Dead Bed! I’m sure you’ve heard about it. Read about it. Maybe even lived it. It’s the notion that some lesbians, usually over time, stop having sex but remain a couple. And gay men? If we believe the stereotype, they get to enjoy the opposite. Without a woman to say “no,” the party apparently never ends. As a lesbian myself, I would like to think this is all a bunch of media hype based on nothing more than common stereotypes. But study after study shows that, for the most part, it’s true. Men do have a higher sex drive than women.
The thing is, mainstream media often stops there. We are inundated by commercials with half-naked women used to sell products. What’s missing is the other half of the story. No, half-naked men probably won’t sell perfume, but a romantic setting might. What our community knows and embraces is the fluidity of sexuality, but what fluidity marketers often miss. It may not be that men have a higher sex drive, but that their drive is based on more straightforward, instantaneous triggers.
Mass media, like advertising, entertainment, and the news business often take a narrow approach to male and female roles in general and an even narrower approach to sexual roles. Even in 2015, stereotypes hold firm. Fifty Shades of Grey made more than $500 million dollars portraying a young, naive woman who is stalked, controlled, and isolated by a rich, strong man. Even the BDSM community distanced itself from this movie that so blatantly blurs the lines between dominance and abuse.
In the advertising world, everyone from Calvin Klein to Fiat uses sex as a staple to sell their products. There’s a reason. Sex does sell — but only under the right conditions. Men’s magazines like Maxim and FHM have experimented with sexy covers versus images of male stars. Semi-naked women overwhelmingly outsold magazines with male celebrity covers. Advertising executive Paul Suggrett chalks it up to our reptilian brains that respond to “certain primal urges” like food and sex. The more sexually provocative the ad, the more men liked it.
[quote]RECENT STUDY: Straight men are almost always aroused by male-female images; gay men are exclusively aroused by male-male sex; women, both straight and lesbian, showed arousal while watching all types of erotic material; and lesbians showed more sexual fluidity than gay men.[/quote]
At the same time, a University of Florida study showed that women who looked at sexy models in print ads like Vogue and Allure were often turned off. In fact, the hotter the models and the sexier the poses, the more uninterested the group of women. Does this mean sex doesn’t sell to women buyers? No! At least one company has taken a page from the sexual fluidity manual that the LGBT community has always been in touch with. Victoria’s Secret rakes in $5 billion dollars a year, mostly from women buyers, by using ads that show some of the most provocative images of women in the advertising industry. Why? Glad you asked!
In The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, sociologist Edward O. Laumann, Ph.D., conducted a major survey of men’s sex drives versus women’s. What he, and many other researchers have found, is that men do have a higher sex drive, at least when it comes to immediate, straightforward sexual gratification. Men tend to think about and want sex more often. They have more testosterone, which usually leads to a greater sex drive. Keegan Duncan is experiencing this first hand. He recently began his transition and says his sex drive has increased considerably. Since beginning testosterone shots a few months ago, he says he’s more easily aroused, has a greater sex drive, and “thinks about sex several times a day, whereas before I thought about it a few times a week.”
While women may not have that extra sexual testosterone boost, we’re far from asexual. This same study shows women’s turn-ons are simply more complicated. We are more influenced by social and cultural events, or as Laumann puts it we “take a less direct route to sexual arousal.” What I found to be the most interesting part of this study is that women tend to be more sexually fluid than men — even straight women.
When researchers at Northwestern University showed straight and gay men erotic films, straight men were almost always aroused by male-female images while gay men were almost exclusively aroused by male-male sex. But women, both straight and lesbian, generally showed arousal while watching all different types of erotic material. Lesbians showed more sexual fluidity than gay men. This is sometimes apparent in how women are portrayed by the mainstream media.
Back to Victoria’s Secret. It seems the secret to the success of their overtly sexual advertising using semi-nude women is to let the general fluidity of women’s sexuality, and the paths to their arousal, guide them. The company follows the two rules of selling with sex to women. First, the product needs to be expensive. Research shows women see sexual images used to sell cheap items as cheesy. Second, they sell items of a sexual nature. Other studies show that using sexy women to sell items like watches, turn most women off.
So, while some stereotypes about the male/female sexual divide hold true, studies show it’s not as black and white as we often think. Dead bed isn’t even a proven fact. One small study done this year shows it didn’t exist at all among lesbians they questioned. Other studies show that while women may have sex less often than men, when they do it tends to last longer and be more fulfilling. One of the best things about the LGBT community is we tend not to subscribe to stereotypes. We are forging our own sexual paths, our own way, despite how the media portrays men and women.