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Thursday, December 05, 2013

If the Vast Majority of Men Are Not Really Promiscuous, Should We Devote Time to Challenging the Stereotype?

APA Gary R. Brooks reviewed Andrew P. Smiler's book Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male. Brooks states,

Drawing from his own research and extensive federal government research, Smiler contends that there is an enormous misunderstanding of young men's sexual attitudes and behavior. He writes,
The Casanova Complex describes only a minority of men… Casanova-like promiscuity drops to no more than 5 percent of the population … Casanova-like promiscuity is in fact not the norm and does not reflect the way most boys or young men really feel. (p. 30)
At this point, one can be relieved by Smiler's findings, but nevertheless somewhat confused about his mission. That is, how much effort should be expended to challenge a belief system that is rejected by 95 percent of young men? Stereotypes can certainly be harmful even when they are inaccurate reflections of actual behavior of a group because they can create tension in those persons not meeting the stereotype. But should this misperception of young men be a matter of significant concern because most men do not have promiscuous sexual relationships?
Is Brooks correct that if only 5 percent of males fit this negative stereotype, then maybe this issue is moot and we should not spend a lot of time challenging this "Casanova Complex" belief system? Is the other part of the issue that others (older folks, parents, women) may believe this negative stereotype and this may influence their interactions with young men, including the 95 percent who do not fit the stereotype? (Brooks also argues that Smiler should "broaden the lens" of his analysis; see the review for his discussion of this point.)

Read the Review
ReviewYoung Men and Sexuality: Myths, Problems, and Needed Correctives
By Gary R. Brooks
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(45)


Jonathan Wong

While Brooks pointed out the importance of broadening the lens of seeing male sexuality beyond sexual promiscuity, I think it will be even more important to understand sexual desire from the perspective of intimate relationship between men and women.

Levine (2002, 2003) defined sexual desire as a spectrum of inclinations that draw an individual towards or push him or her away from sexual behavior. The author proposed that such inclinations are resulted from the interaction between biological, psychological and cultural forces. Levine (1998) gave details about these components of sexual desire. The biological component has a basis in neuro-endocrine physiology. It involves the impacts of varied levels of specific hormones and neurotransmitters together with the activation of hypothalamic nuclei. Some medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, may impair sexual drive and orgasmic performance. However, no medicine has been found to improve sexual desire reliably, especially when the biological parameters are within normal range. The psychological component consists of personal cognitive and emotional states, as well as interpersonal states. These states involve compatibility of sexual identity between partners, attainment of psychological intimacy in the relationship, and transference of internalized images of past important attachment figures, such as parents or former lovers. The cultural component reflects cognitive concepts about sexual normality and morality that have been shaped by familial, educational, religious, economic and political influences.

Being a sexuality counselor practicing in Hong Kong since 2001, my colleagues and I have been observing a prevailing phenomenon: nearly all female clients are as sexually desirous as their male partners. The common belief that "men just want sex while women just want love" is simply unfounded in our clinical observation. Both male and female clients want sex and love.

Another prevailing phenomenon is that the educational level of our clients does not match with their abilities of performing effective sexual communication with their partners. Even medical school students who attended our clinical training seminars agreed that there is no sex education in Hong Kong if we define sex education as the one that enhances effective sexual communication and collaboration between partners in an intimate relationship. In this connection, I believe that the neglect of proper sexual education and the resulting sexual ignorance are important predispositions to many psychogenic sexual dysfunctions in Hong Kong.


Levine, S. (1998). Sexuality in mid-life. New York: Plenum Press.

Levine, S. (2002). Re-exploring the concept of sexual desire. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28(1), 39-51.

Levine, S. (2003). The nature of sexual desire: A clinician’s perspective. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(3), 279–285.

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

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College of Medicine,
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