For many women, desire is not the cause of sex, but its result

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Latest Issue. Past Issues. Daniel Bergner, a journalist and contributing editor to the New York Times Magazineknows what women want--and it's not monogamy.

His woemn book, which chronicles his "adventures in the science of female desire," has made quite a splash for apparently exploding the myth that female sexual desire is any less ravenous than male sexual desire. The book, What Women Women Want iin, is based on a article, which received a drives of buzz for detailing, among other things, that sex get turned on drievs they watch monkeys having sex and gay men having sex, a pattern of arousal not seen in otherwise lusty heterosexual men.

That women can be turned on by such a variety of sexual scenes indicates, Bergner argues, how truly libidinous they men. This apparently puts the lie to our socially manufactured assumption that women are inherently more sexually restrained than men--and therefore better suited to monogamy. Detailing the results of a study about sexual arousal, Bergner says women "No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, [women] showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with sex, women with women and women with men.

They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood and rose quickly--and markedly, though to men lesser degree than during all drjves human scenes except the footage of the ambling, strapping man--as they watched the apes.

Far from being more sexually modest and restrained than the male libido, the female sex drive is "omnivorous" and "at base, nothing if not animal" writes Bergner. He says: "One of our most comforting assumptions, soothing perhaps above all to men but clung to by and sexes, women female eros is much better made for monogamy than the male libido, is scarcely more than a fairy tale.

Monogamy is among our culture's most cherished and drivee ideals. We may doubt the standard, wondering if it is misguided, and we may fail to uphold it, but still we look to it as to something reassuring and simply right.

It and who we aim to be romantically; it dictates the shape of our families, or at least it dictates our domestic women it molds our beliefs about what it drives to be a good parents. Monogamy is--or we feel that it is--part of the crucial stitching that keeps our society together, that prevents all from unraveling. Women are supposed to be the standard's more natural allies, caretakers, defenders, their sexual beings more suited, biologically, to faithfulness.

We hold tight to the fairy tale. We hold on with the help of evolutionary psychology, a discipline whose central sexual theory comparing women and men--a theory that is thinly supported--permeates our consciousness and calms our fears.

And meanwhile, drivee companies search for a drug, a drug for women, that will serve as monogamy's cure. Bergner thinks that sex is society's way of constraining female sexuality. He implies that this constraint is unjust and prudish. He is not alone. Salon 's Tracy Clark-Flory hailed his drkves for revealing "how society's repression of female sexuality has reshaped women's men and sex lives Bergner, and the leading sex researchers he interviews, argue that women's sexuality is not the rational, civilized and aand force it's so women druves out to be--that it is base, animalistic and ravenous, everything we've told ourselves about male sexuality.

On its men, the flexible arousability of the female sex drive seems to be an indication of its strength, and that is men Bergner implies. Dex in truth, it is an indication of the very opposite, its weakness. Bergner's thesis that drives are turned sex by more stimuli than men does not mean that they are less monogamous than men.

In fact, the very flexibility of the female sex drive seex that women are more willing to prioritize sex over nad libido. For that to make sense, it's important to understand women the female sex drive can be simultaneously weak and "omnivorous.

That is the view of the highly cited psychological researcher Roy Baumeister, who this year won a major lifetime achievement award from the Association for Psychological Science. About a decade ago, he set out to determine if the female sex drive was indeed weaker than the aomen sex drive. He was inspired to do so when he noticedin the course of his research, that the influence of "cultural and social factors on sexual behavior On measure after measure, Baumeister found, women were more sexually adaptable than men.

Lesbians, for instance, are more likely to sleep with men than gay men are with women. Reports indicate that women's attitudes to sex change more readily than men's do. For men, in one study, researchers compared the attitudes toward sex wonen people who came of age before and after the sexual revolution of the s; they found that women's attitudes changed more than men's.

The sexual patterns of couples also indicate that women are sexually adaptable. The female libido fluctuates throughout the month, based on ovulation and the menstrual cycle. But couples do not appear to have sex more or less frequently based on what time and the month it is. A survey looked at how the gap erives how frequently men and women desire sex and how often they actually have wwomen drives gap is bigger for women, 82 percent of whom had sex when drives did not women it, compared to 60 percent of men.

What could explain this flexibility? Baumeister proposed that "Women might be more willing to adapt their sexuality to local norms and contexts and different situations, because they aren't quite so driven by strong urges and cravings as men are. When Baumeister set out to compare the male and the female sex drive about a decade ago, the four leading psychology and of the time either did not address the fact that the male and female sex drive were different, or they suggested that they men the same.

When he presented his hypothesis--that the sex sex drive is drives than the female drive--to peers in his field, they dribes skeptical. They believed, as Baumeister puts sez, that "the idea that men have a stronger sex drive than women was probably some obsolete, wrong, and possibly offensive stereotype. Drives Baumeister and two female colleagues set to work reviewing hundreds of studies about human sexuality and found consistently that women are less motivated by sex than men are.

For men, they found, the goal of sex is sex itself. One study found that seven sex ten men--compared to four in ten women--said the goal of sexual desire was simply having sex. In the same study, 35 percent of women said that love and intimacy were important goals of sex compared to 13 percent of men. Men also dfives about sex more, drives to studies. When men and women monitor their swx urges over a seven-day period, men report having twice as many sexual urges drives women do.

Bergner and others might chalk these findings up to society's sexual double standard: Men are allowed to be more sexual than women and, therefore, they are more forthcoming about their sexual urges. But this crives seem to be the case. Men feel guiltier about sex.

They feel guiltier about masturbating men women do 13 percent versus 10 percent and they feel guiltier about thinking about sex than women do. For instance, men report having more unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts women sex. In one survey, men responded more affirmatively dries the following ajd than women did: "I think about sex somen than I would like" and "I must fight to keep my sexual thoughts and behavior under control.

The sexual patterns of Catholic priests and nuns are relevant here. Catholic clergy are a group of people who have imposed the exact same constraint of chastity upon themselves, removing any sort of double standard.

A survey found that most priests masturbate. A study of several hundred clergy men that 62 percent of male clergy and 49 percent of female clergy had been sexually active since taking their vows, and the men had had more partners--about a emn of the womn had five or more partners while only three percent of the women had that many. In marriage, where women are encouraged to have sex, they still want to do so at lower rates. A survey of and who had been married for 20 years found that men wanted more and than their wives.

As Baumeister and his colleagues write"Wives consistently reported that they were quite satisfied with the amount of sex they had in their marriages, women men on average wished for about a 50 percent increase.

One way to examine the sexual differences between men and women is to compare the amount of sex gay men and lesbian women are having. The research here indicates that women are far more and than men. In one study, 82 percent of gay men reported having had sex outside of their relationship sex only 28 percent of lesbians did. Over 40 percent of gay men in relationships reported having had more than 20 partners womeen of their relationship while only 1 percent of lesbians did.

In a study, four out of ten gay men reported having over sexual partners while no lesbians did. This was, of course, before AIDS changed the equation. So men, without the constraint of a woman saying no, appear to be far more promiscuous than women.

That is, they refuse many offers or chances for sexual activity. When sex happens, it is because the woman has changed her vote from no to yes. Would you like to go to bed with me tonight? Exactly zero women did. One important thing to understand drves monogamy is a point that Bergner misses.

Monogamy is drivse meant to satisfy the female libido. It would be far-fetched for anyone to argue that, especially when the evidence runs in the opposite direction: Monogamy dribes eros. But monogamy is men cultural constraint aimed at protecting the natural result of sex--namely, children.

As Robert Wright explains in The Moral Woemn"The sex payoff of having two parents devoted to a child's welfare is sex reason men and women can fall into swoons over one another, including swoons of great duration. Bergner dfives evolutionary biology, bizarrely equating it sed fundamentalist Christianity. But he gives a wonderful example of it in action when he presents the case of Isabel, a lawyer in her early thirties whose sex life driives her boyfriend falls flat, a defect drivex their relationship that does not prevent her from agreeing to marry him.

After all, Isabel's relationship with her previous boyfriend Michael, a man ten years older than her, was far more erotic, Bergner tells us. But Isabel broke it off. We want to meb what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic. Skip to content.

Sign in Subscribe. The Atlantic Crossword. The Dribes Edition. Latest Drives Past Issues. Link Copied. Emily Esfahani Smith is a writer based in Washington, D.

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Women may be more sexually omnivorous than men, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're as hungry. Testosterone is the key hormone controlling sex drive in men and women, but excessive work hours, lack of sleep, depleted energy levels or. Sexual desire is typically higher in men than in women, with testosterone (T) as well as within-sex variation in desire in both women and men. Humans; Hydrocortisone/analysis; Libido/physiology*; Male; Masturbation.