Gender Differences in Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors: A Review of Meta-Analytic Results and Large Datasets

Article excerpt

Men are different from women. They are equal only in their common membership of the same species, humankind. (Moir & Jessel, 1989, p. 5).

For decades, researchers have reported on the different mating strategies, sexual preferences, and sexual attitudes of men and women (Buss, 1994). In fact, Hyde's (2005) gender similarities hypothesis, which proposed that men and women are similar for the majority of psychological attributes, indicated that sexuality was one exception in which gender differences might be large. However, recent research suggests that men and women may not have such different sexual attitudes and behaviors as once thought (Petersen & Hyde, 2010). Here, we review research on gender differences in sexuality to evaluate the claim that men and women are different in terms of sexuality.

Gender differences in sexuality is a broad area of study that encompasses decades of research. This article is in no way an exhaustive review of all research in this field. Instead, we hope to provide the reader with a brief taste of general topics within the study of gender differences in sexuality. We begin by exploring theories that hypothesize gender differences in sexuality. Specifically, we review the accounts of evolutionary psychology, cognitive social learning theory, and social structural theory. We then review research on gender differences in sexuality including meta-analytic reviews and results from large, national datasets. Finally, we discuss biological and sociocultural explanations for gender differences and similarities in sexuality.

Theories of Gender Differences in Sexuality

It is beyond the scope of this article to give a complete account of evolutionary psychology, cognitive social learning theory, and social structural theory. However, we provide a brief review designed to cover the highlights of each theory as it pertains to gender differences in sexuality. For a more complete review of evolutionary psychology, cognitive social learning theory, and social structural theory, see Buss (1994, 1995, 1998), Bussey and Bandura (1999), and Eagly and Wood (1999), respectively.

Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology

Perhaps the most well-known theories about gender differences in sexuality are based in evolutionary theory. Evolutionary psychology, in particular, proposes that psychological gender differences (not just gender differences in sexuality) are a product of men and women differing in their strategies for reproductive success. In other words, human gender differences in social behaviors, attitudes, and psychological mechanisms are evident because men and women have different strategies for maximizing the number of genes that are passed on to the next generation (Buss, 1998; Buss & Schmitt, 1993).

Evolutionary theorists invoke sexual selection, an evolutionary mechanism originally proposed by Darwin, as one force creating behavioral gender differences (Buss, 2009; Darwin, 1871; Gangestad & Thornhill, 1997). Sexual selection involves two processes: (a) members of one gender (usually males) compete among themselves to gain mating privileges with members of the other gender (usually females), and (b) members of the other gender (usually females) have preferences for certain members of the first gender (usually males) and decide which of them they are willing to mate with.

Evolutionary accounts invoke gender differences in parental investment as a second part of the explanation for gender differences in behavior (Trivers, 1972). This theory points to the fact that men have very little parental investment in a particular offspring because their sperm are plentiful and they are not responsible for gestation. In contrast, women invest a great deal in each sexual encounter and each offspring because their ova are much rarer than sperm are, and they must invest time and energy resources in pregnancy. This gender difference in parental investment leads to gender differences in sexual behavior. …