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Gender Differences in Associations of Sexual and Romantic Stimuli: Do Young Men Really Prefer Sex over Romance?

By: Lucia O’Sullivan; Ashley Thompson;

2012 / Springer Science+Business Media / 0004-0002


Theory and research emphasize differences in men’s and women’s sexual and romantic attitudes, concluding that men have stronger preferences for sexual than romantic stimuli as compared to women. However, most of the research on gender differences have relied on self-reports, which are plagued by problems of social desirability bias. The current study assessed young men’s and women’s implicit attitudes toward sexual and romantic stimuli to test whether, in fact, men have a stronger preference for sexual over romantic stimuli compared to women. We also assessed associations between implicit and explicit attitudes, as well as sex role ideology and personality. College students (68 men and 114 women) completed an Implicit Association Test (IAT) that assessed strengths of associations of sexual and romantic stimuli to both pleasant and unpleasant conditions. Results revealed that both men and women more strongly associated romantic images to the pleasant condition than they associated the sexual images to the pleasant condition. However, as predicted, women had a stronger preference toward romantic versus sexual stimuli compared to men. Our study challenges a common assumption that men prefer sexual over romantic stimuli. The findings indicate that measures of implicit attitudes may tap preferences that are not apparent in studies relying on self-reported (explicit) attitudes.