Every 46 seconds, somebody migrates to the US.1 Every 12 seconds, someone in the US dies. Every nine seconds, a baby is born within US borders. And every seven seconds, the average US man thinks about sex — at least, that’s what popular belief holds. That’s 8000 times a day that the typical guy sinks into sexual reverie, according to the prevailing theory, leaving virtually no time to contemplate politics, love, the future, or what to get his wife for her birthday — unless you think the answer to all of those issues is sex.
The seven-second statistic is quoted widely and often, but is it really true? And is it also true that women rarely think about sex, another oft-quoted belief? At least one researcher, Dr. Terri D. Fisher of Ohio State University, had a hunch that the seven-second statistic was a wee bit exaggerated. And so, she recently enlisted 283 students –163 females and 120 males between the ages of 18 and 25, and asked them to start recording every time they had a sexual thought.2 The subjects each received a little tally counter that they clicked whenever their thoughts strayed to sex. They were asked to track thoughts about sexual activities, fantasies, erotic images, sexual memories, or any arousing stimuli.
In fact, according to the tallies, the young men in the study thought about sex only 19 times a day, on average, far fewer than the 8000 times expected. Ostensibly, older men would have had even fewer clicks, unless they were keeping their hormone levels balanced. The huge discrepancy between the expected and actual results may come from the fact that no actual studies had been conducted measuring sexual thoughts; rather, earlier measures simply asked people how often they thought about sex, using no tracking system. Apparently, guys must think they have sex on the brain all the time. Or perhaps the 8000 number is just another example of young men exaggerating their prowess. In fact, comments from readers following media reports indicate just this: Mark Obetz from Ohio comments on the Mail Online website, “8000 times a day? Having once been a young man, that seems more likely than 18.”3 And on the Huffington Post website, Jimithing4U says, “I thought about it 14 times before finishing the article.”4
In contrast to the men, the young women in the study thought about sex an average of 10 times a day. That’s at least once every few hours, indicating that women aren’t exactly immune from erotic thought. But given that men clicked twice as often as women, by comparison, they may well seem like sex-crazed beasts who can barely exhale without having a carnal thought.
Interestingly, women thought about eating considerably more often than they thought about sex, with an average of 15 food-related thoughts daily. (I think we’re probably better off not thinking about that statistic too much.) Men, on the other hand, thought about sex more than about eating, but just by a hair, with 18 food thoughts a day — still more than the women. Men also thought about sleep more than the women did, at 11 times daily compared to just 8.5 times for the women. In other words, men spend more time all around thinking about their bodily needs and functions. And yet, the study director reports that not all men fit the mold, as the number of sexual thoughts the men reported ranged from one to 388, whereas the women reported between one and 140.
“What’s remarkable about our data is the degree of variability,” Dr. Fisher says. “It makes it very difficult to generalize among men.”
While the results do seem to confirm the idea that men think about sex more than women do, the researchers aren’t so sure. It’s not clear whether they’re just more focused on need-related states than females or whether they simply recall thoughts more often or are more willing to report them,” says Dr. Fisher. It could be that bragging thing again.
Of course, the fact that the study included only college-aged subjects leaves a big question mark. If the under 25’s think about sex an average of 19 times a day (males) and 10 times a day (females), what happens when the hormones slow down? No study exists on the sexual thoughts of older adults, although the researchers say they want to tackle that next. We do know that many adults stay sexually active as they age, with a study of 3000 published in the New England Journal of Medicine finding sexual activity among 73 percent of respondents aged 57 to 64 years of age and 53 percent of respondents 65 to 74 years old.5 After that, sexual activity fell off sharply, with only 26 percent of those over 75 still sexually active. Older men report more sexual activity than women do.
Those who stay sexually active into old age must still think about sex, but how frequently remains to be discovered. As research continues, it will be interesting to find out if the discrepancies between men and women hold, even into dotage, and also to look at how marriage influences the frequency of sexual thought among both men and women. Plus, the study just completed did not measure how long sexual thoughts lasted or what subject they tended to cover. Ostensibly, you could have just one sexual thought daily, but if it lasts for hours, you may spend more time immersed in lustful reverie than the 100-times-a-day person who spends just a few seconds at a shot thinking of sex. Which makes you wonder, who could truly claim bragging rights given those two scenarios?
1 US Census Bureau. 19 January 2012. < http://www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html> 19 January 2011.
2 Moisse, Katie. “Men Think About Sex, Just Not Nonstop.” 29 November 2011. ABC News. 19 January 2012. < http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2011/11/29/men-think-about-sex-just-not-non-stop/>
3 Waugh, Ron. “Men don’t really think about sex every seven seconds-just 19 times a day.” 29 November 2011. Mail Online. 19 January 2012. < http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2067542/Men-dont-think-sex-seven-seconds-rest-easy–idea-myth-researchers-found.html>
4 Johnson, Margaret Wheeler. “Men Don’t Think About Sex Ever Seven Seconds, Study Claims.” 29 November 2011. Huffington Post. 19 January 2012. < http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/men-dont-think-about-sex-_n_1118844.html>
5 Lindau, Stacy, MD et al. “A Study of Sexuality and Health Among Older Adults in the United States.” 23 August 2007. New England Journal of Medicine. 20 January 2012. < http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa067423>