March 15, 2009 § 1 Comment
I expect that by now many of you have read the New York Times article, “The Pleasure Principle,” about a center in San Francisco called One Taste Urban Retreat Center*, which is dedicated to the art and practice of female orgasm. Men and women live together at the center, learning yoga and mindfulness, but the main event happens at 7 a.m. each day, when “about a dozen women, naked from the waist down, lie with eyes closed in a velvet-curtained room, while clothed men huddle over them, stroking them in a ritual known as orgasmic meditation…”
7 a.m.? Don’t they know that female desire peaks in the mid-afternoon? Men are the ones who wake up with hard-ons, and women have to bat them away in order to get coffee. If I had an orgasm in the morning, why would I bother writing?
At the One Taste Center, the men and women avoid eye contact during the orgasm-meditation. It’s not about romance, or interpersonal communication. The men don’t get to climax. Part of me thinks this would be a good place for women who’ ve never had orgasms, even while masturbating, or who’ ve never masturbated, or who can’t have orgasms during sex because of shame about their body. The female body is beautiful and holy and deserves to be serviced in hushed and velvety circumstances. I can go for that (right now would be nice). But another part of me thinks—what is this preparing you for? Sex with eunuchs?
Women need to know how to achieve orgasm and how to ask for the right stimulation, and men need to learn the techniques and be willing to employ them. Plenty of women also have things to learn about male sexuality, which is a curious and fascinating field of study. I think sex workshops are a great resource for all genders. There ought to be more of them. Maybe in high school, right after the workshop in financial management. But a live-in retreat and a focus on orgasm as ‘meditation’ takes you away from ordinary life, which is, face it, where the best sex is to be found.
I would be happy if men all responded to the clitoris the way I respond to the penis of the man I love and desire: something that turns me on to look at, touch, lick, etc. I can write glorious emails about its beauty. (I’ve tried poems but that just gets embarrassing.) If men worshipped the clitoris the way they worship breasts, all would be well. But they don’t, and I doubt we can change that without intensive genetic manipulation, which is a task best left to future generations.
Even so, I’ve had plenty of nights of sex without orgasm that I wouldn’t want to have missed. The crazy heat, the tease, the turn-on of precipitous action is quite lovely. Having one’s breasts worshipped isn’t bad either. And in general I’ll take a man I love, a man I think is sexy, a man whose cock I worship (except when he’s being, excuse me, a prick) over an Olympic gold-medal cunnilinguist any day.
In my experience the best way to motivate a man to make love better is to a) arouse him, b) make sure he cares about you, or at least wants you to stick around, and c) appeal to his competitive instincts. If you let him know your last boyfriend was a virtuoso with his tongue and hands, he’ll apply himself with vigor. If you sigh and moan when he gets it right, he’ll keep it up.
Men are funny that way. Sort of like women, except with women you have to be more indirect.
On else, you could offer this incentive (from the Times article): “a baby-faced 50-year-old Silicon Valley engineer…said that the practice of manually fixing his attention on a tiny spot of a woman’s body improves his concentration at work.”
You see? I’d prefer a man who joined the Center because he wanted access to all those naked lower bodies and then went mad with desire and had to be restrained by brawny bouncers, chained in the cellar until the wild lust had worn itself out…
I guess I’m not the meditative type.
* I’m not going to make any jokes about the name of the One Taste Urban Retreat Center. That’s what comments are for.
February 1, 2009 § 2 Comments
I’ve been reading other blogs responding the New York Times article about female desire, and found myself wanting to say more about it. First of all, I don’t think that when social scientists use the word ‘narcissistic’ they mean it as derogatory. One can argue about whether it’s an apt description, but the value of the trait, as articulated by the scientists quoted in the article, seems to me to be neutral.
I think both sexes are highly narcissistic, aroused by the desire and admiration of others. People differ in how much importance they place on being ‘quality’ examples of their gender, and how much on being unique beings. Most of us feel our sexuality is tied to the former to some degree—we want to be ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’; to be admired/desired for that as well as whatever is special about us as individuals. The point of the Times article is to survey what contemporary researchers see as being innately ‘feminine’, and I am very glad these women are doing the research, coming up with ideas, not assuming anything is settled or off limits to consider—that means more to me than whether I agree with any particular point.
My own experience of it is the confusion I felt, as a girl, about being fascinated and aroused by pictures of naked women, though my orientation was definitely hetero. Of course I thought I was the only girl that weird. Later, I experimented a bit with women sexually and found that the reality didn’t correlate with my fascination—actual women and images/thoughts of women were different things, to a degree and in a manner that wasn’t at all like my experiences with men. I think this fascination is more than learning to see through male eyes, though that’s part of it, and not quite narcissism, though there’s that too—there’s a third factor I don’t understand.
Another issue coming up in the blogs is annoyance at the representation of female desire as ‘mysterious’. Of course all sexuality is mysterious; we as a species are very far from unraveling the strands of nature/nurture, much less being relaxed about perhaps never being able to unravel them because they are in flux. Evolution isn’t over and is, generation by generation, being shaped by the choices culture leads us toward. From the right perspective, culture and biology are one, but I don’t know if a human being can ever do more than imagine that perspective.
As a rule, I think men would benefit from thinking of women as less mysterious—by going on the assumption that they can understand if they pay attention; and women would benefit from thinking of men as more mysterious.
This isn’t true for everybody, obviously. When I was young I found men so mysterious I couldn’t see what was in front of my face. That was a result of my particular background and I’ve gotten over it, as much as I want to get over it. I don’t think sex would work if one gender were inherently more complex than the other.
January 26, 2009 § Leave a comment
One of the scientists in the New York Times Magazine article on female desire, Dr. Marta Meana, citing research that women are, on average, less lustful than men, theorizes that it takes more to kickstart a woman’s desire. This goes some way toward explaining why women have such frequent fantasies of sex with strangers and of rape—the latter being in the class of “only fantasy” (we hope), while the former is often acted out.
One can interpret these fantasies in many ways, and the interpretations differ from woman to woman. But what strikes me as incomplete about this idea is that while male lust on the physical level is more demanding and constant (married men retain their desire for marital sex longer than their wives do), male desire and fantasy is every bit as novelty-and-thrill-seeking as women’s. So if you explain women’s fantasies as compensation for a lower or fluctuating sex drive, what do you make of all the bizarre male porn?
I would say that desire by nature tends toward the extreme because it’s always constrained by reality. Most of what turns us on we can’t have, or won’t do, or wouldn’t like if it were done to us. How is this different from the rest of a person’s daydreaming? I want an impossible amount of recognition and well-being; I mentally murder my loved ones often; when I have insomnia I imagine terrible disasters far away, a practice that works to draw off the catastrophe demon, keep it from summoning my real fears.
The first time I went on Zoloft, I was driving my car alone in the country, in a state of calm euphoria, when I saw children playing by the side of the road up ahead. I had a sudden impulse to run them over, imagining the crunch under the wheels as being pleasurable in the same way stepping on a dry twig is.
I resisted the impulse without difficulty but kept thinking about it, as I drove on—specifically about why I couldn’t act on it. What was strange was that while I could imagine vividly the negative consequences to me should I do such a thing, and I understood that killing was ‘wrong’, I couldn’t feel that wrongness; the concept was empty; I was taking it on faith. I was, for that period of time, phantom-sociopathic. Only the fact that I remembered my previous self and was aware of this one as somehow ‘not me’ kept me not only safe but sane.
I told my sister this story and she said, matter-of-factly, “I know what you mean. Sometimes when I’m chopping vegetables and the children’s hands are spread out on the counter I have a desire to chop off their fingers. Not because I’m feeling hostile; it just seems like it would be satisfying.”
My boyfriend Philip is creeped out by these stories, and quick to see them as being somehow confined to my family. I think these things lie around in everybody’s psyche, like the most grotesque sexual fantasy you will never admit to. On the other hand, I’m put off by his tales of daily in-your-face male insult and challenge, what is sometimes banter and sometimes humiliation but for him simply part of the human spectrum. He takes for granted that men have all those macho qualities that, at 15, reading second-wave feminist literature, I thought brutal and anachronistic, soon to be swept away. More than taking them for granted, he sees the artistry in them, and though I can’t yet see themthe way he does, I’ve learned to trust his feeling for artistry.
I guess my point is that desire has evolutionary, survive-and-propagate roots, but for a long time now it has been riffing on itself. It evades or overflows categories, finds a way out, in or around; what it’s exists to ‘do’ and ‘why’ is no longer entirely relevant. How can we tell what’s the score and what’s the improv?
Imagine the day when computers finally become sentient. Maybe this excites you; maybe you’re afraid. The one thing you don’t think is that consciousness will simply help them do the job better. If you’re human, you know being aware of yourself as a separate being is dangerous.
This has been a long post. You are now excused to your own fantasies. I’m in the mood for tea and chocolate chip cookies. I baked them for Philip but he made me bring them home. I’m glad. I like the silky pleasure of my own apartment, my poetry books, my thoughts up in the corners and my cookies.
Some books I love
January 24, 2009 § 3 Comments
The current issue of The New York Times magazine has a long article about recent studies on female desire. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25desire-t.html?em
Some of the studies discussed were performed with a device called a plethysmograph attached to the subjects’ genitals (in women a plastic probe inside the vagina, measuring bloodflow) while they were shown videos of sexual acts, men-women, men-men, women-women, bonobos.
Bonobos? Why not golden retrievers? Tigers? Black Widow spiders? I’ve known women who messed around with their dogs. I’ve told men to hold me down by the neck like a tiger, though their mouths aren’t really big enough (and they complain mine isn’t big enough).
Never mind. The interesting thing is that men are reliably aroused by what say they desire—the hetero scenes if they’re hetero, gay if they’re gay. Women are aroused by all of it, including the apes. They’re also more aroused by a woman exercising than by a naked ‘chiseled’ man taking a walk. Dr. Marta Meana, of the University of Nevada, explains this with a theory of female desire as narcissistic. We like to look at other women because what matters to us is being desired, being desirable, and so the female body itself is deeply interesting. A naked male body with a limp dick doesn’t do it, because he obviously doesn’t find us ravishing. I have no quarrel with this, but it doesn’t really cover the appeal of the apes.
What evolutionary explanation can there be for the fluidity of female desire? Sexologist Lisa Diamond claims women are more ‘relational.’ A woman might be involved with a man at one point in her life, a woman at another. It’s the intimacy that turns women on. Certainly it’s been true in my experience of knowing gays and bisexuals that switching back and forth is far more common in women. But the idea that she’s attracted to the person and not the gender sounds wrong because the women I’ve known who go back and forth have very distinct ideas about what’s appealing about women vs men. They don’t say, “Terry just happens to be a man (woman).” Terry is Terry, unique individual, but also their needs have changed.
Dr. Meana dismisses the ‘relational’ idea entirely because her research indicates that women are attracted to sex with strangers and that intimacy in a marriage is no predictor of desire. I could have told her that 20 years ago, if I hadn’t been so busy trying to justify it to myself. But being ‘relational’ doesn’t have to mean always wanting nice, or familiar; what about being interested in human relationships, the oddities and differences, being both curious and cautious, wanting (needing) to learn more, and being willing to learn through sex? That, perhaps, is why women are aroused watching bonobos, who reputedly use sex to cement alliances and smooth social interaction.
Men want variety—any attractive woman, or any woman meeting their criteria, or specifically, “I’ve never had an Asian.” Women are more likely to say, “My darling, I find you sexier than Liam Neeson and Barack Obama combined,” but also, “I wonder what it would be like to be a gay man?” Or, “How cool to fuck a giant—a blind man—a werewolf?”
But perhaps that’s just me. What do you think?