A lot of universal truths and life lessons can be found in old episodes of Seinfeld. But in the episode The Contest, the famous ‘90s sitcom may have missed some subtle differences between men and women when it comes to being “master of your domain,” according to a large study on sexual preferences.
In the episode, the main characters make a wager to see who can hold out the longest without masturbating, i.e., remain “queen of the castle.” The characters struggle with temptations—Kramer glimpses a naked exhibitionist in the apartment across the street, while Elaine splits a cab with the handsome John F. Kennedy Jr. Both characters give in to their desires, abdicate their chaste rule, and drop out of the contest. In the end, Kramer lands in bed with the exhibitionist, while Elaine misses a connection with her dreamboat.
But, according to the new study, it might be more realistic if their fortunes were reversed.
Plunging deep into the sexual preferences of nearly 5,000 men and 6,700 women, UK researchers found that a limp interest in sex was more common among men who reported going it alone, but less common among women who enjoyed a ménage à moi.
In other words, the data suggests men “scratch the itch” as a satisfying sex substitute, while women “butter their own muffin” as a sort of sexual appetizer or snack. So, maybe Elaine should have been more determined than Kramer to sack her crush.
That said, the show did nail one true trend: women tend to be less interested in sex overall.
In the study, published Thursday in BMJ Open, researchers found that women were twice as likely as men to report a lack of interest in sex. Of those surveyed in the nationally representative sample, 15 percent of men and 34 percent of women reported losing interest in sex for three months or more during the previous year. That makes George’s initial suggestion of 2:1 odds for Elaine winning the wager seem reasonable.
Picking apart the data, the researchers found that there are complex reasons why both women and men might lose interest in sex. Factors like depression, stress, unemployment, raising young children, sexually transmitted infections, and general health problems all seemed to have the effect of a cold shower.
But the biggest factor—particularly for women—was the state of a person’s romantic relationship. Women’s sexual appetites were strongly linked to their perception of the quality of their relationship, whether they felt they could openly discuss their sex lives with their partners and their expectations and attitudes about sex. For instance, if a woman bought into the idea that men’s sex drives are stronger than women’s, she was more likely to report less interest in sex. Past sexual experiences also seemed to play a role, such as if a couple started off hot and steamy or if one partner pressured the other into a first awkward encounter.
In all, the authors argue, perking up your sex life might not be as easy as popping a pill—for either sex. And for women in particular, the findings “support the view that transient (and often adaptive) reductions in sexual desire are not evidence of ‘dysfunction.’”