Women: not uninterested in sex after all

From last week’s Guardian:.

in scientific tests, women become aroused when they watch a film of two copulating bonobos (men don’t, by the way), and that they strongly deny this arousal when asked. The explanation, proffered tentatively by Bergner, is that female sexuality is as raw and bestial as male sexuality. But, unlike men, our animal urges are stoutly denied, by society and by ourselves, so that when they surface, it is not as a manageable stream, but as a rushing torrent that will sweep up everything it passes, even a pair of shagging primates.

An extract from Daniel Bergner’s book.

As they enrolled in the study, Chivers’ subjects identified themselves as straight or lesbian. They were shown images of sex between men and women, women and women, men and men, and a pair of bonobos (a species of ape). The subjects, straight and lesbian, were turned on right away by all of it, including the copulating apes. While they watched, they also held a keypad on which they rated their own feelings of arousal. So Chivers had physiological and self-reported scores. They hardly matched at all. Chivers’ objective numbers, tracking what’s technically called vaginal pulse amplitude, soared no matter who was on screen and regardless of what they were doing, to each other, to themselves. The keypad contradicted the plethysmograph entirely. The self-reports announced indifference to the bonobos. But that was only for starters. When the films were of women touching themselves or enmeshed with each other, the straight subjects said they were a lot less excited than their genitals declared. During the segments of gay male sex, the ratings of heterosexual women were even more muted.

Chivers put heterosexual and homosexual males through the same procedure. Strapped to their type of plethysmograph, they responded in predictable patterns she labelled “category specific”. The straight men did swell slightly as they watched men masturbating and slightly more as they stared at men together, but this was dwarfed by their physiological arousal when the films featured women alone, women with men and, above all, women with women. Category specific applied still more to the gay males. Their readings jumped when men masturbated, rocketed when men had sex with men, and climbed, though less steeply, when the clips showed men with women; the plethysmograph rested close to dead when women owned the screen.

As for the bonobos, the genitals of both gay and straight men reacted to them the same way they did to the landscapes, to the pannings of mountains and plateaus. And with the men, the objective and subjective were in sync. Bodies and minds told the same story.

How to explain the conflict between what the women claimed and what their genitals said? Were the women either consciously diminishing or unconsciously blocking out the fact that a vast scope of things stoked them instantly toward lust?

How to miss the point: Lesson 1

Don’t get me wrong: I love the Guardian newspaper. But I can only hope Tim Lott’s column today is a poor attempt at a spoof:

This week I am going to write about the biggest taboo in relationships I know… I’m going to write about money. Money in marriage is incendiary. It involves issues of power, feminism, patriarchy, trust and much besides. I have tried to write this column once before and had it flatly vetoed by my wife because she felt that the ground I was treading on was too dangerous.

Sensible wife. Tell me, why did she think it was too dangerous?

This column appears only after an emotional and sometimes painful back-and-forth about the subject. She accused me of sexism, while I suggested she was using double standards (I asked her, in her imagination, to switch the gender roles to see how it would look then).

Ah. I expect she found that reassuring. When people suggest that I switch gender roles in my imagination, I feel totally reassured they’re not being sexist.

My wife works as a part-time associate lecturer and, like many part-time workers, who are predominantly women, tends to be discriminated against in terms of financial reward and employment opportunities. I, on the other hand, am reasonably well paid for challenging but not backbreaking work.

Probably not unusual. So tell me, Tim, what are the implications for your family’s home life?

My wife does more of the childcare, cleaning and cooking than me. This is predominantly for practical reasons. She is physically at home for a lot more of the time than I am and, with a part-time career, she has more hours available. She also tackles all the laundry, having rejected my offers of participation in that area after I shrunk a cashmere sweater, pegged it out incorrectly and turned a dazzling white load grey.

Oh! Of course. Those pesky practical reasons why women do more childcare, cleaning and cooking.  And of course, all your talent for challenging but not backbreaking work doesn’t mean you could learn to wash a sweater.

The income inequalities also mean that if there’s a big expense, like a foreign holiday or house improvements, I tend to have the last say. She feels that infantilises her, as she needs to “ask me”…  My wife says that my having more money than her makes me feel powerful. She’s right – up to a point. It gives me an area of control, although I don’t think I use it in order to control. I just think that some form of imbalance is inevitable.

Unbelievable. I just don’t even know where to start. Go read it for yourself.