The media's sex fallacy: More intercourse does not equal better

A study finds women with guy friends have more sex and the media again mysteriously decides this means "better"

Published December 2, 2014 12:00AM (EST)

          (<a href=''>schwester</a> via <a href=''>iStock</a>)
(schwester via iStock)

In my years as a sex writer, I've developed a pet peeve. It's something I come across continually and grow to hate increasingly with each passing day: the idea that more sex means better sex. It might seem innocuous to the casual observer: Of course more sex is better sex! Isn't that what we're all striving for, whether it's more desire, more time for or more access to it? A lack of sex is so representative of what ails us these days: being overbooked, unfulfilled and disconnected. More sex is that thing we're too busy striving to actually strive for, except in the resigned and hypothetical way of sighing, "If only we had time for more sex." Right?

In fact, I do believe that making time for -- even, yes, scheduling -- sex can drastically improve people's lives and relationships. But I also think a blanket more-equals-better framework is so totally wrong, and it's about time I explain why.

The final straw for me was this article published today in the Daily Mail with the headline, "Women who have more male friends have better sex than girly girls ... because their boyfriends 'are scared of the competition.'" The article covers a recent study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology finding that women with more guy friends have more sex with their male partners. However, the Daily Mail decided to put it this way: "These 'guys' girls' enjoy more romantic attention because their boyfriends and partners feel in competition with their male friends which pushes them to try harder in the bedroom, according to research."

Well, that's a creative interpretation! The study did not find that male friends cause men to "try harder" in the bedroom -- at least not in any ways that would actually mean anything to a woman (i.e., something conducive to her pleasure). Instead, it found that such men try harder to have more sex. 

The study's abstract puts it this way: "The results indicate that men whose in-pair partner has more male coworkers and friends (i.e., potential sexual rivals) also perform more frequent in-pair copulations." Why? There might be some hints in the animal kingdom. "Nonhuman males attend to the number of potential sexual rivals in the local environment to assess sperm competition risk," the study's authors write. "Males of these species sometimes perform more frequent in-pair copulations to increase the likelihood of success in sperm competition."

Ah, sperm competition! Perhaps the least arousing term known to womankind. And yet somehow this study has been spun to suggest that women should ditch their girlfriends in favor of more guy friends in order to improve their sex lives. (Seriously, just over a week ago the Daily Mail wrote about the same study with the headline, "Is having female friends ruining your sex life?" I guess stoking women's sexual fears is evergreen!)

Now, criticizing the Daily Mail for inaccuracy and sensationalism is like yelling at a dog for wagging its tail: it's just what it does. But this idea that more sex leads to better sex isn't restricted to shameful U.K. tabloids. It's culturally pervasive, a bad-idea virus that will not die. You can see it in studies finding that couples are happiest when they think they're having more sex than their friends. As the author of one such study said, "Having more sex makes us happy, but thinking that we are having more sex than other people makes us even happier." It's such a deeply American value: Bigger (or more) equals better -- especially when we're beating the Joneses.

Granted, having plenty of sex is a legitimately healthy and happy thing -- but great quantities of sex does not necessarily translate to great sex. That is especially true if the greater quantity of sex is driven by a man's subconscious competition with other men's sperm, rather than a desire to provide pleasure or, I dunno, connect emotionally or spiritually with a partner. It's a cluelessly -- sorry, I'ma get women's studies-y on you -- phallocentric mentality: We women should feel so lucky to get more access to those big, hard, magical dicks! Right, sure, totally. Nothing like being ferociously pounded while your man is thinking about the attractive guy friend that you just might be boning in his paranoid, insecure fantasy world.

By all means, have lots of sex. I highly encourage it. But have lots of ecstatic and mutually pleasurable sex. That's the metric for measuring a sex life.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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