Do women crave non-sexual affection more than men?

In long-term relationships, the intimacy can taper off and only re-emerge when one of you wants sex. But are women keen to be touched, non-sexually, more consistently? And if so, why? We ask sex and relationships writer Nichi Hodgson…

Nichi Hodgson is a broadcaster, award-winning journalist on sexual politics, tech and relationships and the author of The Curious History of Dating: from Jane Austen to Tinder.

1. Do women crave affection more than men (in general)? And if yes, why?

I think women are more attuned to their need for affection. We know that boys growing up are often effectively ‘weaned off’ affection, and then all the tropes of masculinity take hold and there’s a sense that it’s unmanly to crave it. There’s no differing disposition for it, it’s a socialised phenomenon. But that does mean that many men can seem like they need less than some women.

2. Is it normal/common for men to be fairly unaffectionate but ramp it up when they want sex?

Yes, for many, again because they’ve been socialised out of wanting it, not because they’re being deliberately cold or manipulative. Unfortunately that means it can almost seem like a currency for many men to get sex, which I think is why so many women can feel hurt and frustrated by the expression of it in the lead-up to getting it on.

3. Do men tend to associate all intimacy with sex?

No – but I think sex can be the easiest place by which they experience intimacy. For so many guys showing physical affection just doesn’t come naturally and as a result they tend to tip all their intimate needs into sex. This myth that ‘sex is just sex’ just isn’t true for the majority of men, even if they aren’t aware of it on a conscious level. It’s where they go to be seen, to feel connected, appreciated and wanted. Women tend to be better at getting intimate needs met in a variety of ways. I think the so-called ‘need’ for sex many men have is far more emotionally driven than many would care to admit. 

4. In what ways is the need for sex different for men and women; do we have different libidos/needs? 

That’s a complicated one. There’s this long held notion that women want affection and men want sex but it’s not that simple. People of all genders have differing emotional and sexual needs and strengths of libidos and it’s up to all of us to recognise what we need and learn to negotiate it (recognising that you won’t always get what you want all the time).

I think it’s wise not to presume that because of your gender you will automatically have specific sexual needs and instead you need to focus on having open and non-judgmental chats about what your specific personal needs are, but it’s evident that because of how we’ve been socialised, there are common ways in which men and women express their desires within the confines of gender stereotypes and conditioning, eg women tend to play coy and find it difficult to open up about the desires, while men find it easier to be the pursuer.

There’s obviously also a double standard around men and women expressing their sexual desire and what it says about them as a moral person although that’s starting to shift. And then there’s the theory that women find it inherently more difficult to recognise when they are turned on because of their ‘hidden’ anatomy (linked to some research done by the Canadian academic Meredith Chivers of Queen’s University.)

I think the real issue is that so many of us weren’t allowed to be in touch with our needs growing up, whether they were sexual or emotional, and so we’ve learned to repress them. One of the most generous things you can do for someone in a relationship is to ask them what they want and really listen to it. And one of the most generous things you can do for yourself is to acknowledge that you don’t have to provide your partner with their every want. It’s all a negotiation. 

5. What should a woman do if her male partner is only affectionate in the lead up to sex?

Explain what it feels like, ie that it’s a currency. I think most men have no idea that that’s how it comes across and think they are genuinely reaching out in a positive way. Focus on why you would appreciate them being affectionate at other times, ie to feel appreciated, to keep the fire burning, to bring comfort etc, to release positive neurochemicals that keep you bonded etc. 

Most people respond to positive instruction which will deliver a positive outcome and men in particular I think respond to positive instruction because they often so lack that emotional education. The main challenge for women is to accept that your need for affection is a valid need and that you are perfectly entitled to make a request for more. You are not needy because you need affection and you should challenge anyone that tells you as much.

But you need to be aware that someone being told they are not affectionate enough may hear it as criticism and respond defensively as a result. It’s a negotiation and the calmer and more positive you can be when you discuss it, the better your chance of getting a positive change. 

Follow Nichi Hodgson on Instagram: @nichihodgson

Do you know that we’re launching a new ‘body’ section of Clementine App? One of the topics we’re covering is sex – with three hypnotherapy sessions helping women to feel more sexy and able to ask for what they want. Keep an eye out for the launch in May.

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