In this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Daniel Bergner reports on a number of modern sexologists who have set out to explore what Freud once termed the “dark continent” of female sexuality. This is no brief article, but a detailed picture of the research, motivations, and findings of a handful of leading researchers, centered on Meredith Chivers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. The article includes forays into other researchers’ work, so that we get a nice picture of the variety of approaches.
Some is familiar–the reports of the systematic differences between measures of arousal (when arousal is measured via genital plethysmographs, woman are seen to be much more strongly and easily aroused to a variety of stimuli than men are; when arousal is measured via self-report, women reported less arousal to some stimuli and more to others, than the plethysmograph readings would predict) I remember from some of the early research in reactions to pornography. Other research is less familiar to me (fMRI readings during orgasm, for instance). The history of this line of research is explored a bit–from Freudian psychoanalytic approaches to physiological studies, to the impact of AIDS on sex research, to the potential of a female Viagra.
I was saddened a bit, but not terribly surprised, by the reductionist views so many researchers were taking. It is understandable that one might focus on just one part of a phenomenon in order to bring scientific rigor and control, but sexual arousal is something that happens to whole organisms, to people, not merely to genitals, and not merely to “minds”. Bergner does tell us of the researchers’ attempts to extrapolate their findings back to whole people, and whole relationships, but to my thinking the Times Magazine article itself was the better “big picture”, with each researcher contributing a part of a mosaic. It is well worth the read (when you find the time); then, to thoroughly dash your best hopes for humanity to the dust, take a look at the comments. *sigh*
Anyway, there is sufficient grist in this article for any number of new Valentine’s Day verses. For today, the inspiration comes from Marta Meana, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In her research, one answer to the question “what do women want?” is “to be wanted”:
For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving […] She recalled a patient whose lover was thoroughly empathetic and asked frequently during lovemaking, “ ‘Is this O.K.?’ Which was very unarousing to her. It was loving, but there was no oomph” — no urgency emanating from the man, no sign that his craving of the patient was beyond control.
I’ve got so much to say on this Valentine’s day
With you, Muse, my sole inspiration;
I’ll unburden my heart, pluck out Cupid’s dart
For my pen, and begin my notation:
I could train a white dove to deliver my love
In the form of a perfect red rose
Or else write in the sky, in great letters so high
That I guarantee everyone knows.
I could gather wild flowers, and listen for hours,
To whatever you have on your mind
I could gaze in your eyes with appreciative sighs,
Though they tell us, of course, love is blind.
For you, I could bake the world’s best chocolate cake
With a frosted “I love you” upon it,
Or for something with taste that won’t go to your waist
I could write a Shakespearean sonnet.
I could write you a tune, by the light of the moon,
Played on harpsichord, zither, and oboes,
Or choose some other fashion to show you my passion:
Let’s fuck like a pair of Bonobos.