Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Who is supposed to fix this problem?

[F]or many women, the cause of their sexual malaise appears to be monogamy itself. It is women much more than men who have H.S.D.D., who don’t feel heat for their steady partners. Evolutionary psychologists argue that this comes down to innate biology, that men are just made with stronger sex drives — so men will settle for the woman who’s always near. But the evidence for an inborn disparity in sexual motivation is debatable. A meta-analysis done by the psychologists Janet Hyde and Jennifer L. Petersen at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, incorporates more than 800 studies conducted between 1993 and 2007. It suggests that the very statistics evolutionary psychologists use to prove innate difference — like number of sexual partners or rates of masturbation — are heavily influenced by culture. All scientists really know is that the disparity in desire exists, at least after a relationship has lasted a while. 
The standard cultural explanation for marital infidelity for centuries now has been that men won't control themselves. As I've discussed many times before here, there isn't actually much evidence for that and serious study of female sexual response is, as the quote from the New York Times above indicates, is demolishing that.

HSDD means "hypoactive sexual-desire disorder" by the way, "hypoactive" meaning the opposite of "hyperactive". It's odd to call it a disorder as it is quite normal. In any case, it's a classic female pattern behaviour, not a male one. And it becomes pretty obvious, once you acknowledge this, that men don't cheat for the reasons a show like Mad Men would have us believe. That is to say, men don't cheat because they have some deep "inward" flaw that causes them to seek more and more sexual partners or because they are less mature emotionally or less giving than women. Rather, they cheat because women get bored of them as partners in a steady relationship and men, after trying hard to "rekindle romance" finally give up in despair and seek love elsewhere.

The above is all from a New York Times article by the way. The article is about how drug companies are trying to produce a pill that will increase women's desire and thereby solve the problem. That's one way to solve the problem I suppose.

But read the sample interview of one test subject from the study and you'll begin to suspect that her sex drive might not be the real problem:
“When your partner initiated sexual activity over the past eight weeks, did you show avoidance behavior?” 


“Like earlier to bed?” 

“Yes.” Linneah’s voice lurched louder; she laughed; it was a relief to talk bluntly. 

“Do you have pleasant feelings when you’re touched?” 


Later, after her appointment, she told me that in fact she has orgasms pretty much every time she and her husband have sex — that wasn’t the problem. “There’s something that’s stopping me from wanting it,” she said. “I don’t know what it is. I can’t tell you what it is.” 
And any man who has been in a prolonged relationship with a woman will be familiar with this scenario:
Around once a week, her husband tried to reach through the invisible barriers she built — the going up to bed early, the intense concentration on a book, the hoping he was too tired to want anything but sleep. “He’ll move closer to me in bed, or put his arm around me, or rub my back.” She willed herself not to refuse him. And mostly, she didn’t. Usually they had sex about four times each month. But it upset her that she had to force herself and that she put up those barriers to deter him from reaching more often.
Notice how she doesn't have any problems enjoying sex. It's the fact that she has to force herself to start with this particular man that bothers her. She doesn't want to work at sex, not even marital sex; she just wants it to just happen magically. If  Linneah were to cheat on her husband with another man, all those problems would disappear. Then it would be magic again. For a while anyway.

A lot of people have been saying, aha, see monogamy doesn't work for women and that is why we need open marriages. But, before you go that route, notice how ordinary her problem is. It's the sort of problem that just about everybody has about something. I don't know about you but I have  hard time getting into the shower some days. I much prefer being clean to being dirty and yet there is always a moment of hesitation. Once I do it, I feel better for it. The same thing happens with exercise. I feel much better as soon as I'm going but the duty of it drags me down. But if I put some imaginative effort into making it work for me, I can do those things. Linneah could do that with sex.

The point being that any other era of history would have described Linneah's problem using words like "selfish" and "lazy". All she has to do is make the effort and she'll he happier, her husband will be happier and, I suspect, everyone who has to deal with her will be happier because women who have regular orgasms are much better people than women who don't. But she won't do that.


  1. Its certainly interesting, and we don't know the full extent that nature or biology plays in this. We do know that post-menopausal women tend to lose all interest in sex, while their husbands say they're just getting started. Presumably a woman's diminished libido is the result of less estrogen, men also lose testosterone as they get older but apparently not enough to make them not want sex. There are both estrogen and testosterone replacement therapies, but they both have risks.

    1. Interesting enough, this issue isn't an issue of age. The research says that women of any age simply have a harder time than men in maintaining interest in the same partner.

      My experience is that women in their twenties struggle far more with this than older women. I suspect because older women have a better understanding of their own bodies and how to make them work.

  2. I agree that older women have a better understanding of their own bodies, and many of them don't want to be "fixed," they're content with leaving things as they are even if it means their husbands might be diriven to find outside interests. I guess the real question is why women in their 20s have a harder time maintaining interest in the same partner. Maybe part of it is the cultural influences of the post-modern world that tell women to keep their options open, don't just settle. I wonder if this holds true of women in their 20s who are married with children? And if so, how many of them act on it.