The truth about female desire
June 13, 2013 3:24 PM   Subscribe

Base, animalistic and ravenous: Daniel Berger's book What Do Women Want claims that a sexist bias has obscured research into the female sex drive. (previously)
posted by mrgrimm (48 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the Middle Ages, [the force of women's desire] was constrained by the idea that “lust-drunk witches … left men ‘smooth,’ devoid of their genitals.”

o.O
posted by davejay at 3:40 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, the fact that women experience lust is surely stop-the-presses level news.

It's almost like we're human beings or something.
posted by jokeefe at 3:43 PM on June 13, 2013 [29 favorites]


...the idea that “lust-drunk witches … left men ‘smooth,’ devoid of their genitals.”

Rule 34 is now in effect.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:45 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


All women want the same thing.
posted by miyabo at 3:48 PM on June 13, 2013 [14 favorites]


Well, considering recent threads, Jokeefe, that women experience lust in any number is a radical idea.

I was reading a book on the sex lives of animals that claimed that the false belief that human females have lower sex drive and agency than men colored decades of research of animal sexuality. We humans projected out super-weird sexual mores on animals that were too busy fucking to care.
posted by munchingzombie at 3:48 PM on June 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I feel like we were just here, like, just a few days ago. Was it a different woman-sex-drive thread? Am I crazy?
posted by boo_radley at 3:50 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


We humans projected out super-weird sexual mores on animals that were too busy fucking to care.

Especially the super-weird sexual morays.
posted by darksasami at 3:58 PM on June 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


You think they get pruder?
posted by The Whelk at 4:00 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel like we were just here, like, just a few days ago. Was it a different woman-sex-drive thread? Am I crazy?
posted by boo_radley at 3:50 PM on June 13


We had this one, that prompted this Meta. There was also the recent post on female desire and this one.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 4:00 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's funny. If you say "Women have a lower sex drive than men," most people within earshot will say "Duh, everyone knows that." And if you say "Women's sex drive is just as high as men's," most people within earshot will say "Duh, everyone knows that."

And there's a weird sense in which, actually, yes, "Everyone" does know both of those things — in that the "women hate sex" meme and the "women like sex too" meme are both so widespread that anyone who doesn't live under a rock has been exposed to both for decades now.

Partly I think this is just an area where most of us care less about facts than about narrative tropes or plot devices. We don't really feel the need to know the statistical details about human sexual behavior. We just like having a nice varied set of tropes on hand for turning our lives into coherent stories, and "women aren't horny" and "women are surprisingly horny" are both too damn useful as tropes for us to give up either one.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 4:03 PM on June 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


davejay: "left men ‘smooth,’ devoid of their genitals."

an early form of manscaping?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:22 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


> "We humans projected out super-weird sexual mores on animals that were too busy fucking to care."

There are still people who believe that animals never have homosexual sex.
posted by kyrademon at 4:30 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


We humans projected out super-weird sexual mores on animals that were too busy fucking to care.

The realization that homosexuality is prevalent in the animal kingdom was long and painful, too.

Women were thought of as the more lustful of the two sexes; now men are. And the moralists of today treat their own current situation as the eternal truth of human nature, just like the moralists of the middle ages thought of their opposite understanding of human nature to be eternal and immutable. Sexual mores are as eternal as fashions in hats, and the contingency of history is the most difficult thing to bear, it seems.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 4:34 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm just gonna leave this here and add: Duh.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:44 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sexist (racist/cultural/etc.) bias in scientific research? No way.
posted by rtha at 4:51 PM on June 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder how much both the "women aren't into sex" and the "women are WAY into sex" ideas are products of the patriarchy.

It's like, if you were part of a group which was forcibly subjugated and regarded as chattel and traded as a pawn for power arrangements, how much would you be into sex if that is the thing demanded of you as that subjugated chattel pawn? And if you were regarded as the provocateur, the object of temptation, that thing which will drive men mad with desire, how much would you be into sex and how would you wield that theoretical power?

Basically, heterosexual men cast women into roles which in turn place women in positions of power which in turn require the women to be controlled.

As a gay man, I can only echo many numerous conversations I've had with fellow gay men over the years -- "we have life a LOT easier than the rest".
posted by hippybear at 4:51 PM on June 13, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think part of the problem is a certain amount of "truthiness" to the idea that women might simultaneously avoid sex while having a high sex drive. In the absence of reliable, female-controlled birth control -- such was the case for a rather long period of time from the fall of the Roman Empire (maybe) until the 20th century -- it is not unreasonable to imagine that women might be at the same time desirous of sex but fearful of pregnancy (and disease, but pregnancy is basically the one constant risk throughout the ages; diseases come and go).

What is interesting (and by "interesting" I mean "depressing" and "sad") is how much effort has been expended in some quarters to try and preserve the linkage between sex and pregnancy, presumably pants-shittingly afraid of what women would get up to if their sex drives were not constrained by a fear of pregnancy all the time.

It's somewhat unfortunate that the modern anti-choice, anti-birth-control lobby has retreated into the realm of religion (which, with respect to Sam Johnson, is without a doubt the last refuge of scoundrels), while in the past they at least came right out with it: at Margaret Sanger's trial in 1914, the judge is reported to have said that no woman had "the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception."1 This is indistinguishable from the modern pro-life/anti-choice lobby, but more plainly stated. Rather than hiding behind a veneer of "OMFG TEH BABIES", the naked fear of unrestrained sexuality is obvious.

1: From this article; I didn't drill down to the primary source although it ought to be possible.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:51 PM on June 13, 2013 [25 favorites]


such was the case for a rather long period of time from the fall of the Roman Empire (maybe) until the 20th century

Is there evidence for reliable contraception in any human society before the 20th century? I have always assumed that abortion and infanticide (or neglect to the point where the two were indistinguishable) were the chosen methods of regulating the number of children before now.
posted by jokeefe at 4:57 PM on June 13, 2013


The research is interesting, but I'll admit that my first, very visceral reaction to the title of Berger's book was, "Oh, goody. Finally a man has come along to tell me what women want."
posted by mynameisluka at 4:58 PM on June 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Is there evidence for reliable contraception in any human society before the 20th century?

That's the "maybe" part. Some people think that silphim might have been a fairly effective birth control method, perhaps not a true contraceptive but rather an abortificient, while others (cf. the linked article in my comment) think that it might have been ineffective and something of a scam on the Roman public who were desperate for reliable birth control that didn't exist.

Since silphim is thought to be extinct it's very hard to say. But then again, the fact that it was harvested to extinction would seem to indicate that it couldn't have been totally ineffective.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:07 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a new idea! I am so glad we finally have a guy to come around and tell us this!
posted by likeatoaster at 5:08 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


What women desire most (very NSFW).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:27 PM on June 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Women want what men want: their way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:56 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


davejay: In the Middle Ages, [the force of women's desire] was constrained by the idea that “lust-drunk witches … left men ‘smooth,’ devoid of their genitals.”

o.O





I think it's more like: _______
posted by cacofonie at 7:07 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


A woman poet I know put it like this:

Every woman has two first times.
There's the first first time.
Then after that there's the first good first time.

(It doesn't sound right with a guy saying it though)
posted by bukvich at 7:10 PM on June 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


sexual mores are as eternal as fashions in hats

And sexual desires are closely correlated to those same hats!
posted by windykites at 7:20 PM on June 13, 2013


Just ask anyone in a fedora!
posted by windykites at 7:22 PM on June 13, 2013


The Obviousness of Social and Educational Research Results.
posted by Peach at 7:36 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know what, I saw this today, and suddenly understood what it was like to be a (straight) guy, for a few moments...if I was surrounded by that sort of pictorial come-on the way dudes are surrounded by women doing exactly the same thing, well, that would certainly test my ability to not think about Teh Sex.
posted by emjaybee at 7:38 PM on June 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think the problem is that it's easy to have really bad sex that still gets the guy off. And that the world (as in a lot of human societies) is not designed to make women horny or talk about being horny in context of our desires.

Sex always has the extra dynamic of harm mitigation. Not only could it kill you nine or so months later, but even to this day, every time I want to hook up with a guy, in the sniffing out process of trying to bang him I have to deal with the risk of being raped.

Add centuries of being tied to one man that you can't say no to, with active rewards for acting like you didn't like it (because if you barely put up with *him* imagine how safe he'd feel from you cuckolding, you hate sex!) Add that admitting you liked sex was open invitation to rape for someone with a ruined reputation.

Even as a mostly hetero woman in sex positive sub cultures, I still get told by men that it's natural that there's no porn for me, because women don't want it.

it was harvested to extinction would seem to indicate that it couldn't have been totally ineffective.

I suppose, but on the other hand the same can be said for the poor rhino and sexual health.
posted by Phalene at 7:42 PM on June 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think all sex researchers need to spend some quality time with elizardbits' tumblr (often NSFW).
posted by emjaybee at 8:12 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


windykites: "Just ask anyone in a fedora"

I would, but I'd have to venture into "the friend zone".
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:14 PM on June 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Man explains female sexuality, film at 11.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:56 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is there evidence for reliable contraception in any human society before the 20th century?

Pulling out.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:57 PM on June 13, 2013


Erm... I did say "reliable".
posted by jokeefe at 9:01 PM on June 13, 2013


Wikipedia has a page for everything.
posted by figurant at 10:40 PM on June 13, 2013


Sometimes I feel like I'm reading a different article than everyone else. The idea that women are sexually insatiable is a patriarchal myth. All of this stuff about lust-drunk witches is a fantasy whose function is to cover up male anxieties about being unable to live up to the image of macho invulnerability and power. Basically we're afraid we can't get it up, so to account for this, we created the threat of supernatural sex-crazed she-demons, and a good woman who is sexually passive and modest, etc.

But that has nothing to do with how women really are. Bergner says “Women’s desire — its inherent range and innate power — is an underestimated and constrained force…” This is the ultimate patriarchal attitude. Bergner wants to celebrate that, but so does the majority of mainstream porn aimed at straight men. The sexist attitude simultaneously fears and eroticizes this myth, but that doesn't make it true.
posted by AlsoMike at 10:43 PM on June 13, 2013


There was a lot of discussion about it by the experts in the room, the need to show that you’re not turning women into nymphomaniacs...

Goddamnit why?!?!
posted by hellslinger at 11:32 PM on June 13, 2013


> It's like, if you were part of a group which was forcibly subjugated and regarded as chattel and traded as a pawn for power arrangements, how much would you be into sex if that is the thing demanded of you as that subjugated chattel pawn? And if you were regarded as the provocateur, the object of temptation, that thing which will drive men mad with desire, how much would you be into sex and how would you wield that theoretical power?

The patriarchal aspect is a little more literal than that, even. Because paternity. The best way (and really the only way, until modern paternity tests) for a man to be reasonably sure that children are his own is to strictly control his wife's sexuality. His wealth goes to his heirs, so if they're not his blood, it's like theft!

But what exactly would be the thing stolen, and from whom? The children aren't responsible for their own existence, so they're not committing fraud. The fact that the children belong to their mother is not in doubt. The "other man" doesn't himself benefit financially. The wife hasn't been kidnapped. The sexual activity itself wasn't stolen from the wife, if consensual. It's the rights to sex with the wife which were stolen. From the husband. Because her sexuality belongs to him.

All men are in the same insecure boat, so best to make sure that societal structures reinforce the need for women to be chaste and obedient to their husbands. Wait, shouldn't men agree to a social contract of controlling their own sexual behavior if it's so collectively-fucking-important? Bah. It doesn't matter unless a child results, and women bear the children, helloooo. Also, women can't complain, it's all Eve's fault anyway. Adam let her take the reins on one decision...and just look, that's what happens when you trust the woman's judgement.

As for what women want, um, didn't Chaucer solve this riddle in the fourteenth century? Sovereignty over their husbands. That's what.
posted by desuetude at 12:26 AM on June 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


When I was doing my Masters degree I had the choice of what I wanted to specialise in. I saw three choices based on my interests, class grades, and what was available to me: neurology, reproductive physiology and digestive physiology. Neurology lab work is boring so that was easy to dismiss. Reproductive physiology is fascinating, the biochemistry is awesome, and there were good research groups around. I had to seriously evaluate that field.

But what put me off was the social and political aspects, it is impossible to research any kind of reproduction without those being a huge part of it. For example, the idea of "libido" as a single, easily measured scientific entity is just wrong. There's so much more that informs what it is, how we think about it and how we measure it. Ignoring all that other stuff is pointless and claiming there is one clear answer is just ... not scientifically possible as yet. In addition, I saw any kind of research in that area leading me towards assisted reproduction of one sort or an other (either improving fertility/offspring in farm animals or helping infertile humans) which has it's own political and social issues all tied up in it, and none of that was stuff I wanted to work with.

So I chose intestines, which rule, and that has lead me into inflammation and cancer and all is good. Working with diseases and doing clinically relevant research has it's own political and social implications but it's stuff that I can and want to deal with. People don't tend to decide what is or is not metastatic cancer based on years of oppression and bullshit.

So yeah, I'm glad that someone is making it more known how much muddiness and extra stuff that goes into what should be a biology question. I'm not sure that a popular science book is ever going to give a definitive answer particularly to something so controversial, but scientists aren't really into cut and dried answers anyway. He seems to have a reasonable reference section at the back. It bugs me when popular science books aren't well referenced. I have a pile of books to read right now but I'm going to consider adding this to the list when I have some space again.
posted by shelleycat at 2:59 AM on June 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


But what exactly would be the thing stolen, and from whom? The children aren't responsible for their own existence, so they're not committing fraud. The fact that the children belong to their mother is not in doubt. The "other man" doesn't himself benefit financially. The wife hasn't been kidnapped. The sexual activity itself wasn't stolen from the wife, if consensual. It's the rights to sex with the wife which were stolen. From the husband. Because her sexuality belongs to him.

I like this way of looking at it a lot.

It plays up a weird side effect of legalism in general. If you're committed to the idea that social control is all about Punishing Criminals, and there's something you want to Put A Stop To, but there's no obvious way to frame it as a deliberate criminal activity — with a clear perpetrator who bears sole responsibility and must be punished for it — then shit gets really weird really fast.

You need to invent some fictional property and call it stolen, or invent a fictional perpetrator who can be punished, or invent a fictional kind of "intent" or "responsibility" that you can slap on an unsuspecting party, because otherwise you've basically got to throw up your hands and say "There's nothing we can do here!" Even if your initial goal was something reasonable (and I'd say that the initial goal here — "it would be better if there were fewer men fathering children who they didn't go on to support" — was a pretty reasonable one) you can end up adopting a totally ludicrous legal doctrine as a result, and end up believing in it wholeheartedly because the alternative is just straight-up drowning in cognitive dissonance.

(And the thing is, I'm pretty sure I'm not immune to this one, since I grew up steeped in the same crime-and-punishment attitude to social control. I mean, okay, I've got all the MeFi-standard anti-victimless-crime attitudes — I think framing pot-smoking or pornography or copyright infringement as A Crime To Be Punished is dumb, etc — but even still I'm sure there are attitudes I've got about property and intent and responsibility and etc. where a Martian visitor would take one look and say "Dude, that's idiotic, those beliefs are clearly false, I think you're just projecting your anxieties about Social Problem XYZ here.")
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:26 AM on June 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


(TL;DR: when do we get those Martian Anthropologists, anyway? Because I am just itching to be looked at funny in sociologically relevant ways.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:27 AM on June 14, 2013


But what exactly would be the thing stolen, and from whom? The children aren't responsible for their own existence, so they're not committing fraud. The fact that the children belong to their mother is not in doubt. The "other man" doesn't himself benefit financially. The wife hasn't been kidnapped. The sexual activity itself wasn't stolen from the wife, if consensual. It's the rights to sex with the wife which were stolen. From the husband. Because her sexuality belongs to him.

Eh, it seems like a theft to me since the husband has to support those kids. The other man had one of the benefits of reproduction, passing on his genes, without having to pay for it. The first man has less opportunity to do so as a result of this since he can only support a limited amount of children. He may not have even entered into marriage without that goal.

The problem was that the theft of the woman's rights to decide who she has children with was completely unacknowledged and the much bigger crime.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:05 AM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Phalene: I think the problem is that it's easy to have really bad sex that still gets the guy off.
Quoted for truth.

Bad lovers come in... are members of... can be of either gender.

However, most everyone equates "he came" with "he had a good time" - including a lot of dismal men, AFAICT.

For women, getting off can be much more difficult than for the average man... and that frustration serves to highlight for them how awful bad sex can be.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:47 AM on June 16, 2013


It's also entirely possible for a women to have terrible, unsatisfying sex while still having an orgasm.
posted by shelleycat at 5:05 AM on June 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Eh, it seems like a theft to me since the husband has to support those kids. The other man had one of the benefits of reproduction, passing on his genes, without having to pay for it. The first man has less opportunity to do so as a result of this since he can only support a limited amount of children. He may not have even entered into marriage without that goal.

I wasn't being sarcastic when I said it "seems like theft," I can totally understand that sentiment. But unfair does not equal theft. Theft requires a) a stolen thing b) that has value to the thief.

The "other man" doesn't himself benefit from more of this genes being in the gene pool. Heck, he doesn't even get the satisfaction of pride at spreading around his genes if the parentage of those children is assumed to be the husband. As for the husband's victimhood, if he doesn't know that not all of his children are biologically his, then there's no sense of opportunity lost. (Looks-like is not real accurate in ethnically homogenous groups.)

If the biological father of those is discovered or even suspected to not be the husband's, it threatens the viability of support for those kids and does the "other man" no favors. The husband also has a bunch of lose-lose propositions. He can keep his money and ditch his wife, but then he has to start over finding a way to get heirs produced again...while losing pride in the fidelity of his wife and gifting the boasting rights to another man.

It really would be in everyone's interest to not care so much who the father is in favor of the stability of the family structure. But that would mean that women could potentially have sex with whomever they wish as long as they're discreet...like men can. And this is how we get back to controlling women's sexuality (and not-incidentally, reproductive choices) in dogged pursuit of there being ZERO suspicion ever ever ever that the wife could ever choose to have sex with someone else.

When your money and pride hang on a fundamentally insecure and often-unprovable thing on principle, you have go to kind of crazy lengths to protect it. (The logical solution of matrilineal succession being disregarded.)
posted by desuetude at 11:58 AM on June 16, 2013


The "other man" doesn't himself benefit from more of this genes being in the gene pool. Heck, he doesn't even get the satisfaction of pride at spreading around his genes if the parentage of those children is assumed to be the husband.

I dunno, I think the level of satisfaction and pride in that situation depends heavily on the individual.

As for the husband's victimhood, if he doesn't know that not all of his children are biologically his, then there's no sense of opportunity lost.

Sure, and you may not know something has been stolen from you if it is replaced with a replica. It can still be a theft even if you don't realize it.

And this is how we get back to controlling women's sexuality (and not-incidentally, reproductive choices) in dogged pursuit of there being ZERO suspicion ever ever ever that the wife could ever choose to have sex with someone else.

Yeah, we don't disagree there. I'm just nitpicking the definition of theft, your conclusion is the much more important point.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:16 PM on June 16, 2013


Phalene: I think the problem is that it's easy to have really bad sex that still gets the guy off.

There are ejaculations, and then there are orgasms.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:06 AM on June 17, 2013


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