you are when you close your eyes before you go to sleep and what you think. Men get hard seeing an attractive girl. Women look away shamefully seeing a naked man. Whatever Mary Roach said about women being aroused looking at a stiff one from time to time needs more research as the women joined the research could all have been in the left 2.5% of their bell curve regarding sexual desire. That is not a fair test. 

Anyway, that is my rant. 

Mr. Frustrated

More than welcome to discuss further personally, or openly. Thank you anyway for the article.