"Guys just want sex and aren't interested in relationships." "Men are just Casanovas, players or studs." It's the story we typically hear about male sexuality, whether it's guys like Barney on "How I Met Your Mother," Charlie on "Two and A Half Men" or even General David Petraeus. It's the experience many women say they've had. Some researchers say male behavior is the result of evolution and one of the functions of testosterone. We tend to think guys have always been like this and that if you're going to date a guy, you just need to deal with it.
But we haven't been given the whole story, and some of what we've been told is bad information. Here are seven commonly held misconceptions.
1. Mass Media & The Confirmation Bias
The Reason: We only seem to notice or "count" the guys that fit our existing ideas about male sexuality.
Why It Doesn't Support the Stereotype: On many TV comedies, the Casanova character is usually the male lead, yet we fail to notice that he's often outnumbered by other guys Why highlight Charlie ("Two and A Half Men") or Barney ("How I Met Your Mother") and dis-count guys like Alan, Ted and Marshall? On TV dramas and older comedies like "Cheers" and "Happy Days," the ratios are even more un-Casanova like.
The Reason: Men are more likely to have an extramarital affair.
Why It Doesn't Support the Stereotype: It's certainly true that men are more likely to have an extramarital affair. But if it's really an affair and not just one-time sex with a stranger (or prostitute), then that guy is still choosing sex in a relationship over a series of one-night stands. Instead of just saying "men are dogs," maybe we need to ask why that original relationship and sexual partner are no longer fulfilling. We have all experienced the excitement of a new relationship and sexual partner, and we certainly hear a lot about couples falling into a rut and slowly disconnecting with each other over the years. I think it's time to start talking more regularly and more openly about how to refresh the relational and sexual aspects of a marriage and how to maintain that into older age.
3. Hitting on women at clubs
The Reason: We all have friends who can tell us that they get hit on by married men every time they go out.
Why It Doesn't Support the Stereotype: I have no doubt that there are women who do get hit on repeatedly by guys in "committed" relationships, and there are certainly guys who live up to our stereotypical conception. The numbers tell us a small minority of guys have three or more partners per year. According to data from 1,880 survey-takers from the 1988, 1991 and 1995 National Survey of Adolescent Males, about 15% of guys do this in any single year and, according to a longitudinal study of 991 men and women, about 5% of guys maintain this rate for three straight years. Your friend is saying something important, but her perception of the numbers may be off-base and may be influenced by the confirmation bias described above. Can she tell you what percentage of guys with partners are NOT hitting on her? Does she get hit on every time she leaves the house, like when she's grocery shopping, at the mall or at work, or is it just when she's out at a club, especially a club that has a reputation for being a meat market?
The Reason: We've all heard that according to evolutionary theory, men should spread their seed widely in order to maximize the number of children they'll have, whereas women should choose one partner carefully.
Why It Doesn't Support the Stereotype: Evolution has also built in an attachment system that creates very strong bonds between a child and each of its caregivers; that system even has its own neural circuitry. Perhaps more important, studies indicate that children in pre-technological cultures who are raised by two biological parents are more likely than children with any other parenting configuration to live long enough to reproduce. From an evolutionary perspective, passing your genes along to your grandchildren -- the third generation -- is the big win.
The Reason: Testosterone makes boys and men horny.
Why it doesn't support the stereotype: It's true that increased levels of testosterone have the ability to increase sex drive. But being horny is different from being promiscuous. From a practical standpoint, it's easier to have lots of sex with the same partner day after day than to keep finding a new partner every day.
6. Guys Have Always Been Like This
The Reason: Guys have always been like this and aren't going to change.
Why the stereotype is wrong: Giacomo Casanova was certainly real, and documented his exploits. In fact, there have always been some guys who do sleep around. But they are and always have been the minority. As far as we can tell, most men (and women) who ever lived had a single long-term partner, even in places where having multiple partners was allowed. Until some point in the 1970s, we believed the typical guy was respectful, decent and certainly not promiscuous.
7. Guys Can't Change
The Reason: Guys won't change, so if you're going to date them, you just need to deal with it.
Why the stereotype is wrong: Men have changed. They have become less sexist than they were forty years ago. Two generations ago, most guys believed their wife shouldn't have to work, except maybe to keep busy or if the family was trying to get some extra money. Today, most guys expect their partner to have a career and hope to achieve and maintain something close to equality within their marital relationships. Guys have also become increasingly comfortable with the idea that women will pay some of the dating expenses. Then again, since most guys are not Casanovas, maybe it's our personal and cultural expectations about what's typical that need to change.