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What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire

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Women are the monogamous sex. Women crave intimacy and emotional connection. Women don't want sex with strangers. Right? Wrong. Could 'the fairer sex' in fact be more sexually aggressive and anarchic than men? In What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, critically acclaimed journalist Daniel Bergner looks at the evidence. Recent research, he finds, Women are the monogamous sex. Women crave intimacy and emotional connection. Women don't want sex with strangers. Right? Wrong. Could 'the fairer sex' in fact be more sexually aggressive and anarchic than men? In What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, critically acclaimed journalist Daniel Bergner looks at the evidence. Recent research, he finds, dismantles the myths to reveal an unprecedented portrait of female lust- the triggers, the fantasies, the mind-body connection (and disconnection), the reasons behind the loss of libido and, most revelatory, that this loss is not inevitable.


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Women are the monogamous sex. Women crave intimacy and emotional connection. Women don't want sex with strangers. Right? Wrong. Could 'the fairer sex' in fact be more sexually aggressive and anarchic than men? In What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, critically acclaimed journalist Daniel Bergner looks at the evidence. Recent research, he finds, Women are the monogamous sex. Women crave intimacy and emotional connection. Women don't want sex with strangers. Right? Wrong. Could 'the fairer sex' in fact be more sexually aggressive and anarchic than men? In What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, critically acclaimed journalist Daniel Bergner looks at the evidence. Recent research, he finds, dismantles the myths to reveal an unprecedented portrait of female lust- the triggers, the fantasies, the mind-body connection (and disconnection), the reasons behind the loss of libido and, most revelatory, that this loss is not inevitable.

30 review for What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire

  1. 5 out of 5

    Buck

    In university, I once overheard a couple of female friends talking about guys. One was trying to get the other to set her up with somebody. There was the usual question: ‘Well, what kind of guy are you looking for?’ My one friend hemmed and hawed for a minute, and then said, ‘Oh, who am I kidding? I just need to get fucked.’ It was an eye-opening moment for me (granted, I was a pretty clueless 19-year old.) On one level, it was liberating to realize that women could be driven by the same In university, I once overheard a couple of female friends talking about guys. One was trying to get the other to set her up with somebody. There was the usual question: ‘Well, what kind of guy are you looking for?’ My one friend hemmed and hawed for a minute, and then said, ‘Oh, who am I kidding? I just need to get fucked.’ It was an eye-opening moment for me (granted, I was a pretty clueless 19-year old.) On one level, it was liberating to realize that women could be driven by the same imperious desires as men. On another level, it was kind of terrifying. And I think most men, if they’re honest, would admit to some ambivalence about female sexuality. We’re uneasily aware that there’s this powerful force out there that affects our lives in all sorts of ways, for good and ill, but we can’t even begin to understand it. If there’s one consolation here, it’s that women themselves don’t understand it either. Or so says Daniel Bergner in this poppy but fascinating little book. In one of the more prurient experiments he summarizes, female subjects were shown a range of porn—gay, straight, animal, whatever—while hooked up to vaginal sensors that measured their state of arousal. When the women were asked which scenes turned them on, their answers wildly diverged from what the sensors were indicating (‘Nope, sorry, that bit with the monkeys didn’t do anything for me.’) Whereas, when men were shown the same clips, their reported reactions closely matched the sensor readings. So what’s going on here? Why do women apparently misconstrue what their own bodies are telling them? The sexologists don’t rightly know. It could be an effect of sociocultural repression. It could be some kind of psychosomatic disconnect between loins and brains. Or maybe women just don’t like having scientists mucking around in their lady bits. My guess is that this book will make a lot of female readers feel a little better about themselves, a little less weird and ashamed. On the other hand, it’s going to freak out some male readers, especially those in long-term relationships. There’s emerging evidence that, contrary to popular belief, monogamy may be even harder on women than it is on men. Not that monogamy is necessarily wrong – just that its costs are very high and, for many women, simply intolerable. In that respect, What Do Women Want? is a surprisingly melancholy book. There are threads of sadness and desperation running through it. It’s a vivid reminder, in case you needed it, that life is tough, even for the luckiest among us. Here’s my own two-bit theory, cobbled together out of Freud and failure: you’re never going to be satisfied – not for long, and probably only in retrospect. A Korean proverb goes: get married and you’ll regret it, stay single and you’ll regret it. Sounds about right. What Plato called ‘the pursuit of the whole’ takes place down here, in the realm of the incomplete, among the half-assed. Frustration is the norm. As I see it, this isn’t an invitation to cynicism. It’s an invitation to acceptance. In the ordinary course of things, there’s no mingling of souls. There’s Chinese takeout and perfunctory sex. And that’s still pretty good, isn’t it?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Will

    I'm not sure how it was done, but this book made desire boring. Each chapter is an interview with a different researcher or scientist, and every chapter almost immediately veers off from the science to a discussion about the scientist's personal fears and interests, and a long and totally uninteresting description of a Woman Who Wishes To Have Desire But Does Not, framed in flowery language and with a totally unnecessary personal background. And he talks about the existence of female lust, I'm not sure how it was done, but this book made desire boring. Each chapter is an interview with a different researcher or scientist, and every chapter almost immediately veers off from the science to a discussion about the scientist's personal fears and interests, and a long and totally uninteresting description of a Woman Who Wishes To Have Desire But Does Not, framed in flowery language and with a totally unnecessary personal background. And he talks about the existence of female lust, simply to say that yes, it does exist. And then it goes nowhere. The real unforgivable sin here is that the most fascinating result -- when women approached men, they felt desire more keenly -- is buried at the end, with no thought of the implications. And that the desire for women to have rape fantasies and feel desire is all about feeling the man's desire for them. And he goes to great lengths to explain how it's not "really" a rape fantasy. So I'm going to veer off here and stop doing a review, because frankly what the trope of rape fantasy says to me is that women want agency in sex, but can't even conceive of having that agency directly. That force of desire is their own, but they don't own it -- it's a "fantasy man" that wants them and who they are helpless before. Women, in the sexual world, are at each and every point told that the man makes the first move, the man feels lust, and their role is to accept and yield. But even when writing about bonobos, rhesus monkeys and rats who clearly like and seek out sex, the massive and overwhelming role of cultural programming doesn't get center stage. Instead we get stories about unsatisfied housewives and a single couple that decides to try swinging. And I'm not saying my theory is "right." It's a half-assed theory from reading a pop science book. The point is that there is no theory in this book -- the author has not done the work to have a point of view about what he's seen. Dan Savage may have had this guy as a guest speaker, but it's stunning just how vacuous this book is compared to Dan Savage's work, who clearly thinks and loves what he does. Reading this book, you get the feeling that the author will never return to the subject, and would be just as happy writing about income tax reform.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shaun

    The ideas Bergner presents suggest that if we take away the cultural and societal veneer, we are left with the raw biology of how women act and react sexually. So what tests are being done, and how do women act naturally (meaning without the social conditioning)? I: Plethysmograph Tests This test is mainly done through a plethysmograph: a tube that is inserted in the vagina to measure blood flow, moisture, and wetness. The idea is that the more blood, moisture, and wet the vagina is, the more it The ideas Bergner presents suggest that if we take away the cultural and societal veneer, we are left with the raw biology of how women act and react sexually. So what tests are being done, and how do women act naturally (meaning without the social conditioning)? I: Plethysmograph Tests This test is mainly done through a plethysmograph: a tube that is inserted in the vagina to measure blood flow, moisture, and wetness. The idea is that the more blood, moisture, and wet the vagina is, the more it is prepared for sex. The test is to have this pleythsmograph inserted while women watch various things to measure blood flow and wetness. Images varied between porn (both soft and hard), a naked man, a naked woman, lesbian porn, gay porn, masturbation (of both men and women), and a pair of bonobos having sex. In all cases, the women—both straight and lesbian—measured an increase blood flow and wetness. The presuposition is that they were all turned on by it. In fact, comparing the images of a man with an erection or a man without an erection, the test suggested that they were more turned if the man had an erection. In other words, for men (both straight and gay), their bodies and their psychological, subjective expressions of desire were the same. They said they were turned on, and they had more blood flow in their penis. In other instances where they reported not being turned on, they had less blood flow in their penis. With women, if you ask them whether they were turned on or not, they will straight away say that there were some where they were not turned on. Yet, the plethysmograph showed that their body was always flowing blood around the vaginal walls, suggesting that their body was turned on. So what’s going on here? Why were women’s bodies saying “yes”, but their minds were saying “no”? Were they secretly turned on, but they were taught to keep a psychic distance from themselves? Bergner suggests that this was “objective evidence that women were categorical after all.” The women’s body was turned on, even if she was psychologically not. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá suggest that some women are lying to themselves about what they secretly desire in their latest book, Sex at Dawn. However, there is one portion of desire that is tricky to explain: rape fantasies. How do evolutionary biologists account for some women who have rape fantasies? Why do some women have them? One theory is that since sexuality has been associated with guilt (especially for women), the fantasy was a way to remove the guilt and the shame associated with sex. Another theory is that it’s breaking a taboo. Another plethysmograph was used. Women listed to rape scenes in a lab. Genital blood flow spiked tremendously. Again, the body was turned on, but the mind was not. So why was body turned on with the male having the erection (even if the woman herself reports that she is not turned on)? Bergner gives an insightful answer from sexologist Meredith Chivers: because the woman’s body—through years of evolution and cultural patriarchy—has geared itself to get ready for sex. Women had constantly been sexually attacked in the past, and the ability to get ready for sex, even if the women didn’t want to, had an evolutionary advantage to protect the vagina against tearing, infection, infertility, or even death. This, however, does not mean that the woman desires sex. Rather, the body seems to get ready for sex as part of a reflexive system that had nothing to do with the desire for love or sex. Indeed, there have been numerous cases where rape victims have felt their body getting ready for sex. Some women have even reported experiencing orgasm during their rape. But we can’t conclude that just because the body is ready for sex, the woman herself desires sex. In other words, arousal does not equal consent. Otherwise, we get to the weird and grotesque conclusion that women secretly want to be raped. II: Monogamy In another scenario, women seem to have their desires waned after being in long-term relationship. Even after marriage and kids, the women didn’t have the passion or the same level of desire as the men. The conclusion that Bergner reaches is that women’s desire—despite the narrative that they are natural caretakers and faithful to their spouses—has evolved women to be nonmonogamous. First test: there is a famous example by evolutionary psychologists to suggest how women are more selective than men when it comes to sexuality. The test was to have a male approach an unknown female and ask her if she would have sex with him. The results suggested that a huge of majority of women said “no.” Switching the sexes where the female approached the male and ask him if he would have sex with her, the males most likely said “yes.” Therefore, according to these evolutionary psychologists, males were more lusty, promiscuous, and naturally nonmonogamous whereas females were more reserved, monogamous, and sexually conservative. But Bergner rightfully shows that there’s a bias in these results. If a random male approached a female, she would say “no” because of cultural or social dictations: he could harm her or her reputation could be ruined. However, change the scenario where one would imagine Johnny Depp, Donald Trump, or Brad Pitt. No one would know, and these strangers are more well-known. More women would then say “yes” (more to Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt). This suggested that if one takes away the social expectations, you have pure fantasy which leaves open for a better view of what one desires. This bias suggests that evolutionary psychology has been reinforcing Victorian morality toward women’s sexuality. Throughout history and even through science, women are told how they should feel. Bergner converses with women (both gay and straight) about how they had a lusty appetite toward their partners at the beginning of the relationship, but then the lust had waned over time. But why is that? Some women mentioned that over time, the respected partner had grown comfortable with them, meaning that the woman slowly got to know her partner better. Thus, there was no need to constantly express desire for the woman; rather, the relationship was more about admiration, compassionate love, and respect. The lusty appetite had waned, so much so that simply being naked in front of each other didn’t spark up desire; rather, nakedness just spoke to their comfortability toward each other. And yet, one woman had said that “the male without an erection is announcing a lack of arousal.” It is as if to say that the heart of women’s desire is to be desired. Indeed, women may choose to be in a relationship, but don’t conclude that this is the heart of their desire. There is even a disorder about this problem: “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” or HSDD. Is it that women really have a lower libido than normal, or is it that they are just bored with the relationship? What’s interesting is that women who are usually diagnosed with HSDD report about the longevity of their relationships. But this disorder didn’t seem to fit with other type of disorders. The condition was not psychiatric, “but created by our most common domestic arrangement.” The women were happy with the relationship, and they never stopped desiring, they just had trouble wanting their partners. Investigating other primates, there is a possibility that monogamy may actually be cultural cages for women. Indeed, women swiftly feel a wane of desire in their committed relationships. Why is this? One theory is that within fidelity, the passion and the feeling of being desired grew more remote. But this isn’t because the partner lost interest; rather, it was because the woman felt that her partner was trapped, that the partner did not choose her, but was impelled upon the partner because the partner was in the relationship. So what’s the solution? There is the pharmaceutical answer. And with money pouring into it, there is a race to find a drug to cure monogamy. But what’s astonishing is the fact that monogamy needed a cure in the first place? Bergner is making too much of a leap here. Sure, the libido has lessened, but why tie this up with monogamy? The stories that Bergner mentions come from women who already have their libido down. This is probably why they were test subjects in the first place. The sample is skewed then: it seems that Bergner only talked to women who have already low libidos within their relationship. So what’s the solution? Curing monogamy? That doesn’t follow. The solution, presuming everything else is valid, is to increase libido. Indeed, that’s what the pharmaceutical companies have been trying to do. To say that it’s curing monogamy is a stretch. Through these test subjects, Bergner wonders why some women were affected, but others weren’t? Why are some women affected by different oral contraceptives, but others aren’t? It never really occurs to Bergner that it is perhaps because different women have different chemicals and different drugs affect them differently. Bergner is treating all women like an essence by reifying them. Indeed, he even suggests that different women have different testosterone levels and that these levels play a key to women’s desire. III: Sexual Fluidity Women seem to have a much more flexible sexuality. While growing up, boys will gain information through their environment and what they gain will fully inform their sexual development. Thus, men’s fetishes and sexual quirks are more or less permanent. Women’s sexuality, however, doesn’t have this permanent streak. This is why most women don’t have fetishes, but their sexual orientation seems to be flexible too. In fact, through the work of Lisa Diamond, female desire was more about the emotional involvement. In fact, it’s so powerful that female desire could override sexual orientation. Thus, female desire has a sexually strong emotional component, strong enough to the point that the gender of the other person may not matter. Diamond’s subjects didn’t stay close to the same person, their orientation changed, and their sexual fantasies were not constant. Why are women more fluid? Perhaps a better question is why are males not fluid? Males have typically defined female sexuality in a way that is favorable to themselves. So what to think from this book? I admire Bergner for tackling the scientific studies of women’s sexuality and trying to explain them in a readable book for a general audience. Women’s sexuality has not been researched well enough. On the other hand, Bergner’s conclusions based on the articles are astoundingly invalid. He reaches conclusions that do not follow from the data (especially his take on monogamy). Moreover, the reading does make a few connections. There were nice anecdotes to grab my interest. Other times, however, I felt like I was reading a bunch of magazine articles. It follows through a string of hypotheses that Bergner somehow tries to tie it all together, but it isn’t great. It is as if he tries to capture a simple formula of what women desire. Indeed, at one point of of the book, he mentions a scientist using the data he’s collected about women’s sexuality and reducing it down to an 11-point equation. Imagine that. Taking all of women’s experience and history and it can all be explained through an equation. Yet at the same time, Bergner also mentions that women’s sexuality is so complex. The complexity, it seems, cannot be really be captured to something neat and simple. Would I recommend this book? Maybe. I guess you could read it for the interesting research of investigating women’s sexuality, but I’d quickly leave as soon as Bergner makes conclusions about this research. I would suggest reading Meredith Chivers or Lisa Diamond to get the gritty details of their work, and perhaps better conclusions than Bergner does. So then, what do women want? Probably not to be reduced to a single homogenous category where some guy tells them what they want.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    There's no arguing with Bergner's central premise--that our culture is guilty of minimizing the existence of female lust, and this shortcoming has led to some pretty bad science and some truly awful social norms. However, Bergner's attempt to answer the question "what do women really want" goes nowhere. He's guilty of three of my major pet peeves for popular science writers: 1. He picks and chooses his trusted sources seemingly at random, and dismisses opposing viewpoints with a couple glib There's no arguing with Bergner's central premise--that our culture is guilty of minimizing the existence of female lust, and this shortcoming has led to some pretty bad science and some truly awful social norms. However, Bergner's attempt to answer the question "what do women really want" goes nowhere. He's guilty of three of my major pet peeves for popular science writers: 1. He picks and chooses his trusted sources seemingly at random, and dismisses opposing viewpoints with a couple glib paragraphs without genuinely engaging their arguments. 2. He too quickly equates behavior observed in animal experiments with human behaviors. Worse, he focuses on a motley collection of species that closely mirror his own belief about human behaviors. This tactic has bugged me forever; it's pretty easy to find any kind of behavior in the animal kingdom and then say that because it exists in other species it must be natural in humans. 3. He completely misunderstands how evolution works. I've read a lot of bad evolutionary theory, but this quote is a truly awful example: "Animal species have been designed by evolution to perpetuate themselves, to reproduce, but in the individual animal, it isn't reproduction that impels." There's so much wrong with that statement I could write a whole thesis about it. Finally, be warned: this is not a self-help book or a relationship guide. I actually feel like I know even less about what women really want than I did before reading this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Laura Jordan

    Yet another confirmation of my long-standing animus against evolutionary psychology. God forefend any behavior be the result of millennia of social conditioning, as opposed to something we must be "hard-wired" to do. So, yeah, back to the book. Somewhat fluffy, but on the positive side, bound to irritate and anger cultural conservatives. It was both hilarious and disturbing where the drug researchers looking into a female Viagra wanted to to make sure that their drug worked well, but not too Yet another confirmation of my long-standing animus against evolutionary psychology. God forefend any behavior be the result of millennia of social conditioning, as opposed to something we must be "hard-wired" to do. So, yeah, back to the book. Somewhat fluffy, but on the positive side, bound to irritate and anger cultural conservatives. It was both hilarious and disturbing where the drug researchers looking into a female Viagra wanted to to make sure that their drug worked well, but not too well, as the world might not be able to deal with the idea of a bunch of over-horny women. Really liked this bit where Bergner strays into the existential: Meana, a researcher, "returned to a phrase, a dream, she had criticized before: 'You complete me.' The seeking of a lover to embody these words; the pining for a love that will be unconditional; the search for a union that is absolute; the sense that our partners should give us what we were given -- or what we believe we should have been given -- by our parents; the craving for reassurance -- tell me I'm special, tell me I'm beautiful, tell me I'm smart, tell me I'm successful, tell me you love me, tell me it's forever, no matter what, till death do us part -- these were, for Meana, scarcely more than a child's cries. Yet most of us could not stand to relinquish the yearning for someone to be our fulfillment, our affirmation, because to turn away from such hope would be to acknowledge that we are, inescapably, navigating our lives alone, supported by love if we are lucky but, finally, on our own. Few of us want to navigate this way" (144-5).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    I despise evolutionary biology because it often works backwards, suggesting that we can understand human behavior by imagining an evolutionary reason for it. I loved how Berger showed that what women say they want and what their bodies respond to are very different things. Women were traditionally considered the more sexual sex because the mind was prized over the body. The idea that women are less sexual actually dates to the Victorian era. Nevertheless, pop psychology loves to suggest that I despise evolutionary biology because it often works backwards, suggesting that we can understand human behavior by imagining an evolutionary reason for it. I loved how Berger showed that what women say they want and what their bodies respond to are very different things. Women were traditionally considered the more sexual sex because the mind was prized over the body. The idea that women are less sexual actually dates to the Victorian era. Nevertheless, pop psychology loves to suggest that women are inherently more interested in intimacy and that men are naturally less well-suited for monogamy. It should then not be surprising that women have learned to suppress their own urges for fear of being viewed as a whore or aberrant. As women have gained more cultural and economic power, they have also become markedly more sexual, and our culture always views this as a problem. The thousands of articles about hook-up culture are all based on the idea that women are being harmed by casual sex. Berger's books argues that women are much more sexual and that their sexual urges are much more "promiscuous" than men's. He's not suggesting that women may not still prize intimacy for other reasons, but he suggests that intimacy certainly does not increase libido, which most women already know. Although I wish the book were longer and did not sound quite so much like a long magazine piece, I still found the overall argument and science fairly compelling. Some may argue that the book is suggesting that women shouldn't be in long-term relationships, but I'd argue that the book is simply trying to say that women should be honest about their desires and open with their partners. They shouldn't believe there is something wrong with them or fall into the trap of believing that greater emotional intimacy will lead to increased desire--which will only leave them feeling worse about themselves and their partners.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Stacy

    Please be warned, this book is not for people who get easily enraged when conventional wisdom is questioned. In fact, if you are someone who cherishes conventional wisdom, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. Bake brownies, walk the dog, call a relative, play with the baby, watch a movie, read your Facebook wall, do the dishes. But DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. Because What Do Women Want? is the most empowering book I’ve read in a long time. I gush about all kinds of books that I read, but I got something like a Please be warned, this book is not for people who get easily enraged when conventional wisdom is questioned. In fact, if you are someone who cherishes conventional wisdom, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. Bake brownies, walk the dog, call a relative, play with the baby, watch a movie, read your Facebook wall, do the dishes. But DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. Because What Do Women Want? is the most empowering book I’ve read in a long time. I gush about all kinds of books that I read, but I got something like a heroin rush from this one, or maybe I should say heroin, cocaine, and meth all mixed together– because mind = blown. Why do I love this book so much? Because women are amazing. Because understanding desire is key to understanding who we are, as women, as men, as transgender people. And that’s all this book is doing– talking about how science blinded itself for so long, and how some scientists are taking off their blinders. There are so many things I learned in this book. I learned that scientists still don’t really understand how female genitalia work. I learned how scientists ignored, for so long, how big the clitoris really is (which holds true for the public today). And how women have so many different pathways to orgasm. How even paralyzed women can still have orgasms. How women are much more able to orgasm without even touching themselves than men are. (Seriously. Women’s bodies are just amazing.) I learned that birth control significantly diminishes a woman’s testosterone levels, and scientists still don’t understand why that kills desire in some women, but doesn’t matter to others. And I learned about monkeys. I learned stuff about monkeys I have never read before. I was fascinated by these monkeys. And I learned that monogamy is actually harder for women than it is for men. I learned that the loss of desire is so profound in some women that they just feel dead inside. I learned all these things women are doing to try to regain their desire. How incredibly difficult that can be. I listened to women talk about their lives. Their real lives. And their sexual lives. I was simply amazed. In the best way possible. This book is awesome.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Asho

    I read this book for one of my two book clubs. I wavered between giving it 2 and 3 stars. I have to admit that it provoked probably the best discussion our club has had so far this year. However, I was hoping it would tell me something I didn't already know. Instead, the author primarily discussed scientific studies that provide biological evidence of things I already know, because I am a woman: females often initiate sex (although not always in the same obvious peacocking ways males seem to I read this book for one of my two book clubs. I wavered between giving it 2 and 3 stars. I have to admit that it provoked probably the best discussion our club has had so far this year. However, I was hoping it would tell me something I didn't already know. Instead, the author primarily discussed scientific studies that provide biological evidence of things I already know, because I am a woman: females often initiate sex (although not always in the same obvious peacocking ways males seem to tend to initiate it), women don't need an emotional connection to enjoy a sexual one any more than men do, women are not inherently more suited to monogamy than men are, the physiology of female desire is complex and tricky to replicate artificially. I think the only part of this book that came as a surprise to me was the study that found that women are just as turned on by visual stimuli as men are. I find it hard to believe that many people in the twenty-first century western world would be truly surprised by the studies in this book, but maybe I'm wrong and people really are still that close-minded and puritanical about women and sex. Parts of this book were unnecessarily salacious, even considering the subject matter. I'm far from a prude, but I couldn't figure out what the author was trying to accomplish by the salacious passages other than trying to hype up the subject matter to draw greater attention to his work. I also felt like the random interviews with women about their sex lives didn't add much to the book. The anecdotal stories mixed in with the scientific research findings seemed to undermine the science and made the book seem less serious and its findings less important. Another downside to this book is that it paints an unfairly bleak picture of monogamy. I know it's only supposed to be about desire, and I suppose it only makes sense that after decades together sexual desire would naturally wane. But I feel like it's impossible to look at desire separately from all the other facets of a marriage that make it such a worthwhile social construct.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amy Raby

    This is one of the better books I've read about the science of female sexuality. Female sexuality is poorly understood because there aren't many sex researchers out there (because of the stigma), and the ones who do exist mostly study men. It has long been conventional (patriarchal) wisdom that men crave lots of sexual partners while women crave close, intimate relationships. But anyone who has been through a long-term relationship or two knows that desire tends to wane over time, and this may This is one of the better books I've read about the science of female sexuality. Female sexuality is poorly understood because there aren't many sex researchers out there (because of the stigma), and the ones who do exist mostly study men. It has long been conventional (patriarchal) wisdom that men crave lots of sexual partners while women crave close, intimate relationships. But anyone who has been through a long-term relationship or two knows that desire tends to wane over time, and this may actually happen faster for women than for men. This book tells the story of countless women who genuinely love their husbands but have lost their sexual desire for them and desperately want it back. Some of the concepts here were new to me, but made sense, like the idea that female lust is stimulated in part by a feeling of being strongly desired by her partner. And there was some exploration of the concept (not new to me) that arousal in women does not equal consent. I particularly recall a story about a woman who found herself unexpectedly in a sexual situation and was aroused but nonetheless did not want to go through with it. She extricated herself, and later the incident provided endless fantasy material. I also didn't know about Bremelanotide, a drug that appears to strongly stimulate sexual desire in women. It failed FDA approval because of dangerous side effects, but the company is still working on it. The idea is to solve the problem of women who want to stay in their marriages but need their sexual mojo restored. And while such a drug could solve a lot of problems, even save a lot of marriages, it doesn't take much imagination to envision the problems it might create.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    I loved this book. It was a very fast read, and I enjoyed hearing about the kind of work that is being done in exploring female sexuality. It does a great job of tweezing out what we think we know about female sexuality and what can be proven, which is not a lot. The book raises a lot more questions about the topic than it answers, but the overall thrust of it is that much of what we as a society believe about female sexuality is BS. Comforting BS, but still BS. Perhaps it is confirmation bias I loved this book. It was a very fast read, and I enjoyed hearing about the kind of work that is being done in exploring female sexuality. It does a great job of tweezing out what we think we know about female sexuality and what can be proven, which is not a lot. The book raises a lot more questions about the topic than it answers, but the overall thrust of it is that much of what we as a society believe about female sexuality is BS. Comforting BS, but still BS. Perhaps it is confirmation bias on my part, but I'm so relieved to read a book that doesn't try to convince me of the same old crap about what I'm supposed to want. That's a relief in itself.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melistress

    Informative. In some cases, erotic. Probably the best work of non-fiction I have read on female sexuality. I take issue with the title however. It is really hard to take a book seriously when the title alludes to how difficult women are. Really, we aren't much different than men, except perhaps our sexuality is more repressed. Probably a good read for everyone - male and female alike.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Book

    What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner “What Do Women Want?" is the unsatisfying science book on female sexual desires. A surprisingly neglected area of science, this book covers the latest scientific research on female lust. The book however suffers from being uneven, lack of flow and quite frankly scientific negligence. There is some interesting research and some findings are enlightening but ultimately this book fails to answer the premise of this What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner “What Do Women Want?" is the unsatisfying science book on female sexual desires. A surprisingly neglected area of science, this book covers the latest scientific research on female lust. The book however suffers from being uneven, lack of flow and quite frankly scientific negligence. There is some interesting research and some findings are enlightening but ultimately this book fails to answer the premise of this ill-titled book to satisfaction. This disappointing 224-page book is composed of the following ten chapters: 1. Animals, 2. Bodies and Minds, 3. The Sexual Fable of Evolutionary Science, 4. Monkeys and Rats, 5. Narcissism, 6. The Alley, 7. Monogamy, 8. Four Orgasms, 9. Magic, and 10. A Beginning. Positives: 1. A fascinating topic. 2. A welcomed book on a neglected area of science, female sexual lust. 3. Debunking myths. “And that one of our most comforting assumptions, soothing perhaps above all to men but clung to by both sexes, that female eros is much better made for monogamy than the male libido, is scarcely more than a fairy tale.” 4. Use of some of the most recent scientific fields to come up with models of behavior. “Sticking with neuropsychology, she wound up doing a thesis experiment that added to fledgling evidence: that homosexual men perform less well than heterosexuals on a type of test involving three-dimensional shapes, just as females, on average, perform less well than males.” 5. There are some interesting stories and findings. “Freund didn’t make a career out of hunting homosexuals. Early on, he tried to cure gays through psychoanalysis; eventually he called in his patients and gave their money back.” 6. A brief history of sexuality, the prevailing ethos of some eras. The thinking behind what was meant to be female. 7. Parental investment theory under the magnifying glass. Not afraid to be critical of other pop-science books. 8. Does a good job of putting functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) in the proper perspective. 9. Does point out some missed opportunities in science. “What science had managed to miss in the monkeys—what it had effectively erased—was female desire.” 10. Some interesting social observations. ““Female desire is not governed by the relational factors that, we like to think, rule women’s sexuality in contrast to men’s.” 11. The thrill of fear and sexuality. Fantasies. 12. The relationship between marriage and monogamy toward women’s libidos. 13. An interesting discussion on the anatomical origins on the varieties of bliss. 14. A discussion on how science and in particular pharmaceutical companies are searching for female libido enhancement medication. 15. Readings provided. Negatives: 1. An uneven and in my opinion a poorly written book. 2. The book just wasn’t fun to read; a waste of a fascinating topic. 3. Not a criticism directed toward the author but the truth is that we know so little about our sexuality. As a society we should back more studies in this fascinating field. 4. Some minor spelling issues. 5. Some readers will have issues with the at times necessary explicit nature of the book and some topics are difficult. 6. It doesn’t answer the premise of the title to a satisfactory level. 7. Weak explanations on neuroscience. Poor use of good science. 8. No links to end sources or reading material for that matter. In summary, I’m very disappointed in this book, such a waste of a fascinating topic. The uneven writing style coupled with scientific negligence left me, well…unsatisfied. Simply, I didn’t enjoy this book. During the ride on this rollercoaster of a book, there are some interesting findings, some myths were debunked but it ultimately brings you right back where you started and it never answers to satisfaction the premise of the title, What Do Women Want? In a mild defense of the author, he is not afraid to be critical of some well-known pop science findings and putting fMRIs in perspective. That being said, I’m sorry, I can’t recommend this book. Thankfully, it’s a short ride if you so desire to ride this unsatisfying rollercoaster. Further suggestions: “The Science of Love” Robin Dunbar, “The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature” by Matt Ridley, “Sex and Punishment” Eric Berkowitz, “Work with Me” by Barbara Annis and John Gray, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel H. Pink, and “Half the Sky” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn.

  13. 5 out of 5

    E.C. McCarthy

    Bergner's assimilation of current research on women's desire and libido is fascinating. When he sticks to cross-referencing the growing body of science he's giving readers unprecedented access to the seeds of another sexual revolution (or the next phase of one, depending on your point of view.) I was confused, however, by the repeated reference to the idea of "curing monogamy." I think he means monotony, if I understand the information he lays out. Curing monogamy would mean the end of single Bergner's assimilation of current research on women's desire and libido is fascinating. When he sticks to cross-referencing the growing body of science he's giving readers unprecedented access to the seeds of another sexual revolution (or the next phase of one, depending on your point of view.) I was confused, however, by the repeated reference to the idea of "curing monogamy." I think he means monotony, if I understand the information he lays out. Curing monogamy would mean the end of single partner relationships, and that's not what this book is about at all. This book gets three stars because Bergner violates the inviolable in his third person narrative. He fictionalizes the thoughts and feelings of real people, which is more than distracting in a data-oriented book, and undercuts everything he presents. The reader is left to wonder what other liberties he has taken in the information he's presenting. (I expect not too many, but it's not a question you want your readers to ask.) To Mr. Bergner and his editor I'd say only this: the book is great, but no more "she felt" "she trusted" or "she believed" only "she said she felt", "she said she trusted" and so on. Good journalism is key, especially on groundbreaking subject matter for a historically maligned population. Anything less feels disrespectful.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    This is an interesting book combining research on women's sexuality with anecdotes, many quite colorful. Unfortunately, reading it is somewhat unsatisfying because so little is known about the sources of desire and many of the things we think we know are either probably or definitely wrong. Apparently women's sexuality is not considered a worthy research topic at prestigious universities and many of the studies we have are flawed in some profound way. One example he gives is the belief that This is an interesting book combining research on women's sexuality with anecdotes, many quite colorful. Unfortunately, reading it is somewhat unsatisfying because so little is known about the sources of desire and many of the things we think we know are either probably or definitely wrong. Apparently women's sexuality is not considered a worthy research topic at prestigious universities and many of the studies we have are flawed in some profound way. One example he gives is the belief that women are pickier about partners based on analysis of speed dating events. In the usual format, the men rotated through the room while the women stayed put. The men were interested in more second dates than the women were. Finally somebody thought to change the format, with the women rotating through the room. All of a sudden, the women were just as interested in second dates as the men were. Bergner claims that beliefs that women are more suited to monogamy than men are basically wishful thinking on the part of men. The saddest stories are about the waning of desire in long-term relationships, distressing both partners and often leading to breakups. The holy grail for this research is to come up with the magic pill that brings back those old feelings.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jennie

    I picked this up after listening to a Savage Lovecast episode that features Bergner as a guest expert. He's an insightful researcher, and here he's put forth some fascinating information. But I can't quite recommend this book because the writing is really uneven. Bergner's ideas are organized in a strange and jumbled fashion. For example, he sometimes opens a section with a vague partial anecdote and then meanders through 20+ pages of scientific discourse before circling back to wrap up the I picked this up after listening to a Savage Lovecast episode that features Bergner as a guest expert. He's an insightful researcher, and here he's put forth some fascinating information. But I can't quite recommend this book because the writing is really uneven. Bergner's ideas are organized in a strange and jumbled fashion. For example, he sometimes opens a section with a vague partial anecdote and then meanders through 20+ pages of scientific discourse before circling back to wrap up the opening story (which the reader has now forgotten). Also Bergner relays his interviewees' personal stories in a strangely lurid and melodramatic way. The tale about the basketball coach's wife in particular just seemed rambling and unnecessary. One last complaint, I understood what Bergner's was driving at - this idea that long term monogamy and stability unfortunately marks the end of many women's sexual desire, and it's a valid point. But the second half of the book is pretty depressing, he hammers on it a bit too hard without providing an alternative viewpoint. I've said it before and I'll say it again, why do these types of books never speak to practicing nonmonogamists?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marc Brackett

    I started this book with high hopes, after all what male doesn't want to learn this age old secret? After finishing this book I largely felt a gag book titled, "What Men Know About Women," that consisted entirely of 100 some blank pages was nearly as informative. The big difference between the two books was that Bergner also discovers that women also really don't know much about what they want either. So it seems we are clueless in this together, the status quo is safe. The problem seems to be I started this book with high hopes, after all what male doesn't want to learn this age old secret? After finishing this book I largely felt a gag book titled, "What Men Know About Women," that consisted entirely of 100 some blank pages was nearly as informative. The big difference between the two books was that Bergner also discovers that women also really don't know much about what they want either. So it seems we are clueless in this together, the status quo is safe. The problem seems to be that women are either unaware of or ashamed to admit what it is they do desire. The case is equally strong for both conditions and is probably a mixture. There is no doubt that society and cultures around the world have heavily suppressed female sexuality and thus we have few (none?) populations where we can measure the natural female sexual appetite and compare it to our current condition. This book and other more recent research however does suggest our existing models are very wrong. Women are not any less likely to appreciate variety or frequency than men. Very telling is the numbers of affair site Ashley Madison. For most of the history of this site and others like it, it's primary been what could be termed a sausage fest- a lot more guys than women. However recently for the crowd 35 years and under we are seeing equality in numbers for the first time. A combination of technology and financial resources seems to be allowing women the same opportunities for play in foreign fields that has been traditionally reserved for men. Hardly a trend that supports the theory of women being primarily concerned with nurturing relationships and life long companionship. I think the strongest parts of this book was when the search for a female Viagra was explored. The early concerns about being to successful and having society thrown into chaos as waves of women under chemical influence lose their inhibitions- it's going to remain a dream or at best a very popular fiction book. It turns out (big surprise) that just increasing blood flow in a woman's nether regions is not enough. The missing ingredient that remains beyond the reach of any chemist is desire, the desire of a narcissist. It appears that a key element of sexual satisfaction and desire for women is being desired. I think this quote sums it up nicely, “In my sex fantasy, no one ever loves me for my mind.” Nora Ephron The books take on why women may be less fit for monogamy than men is equally interesting. It appears that women while appreciating faithful men also find having a captive man as exciting as a canned hunt (put the gun between the bars and shoot). A man who only has one choice to make is hardly acting out of desire for a specific subject. It seems that a woman would rather be the one chosen from many than being the sole competitor (unless of course she was runner up). This plays into the supposedly common and popular rape fantasy that nearly all women have. Before anyone gets the wrong idea, it's not that women want to be raped. Rather there are elements that are linked to desire. Someone wanting them, them alone, the want overcoming one of societies strongest forbidden actions, and the notion of being irresistible. While for sure not the scene of a real rape it's not the scene played out in many safe regular encounters either. I was sent a video that I think wraps this topic up quite nicely. Enjoy. Long Term Relationships and Desire

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paul Cook

    I read the author's New York Times Magazine piece based on this work, and decided to go for the book. Daniel Bergner talks to researchers, mostly women, who are empirically investigating female desire, and describes specific findings, as well as patterns emerging in the growing literature. Along the way, much of what our culture likes to believe about female sexuality, and well as what many of the research subjects wanted to believe about themselves, is called seriously into question on I read the author's New York Times Magazine piece based on this work, and decided to go for the book. Daniel Bergner talks to researchers, mostly women, who are empirically investigating female desire, and describes specific findings, as well as patterns emerging in the growing literature. Along the way, much of what our culture likes to believe about female sexuality, and well as what many of the research subjects wanted to believe about themselves, is called seriously into question on increasingly firm scientific ground. Evolutionary psychology, on the basis of what it considers to be adaptive, has posited that women, having more limited opportunity to bequeath their genes, and needing support in child-rearing, will tend to be inclined more toward monogamy, tend to fewer sexual partners, and in general, express these tendencies through greater sexual restraint than men. Men--at least in terms of spreading their genes--supposedly benefit from casting their copiously produced genetic material through as many females as possible. This is a somewhat simplistic summary, since difficult-to-explain cracks in it appear both in human and animal studies. I find evolutionary psychology fascinating, but its theories are often very hard to validate empirically, or to falsify. And the women in the studies cited in What Do Women Want? do nothing to inspire confidence in what one of Bergner's chapter titles calls "the sexual fable of evolutionary science." Meredith Chivers, a leading researcher in women's desire, showed erotic materials to study participants whose responses were measured physiologically using a device called a plethysmograph to gauge vaginal area blood flow. At the same time, the women reported their levels of arousal while looking at these erotic videos, photographs, and in some cases, listening to stories. Members of one group, as a form of control, were attached to a device they were told was a lie detector. Women without the "lie detector" reported low levels of arousal in many cases when the physiological measurements said otherwise. The women in the lie-detector group had self-reported levels of arousal much closer than those who did not believe they were being monitored. Other researchers are looking at what to do about women who have lost desire for their partners in long-term relationships. These women love their husbands or partners, and want to maintain the close bonds. Part of the book looks at pharmaceutical efforts to deal with this. But in the course of talking with women whose desire for their partners has waned, researchers have learned that fantasies of other partners still appeal to the women, and that the women, at least in their expressed wishes, appear no more monogamous by nature than men are typically thought to be. Fantasies that push boundaries and alarm feminists are more common, at least at this point in the field's development, than would commonly be thought. One might say that eating and having sex are the two activities most basic to life, all life, including humans. Eating sustains individuals, and sex sustains the species. No getting around that. But we do need some controls on both, and people have adapted to the need for controlling sexual expression in myriad ways, as any good historical or cross-cultural look at the topic can attest. But could we get along better if we were more conscious of what we're doing? Probably.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peter Ellwood

    Really quite disappointing. It's as though the book was written at four or more different stages in the writer's life - or even, by four or more different people - and the results were just lumped together in a nonsensical blob. It starts out with an oh-so "American" bit of pseudo-journalism, full of soft porn innuendo "Her legs were long, her breasts, full, high..". It moves effortlessly on to an account of how the female of quite a number of species is in fact the sexual protagonist - but Really quite disappointing. It's as though the book was written at four or more different stages in the writer's life - or even, by four or more different people - and the results were just lumped together in a nonsensical blob. It starts out with an oh-so "American" bit of pseudo-journalism, full of soft porn innuendo "Her legs were long, her breasts, full, high..". It moves effortlessly on to an account of how the female of quite a number of species is in fact the sexual protagonist - but without really attaching this idea to homo sapiens. It makes a passing, almost sneering, reference to the tension between nature and nurture in defining what drives women - but makes no attempt of any kind to apply it. It slips into full-on pseudo-intellectual burble (a typical example - "a wealth of pop psychology writing declares confidently that there is an all-determining link between inborn levels of testosterone and myriad forms of aggression or passivity - sexual forms high kong them - in men and women". Yeah right). And finally, in direct contradiction of the initial "women are horny" section, it closes with a semi-exploration of the idea that many women lose their sex drives altogether - and how this represents a great opportunity for someone to come up with a female Viagra. I read this book as I was - am - truly interested to learn more on this strangely obscure subject. I finished it none the wiser.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    A potentially interesting book marred in part by the journalistic style. I know that's unfair, but I wanted less of the human interest and more about the science. That being said, a lot of the studies talked about in the book have been out for quite a while, and the book doesn't add anything to them, despite its supposedly considerable interviews. There is nothing new here. I also began to wonder whether it was strictly necessary to describe each scientist and her fashion every time the author A potentially interesting book marred in part by the journalistic style. I know that's unfair, but I wanted less of the human interest and more about the science. That being said, a lot of the studies talked about in the book have been out for quite a while, and the book doesn't add anything to them, despite its supposedly considerable interviews. There is nothing new here. I also began to wonder whether it was strictly necessary to describe each scientist and her fashion every time the author goes to talk about a new area of research (he doesn't do it for the men). I realise this is journalistic style, but it really takes away from the whole point of the book, which is that our current understanding of female sexuality is completely socially constructed [by men]. It's not massively problematic, but it does grate and somewhat undermine the book as a whole. Interesting, I suppose, if you don't keep up with sexology and so on, but largely reiterative. Naomi Wolf's book Vagina, though problematic in its own ways, is a far more interesting exploration of the topic.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    It is an interesting topic but I am not sure what to take from reading the book. If nothing else, it confirmed for me how little I understand about what women want and how confusing the topic can be. The book highlights how society has often overlooked and downplayed women's sexuality. As a result, there is a strong force in many women that, because of being subdued for so long, can play a hugely influential role in their intimate lives and relationships. Perhaps my expectations were wrong or It is an interesting topic but I am not sure what to take from reading the book. If nothing else, it confirmed for me how little I understand about what women want and how confusing the topic can be. The book highlights how society has often overlooked and downplayed women's sexuality. As a result, there is a strong force in many women that, because of being subdued for so long, can play a hugely influential role in their intimate lives and relationships. Perhaps my expectations were wrong or the lens through which I read the book was off, but I was hoping the book would have more clear cut answers to the question of "What do women want?" I pictured the book, written by a man, to have answers to the question that could benefit guys in understanding women. Instead, I feel that, in many ways, I have been left with more questions than when I started.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Celeste

    This book started out very promising, but I quickly got tired of the approach —brief, superficial discussions of different researchers work —and the writing style (Hey, guys, look! Scientists are humans, with their own styles and personal tics! And, did you know, they have feelings?! I will write about these things, too, in a somewhat emo and dramatized way!) There was little synthesis of the material, and I wished Natalie Angier had given this guy a talking to about how to write the book This book started out very promising, but I quickly got tired of the approach — brief, superficial discussions of different researchers work — and the writing style (Hey, guys, look! Scientists are humans, with their own styles and personal tics! And, did you know, they have feelings?! I will write about these things, too, in a somewhat emo and dramatized way!) There was little synthesis of the material, and I wished Natalie Angier had given this guy a talking to about how to write the book better.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Georgia

    amazing and transformative. It truly changed how I think about my sexual life.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I still need to process all the information here, but I think this book will change my life for the better.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Roz Warren

    Roseanne Barr, Monkey Lust and A Sweet Night of Passion with Donald Trump As a straight woman who once published a 300 page book about lesbian cartoonists (Dyke Strippers: Lesbian Cartoonists from A to Z) I’m the last person to question why “What Do Women Want?” a new book about female sexuality, is written by a guy. It’s a great book topic. And author Daniel Bergner, who has written about sexuality before (“The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing”) knows Roseanne Barr, Monkey Lust and A Sweet Night of Passion with Donald Trump As a straight woman who once published a 300 page book about lesbian cartoonists (Dyke Strippers: Lesbian Cartoonists from A to Z) I’m the last person to question why “What Do Women Want?” a new book about female sexuality, is written by a guy. It’s a great book topic. And author Daniel Bergner, who has written about sexuality before (“The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing”) knows that sex sells. Besides, this is America, where the First Amendment guarantees every man’s right to publish a book about what turns women on. And yet, I can’t help but be aware of the fact that a book about female sexuality written by a guy is very different from one written by a woman. His mystery is my reality. Bergner seems surprised by many things I take for granted. Women, for instance, are sexually aroused by more than we might admit to. Did we really need a study in which elaborate plastic dildos measure the blood flow to women’s yin-yangs as they viewed pornography to establish this fact? Put another way: If watching a video of copulating monkeys turned you on, would you necessarily admit that to a stranger? Even if that stranger were wearing a lab coat? Still, this is an often fascinating myth-buster of a book that strives, and occasionally manages, to get to the truth about women and sex. You learn about how the experts actually study sexuality, and some of their surprising conclusions. Monogamy, for instance, can be a libido-killer for women. And men aren’t necessarily the more sexually aggressive gender. Other topics explored include female Viagra, rape fantasies, lesbian bed death, the anatomy of the clitoris, hypoactive sexual desire disorder, and what it means if you love your husband but need to fantasize about Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter in order to reach orgasm. And you’ll add a new word to your vocabulary! A “plethysmograph” is a “miniature bulb and light sensor that you place inside the vagina…. “ which, through a convoluted Rube Goldberg-like process involving surging blood and tracking light beams, measures “vaginal wetness.“ (Can you order one on the internet? Not yet. For your sex researcher fantasies, you’ll just have to wait. Or improvise.) For a book that’s packed with throbbing erections, it ain’t an easy read. The organization is elusive, and Bergner‘s quirky writing style, which loads each sentence with as much (often odd) information as possible, often results in awkward lines like: “Durhan, who has an eager, thin-lipped smile, had worked at Apple for nine years marketing iMacs.” The book’s tone careens from dispassionate scientific jargon to chatty People Magazine-speak to smutty purple prose. It often gets downright smarmy. Swelling nipples! Hard cocks! Throbbing genital blood! Here’s Bergner’s description of a video shown to female research subjects: “A woman with long black hair leaned forward on the arm of a lounge chair, her smooth buttocks elevated. Then she settled her light brown body onto the white upholstery. Her legs were long, her breasts full, high. She licked her fingertips and stroked her clitoris. She pulled her spread knees up. She handled one breast. Her hips began to grind and lift.” No need to search the web for porn with a passage like that. Still, keep turning these pages and you can learn a lot about what turns you on. And while you’re at it, savor sentences like: “My body would respond, but the pleasure was like the pleasure of returning library books.” And where else are you going to read about a “tantra warrior” masturbating in an MRI machine? For science! (“When you’re about to have an orgasm,” a researcher tells her through the intercom, “just raise your hand.”) WDWW includes lots of fascinating facts about women and sex. For much of history, we’re told, experts thought female orgasm was necessary for conception. England’s early Protestant clergy prescribed conjugal relations exactly three times a month, with a week off for menstruation. Over the past few decades, the percentage of women saying they’ve used a vibrator has gone from one to over fifty. According to Nielson, the consumer tracking company, one in three online porn users is female. (Porn star James Deen’s fan base, we learn, is made up primarily of teen girls and young women.) While often confused by the meandering narrative, I found that if I just relaxed and went with it, I could have a lot of fun, as in when, out of the blue, Bergner drops in 6 pages that describe a variety of women’s sexual fantasies, many of which I found hilarious. I loved the young women whose libido was rocked by imagining sexually charged encounters with a middle-aged bald man. But my favorite had to be: “Occasionally I fantasize about being raped as punishment for having anti-feminist fantasies.” You could devote an entire book to sorting that one out. I do hope Roseanne Barr never reads this book. Bergner describes a study in which men were offered one night stands with Angelina Jolie, Christie Brinkley, or Roseanne. While eager to have sex with Brinkley and Jolie, Bergner reports, most dismissed the opportunity to bed Barr with “distaste.” (Women subjects, we’re told, were eager to make whoopee with Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt, but turned down a night of passion with Donald Trump.) That a smart, funny, female is, without question, sexually repellent? I doubt a female author would have accepted this conclusion without comment, as Bergner does. This kind of subtle sexism, along with the smutty prose, might motivate women readers to hold out for a book about female sexuality that’s written by one of us. There’s plenty of interesting information here, but you could decide to take a pass on this one. Unless you’re REALLY interested in how a woman on the receiving end of a high-tech plastic dildo wielded by a sex researcher feels about copulating bonobos. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amantha

    This book was not as terrible as I expected it to be, but considering I was anticipating something truly atrocious and heteronormative, that's not really saying much. There were limitations within the book, but these limitations had more to do with the research being conducted than what Bergner had to say. Excluding bibliography and other notes, this book clocks in at just under 200 pages double spaced. And that's even with fluffing it up with first-person accounts and anecdotes. This is, This book was not as terrible as I expected it to be, but considering I was anticipating something truly atrocious and heteronormative, that's not really saying much. There were limitations within the book, but these limitations had more to do with the research being conducted than what Bergner had to say. Excluding bibliography and other notes, this book clocks in at just under 200 pages double spaced. And that's even with fluffing it up with first-person accounts and anecdotes. This is, essentially, a light, quick read - the exact opposite of what it should be. Bergner interviewed the leading sexologists in the US and Canada, of which there are approximately five studying female sexuality (okay there may be as many as ten but seriously that's not very many at all). Why so few? Because female sex drive is still an extremely controversial subject, even after the supposed sexual revolution of the latter half of the 20th century. Researchers are ridiculed for "wasting" government money on trying to study what motivates or demotivates women regarding sex. And yet how many billions of dollars went into discovering and developing Viagra and similar products? But when women express desire for a comparable product, it becomes controversial under the guise of "protecting women from rapists" (pro tip - if you want to protect women, step away from the rape culture idea that men are animals who cannot control their libidos when a woman is around). Let us also recognise that "woman" and "sexuality" are ill-defined not only in this book but in the minds of the researchers and psychologists interviewed. I was pleasantly surprised that some of the studies mentioned actually included lesbians. I was less surprised and more disappointed that this was the only non-heterosexual identity researchers chose to look at. Gay versus straight, while predominant in the general public's perspective, hardly encompasses the wild variety of sexual identities. Does a male-to-female transsexual's sexual desires differ from a cisgendered-heterosexual woman's? Where does bisexuality fit in when it comes to the arousal study that measured straight and lesbian arousal when viewing different pornographic videos? What about women who are perfectly happy identifying as asexual and see nothing wrong with having limited/no sexual impulses? Towards the end of the book there is a brief nod to sexual fluidity, citing some of the more famous examples (i.e. Anne Heche), but there is no scientific data to explain why this might happen. Lastly, Bergner presents a lot of contradictory data that in the end tells us absolutely nothing. Gosh I couldn't imagine why...could it be because out of the roughly 3.6 billion women on Earth there is no single, sweeping consensus of "what all women are like or want in a relationship." Shocking, I know. Women have autonomy of mind? Women have differences of opinions? Not possible. All women singular identity. All women actually one woman. No difference. Just like all men one identity - animals. Whoops that was a little more bitter than I meant to be. In retrospect I may have to rate this one 2.5/5 stars.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tom Johnson

    The following notes are for my own amusement. The parallels with the Hobby – excitement of the new, the unknown, the related sense of risk/danger. Good grief I’m the one who wants the romance Page 51: “one lesson,” he said, “is that you don’t want a woman to form her first impression of you when she’s in the wrong menstrual phase. You’ll never recover.” He laughed. – Yes, lol, McFate can be a cruel dude. Much amazing science – for example a female rat manipulating a male rat to enhance her “ The following notes are for my own amusement. The parallels with the Hobby – excitement of the new, the unknown, the related sense of risk/danger. Good grief I’m the one who wants the romance Page 51: “one lesson,” he said, “is that you don’t want a woman to form her first impression of you when she’s in the wrong menstrual phase. You’ll never recover.” He laughed. – Yes, lol, McFate can be a cruel dude. Much amazing science – for example a female rat manipulating a male rat to enhance her “pleasure” (page 54) See page 58 for a sense of the complexity of desire: “Yet for the excitement of dopamine to fix on an object, for it to be felt as desire rather than as a splintering into attentional chaos, it has to work in balance with other neurotransmitters.” Then more of the story is revealed – so far as we know…”attentional chaos”, I like that. For a grin see page 61: “Pfaus mocked the faith that [male lust feeds on multiple partners – (& that for the female it just isn't so)] rodent females, he informed his undergrads, do more hopping and darting to score with new mates. And they dip their spines deeper, so the new male has an easier time thrusting. I found Chapter 7, Monogamy, the most monotonous chapter of the book. Struggled through it and then, happily, the book once again became interesting. However there was some good stuff in 7, like this quote: “I had a friend who used to say, “the longer you’re married, the larger the bed you need.” What I most disliked was the counseling and therapy sessions. Have a natural aversion to such claptrap. On reading page 187 I could not help but think of Suzy Favor – Suzy was a major motivator in my reading this book - Suzy and that which Suzy has brought into my life. Note: it wasn't so much the specifics as related on the page as the example of what extreme training can do to body chemistry. We’re not so much free will as we would like to think. The last ten pages really wrap up the book – the story is developing and could get very interesting. The last paragraph – page 197 – nails it - be careful of perceptions and more so of conventional wisdom. Daniel Bergner has packed a lot of thought provoking observations into 200 pages. Well worth the price of admission.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    I enjoyed this book because of all the questions it raises. It races through numerous diverse snippets of information which means there is little depth involved but hopefully it will lead to more - and better - investigations and insight into female sexuality. The basic premise it attacks is that women are meant to be less interested in sex than are men, which is something that does need to be laid to rest. Throughout history there seems to be a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other I enjoyed this book because of all the questions it raises. It races through numerous diverse snippets of information which means there is little depth involved but hopefully it will lead to more - and better - investigations and insight into female sexuality. The basic premise it attacks is that women are meant to be less interested in sex than are men, which is something that does need to be laid to rest. Throughout history there seems to be a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other when it comes to female sexuality: one minute women are hardly sexual at all, the next minute they are sexually insatiable. This book obviously supports the latter. But women, like other female animals, are most likely a combination of both extremes. In the females of most other species this is quite obvious as they respond to their hormones and change from zero interest in sex to a voracious appetite when fertile and 'on heat'. And this is the case with the female rhesus macaques such as "Deidrah" in the book, though the fact that Deidrah has no interest in sex most of the time seems to have passed readers by. I have written more about this in my author blog here on goodreads: "Monkeying About with Daniel Bergner" http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_... Women are different in many other ways than in the way our sexual behaviour is (mostly) uncoupled from our reproductive cycles but the 'hows' and 'whys' of this uncoupling will, I'm sure, point to some answers about our behaviour, including answers to other questions raised by this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elyssa

    "The science and thinking I have brought together in this book are a beginning, only that. None of the researchers I have learned from ... would claim to have definitive, fully formed answers about female desire. All of them, no matter how evocative their experiments and piercing their ideas, are acutely aware of the layers of unknowns -- and of the impediments to getting beneath." -Pp 195 If you approach this book keeping the author's above point in mind, it has some illuminating points to make. "The science and thinking I have brought together in this book are a beginning, only that. None of the researchers I have learned from ... would claim to have definitive, fully formed answers about female desire. All of them, no matter how evocative their experiments and piercing their ideas, are acutely aware of the layers of unknowns -- and of the impediments to getting beneath." -Pp 195 If you approach this book keeping the author's above point in mind, it has some illuminating points to make. Overall the book's value lies in its potential to get readers to take a second look at how they view female sexuality and desire. Bergner sets out to challenge some of the deeply held beliefs in our society about women and sex, particularly that their sex drives are inherently more suited for monogamy than men's. The studies and findings that Bergner highlights can help women and their partners get a more nuanced perspective into their sex lives and validate the experiences typical for many couples. I think that makes this book important and worth reading. The book has a conversational tone and reads like one long magazine article, making the scientific findings accessible. I did find that Bergner was sometimes willing to make leaps of logic I wasn't going to follow, especially in how often he drew direct parallels from animal behaviors to humans. But keeping in mind the above assertion that this book is just a beginning and not meant to be comprehensive overview if the subject, and take it with a grain of salt, I would recommend it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    N

    Started on Wednesday, finished on Thursday. The prose was tight and, to its credit, relied less on the author's agenda than on testimony of experts and research subjects. Although the book as a whole was riveting, it wasn't entirely satisfying, which I think is partly because research on female sexuality isn't satisfying. As the author states, such study is underfunded, criticized even by liberal educators, and potentially upsetting to the status quo. The author is not so much concerned with Started on Wednesday, finished on Thursday. The prose was tight and, to its credit, relied less on the author's agenda than on testimony of experts and research subjects. Although the book as a whole was riveting, it wasn't entirely satisfying, which I think is partly because research on female sexuality isn't satisfying. As the author states, such study is underfunded, criticized even by liberal educators, and potentially upsetting to the status quo. The author is not so much concerned with answers as he is with presenting questions (this is most visible in the chapter "The Alley," which addresses rape fantasy, a prevalent desire among women that even the most forward-thinking scholars struggle to reconcile with their feminist ideals). This book is important, well-written, hard to put down, and when finished, hard to forget, not that I'm trying.

  30. 5 out of 5

    CëRïSë

    I first heard about this book on NPR, and promptly requested that my local library purchase it--which they did! Unfortunately, I wasn't terribly impressed. It may have been that I expect my nonfiction to be scholarly and esoteric, but Bergner seemed fluffy, with an irritating predilection to provide physical descriptions of his experts that did little to distinguish them from one another. Their research was interesting enough--a dismantling of the ideas that women are less visually stimulated I first heard about this book on NPR, and promptly requested that my local library purchase it--which they did! Unfortunately, I wasn't terribly impressed. It may have been that I expect my nonfiction to be scholarly and esoteric, but Bergner seemed fluffy, with an irritating predilection to provide physical descriptions of his experts that did little to distinguish them from one another. Their research was interesting enough--a dismantling of the ideas that women are less visually stimulated than men and are more biologically programmed to crave stable monogamy--and interestingly underfunded/arm's-lengthed by their institutions. Overall, however, I'd say the article above pretty much covers it.

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