A team of researchers found that men in long-term relationships often underestimate how often their wives or girlfriends are in the mood.
Scientists think men tend not to initiate sex on some nights when their partner actually is open to the idea - because they are trying to avoid the possibility of sexual rejection, which could leave them feeling upset or resentful.
By assuming their partner isn’t interested, and therefore not initiating sex, the men are able to avoid this sense of disappointment. But in fact, according to the research, women in long-term relationships or marriages are open to having sex on many more nights than their partners realise.
However on occasions when women are open to the possibility of having sex, they will not necessarily take the initiative - and so their partners could simply fall asleep without realising they have missed their opportunity.
The research, carried out by psychologists at the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario in Canada, was published earlier this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It consists of three separate studies, following 229 long-term couples, most of whom were heterosexual, ranging in age from 18 to 68 years old.
The couples had been together for around six years on average, and said they tended to have sex once or twice a week on average.
In the first study, couples kept a diary for three weeks reporting their level of sexual desire each day, as well as their perception of their partner’s level of desire and their level of relationship satisfaction.
The second study saw couples record their levels of desire as well as their perception of their partner’s levels of desire.
In the third and final study, 101 couples kept a diary over the course of three weeks, making notes on the same issues. They were also asked to record each day how motivated they were to avoid sexual rejection.
All three studies showed that men consistently underestimated their female partner’s sexual desire - with scientists suggesting this was because they were attempting to avoid rejection.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, women were able to far more accurately predict whether or not their partner was interested in sex. They also reported being more satisfied in the relationship than their partner believed they were.
Previously, studies have claimed that men tend to perceive greater sexual interest in women’s behaviour than actually exists, known as ‘sexual over-perception bias’.
However, researchers have only ever tested this effect in the context of men’s early encounters with women. The latest study is the first to examine how people perceive their partner’s sexual desire in long-term relationships.
The findings show that, unlike during first encounters, men in long-term relationships actually demonstrate an ‘under-perception bias’. Researcher Dr Kristen Mark said: ‘The assumption that women are going to be the lower-desire partner needs to be thrown out.’