Anyone who has ever watched patrons of a strip club or seen Magic Mike (or completely overwhelmed their sensory receptors by seeing Magic Mike at a strip club) knows that sex — and the desire to have it — makes people do stupid things. Just how stupid, though, depends on a person's gender and their proximity to things that make them think sexy thoughts.
Over at Scientific American, Kathleen Vohs argues that, for a combination of physical and social reasons, men as a population tend to want sex more than women. That's because, Vohs explains, men think of sex in terms of short-term reward (physical: imminent dick pleasure explosion social: all his bros will say, look at this cool sex-having dude!) whereas women tend to think of sex in terms of long-term risk (physical: pushing baby out of birth canal after 9 months of varied degrees of discomfort social: look at that awful sex-having woman!)
Researchers in Belgium designed an experiment they hoped would reveal where people's response to sex switched from "long term risk aversion" to "short term reward seeking." Or, as noted science philosopher Christina Aguilera put it: "My body's saying 'Let's go.' But my heart is saying no." Participants were shown sexualized images and then asked to complete an exercise that assessed their willingness to engage in risky pursuit of short-term reward as well as their willingness to pay more for items they wanted. Researchers found that men threw caution to the wind when they were simply shown images of sexy lady stuff like bras, demonstrating a willingness to spend more money on things after breasts' existence was merely hinted at. Women were a little tougher to crack, remaining unswayed at the image of men's boxer shorts.
But when women were allowed to touch boxer shorts, all bets were off. Or, "on," rather. Turns out, both men and women got less long-term risk averse when they're actually touching the underwear traditionally worn by the sex to which they're attracted. Vohs concludes,
Women and men's motivations are more the same than different. [...] Men can easily shift into reward mode in the presence of sexual stimuli, whereas reward mode comes online when women connect sex to emotions (through touch). Once the reward aspect of sexual desire has been activated, though, men and women once again are more the same than different.
My quibble with this is that the Scientific American write up tries to paint "touch" as something that is related more closely to a woman's "feelings" than other non-emotional stimuli than sight. The last time I checked, touch is a pretty physical way to be stimulated. If touching something is the same thing as having an emotion about something, then can we start referring to masturbation as "emotioning oneself?" If you want to touch me in the emotions, write me a song about dicks and play it for me on a ukelele.
Important takeaway: we're not so different, men and women. We put our pants on one leg at a time, we are all someone's child. And we all get stupid when underwear come off.