What do women want when it comes to sex? Traditionally speaking, men are the ones who have always been thought to have ravenous sexual appetites. You know how it goes: for men, sex is a matter of lust and physicality; for women, it’s a matter of emotional bonding and intimacy. But is that really how it is? Of course not (much to the chagrin of traditionalists). When Sex and the City premiered in 1998, one of the reasons it made waves was because it showed four women unabashedly exploring their sexual desires. And recently, The Colbert Report poked fun at The New York Times for essentially publishing the same story repeatedly over the last century: BREAKING NEWS…College women have sex. For fun. Without monogamy. *gasp*
It’s almost laughable — okay, it is laughable — but this line of thinking (largely pushed by evolutionary psychologists) has also come with severe consequences that women must now deal with. Leaving aside all the baggage it’s placed on gender expectations, this line of thinking is also still deeply entrenched in the scientific and medical communities. As a result, we’re left with more questions than answers: Where is the Viagra for women? Where are the treatments and studies on female sexual dysfunction? Why is the existence of the G-spot still up for debate? Is monogamy even natural?
These are some of the things Daniel Bergner explores in What Do Women Want? The book began as a several years ago as a controversial article in New York Times Magazine, and Bergner has since expanded on the topic. Female sexuality is a tiny field within science that is just emerging; there is surprisingly little known about the science and psychology of female arousal and female desire mostly because these are topics that have long been ignored or entirely written off. Bergner interviews primatologists, sexologists, psychologists, scientists, and dozens of women taking part in their studies.
The result is what a lot of women have been saying all along: just like men, it’s perfectly common for women to initiate sex, fantasize about all kinds of sex, want lots of sex, get turned on by pornography, reject monogamy, have different types of orgasms (four types, to be exact), etc. By traditional standards, the chapter on monogamy is probably the most controversial. Monogamy is a cultural construct, and while there are plenty of people in happy, monogamous relationships, there are indications that not being in a monogamous relationship just might be the “female Viagra” that so many have been looking for.
The book is filled with interesting case studies and information on where this particular scientific field now stands. I was surprised by how much of the book relied on interviews with women from some of these studies, though. The interviews add a humanistic depth to the book that works well for popular science, but when you get to the resources area of the book, it shows just how much Bergner relied on the interviews: there are only about 50 works cited. Part of this may be because it’s such a new (and small) field, and part of it may be because the book describes the processes and the data coming out of studies that are currently being run. Either way, I was surprised that the bibliography was so slim. If you want an idea of what goes on in research, it’s a fascinating read. Just keep in mind that the scope of the book is actually pretty narrow because of the number and the types of resources used.
What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire was published on June 4, 2013 by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.