Natasha Tidwell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Texas A and M University, who authored the study said that when people exercise self-control in a given situation, this sex difference in behaviour is greatly reduced. It makes sense that self-control, which has relatively recent evolutionary origins compared to sexual impulses, would work similarly - and as effectively - for both men and women.
The study was composed of two separate experiments: the first, to determine how the sexes reacted to real-life sexual temptations in their past and, the second, to pick apart sexual impulses and self-control using a rapid-fire reaction time task.
In order to test their first hypothesis, researchers recruited 218 (70 male, 148 female) study participants from the United States.
Participants were first asked to recall and describe an attraction to an unavailable or incompatible member of the opposite sex.
They then answered survey questions designed to measure strength of sexual impulse, attempts to intentionally control the sexual impulse, and resultant behaviours.
Tidwell said that when men reflected on their past sexual behaviour, they reported experiencing relatively stronger impulses and acting on those impulses more than women did.
She said that when men and women said they actually did exert self-control in sexual situations, impulse strength didn't predict how much either sex would actually engage in 'off-limits' sex.
The study has been published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.