That famous Freud quote “What do women want?” is just like the question “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?” because the answer’s the same: “The world may never know.”
That’s pretty much the conclusion of the recent, fascinating Sunday Times Magazine article, “What Do Women Want?” on the confounding complexities of female desire. But don’t let that (or the eight pages of text) stop you from checking it out. Sure, if you’re a guy you’ll be even more confused than before; even if you’re a woman who knows what she wants, by the end of the article you won’t. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t any insight to be gleaned that might help your sex life.
In the piece, Daniel Bergner (author of the new book “The Other Side of Desire”) profiles several prominent female sex researchers who study female sexual desire, one of whom is Marta Meana, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. We both rolled our eyes a bit when Bergner introduces her by explaining how they went to Zumanity, Cirque du Soleil’s Skinemax-ish production at the New York New York Hotel on the strip. And our gag reflex kicked in when she explained the show’s preponderance of female nudity (over male nakedness):
“The female body,” she said, “looks the same whether aroused or not. The male, without an erection, is announcing a lack of arousal. The female body always holds the promise, the suggestion of sex” — a suggestion that sends a charge through both men and women.
Ugh, too Freudian for our taste. (Please see Gloria Steinem’s “What If Freud Were Phylis.”) However, as the piece went on, we eventually came around to her way of thinking, especially with this paragraph:
Meana spoke about two elements that contribute to her thinking: first, a great deal of data showing that, as measured by the frequency of fantasy, masturbation and sexual activity, women have a lower sex drive than men, and second, research suggesting that within long-term relationships, women are more likely than men to lose interest in sex. Meana posits that it takes a greater jolt, a more significant stimulus, to switch on a woman’s libido than a man’s. “If I don’t love cake as much as you,” she told me, “my cake better be kick-butt to get me excited to eat it.”
We don’t love sweeping generalizations like “women have a lower sex drive than men,” especially as we receive plenty of emails from women complaining that they want sex much more than their male partners do. But we thought this cake metaphor was a great one. If someone in a relationship wants more sex than the other, then the onus is on that person to get the lagger in the mood, to really try to make sex great on the lagger’s terms (at least half of the time). Rather than just trying to get your partner to take pity on you and drop their pants for a quickie, much better to figure out what really does it for them. That’s certainly a challenge, considering that your idea of optimal sex probably isn’t the same as your partner’s, and that your partner may not be willing or even able (as the article suggests) to clearly express what it is they truly want. But even if you find out just one new thing about what kind of “cake” your partner likes, isn’t that worth breaking a few eggs for?