People say half a man’s brain is filled with thoughts of sex; the other half is filled with brain matter and a sprinkle of politics and sport. In fact, a very popular rumor has it that on average, men think about sex seven times a day. This is, of course, an exaggeration. I think even a sex machine — if one is ever made — wouldn’t think about sex that much. I mean, at some point it would have to think about how to clean up, right?
Still, studies have shown that men indeed think twice as much of sex than women. How did they get this data? With what exactly can we measure thoughts? How can we know what a person is thinking at any given time?
Experience sampling is a method of recording thought processes by interrupting study participants at random moments and asking them what they were thinking at that exact time.
To do this, Terri Fisher and a group of researchers at Ohio State University used counters called ‘clickers’. Each of the 283 college students that participated in the study were handed one of these clickers and instructed to press them every time they thought about sex, or food, or sleep.
The result showed that men, on average, thought about sex 19 times every day. This was about twice the number of times women thought about sex — 10, per day.
But then, how accurate is this result?
The difference in the number of times sex crossed the thoughts of individual men was staggering. Some of the respondents clicked just once, while the highest clicker clicked 388 times (that is, he thought of sex once every two minutes). Researchers cite the White Bear Effect as the limitation of the study.
The White Bear Effect
When you ask children to raise their hands and only drop them when they stop thinking of a white bear, an honest child would never drop his hands. When we have been told not to think of something, we become even more conscious of it. It becomes impossible to remove the thought from our mind. Same might have happened with this research. By asking people to record the number of times they had a sexual thought, they would be unable to not think about sex.
To combat the White Bear Effect, another group of researchers issued adult German volunteers smartphones that were set to alert them at seven random times every day for a week to record their thoughts.
Even though this is not fool-proof against the White Bear effect, it gave the participants a chance to think about something else as they wait for the alert. The result from this study showed that men, on average, thought about sex at least once per day. According to Edward O. Laumann, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, only about a quarter of women think about it that frequently.
Why do men think of sex more often?
Sex drive! Studies have shown that men have a stronger sex drive, compared to women. In a survey of studies comparing male and female sex drives, Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, found that 91% of men reported having sexual desire as opposed to 52% of women every week.
So, men think of sex more often, but disregard the idea that they think about it all day long.