Yes, Men Want to Feel Sexually Desired

Whether it's opening the car door, buying flowers for a birthday or anniversary, or initiating sexual activity, traditional sexual scripts and gender norms in our society consistently and reliably depict men as the ones who chase, pursue and "do" the desiring while women are the ones who are pursued and desired.

And while researchers have consistently found that feeling sexually desirable is a huge component of women's sexual desire, some of the latest research suggests that feeling sexually desired might actually be quite important to men's sexuality too - it's just that a lot of us don't tend to talk about it.

Why is that?

The short answer is that men's desire to feel desired goes against the grain of the narrow stereotype our society continues to promote around men and sex. That is, if men want to feel desired, it suggests that their sexual desire could (at least at times) be responsive rather than spontaneous. It suggests that men might sometimes prefer to be passive in their sexuality rather than dominant and "aggressive." And it touches on a key underlying piece of men's sexuality that many of us don't tend to acknowledge: that is, men's desire might not be so strong, simple, constant and unwavering. 

Below is a summary of some of the key findings from an oral presentation I gave at the Society of the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada in November 2018 entitled "I Want You to Want Me: Men Need to Feel Sexually Desired Too." The findings from this study helped to inform parts of my new book "Not Always in the Mood: The New Science of Men, Sex & Relationships."

How Important is Feeling Sexually Desired to Men?

The first question I asked the 237 participants in my study (heterosexual men, aged 18-65 in relationships of 6 months or longer) was how important feeling sexually desirable was to their sexual experiences. While 5.5% of the participants indicated that it was not important to their sexual experiences, a whopping 94.5% of study participants indicated that it was "very" or "extremely" important to their sexual experiences.

How to Men Feel Sexually Desired?

The second piece I was interested in was understanding how men feel sexually desired. Men in my study indicated that there were several ways that they felt sexually desired by their partners and I categorized them into 5 key themes:

1. Compliments

Many men indicated that simply hearing their wife or girlfriend giving them a compliment on their physical appearance made them feel good and even sexually turned on. Participants gave examples of when their wife or girlfriend noticed when he got dressed up for a night out or told him something specific she liked about his body. As one example, a participant said:

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"I feel kind of silly writing this, but she'll call me her beautiful man. Hello my beautiful man she'll say as I stand shirtless in the living-room or when she walks in while I'm getting dressed. No one has ever called me that, but she says it so effortlessly and it makes me feel wonderful about myself."

2. Flirting

Men in this study also described feeling sexually desired when their wife or girlfriend was acting flirtatious in numerous ways that suggested she might be thinking about him sexually. For example, participants said things like:

"Making sexual comments or flirting, sending me suggestive texts or pictures, giving me a peak at what she's wearing"

"There are particular dirty looks, the way her hips wiggle when we're lying in bed that makes it clear she's thinking about sex."

3. Physical Touch

In addition to compliments and flirtatious gestures, men also described the importance of being touched by their partner. It's worth noting that this touch did not have to be sexual in nature for it to make men feel desirable. In fact, many men described liking to be touched in ways that sounded more romantic than overtly sexual. For example:

"She makes physical contact. She will touch me when she walks past. Sometimes a simple squeezing of my foot when I'm on the recliner or brushing my forearm or shoulder. When I'm leaving she will cup my butt in her hands. If I'm standing or sitting near her she will lean in or snuggle. I love it"

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4. Initiating Sexual Activity

A number of men also indicated that separate from being touched in what might be considered romantic ways (such as in the example above), when their partner overtly expressed her interest in having sex, to the point that she initiated sexual activity, it made them him feel wanted and increased his own interest in having sex.

"I feel desired when she initiates sex, either verbally or through touch."

"Without prompting... she will initiate contact with me. Cuddling, hugging, kissing, pulling me into the bedroom or just telling me she wants to have sex"

5. Enthusiastic Partner

Finally, men in my study indicated that it was not just the build up to having sex that made them feel desired, but also how their partner interacted with them during sexual activity that mattered. That is, men indicated that having an emotionally present partner who was excited and "into" sex was a huge component of their own sexual desire and enjoyment and that they had no interest in having sex with someone who was just waiting for sex to be over. For example:

"By giving herself to me. This is not sexual. This is when we get together and blot out all of the other real world distractions and focus on us. Sharing our feelings towards each other without distraction. Let the chemistry work."

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What We're Missing

Despite the majority of men in my study indicating that feeling sexually desired by their female partner was an important part of their sexuality, when I asked men if there was anything they wished their partner's were doing more of to help them feel desired only 12% of participants indicated their partner made them feel as desired as they wanted. The other 88% of participants indicated that they wished their partner did the things described above. In fact, some participants indicated they were reflecting back on times when their partner used to do these things or said they were imagining things they would like their partner to do but indicated it was not something they actually experienced in their relationship.

Take Away

Men's desire to feel desired has important implications, particularly in heterosexual relationships. First, it's important to consider how much space we're leaving in our society for men to be vulnerable, wanted, desired, and not always be the ones who are dominant and in control during sexual encounters. And while women certainly aren't at fault, nor purely responsible for making their partner's feel desirable, it may be empowering for some women to consider taking a more active sexual role through pursuing, desiring, and initiating sex with their partner instead of being more passive and responsive, as the more traditional, stereotypical sexual roles our society continues to prescribe.

Sarah Hunter Murray