Some Men Can't Tell When Their Partners Want Sex, Study Finds

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Dating can be confusing, but one thing is clear — and now backed up by research — some men typically overestimate how sexually appealing they are to women they've just met.

According to a new study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, men who are in long-term relationships tend to underestimate how much their partner wants to have sex with them. And, as the research notes, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Canadian researchers studied 48 married or cohabiting heterosexual couples between the ages of 23 and 61 from the Greater Toronto Area. Couples were asked to complete surveys each night for 21 consecutive days about their sexual desires and what they perceived to be their partner's sexual desire for them. They were also asked to report on their own sexual satisfaction and sexual frequency in the relationship.

"Theory would suggest that underperception might serve the function of keeping people motivated to entice their partner's interest and avoid becoming complacent."

Some of the results were a bit surprising: although most couples could accurately tell if their partner was in the mood for sex or not, the research indicated that men in relationships typically think that their partners want to have less sex than they actually do.

"We had predicted the underperception bias in established relationships," lead researcher Amy Muise told Medical Daily. "But it is certainly interesting how context (initial encounters versus established relationships) changes the direction of perceptual biases about sexual desire."

Muise, who's based at the University of Toronto, said that this underperception bias could actually be beneficial to couples, leaving partners more satisfied.

"Theory would suggest that underperception might serve the function of keeping people motivated to entice their partner's interest and avoid becoming complacent," Muise explained. "Specifically the sexual underperception bias may help manage the careful balance between pursuing sexual connection with a partner and avoiding sexual rejection."

"When people were accurate in their perceptions of their partner's high desire, both partners felt more satisfied and committed to the relationship."

She told Broadly, "One possibility is that perhaps when men are under-perceiving, they're much more motivated to do things to entice their partner, make their partner feel good, and express their love and commitment to the relationship. And women are feeling more satisfied and committed as a result."

One of the main takeaways from the study highlights the importance of communication around sexual appetites and desires between couples, regardless of gender.

"When people were accurate in their perceptions of their partner's high desire, both partners felt more satisfied and committed to the relationship," she said, meaning that even if expressing your mood to your partner doesn't always lead to sex, it can still help boost your satisfaction with the relationship.

It's also important to note that the tendency to underperceive sexual desire isn't gender specific, Muise adds. In fact in most cases, it corresponds to the person who has the higher sex drive.

"The bias occurs in who tends to be more interested in having sex," Muise told Broadly.

"Theoretically, this would help to maintain the relationship overtime, but to have that evidence we would need to follow couples for a longer period of time."

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