Many people believe that all women want candlelit dinners, serenading and flowers and that all men hate romance and just want to get laid. In reality, some people want romantic relationships. Some people want sex. Gender is irrelevant. While there are many women who dream of a wedding day with the ‘perfect’ partner, the same can be said of many men. Similarly, while there are some men whose sexual ideal is having sex with as many people as possible, there are also women who feel the same way: the main difference being that the former are considered to be ‘lads’ while the latter are labelled as having ‘daddy issues’ or slut-shamed.

However, if a man only wants sex, he can be honest about it. If a woman feels the same way, she is likely to attract stigma if she admits it. When it comes to sex, it is impossible to remove women – or men – from the society in which they exist so we may never know how much any reported gender differences in libido are a result of gender stereotyping in society rather than biological drives. However, it seems naïve to take the idea that men are more sexual than women at face value. Only when men and women are judged equally for sexual behavior, in ways that are designed without any gender bias, will we be able to tell how different – or similar – male and female libidos really are.

As to romance, fantasies show that while some women do have romantic daydreams, romance is by no means an ubiquitous part of female sexual fantasies. While it’s not quite a case of, ‘Forget the knight in shining armor – just bring on the horse,’ it’s certainly true to say that flogging is mentioned more than flowers, and cocks much more frequently than chocolate (though chocolate did crop up once). Conversely, many sex workers say that the most common sexual request they get from men is for the Girlfriend Experience (GFE) – namely, intimate sex with affection and connection – romance by any other name.

Many people want to feel loved. Many people want to feel sexually gratified. As with all aspects of sexuality, how much we want either of those things runs across a spectrum and can’t be defined by something as broad-sweeping as gender.

The Risk

Once again, this falsehood is borne from the virgin/whore myth, and comes with the same array of issues. However, it also places unreasonable expectations on men by feeding the myth that they should spend money on a woman if they want sex. While the honest transaction of simply paying a woman for sex is deemed taboo, the media promotes the idea that real men should buy women expensive presents. One has to wonder how much of Christian Grey’s appeal in Fifty Shades came from his bulging wallet rather than his bulging package. Again, this helps fuel the ‘battle of the sexes’ – not least because some women buy into the myth too, which can lead to (rightfully) resentful men.

The Solution

Rather than (literally) buying into the media’s idea of what a relationship should be, we each need to decide what a relationship means to us. For me, trust, affection and respect – teamed with a satisfying sex life – are far more important than Valentine’s Day celebrations or trinkets. Other people may have a different set of criteria: it is something for every individual to decide for themselves. We also need to remember that romance is not something that a man does to a woman (with all of the heteronormativity that accompanies that idea). Real romance is showing your partner that you appreciate them, in a way that means something to them. And that has nothing to do with gender but is instead about people’s individual wants and needs.

Extract taken with permission from Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Female Sexual Fantasy ($15, Black Lace). Get it at Amazon here.

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