How to Talk about "Being Horny": Answering Difficult Questions

How to Talk about

By Ruthie Kolb, Training Manager
June 7, 2017

I received a question from a reader this month about how to answer the question “Why are guys always so horny?” – or just generally how to talk about the cultural context of “being horny.” She remembered being confused as a teen because it seemed to have a bigger meaning than just “desiring sex”, but what was it that everyone was talking about?

Before diving into what 'being horny' means today, it's helpful to look back at what it's meant in the past. People debate the etymology of the slang “horny”. Some say that the term can be traced back to the phrase “to have the horn” which referred to having an erect penis. Even James Joyce used the phrase in his classic novel Ulysses. Others say the term “horny” comes from the phrase “wearing the horns of a cuckold (someone whose mate has cheated on them)”. Most people date the first printing of the word horny in 1889, and words are usually in colloquial use long before they make their way into printed language. Whatever the origin, the term is certainly old – which means it has had plenty of time to take on a life and meaning of its own.

Today, the term is often used in regards to male sexuality and libido - and leads to questions like “Why are guys always so horny?” The idea that all men are horny all of the time is concerning for a number of reasons. For one, insatiable male desire is often used as a justification for sexual assault, as in “He couldn’t help himself,” or “What did you expect when you went back to his room with him?” Not only does this perpetuate rape culture, it’s also incredibly insulting to men. The idea that men are completely helpless to their sexual desires disparages their intelligence, agency, and even their basic humanity - as if men are completely unable to consider the needs and desires of others because of their libido.

Furthermore, the emphasis on male desire and male sexual needs often leaves little room for acknowledging and celebrating the sexual desires of other genders. Yes, men can be horny - so can cis women, trans folks, and non-binary people. The sexuality of these groups is often erased in popular culture, overshadowed by an obsessive focus on cis men’s sexual wants and needs. When discussing horniness with young people, it’s important to emphasize that it isn’t an experience that belongs solely to men, and that just because someone is “horny,” that doesn’t mean they require sex or are not responsible for their actions.

Additionally, as our youth advisor Tania wrote about asexuality in sex ed last November, we must also normalize that not all people experience sexual desire – and that is normal and ok.

The bottom line is this: horny or not, people are responsible to make sexual decisions that align with who they are – their beliefs and values, hopes, goals, relationships, health, and desires.

So, how would I answer the question “Why are guys always so horny?”

That’s a fantastic question. I really like when your questions take a deeper look at your experiences and what you’ve heard from friends so that we can start to figure out what sex might mean for each of us.

First of all, “horny” is a term that people use to describe when someone really wants to have sex. It’s sort of like if you are hungry and start thinking about your favorite food and your stomach starts rumbling, except it describes a feeling about wanting sex.

It turns out that not only do “guys” experience sexual desire, but people of all genders can have sexual attraction. Sometimes it is because they are feeling close to another person or because they’ve seen a part of a person’s body they’re attracted to. Sometimes it isn’t even related to their surroundings – it just happens because of a combination of hormones, bodies, and brains. Sometimes, two people are horny at the same time! And they get to talk about and decide what their boundaries and desires are with each other.

Just like being hungry for food, people are still responsible for their decisions. If you’re hungry, you have choices about what you eat. If you are turned on, you have to make decisions that you will feel good about because they reflect who you are – your values, health, goals, and desires. It’s a life skill to learn how to deal with sexual desires in moments when you can’t or don’t want to have sex. You have to decide what is good and healthy to you.

Sometimes, people use the excuse of being horny to pressure someone into sexual activity they don’t want. I’ve heard people say things like “But what you’re wearing looks so good, I HAVE to have sex.” or “If I don’t have sex, I’ll EXPLODE. You have to help me out.” Don’t be fooled. People do not explode from not having sex. It is never ok to be coerced or manipulated into participating in sexual activity. If you don’t want to have sex with someone who is horny, you don’t have to.

I also want to point out that not everyone experiences sexual desire the same way or with the same intensity. In fact, some people identify as asexual because they have low or no sexual attraction. That’s normal and ok. People with all levels of sexual desire can have happy and fulfilling relationships.

Have you talked about the concept of “horny” with your classes or teens before? What were some of the ideas you considered? Email me with comments or questions at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I love to hear from you!

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