What do Women Want?

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?



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