IT seemed an easy task. Write an article on the explosive new book, by Daniel Bergner, on sex: What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire.
In one chapter, Bergner examine if it’s true that men are ‘animals’ and that women crave emotional connection, making them more monogamous. The author quotes research involving women watching porn videos, while a light-bulb yoke is fitted inside their vagina to measure blood flows (thereby measuring their arousal).
The result was that women (both straight and gay) were aroused by all kinds of porn (including gay men having sex), whereas the male group were only turned-on according to their sexual orientation. The clincher was that the women were even turned on by apes having sex.
I needed help. I have never seen apes having sex, but I couldn’t imagine it would do it for me. But could I be wrong? Could our Daniel Bergner be onto something? Have our natural desires and appetites been subdued, due to a need to control our unfettered sexuality?
I needed to talk to women; women whose lives were different to mine. So, I met Jillian Godsil, a writer aged 48, and Ruth Kennedy, aged 44, a freelance radio-news presenter. Both women are single, both have had committed, long-term relationships and both are mothers. We discussed the book. !!
Reading it annoyed and discomforted me, and I was cynical about most of Mr Bergner’s assertions.
“Oh my God and I was going ‘yes, yes, yes’ while I was reading it,” said Jill, while Ruth said it was a “discomforting book to read” as it challenged the fairy tale notion of monogamy.
So do we accept the thesis that women are sexual volcanoes who have been brainwashed to believe that we need emotional connection for good sex and to prefer monogamy? “Yes,” said Ruth. “He says that monogamy works in every possible way, except for women’s sexual fulfilment. He maintains that women get bored quicker and seem to have more variation in their sexual interests that men do.”
Of the monkeys, Ruth said “the most interesting thing about that research was the self-reporting of their reaction later. The women generally said they were not turned on by the monkeys, straight women by gay sex, when, in fact, the scientific testing said different.”
I thought that just proved that, unlike men, women are not controlled by their genitals. Is monogamy out of date? “Well, in fairness, the book is about sexual fulfilment as opposed to relationships,” Ruth said. “It’s about what women want sexually.”
“What interests me, after reading it, is that I now wonder if I met someone special again, would I be able to be fulfilled in a monogamous relationship ... now that the genie is out of the bottle, so to speak,” said Jill.
While Bergner was talking about women being conditioned to accept monogamy so society could control their volcano of sexuality, he also said that women needed to feel safe.
“That ‘safeness’ sounds very boring,” says Jill. But, to me, that safety is one of the best things about being married. Yeah, I know, the fizz dies down.. it’s a bit like flat 7UP. “Ah, but can you still taste the sugar?” Jill said. !I guess I can’t separate sex from relationships. The book says you could have this amazing sexual adventure with other people. I don’t think I’d fancy that. If my husband proposed that we embark on a more open relationship, with both of us finding this sexual nirvana with other people, I would make tea and read.
Does fear hold women back from indulging their sexuality? “I interviewed author, Aoife Brennan, recently,” said Jill. “She has written a steamy novel, called The Cougar Diaries, and, in it, she describes the fear of her first time having sex with someone other than her husband, of getting naked in front of a stranger, etc. Men would never think like that.”
That’s what I mean about the safeness of being married. But to be desired is the greatest aphrodisiac, says Jill. “The element of unavailability is also very attractive and, in marriage, there is that always availability,” Ruth said.
Or, is it more like the old saying ‘sex is like air and only important when you are not getting any?’ “There was a film director, Mike Nichols, I think,” said Ruth, “who said that when you look at a scene, don’t ask what people are saying or what should be happening, but ask ‘what is really going on here?’ If we ask what is really happening, people are not monogamous, people are having de facto other wives and husbands, and they are having children with other people. So if we look at what is actually happening, it is very different to the ideal.”
“Yeah,” said Jill. “There are lots of couples experimenting with their sexuality, while living ‘normal’ married lives. I like the idea that I could have a committed relationship with a life partner, but that there could be still some room for variety.”
I can’t imagine how that fits into a committed relationship. There is the constant risk of someone falling in love. I don’t believe that sex is always divorced from emotion. Ruth agreed there is that risk. So did Jill: “I don’t quite know how it would work, either. But I will, hopefully, be able to let you know... in the not-too-distant future.”
Ruth said it reminded her of a quote from erotic-fiction writer Anais Nin’s book, A Spy in the House of Love: “She understood why it angered her when people spoke of life as One life... They spoke of one birth, one childhood, one adolescence, one romance, one marriage, one maturity, one aging, one death, and then transmitted the monotonous cycle to their children. But Sabina ... felt germinating in her the power to extend time in the ramifications of a myriad of lives and loves.’’
I put on the kettle again ... I needed a cup of tea.