I have a list of articles on Language Log that I wanted to talk about concerning the stupidity of most pop science treatments on the so-called difference between man and woman. I may have voiced some disparaging comments of my own here and there and in other articles as well. The following excerpts are taken from an older Language Log article (please read the whole thing. It’s short and very readable).
On page 91 of The Female Brain, Dr. Louann Brizendine writes (emphasis added):
Males have double the brain space and processing power devoted to sex as females. Just as women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion while men have a small country road, men have O’Hare Airport as a hub of processing thoughts about sex whereas women have the airfield nearby that lands small and private planes. That probably explains why 85 percent of twenty- to thirty-year-old males think about sex every fifty-two seconds and women think about it once a day — or up to three or four times on their most fertile days.
This striking different in rates of sexual thoughts is also one of the bullet points on the book’s jacket blurb — but there, female sex-thought frequency is downgraded from “once a day” to “once every couple of days”:
* Thoughts about sex enter a woman’s brain once every couple of days but enter a man’s brain about once every minute
Whatever the exact numbers, it’s an impressive-sounding difference — scientific validation for a widespread opinion about what men and women are like. And this is interesting stuff, right at the center of social and personal life, so you’re probably wondering about the details of the studies that produced these estimates.
in the following part of the article Liberman reviews her cited sources and, having done that, comes to these conclusions:
Adding up this study’s tally of undergraduate male sexual thoughts, we get 4.5 male urges + 2.5 male fantasies per day on average, for a total of 7 sexual thoughts, or one every (24*60*60/7 =) 12,342 seconds. Compare Dr. Brizendine’s figures: “85 percent of twenty- to thirty-year-old males think about sex every fifty-two seconds”. That’s more than 237 times hornier — even if the other 15 percent never thought about sex at all, the average frequency would still be at least two orders of magnitude greater than Jones & Barlow report. (And they sampled male undergraduate psychology students, who must surely be near their life maximum of sexual consciousness.)
How about the female numbers? Jones and Barlow’s student diaries yielded 2 female urges + 2.5 female fantasies per day on average, for a total of 4.5 sexual thoughts per day. That’s 450% greater than the “once a day” that Brizendine cites in the book’s text, and 900% greater than the “once every couple of days” rate in the jacket blurb. Not that the average self-reports from the “47 female undergraduates” in Jones and Barlow’s 1990 American sample should be taken to stand for the nature of all women in all times and places — but this is still 47 more women than we’ve been able to connect with Brizendine’s estimates, at least so far.
Note also that the Jones and Barlow numbers for women amount to one sexual thought every (24*60*60/4.5 =) 19,200 seconds. But you’re not going to sell any books by writing that “Men think about sex every 12,300 seconds, while women only have a sexual thought every 19,200 seconds”.
It’s always somewhat irritating how easily people (i.e. readers) swallow the “hey I’m right, cuz see, it’s scientific” ‘argument’. Science. mainly because it’s such a heavily specialized field right now (not that this kind of misuse wasn’t common in earlier days as well, remember Edward Long?) , is easily misused and I as a reader have a strong mistrust against people who base outrageous claims on ‘science’. I am sometimes suprised that other people aren’t and that all these bad science books sell so well. And the funniest thing about it is that many natural scientists, who should know better, who can see their sciences being misused and trivialized on a daily basis, often do not behave in a better way whenever they write about, or make use of, fields like literature, philosophy or theology. Oh, well.
And how often do I think about sex? As they say: that’s for me to know and for you to find out. 😉