New York Times’ Post-accurate Framing of Female Desire

In the New York Times Sunday magazine cover story yesterday journalist Daniel Bergner goes in search of female sexologists who are asking the question, “What do women want?” in a variety of clinical trials and philosophical posturing. It’s all, of course, very confusing and mysterious. But for starters, I thought I’d let Bergner know a few simple things that women DON’T want:

  • Misleading and even inaccurate subtitles, like “A postfeminist generation of researchers discovering things Dr. Freud could never have imagined.” The very researchers featured in the article identify as feminists. I understand that the NYT wants to sell papers, but these kinds of sensationalistic headlines undermine their integrity as a news organization purportedly trying to attract more and maintain their current feminist readers.
  • Photo illustrations that, once again, indicate that the New York Times Magazine thinks that all women are white. Seriously? It’s 2009 people.

Now that we’ve gotten those obvious offenses out of the way, let’s look more closely at the piece itself, which is actually quite fascinating. Bergner hangs out with a few really interesting, fairly young scientists and psychologists who are trying to understand what it is that really turns women on. As you might imagine, it’s more complicated than any of their academic fields have historically let on.
Lisa Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity, explores her theory that women generally tend to experience sexual arousal across a spectrum, rather than identifying as hetero, homo, or bi, and that it has a lot more to do with emotional intimacy than the gender of the human being dishing it out. To me this is all sort of “duh” but I understand that the mainstream media, and to much of America, this, in itself, is a shocking take on female desire.
Meredith Chivers, a researcher from Ontario, finds clinical results that jive with Diamond’s ethnographic research: women, regardless of sexual orientation, are turned on my just about anything and everything, including a pair of apes fucking. The surprising and important thing about Chivers’ research is that she found that there was a larger gap between women’s self-identified arousal and their physiological actual arousal (tested by “a little plastic probe that sits in the vagina and, by bouncing light off the vaginal walls, measures genital blood flow”…cool right?!).
Lots of discussion follows about why women wouldn’t know when they’re turned on. Is it socialization–girls taught not to pay attention to their own desire? Is it something anatomical–it’s not like we have erections to give us the loud and clear signal? Chivers sums it up smartly: “The horrible reality of psychological research is that you can’t pull apart the cultural from the biological.” So there we are.
Another researcher Marta Meana of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (the one who identified as a feminist, despite the article’s framing), has another interesting theory that flies in the face of stereotypes about women:

“The generally accepted therapeutic notion that, for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, Meana told me, often misguided. ‘Really,’ she said, ‘women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic’–it is dominated by the yearnings of ‘self-love,’ by the wish to be the object of admiration and sexual need.

Wowzer. I think this is fascinating. In a world where women are often objectified against their will, is the ultimate turn on being able to control and even illicit our own objectification? This line of thinking also holds up when considering the number of women who have fantasies of being dominated, and sometimes raped. Is it sexually arousing to feel a sense of power over your own decision to submit in a world where you feel vulnerable to others domination against your will? (See Stacey May Fowles’ essay in Yes Means Yes.)
And if this is the case, is it something we should problematize (i.e. why should my sexuality be determined by my experiences of a patriarchal society? what would it look like if it was truly created from my own original physiology, emotional states, and ideas? is that even possible?) or should we embrace it and get off, counting it as sweet revenge on a half-changed world?
All fascinating questions, not really explored in much depth by Berger, who by virtue of writing this piece, controls how the researchers’ voices and ideas get organized and communicated (interesting parallel to how female sexuality gets processed through a male lens so often).
Check out these great takes from our community bloggers:
Why does it have to be either/or…?
I Don’t Know What All Women Want–But I Want My Sexuality Respected!
Reconceptualizing Sexuality

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48 Comments

  1. woolf's orland
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    pretty sure i’m going to use your phrase “post-accurate” for future “post-feminist” claims. amazing.

  2. idiolect
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this fascinating post. I’m still sort of incubating my thoughts on this, and will try to come back later when they’re more fully-formed… I will say this, though: while I won’t pretend to speak for all women (and I thought the overgeneralization of “women” as a group in this article was problematic), I will say that the fascinating point made about desire being more narcissistic than relational really resonated with me. Again, I don’t think that’s necessarily true of all women, and I certainly don’t think that a full account of what’s going on there was even remotely given in the article, but I think there’s at least something real going on within that image.
    I will also say this — more generally, I’m really glad that someone is finally talking about female desire as desire, and as lust, not as some kind of perversion of wanting love and/or fulfilling the “nuturing” role or whatever. Just the mere recognition in a respectable forum that sometimes we are just turned on by stuff is nice.

  3. ms.colleenmarie
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    i’ll tell you what i didnt desire– the cover or the title. quite a turn-off. my roommate assured me the article was not as horrid as those two things made it seem it would be, and i’m glad to hear you feel the same. i have to steal it back from her tonight.

  4. SociologicalMe
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen research before like the Chivers bit (the idea that women don’t know when they’re turned on) and struggled with my feelings about the idea. Somehow in my head (even sometimes in my relationships) physical arousal seems to get mixed up with desire for a specific act, or consent. Put simply, the fact that I’m aroused doesn’t necessarily mean I want to have sex with you right now. There have been times when I knew I was physically aroused, but was annoyed at my body because I didn’t want to be, or at least didn’t want to do anything about it. Does anyone else have thoughts about this?

  5. Jenny
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    The title seemed like a red flag to me, but I read it anyways, sort of expecting to be offended. I was happy to have gotten out not only un-offended, but also feeling a sense of vindication.
    While the writer painted the different researcher’s views as contradictory, I didn’t see that as necessarily the case, especially given how “complex” and “mysterious” women’s sexuality is.
    I can really relate to the narcissism/sex object school of thought. I think it’s very powerful, regardless of who is doing the gazing, to be desired by someone that you desire in return and to be able to look upon yourself and think “I’m a total sex-bomb”. Call it narcissism if you want, but I think the larger point is that women (and probably everyone else) get a self esteem boost and a sexual confidence boost from having another person affirm their sexual desirability. Feeling sexy is a total turn on in itself.
    I thought that was an idea that Inga Muscio (author of “Cunt”) would have enjoyed.

  6. SarahMC
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    What do I want? For the world to stop acting as though women are an alien species (in contrast to men, the real humans, of course).
    Oh, and for writers to recognize that SOCIAL CONDITIONING explains SO MUCH of these findings.

  7. MissE
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s interesting to read the reaction to this same article on Feministe after you’ve read this one. (Feministe article here: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2009/01/26/sometimes-just-reading-the-headline-is-enough-to-know-an-article-will-make-you-feel-stabby/ )
    The response here seems much more…empowered by the article, while the one at Feministe is far more outraged at the lack of conclusions drawn by the article. The perspective at Feministe seems to feel this article did nothing but reinforce attitudes that people already embrace (consciously or not)while this response seems to embrace those attitudes.
    What was interesting for me, is I read this response first and just reading that this sort of discussion was happening in a national media outlet (the NY Times) seemed like a triumph to me. Then I read the response on Feministe, and found that the logic over there was more…full circle than the response here was. I haven’t read the source article, so I don’t know which side of the fence I fall on, but I wanted to share other Feminist perspectives on the same article.

  8. kb
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    This whole article seemed like a whole b.s. “display for men, because that’s really what gets you off” which I can’t get behind as a feminist, or from my experience of what gets me off. While the actual article’s take about intimacy was interesting-i.e. her feeling uncomfortable will kill desire, but her feeling intimate may or may not=desire was interesting, the idea that all women get off on being wanted as an object? No, not empowering at all. just another trope that I’ve heard again and again-that men want, women are wanted. Also, there was a bit of a better discussion about the studies-she doesn’t come to the conclusion that all women are aroused and don’t know it, but more that vaginal blood flow isn’t the be all end all way to measure desire. because otherwise she’s proved that all women in her sample secretly lust after bonobos. but no-this article was not empowering to me at all. like any other “scientific” research about women-you can only get it publicized if you come up with something pro patriarchy. which this piece was.

  9. Zardoz
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    From page 2:
    “The horrible reality of psychological research,” Chivers said, “is that you can’t pull apart the cultural from the biological.”

  10. SarahMC
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    They didn’t even get into the sociological. None of what Jill explored over at Feministe (and I tend to share her perspective on this) was brought up. The conclusion is that women are sexual narcissists, full stop. No examination of what may have made us that way (if it’s true).

  11. DatingWhileFeminist
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Wow, every feminist and her mother is blogging about this article. What struck me the most about it, completely independent of the research presented, is that the author adds personal details about the female scientists he interviewed for the piece but not about the men. Like, for EVERY woman researcher he talked to in person, there’s something at least alluding to her age, and often also something about her physical appearance. Like it or not, a physical description of someone influences our perception of their work. If you’re going to argue that appearance is relevent to a discussion and needs to be included, fine; but in that case you need to describe the men, too. The intimation here is that appearance only has bearing on what women have to say. Is she a 36-year-old who “favors high boots and fasionable rectangular glasses” or “a compact 51-year-old woman in a shirtdress”? If that kind of shit is important, then let’s hear whether or not the male researchers are balding.

  12. MissE
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I find the whole narcissists thing curious. Sure, I like me and how I look, and I like people liking me and how I look, but I mean, aren’t most people who like themselves narcissists to some degree? It’s not a female-only or female-specific trait. Hell, the word is named after a man in Greek mythology, so that whole part of the responses I’ve read to the article just seems off balance.

  13. blue
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    I know many women and researchers have stressed the importance of knowing where your clit is but seriously… what the heck am I even looking at. Is it just me or is that diagram totally confusing.

  14. idiolect
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I noticed that too and thought it was bizarre — I actually checked to see which publication I was reading, because I thought instinctively that it must be something trashier than the NYT if it contained that “favors high boots” line. It seemed really out of place.

  15. idiolect
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Was the narcissist thing really about how you look? If so, I withdraw my own sympathy with it. When I read it, I read it specifically as not about how you look, insofar as that has to do with fulfilling someone else’s wants. Looking back at it, I could’ve been projecting a little — but I think there’s some real tension between what the researchers in the article are actually saying and the way the article-writer might interpret it.
    In other words, I agree that positioning female desire as ultimately a desire to fulfill male desire is ludicrous and offensive. But, the idea of having “narcissistic” desire instead of “relational” desire the way that I read it — that is, e.g. wanting to actually feel like a total sex goddess (vs. wanting men to think of you as a total sex goddess — there’s a subtle but major difference there) — does resonate with me. I don’t know if I’d posit that as a specifically feminine trait though, or even if we have any reason to make sweeping generalizations with it.

  16. idiolect
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    While we’re asking “what the heck” questions… although I’ve really tried to understand it, I just cannot fathom someone not knowing where it is. I mean, how does that happen?

  17. Courtney
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I agree. I love’s Jill critical mind, but I didn’t think she gave the piece enough credit. There was a lot that was really exciting about having these scientists’ and thinkers’ voices projected in such a mainstream venue.

  18. Feather
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    So true… reminds me of Jane from Coupling: “Just how difficult to find, just how elusive IS front and centre?”

  19. Clare
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Um… what men?
    Don’t get me wrong, I see your point and I totally agree with it (I found the article overall fascinating and informative, but I was weirded out by the descriptions of the women). But the article was about the research of three different female scientists; I know several different men were mentioned, but none of them had so much as a full paragraph to themselves. It would have been even less appropriate to describe them physically than it was to describe the women.
    On another note, I seriously wonder why the NYT couldn’t get a woman to write this article.

  20. SarahMC
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    “For women, being desired is the orgasm.”
    This quote is egregious. What they are saying is that being desired sexually is the female “version” of the orgasm. It’s so, so offensive. The whole thing reads like a reassuring guide for men: “Just being there will send her into a fit of bliss!”

  21. silinger
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Just as you see “men want, women are wanted” as a familiar trope, I see your response as a tired reaction to any argument that women’s sexual desire may be correlated with them being socially conditioned to seek a power differential in a relationship and a narcissistic validation of the self (which their identity is built on, sexually-speaking). You have to be able to accept that a text may both perpetuate a power differential at the same time that it explains why human beings form their identities within that differential and struggle to make sense of cultural elements that oppress them but simultaneously stimulate them.

  22. thetestosteronewars
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m no journalist, but I’ve been under the impression magazine articles like this are pitched by the writers, instead of the other way around. The editor doesn’t call a meeting and say “I need someone to write about current psychological research on women’s arousal and desire. Johnson, why don’t you take that one.”

  23. Tehanu
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    Might want to treat anything Meredith Chivers says with caution, simply because she’s done quite a bit of research (and co-publication) with Ray Blanchard, he of CAMH/Clarke Institute fame. He’s the one who has all kinds of bizarre beliefs about transsexuality.

  24. thetestosteronewars
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    The accusation of “overgeneralizing” is one that always frustrates me as an empirically oriented social scientist.
    It is true that when studies report “one group does this, another group does that”, they usually mean “on average the groups differ and these differences are of a magnitude as to create a reasonable certitude (usually, at least 95% certainty) that these differences exceed the normal variation within each of these groups. That is not to say that every single member of group A is different than group B on this particular dimension, but on average they do.”
    That’s quite a mouthful, and it drastically reduces the point that was trying to be communicated. If the data and the statistical tests back it up, what’s so wrong with saying “there is a difference here”?

  25. Gopher
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    I wish researchers would investigate lesbishe’s more. I think thats an under represented segment of female sexuality that isnt going to be exposed from the inhibitory lens of the current myopic focus on mens sexuality.

  26. Gopher
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Do you mean when youre physically aroused but agitated that you have, ‘to do’ something about it to get you’re mind off it? If thats the case, I can somewhat relate. Weirdly, I get really turned on when I’m studying. Its agitating to me, because I get aroused and cant think of anything other than sex when I’m trying to finish studying. This interferes with my studying. And it’ll happen like one after the other at times! Get off, go study, like 5 minutes later, ‘it’s’ back again!! Or am I just mental? Please let it be the former!

  27. Gopher
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    No shit!

  28. Ronijn
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    I agree that this is idea of look at sexy me=orgasm is offensive, as if women want noting but to be sexual objects. But I think that having the term ‘narcissism’ in a mainstream article might be problematic because it means something in the general public sphere and something else in research-ese. (I know I would always get annoyed at people getting ‘theory’ and ‘hypothesis’ mixed up and theory means something different in hard and social sciences).
    In any event, to me this narcissism is a want to be desired – surely this is something both men and women want. However, with the apparent ‘murkiness’ of female desire, this is something that is being asked or measured in women and hasn’t been in men. So it seems like a female only desire, even though it probably isn’t.
    Secondly, I think that this also has to do with societal norms and the general message of what desirable women are supposed to be. Of course, many women have internalized this and as such might project it as wanting to be desirable like a woman that men desire. And right now, in this society, that is scantily clad women with certain physical attributes.
    My final note on narcissism is that perhaps these studies, searching for participants are inherently flawed, since perhaps those wanting to participate are inherently more narcissistic, extroverted, or have any other personality characteristic more than the general population. And since reports on these studies lead with over-encompassing categories (i.e. ‘women’), this makes this flaw even more problematic.

  29. idiolect
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    You are absolutely right on there. Man, this article is sort of all over the place once you stop to actually analyze the various assertions and implications it makes…

  30. Ronijn
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Another thing this article left me pondering…
    I wonder about the whole ‘rape fantasy’ thing. That terminology is totally inflamatory for obvious reasons. Really though, it seems to be more about wanting to be in a submissive role and be dominated.
    There are lots of men at various times and to various degrees who like their partner to be the one to take control of the sexual situation (be on top, in control, direct the sex, even up to more BDSM-type stuff) but those men are never accused of having ‘rape fantasies’. They like to be *dominated* (not that this isn’t viewed as ‘less masculine’ and is problamatized as well). So that’s one problem.
    I wonder if another problem is that the only images of women that we associate with being in a ‘submissive’ role is that of sexual assault. I know, I know, certain sexual positions/vaginal sex itself is often viewed as submissive, yadda, yadda… but if the only societal images of a woman being ‘ravaged’ are associated with rape, then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that women end up using these images in their own fantasies. Men on the other hand don’t really have a cultural image of submission… other than being physically restrained in some manner by like handcuffs or rope etc., and is probably also why their images of being dominated revolve around authority figures.
    Hm… anyway… just ruminating… ;)

  31. idiolect
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    There’s no problem with saying it if one is clear on the assumptions and context involved, that is, that you’re speaking on average about a certain data pool with certain criteria. That’s not how the general, unscientific public hears it, though — not if you phrase it in a “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars” sort of manner. Everyday people assume that that sort of statement is actually a hard universal assertion, such that individuals who fall outside of it are aberrations, and that indeed, the group is assumed to have a greater coherence and meaning than simply falling into a certain set of criteria. This is of course not what is going on with the scientists, but when you talk about the results of your research in a popular format, you have to make sure you’re being absolutely clear about what’s going on, because people are going to completely misunderstand you if they can (see also correlation not being causation).

  32. Sabriel
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Gopher: that has been an issue for me as well, since high school. I will try to focus on my reading, but my mind keeps saying “SEX! SEX! SEX!” You’re not alone. I don’t have the same problems doing things like playing video games or reading for fun. It’s academic work that does it, and it CAN be really annoying!
    Arousal is very general and is easily misattributed. For example, I can think of two psychological studies on misattributed desire. In the first, subjects were given caffeine and asked to wait in a room with another person. In some cases, the other person was really annoying. In other cases, the person was really friendly. The subjects who had ingested the caffeine had much stronger reactions to the stranger. This is probably because they were just sort of generally “aroused” by the caffeine, and their interpretation of what that arousal meant depended on the contextual clues.
    Another study I like had men talk to a woman who was standing on a bridge, and then later rate her attractiveness. In some cases, the bridge was stable. In other cases, the bridge was moving. The same woman was rated as being more attractive by the men who talked to her on the moving bridge- presumably because the men were “aroused” by the danger cues given off by the moving bridge, but they misattributed that arousal and considered the woman to be more attractive.
    I think I remember a third study on female arousal where the researchers tested genital blood flow while participants watched different kinds of movies. Horror movies rated about as well as porn, although the women did not consider themselves turned on by the horror movies.
    Anyways, those examples were meant to illustrate the point that arousal is very general. It just means you’re awake and alert. Turned on in the sense that you’re stimulated and powered up. Arousal can be sexual desire, but it can also be excitement, anger, fear, disgust… whatever gets you worked up. All people- men and women- can have a hard time interpreting the source and meaning of their arousal accurately.
    Which makes me wonder: why interpret that data to say that women don’t know when they’re aroused? They know. They said so. They told the researchers when they were turned on. Perhaps the reaction to the ape-sex wasn’t sexual desire. Maybe the women were concerned about the fact that they were being asked to watch movies of apes fucking, and they were uncomfortable. That could cause generalized arousal.
    I need to find the study and read it myself. Maybe they address this issue. I may be commenting prematurely.
    As a final note: at the start of our relationship, it took some miscommunication for me to finally get it into my head that my boyfriend does not want sex every time he gets an erection. He gets erections all the time when he’s just feeling content and maybe a little aroused but not in the mood for an orgasm.
    There is definitely a difference between arousal and the desire for sex, and it’s not only present in women.
    P.S. I can try and track down those studies if anybody would like. I need to get on an internet connection that will allow me to search psychological journals.

  33. Sabriel
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I’m sorry that ended up so long! I’m prone to ranting. In any case, I wanted to clarify something.
    “Which makes me wonder: why interpret that data to say that women don’t know when they’re aroused? They know. They said so. They told the researchers when they were turned on.”
    What I meant was this: all people have a hard time interpreting arousal, but nobody seems to have a hard time knowing when they want sex. Sexual desire is not the same as generalized arousal. Perhaps the researchers have found that women have a hard time knowing when they’re aroused (in a general sense) but it’s dangerous to conflate that to mean that women don’t know when they are sexually aroused. Women do know when they are sexually aroused, and maybe the problem is with the assumption that physiological arousal is always sexual.

  34. Okra
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Did no one read the egregious comments section on this article?
    NYT’s male readership is apparently YouTube’s, only with more education and bitterness.

  35. blue
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    Really? I thought only a select few new where it was. How can you even find something like that. The diagram makes it look like it’s at the top of the vagina.

  36. idiolect
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    I honestly can’t tell if this comment is serious or kidding :/ Plz advise

  37. Gopher
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    BTW, a lesbish is a lesbian bisexual. Essentially meaning that shes into relationships and sex with women, but is attracted to men only physically. Les/bi

  38. Crypticfortune
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    I was surprised at how codifying I found that article. Kind of like a whole lot of common sense and experience being confirmed by responsible science. I think that Chivers is exactly right in saying “The horrible reality of psychological research, is that you can’t pull apart the cultural from the biological.” As a bisexual male reading this, I’m quite sure that there’s more overlap in female and male sexuality than this article would lead one to believe. All of those plethysmograph data where the subjects self-identify as either “gay or straight” leaves the middle of the spectrum open on the male side. It is indeed very interesting that women who identify as “straight” show physical arousal despite not being mentally aroused, and I’m very curious too, but to me it seems likely that just as much as there’s socializing of women (teaching them “what is to be arousing, what isn’t”), there’s just as much going on with men. I think Chivers is dead on with “The penis is external, its reactions more readily perceived and pressing upon consciousness. Women might more likely have grown up, for reasons of both bodily architecture and culture — and here was culture again, undercutting clarity — with a dimmer awareness of the erotic messages of their genitals.” Isn’t it also possible that this easily readable penis signal can also work as negative feedback in conditioning men about what they’re aroused by? The fMRI studies seem almost irrelevant to me in that sense, because it doesn’t have to be “inhibition” if it’s something that’s been conditioned beyond just inhibition, and has simply be relegated to “I don’t care.” Also, the whole “lust is narcissism” aka “women want to be wanted” thing: that’s not just women! That’s definitely a key arousal factor for men. The notion that men don’t have these kinds of emotional triggers is just as absurd and sexually demeaning as saying that “women just want to be raped.” The “arousal does not equal consent” thing is true for both men and women! When you look at the article that way, it’s easy to get a little upset at the author for not being a little more introspective/thoughtful. But like Chivers said, it’s finding the “differences” that’s sadly in vogue now.
    Anyway, great article to raise much pondering. Thanks much for posting about it!

  39. Crypticfortune
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Ugh, why’d you have to make me go and look? I just died a little inside (´????)

  40. Crypticfortune
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the long thoughtful comment. I’m glad that there’s someone else here who recognizes that a lot of what this article is saying about women does also apply to men! I had a similar learning experience with my gf in the “arousal doesn’t imply wants-sex” department, so I knew exactly what you’re talking about ;)

  41. rileystclair
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    eh, i’m with jill from feministe on this one. i will say that the article was better than i expected based on the headline, and there’s some interesting science covered, and i appreciate the author bringing up multiple times that basically there’s no way to separate biology from culture, period. i just found most of the results of the research (e.g., women are physically aroused by more things than they report on) are so “duh” it’s not even funny and most of it seemed to tie in directly to well, how women are conditioned from birth. the whole narcissism playing an important part in desire i definitely connect with and believe to be true (although equating being desired with orgasm is SO completely off), but it’s like a no-brainer why that would be the case.
    i found it particularly interesting that it was i believe the first scientist covered who pointed out that these days, the studies that get the funding are the ones that focus on gender differences. i think a really interesting followup article to this that will never get printed is about why THAT is. if, as the article admits in a brief sentence, the differences within a gender vary more than between the genders on average, why the fuck are we even asking “what do women want?” in the first place? why are we so interested in studies that purport to examine and explain gender differences? that’s the article i want to see, but yeah right.

  42. MiddleageLiberal
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Berger, who by virtue of writing this piece, controls how the researchers’ voices and ideas get organized and communicated (interesting parallel to how female sexuality gets processed through a male lens so often).

    Some ten years ago I saw a documentary about Paul Simon and his album “Graceland”, which included music and musicians from South Africa and Zimbabwe. On young African or A/American man screamed angrily at Simon for exploiting African musicians for his own white man’s profit and fame. to the angry man’s eyes, Simon’s efforts in bringing the music to the West and exposing the musicians and their music to a wider audience, was an evil exploitation.
    Your passage reminds me of that. One can criticize the presentation, of course. But some credit ought to go to the author for bringing the studies to light, male or not.

  43. kb
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    yes, people usually follow their social conditioning/the dominant paradigm and have to place themselves within it somehow. I ask again, how is this news?

  44. SarahMC
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Why? Because patriarchy is invested in othering women and emphasizing alleged differences (which are usually a result of socialization anyway) in order to maintain hegemony?

  45. lobefemme
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    “For women, being desired is the orgasm.”
    um, no, the orgasm{s} is the orgasm.

  46. rileystclair
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    exactly.

  47. Gopher
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Right!Orgasm is when my fucking vag muscles contract repiticiously!

  48. Martine Votvik
    Posted January 28, 2009 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    One of the things that strike me about my own experience with “being wanted” is that being wanted as a fuck toy is the most off putting thing in the world, while being desired for who I really am, personality and flaws considered is arousing.
    Then again if I dwell on why it’s so arousing I’m tempted sugest that at least for me it’s arousing because it means I don’t have to hold back my own desires.

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