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What Women Want

I just finished a fascinating article focusing on women’s sexuality. In the process of discovering what makes women tick, it shines the light on parts of female sexuality that we would rather not admit exists.

No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, the women showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women, and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood flow rose quickly and markedly as they watched the [bonobos engaging in sexual intercourse], though to a lesser degree than during all the human scenes, except the footage of the ambling, strapping man. And with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. During shots of lesbian coupling, heterosexual women claimed less excitement than their vaginas indicated; watching gay men, they reported a great deal less; and viewing heterosexual intercourse, they reported much more.

[Dr. Chivers] has confronted clinical research reporting not only genital arousal but also the occasional occurrence of orgasm during sexual assault. And she has recalled her own experience as a therapist with victims who recounted these physical responses. She is familiar, as well, with the preliminary results of a laboratory study showing surges of vaginal blood flow as subjects listen to descriptions of rape scenes.

“Female desire is not governed by the relational factors that we like to think rule women’s sexuality as opposed to men’s.’’ [Dr. Meana] finished a small qualitative study in the past year consisting of long interviews with 20 women in marriages that were sexually troubled. Although bad relationships often kill desire, she argued, good ones don’t guarantee it. The generally accepted therapeutic notion that for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, said Meana, often misguided. “Really, women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic,’’ she said. It is dominated by the yearning to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need. Still on the subject of narcissism, she talked about research indicating that in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies centre less on giving pleasure and more on getting it. “When it comes to desire,” she added, “women may be far less relational than men.”

According to an analysis of relevant studies published last year in The Journal of Sex Research—an analysis that defines rape as involving “the use of physical force, threat of force, or incapacitation through, for example, sleep or intoxication, to coerce a woman into sexual activity against her will”—between a third and over a half of women have entertained these fantasies, often during intercourse, with at least 1 in 10 women fantasising about sexual assault at least once per month in a pleasurable way.

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  1. Matt said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 7:45 pm

    Seems the sexual mind, no matter how filtered through more modern thought processes and sentiment, is still an ancient and mysterious and frightening thing.

    Like our yearning for the devouring sea.

  2. Jonathan said,

    March 28, 2009 @ 7:27 am

    Discovering things about our sexuality feels a little like spelunking through ancient caverns.

  3. Matt said,

    March 30, 2009 @ 1:10 pm

    That imagery is delightful.

  4. Paul Sunstone said,

    March 30, 2009 @ 11:32 pm

    That was an excellent article. It should certainly lay to rest (1) the notion that women are only interested in being swept away by a prince charming, and (2) the notion that female sexuality is merely an echo of male sexuality.

  5. Jonathan said,

    March 31, 2009 @ 7:42 am

    Which leaves me with a question: how did we get so different? Maybe that sounds like an obvious question, but I wonder how our sexuality develops differently.

  6. Matt said,

    April 3, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

    You know, that’s the question that kept going through my mind as I was reading. And the answers that popped-up were all quite ugly.

  7. Jonathan said,

    April 3, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

    How so?

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