What do women want: the enigma of female sexuality

This has got to be one of the most insightful articles on female sexuality I’ve ever read.  It discusses some new scientific findings about female arousal with profound implications — and some very controversial interpretations.

Every man should read this to understand better the inner workings of the female psyche; every woman should read this to better understand herself.  Two of the thought-provoking findings: women are aroused by a much broader array of stimuli than men are.  And although men’s subjective reports of arousal pretty much match their objective physiological arousal, the women’s subjective reports had massive disjunction from the objective arousal, almost as if it were two different people reporting.

I encourage you to read the whole article.  In the meantime, here are two passages which I found particularly thought-provoking:

“Meana spoke about two elements that contribute to her thinking: first, a great deal of data showing that, as measured by the frequency of fantasy, masturbation and sexual activity, women have a lower sex drive than men, and second, research suggesting that within long-term relationships, women are more likely than men to lose interest in sex. Meana posits that it takes a greater jolt, a more significant stimulus, to switch on a woman’s libido than a man’s. “If I don’t love cake as much as you,” she told me, “my cake better be kick-butt to get me excited to eat it.” And within a committed relationship, the crucial stimulus of being desired decreases considerably, not only because the woman’s partner loses a degree of interest but also, more important, because the woman feels that her partner is trapped, that a choice — the choosing of her — is no longer being carried out.”

That’s big.  To me, it says that one of the reasons that marriage dampens sexual interest is the lock-down.  Where there’s no choice, there’s no mystery.  So the desire for commitment actually works at cross purposes with desire itself.  For the men out there, this means that the little bit of uncertainty that you maintain — not committing 100%, not being ‘all the way there’ with her — actually contributes to her desire for you, and by extension, keeping your baby around.

This next passage was particularly revelatory:

“Yet while Meana minimized the role of relationships in stoking desire, she didn’t dispense with the sexual relevance, for women, of being cared for and protected. “What women want is a real dilemma,” she said. Earlier, she showed me, as a joke, a photograph of two control panels, one representing the workings of male desire, the second, female, the first with only a simple on-off switch, the second with countless knobs. “Women want to be thrown up against a wall but not truly endangered. Women want a caveman and caring. If I had to pick an actor who embodies all the qualities, all the contradictions, it would be Denzel Washington. He communicates that kind of power and that he is a good man.”

This is precisely the archetype of the Good Guy (as I call him in The Tao of Dating for Women).  He is strong, yet trustworthy.  Decisive yet calm.  Passionate yet mindful of his partner’s needs and comfort.  According to this passage, the ultimate turn-on for a woman is for a man to be the human equivalent of a roller coaster.  A roller-coaster is exciting, physically arousing, unpredictable with a whiff of danger about it.

Yet when you get on a roller coaster, you know that this ride has been thoroughly tested, and thousands of people have ridden it without incident.  So deep down, you feel safe.  This allows you to let go and fully enjoy the experience of danger in the context of safety. So guys: if you want to be ultimately seductive, be the roller coaster.  Be the Denzel.

Here’s the link to the New York Times Magazine article by Daniel Bergner, author of the upcoming The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys Into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing.

8 Comments on “What do women want: the enigma of female sexuality”

  1. kerenkaren

    This is utterly amazing, AB. I knew the Japanese knew what they were doing with wives and geishas!!! This is pithy food for thought about our own failing social structure…I say failing because of the predominant occurrence of divorce, adulterous relationships, etc….perhaps if we would go with the flow all would be happier, including the children. Perhaps one solution is to have indeed an exclusive relationship but not to live physically in the same room or home? Or perhaps to agree on an open marriage? The possibilities are endless…I for one am doing some serious rethinking and feel much more accepting of my own personal situation in which I have discovered for the first time in my life (in my 50’s) how very much desire I have (I never knew that while I was married for 30 years and raising my children)…thanks a million for sharing this article. Best, Karen

  2. Theresa Avila

    Who is Meana, and why is there a generalization stated that women have a lower sex drive than men? I actually believe there are women out there who have higher sex drives than men. I don\’t get the first part of that paragraph, but the last part of the paragraph makes perfect sense! HA!

  3. Michelle

    I think you interpretation of the first paragraph is a little off Alex.

    Women want to continue to be shown and told their man is totally into them. Day to day, year to year etc. Its not that they need to be partway “out” or not all the way “in”. Its the being adored and him showing it with the strong intensity he had in the prusit stage.

  4. Niese

    AB: I believe with all my heart that the biggest reason that marriage or LTRs fail is because the partners take one another for granted. Once the step is taken to be in one home it is just as important to court your partner as it was before that decision. It is a responsibility for both partners to make sure that it continues. It does not have to be expensive dates but it is simply a matter of the commitment to be with one another time, thoughts, body and soul.

  5. miki

    This is such an informative article! after my parents divorced when I was 12, I watched them date, meet people and ultimately each find a new mate (and both sets still together after 25 years). The most astounding thing about their very happy situations (one married, one living together) is that during the majority of their time together neither set lived together for much of that time. I have taken this to heart after my own divorce (after 10 years of marriage). My BF and I live together every other week. It’s great! It’s certainly created out of necessity (I have kids with 50% custody)….but it keeps it more exciting and new even after 3.5 years…..

  6. Jacqueline

    Women don’t have a lower sex drive! I agree with the rest of the article, it’s great! But women are programmed not to show their sex drive for fear of being called “easy” and treated like the lowest form of a human being for that. Not fair I say!

    Men please be sexy! Stop dressing like your mamma dressed you. You don’t want frumpy women with no makeup, flat shoes and short hair wearing the same style of clothes day in and day out do you? Stop being so easy in bed and be seductive. I can’t stand short hair on men or women. It drives me crazy. I like a scruffy guy, who looks like he can handle the outdoors without needing his amex card to bail him out. Yes I want a man who is financially secure, but I don’t want a mamma’s boy either and I want someone honest with me, no one wants someone who lies to get what they want.

    No wonder people think men have a higher sex drive, women invest a lot of time and energy and money into being attractive. I wish some man would do that for me. You might see me go crazy over him. That’s why some men have all the women. But I have to be honest, we settle. We don’t have the luxury of being picky about a guys looks like men do. Men look at women and it’s like endless shopping for better and better and more variety of looks. For women, we make do. I don’t think it’s fair to say we have a lower sex drive given all that.

  7. Maggie

    I totally disagree about the “I could leave at any time” kind of theory. That’s a reason I WOULDN’T sleep with a guy. I have to know he’s going to put effort into the relationship and be there, not be unavailable at some points or not there for me in other cases. That makes me want to cut him loose, not loosen his pants…

    Now if you’re talking about playing, like teasing or something, in a committed relationship, that’s another thing. I guess it also depends on what you’re looking for. If you don’t want a relationship, maybe that kind of unavailable thing would be more of a turn on…