The research on sexual desire in men has often been conducted so far in samples of young participants (such as university students), simply measuring frequency and intensity of desire and comparing it with the experience of women. What transpires from the literature is a certain conformity to traditional sexual scripts: men have a higher sexual desire than women and not necessarily connected to relational aspects (eg availability to the sexual act by the partner, attractive appearance of the woman).
The experience of adult men and in a long-term relationship, on the other hand, seems to be very different. A recent study (Murray et al., 2017) highlighted three factors that stimulate sexual desire in heterosexual men between 30 and 65 in a long-term relationship and three factors that inhibit it.
Men describe the importance of feeling desired by their partner; in this regard, the most evident proof was given by the fact that the partner approached them sexually, the best expression of the common sexual interest, a sort of reassurance.
Secondly, particular importance is given to unexpected, unplanned, spontaneous sexual encounters or when the partner’s initiative occurs without expecting it.
The third factor reported as a stimulant for sexual desire is the intimate communication between the partners, a deep connection and understanding. Communication is seen as important also when it concerns the subject of sex and the sexual interests of the two partners.
Consistently, many of the inhibiting factors of sexual desire were part of the lack of understanding and intimacy. First of all, the frequent rejection of the sexual approach by the partner, experienced as an offense with a negative impact on self-esteem and self-confidence.
When asked “When do feel less sexual desire?”, Most of the men interviewed reported health problems, even if the possibility was perceived more as a theoretical situation than as a real possibility for them to refuse a sexual encounter.
Finally, quarrels and misunderstandings were the most reported inhibiting factors, namely the non-being at that time on the same wavelength with the partner.
In general, therefore, men in this study report a certain degree of overlap between the physical and emotional aspects of the relationship: emotional availability, communication and intimacy are reported as important for having a physical connection that results in sexual activity. In contrast, sexual desire is reported to decrease in cases of misunderstanding and lack of connection. These aspects are clear especially in the case of an unexpected sexual interaction, which requires a deep connection between the partners, an intimacy and an understanding that allows the transition from a non-sexual moment to a sexual one: the two partners must be able to perceive and understand the subtle messages (voluntary or involuntary) that are sent to each other and also have an appropriate reaction, so that no effort is experienced but, on the contrary, spontaneity.
According to Weingarten’s theory (1991), intimacy is achieved when people exchange or co-create meanings and are able to coordinate their actions to reflect this common work. John and Julie Gottman (2015) also stress the need for the couple to work on shared meanings through effective communication and the creation of common goals, rituals and symbols, including in the sexual sphere. Intimacy is therefore profoundly influenced by relational factors and, in fact, research participants report the desire to perceive their sexual encounters as shared and co-created.