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What Do Women Want? Women respond...


Loads of blogging in response to the New York Times Magazine story What Do Women Want, which ran this past weekend.

Here's the gist of the piece: Researchers have conducted a series of tests to monitor male and female sexual response to a wide variety of stimuli. They found that while men seem to be aroused by a narrow range which aligns with their sexual orientation, women seem to get off on most gender combinations and solo acts (and some Bonobo sex too, those naughty little monkeys). On top of this, while men fairly accurately report their level of arousal, women seem to be out of sync when it comes to describing their arousal levels vs how their bodies are actually responding.

Some interesting riffs and reactions (please link to the whole stories, they are well worth reading!):

Courtney Martin: New York Times' Post-Accurate Framing of Feminist Desire

...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.

Meghan O'Rourke: The Sexual Fluidity of Women

Ever since Margaret Atwood—a feminist novelist in the most important sense—wrote her famous story “Rape Fantasies,” people have understood that sometimes women’s sexual fantasies are anything but politically correct. Now there’s an interesting story in the New York Times Magazine that implicitly asks: Are contemporary women doomed to experience a schism between what their bodies lust for and their minds tell them they want? (Full disclosure: Dan Bergner, the author, is an old acquaintance.)

The story offers up a road map of female desire as charted by postfeminist scientists, who have been exploring female desire with gusto. Guess what? What women want in bed is far more complex and, well, polymorphously perverse than some had formerly thought. In fact, no one understands any of it yet. Yet one interesting idea emerges from the piece: the notion that female desire is based less on intimacy (the old truism) than on the perception of being desired—a notion that, it would seem, complicates feminist notions of owning your sexuality.

And a response to that from Wollestoncraft, one of Feministing's Community Bloggers:

[O'Rourke] poses the tiresome "what do women want?" question . . . as if we, as a some inexplicable half of the human species, are a problem to be solved. Women (unlike men, the question implicitly suggests): they're so complicated and confusing!! They confuse us with their sexuality! Isn't the answer to the question "what do women want?" self-evidently "each one of us wants something slightly different"? While I'm glad people now recognize that generalizations about human sexuality made from studying primarily male subjects is inadequate, redressing the problem by making generalizations about "women" doesn't seem like a very useful response.

Tracy Clark-Floran: Narcissism - The Secret to Women's Sexuality

Maybe women's cognitive sexuality is receptive and open to suggestion, in the same way that they are physically turned on by all manner of porn. (There's that tricky overlap of cognitive and physical responses again!) This conception of women's desire as receptive doesn't at all mesh with my personal experience or that of any of the women I know. How do you explain women who aggressively pick up one-night stands or seek out pornography for their own enjoyment? There seems nothing passive about either of those things.

Susannah Breslin: Who Knows What Women Want?

Porn stars toil daily in the shadowy world of desire. In Porn Valley, the sex acts are real, but is the desire manufactured? As Susan Faludi so vividly illuminated in her 1996 New Yorker essay, "The Money Shot," there is no greater pressure on a porn set than the burden placed upon the male performer and his erection, or "wood," in the parlance of the business. The woodsman must prove his desire to convince the audience that this is the "real" deal, that this scene of sexual desire is no masquerade. Hence, the "money" shot. Without it, all is lost.

For porn starlets, the act is trickier. On the one hand, the female performers have it easier. Sometimes they're turned on. Sometimes they're not. They don't have to physically "deliver" on desire in the same way their male counterparts do. Yet, for the vast majority of the male viewing audience, porn "fails" without at least the pantomime of female sexual pleasure. Without it, no scopophilia. If porn is to be believed, most men are as preoccupied with female desire as we are unaware of what it is we really want.