Saturday, January 31, 2009

What Do Women Want?

Thanks to last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Freud's famous question is back. What do women want? Link here.

Apparently, Daniel Bergner's article was inspired by new scientific research on female sexual arousal. The scientists who are profiled assume that the answer to Freud's question can be found by measuring women's physiological sexual response to pornographic and semi-pornographic stimuli and then asking them whether they are aroused.

Of course, we should question whether the subjects of these experiments were chosen at random or whether they were self-selected. It should be obvious that precious few women want anyone to visualize them watching monkeys mate while their genitals are hooked up to machines. Fewer still would agree to participate in such an experiment.

Nevertheless, the experiments do give new meaning to the term "stimulus package."

But why do we reduce the question of a woman's desire to a disjunction between genital arousal and mental acquiescence?

Look at it in practical terms. If a man wants to know what a woman wants, the best approach is to ask her. And if he thinks that there is a disjunction between the gleam in her eye and her dismissive language, he would do really, really well to take her at her word. Thus to afford her respect.

When evaluating this research, we should keep in mind that the audience for porn is almost entirely male. Women do not like porn and rarely watch it. They consider it vulgar and demeaning. And they probably do not much like what it does to men, either.

This does not mean that we should ban porn, as some on both the right and left have suggested, but it does mean that our thinking about this topic should make room for the fact that women do not like to see their sexuality identified with its pornographic mis-representation. And we should accept that this does not mean that they are deluded or that they do not know what they want.

I would even say that many women believe that pornography is the enemy of sexual desire. They believe that it contributes to a general numbing of everyone's erotic sensors.

Over-exposure to sexual stimuli tends to desensitize and de-eroticize. Perhaps women are offended by pornography because they want to have good sex lives.

What do women really, really want? If human desire is not identical to sexual desire, then perhaps the answer is easy. They do not want people to keep questioning their word. They want dignity and respect.

Freud notwithstanding, people will go to greater extremes to maintain their dignity and respect than they will to get laid.

If you look the world through Freudian glasses you will miss this point. Freud would never have accepted that a human being really, really wants dignity and respect. He would have labelled such wishes narcissistic self-aggrandizement and would have said that they are ways to defend against finding out how sordid our desires really are.

I am happy to give the last word on this subject to the late humorist Erma Bombeck: "I haven't trusted polls since I read that 62% of women had affairs during their lunch hours. I've never met a woman in my life who would give up lunch for sex."

No comments: