Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Science of Desire

Last weekend I read The Other Side of Desire by Daniel Bergner. A conversation on the Erotica Readers and Writer's association writer's list mentioned the book, but to my recall, no one said they'd read it. Desire should interest erotica writers. It's usually (but not always) the catalyst for sex. So I read the book.

It's not truly about desire. It's more of an exploration of the variety of human sexuality (heterosexual) and a few attempts to explain it. Those attempts usually end with a scientist shrugging.

One of the most interesting parts was an attempt to measure female arousal by showing female subjects pictures of animals and humans engaged in sexual activity while the subject recorded her level of arousal. The upshot? The brain and the body aren't in sync - if one believes that the level of lubrication in the vagina is an accurate measure of arousal.

On one forum I frequent, a man made the astounding (to me) claim that women only knew they were aroused when someone else observed that they were wet. Oh boy. The amazing part is that this guy had been married for years. As far as he was concerned, his wife was in a state of complete unawareness of her own body and mind until he pronounced her turned on. She's either a very forgiving person, or she deserves him. Despite his delusion that he has complete ownership over her sexuality, his observations aren't that far off what scientists are claiming. If a woman is wet, she must be aroused, right? And if she claims she isn't, she's unaware of her own desire, or she's lying.

But men admit that their dicks sometimes get hard for no apparent reason. And all that Viagra is around for a reason - men who feel desire that isn't reflected in their cocks. So why should it be different for women? And why all this gibberish that female desire is so hard to pinpoint? I swear - it's as if through all these centuries, scientists and men have failed to take the simple approach.

Why don't they just ask? (And here's a novel idea - actually LISTEN to the answers)

Because, they would say, that wouldn't be scientific. It has to be measured. That presupposes that women can't or won't give honest answers. Trust me - I know what turns me on. (I'm even aware of when I'm aroused, no dipstick test required. Imagine that.) As for honesty - ever ask a man for specifics of his sexual fantasies? Most of them drop their gaze to the floor and hem and haw. Kinsey proved that even in anonymous reporting, men lie about dick size. And yet no one ever out of hand dismisses what men have to say about their sexuality when they do talk.

I'm tired of this idea in scientific circles and in the real world that women are mysterious and unknowable. We aren't. James Burke the scientific historian and author of The day the Universe Changed and Connections, pointed out that science has perfected methods such that researchers know how to design tests so that the outcome almost always proves the hypothesis, which explains a lot of the pseudo-science we see. If women are mysterious and unknowable to science, then that must be the way scientists want women to be. It's what they desire.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just ask? Are you kidding?

Yes, the idea that I would need someone else to tell me if I'm aroused or not just blows my mind.

I had a boyfriend, years ago, who was certain he knew what I liked better than I did, and would actually argue with me about my likes and dislikes in bed.

His reasoning was that having "much more" experience with women than I did and having been tutored by a lesbian in the proper way to perform oral sex on a woman, he was more qualified to know what I like than I was.