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Thursday, January 14, 2016

What Women Want... Well, Kind Of... Maybe

“The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is, What does a woman want?”

--Sigmund Freud

What do females really want from a man? It's still a conundrum under intense investigation. We have been schooled to believe they seek a monogamous relationship with someone possessing healthy, strong male genes. We have been told they want romantic love, security, emotional closeness, and lots of money. Research can support all of those things; however, some other recent studies claim female sexual desire is powerful, flexible, complex -- and even subversive.

Perhaps we must re-evaluate old notions of sexuality and desire.

1. Developmental psychologist Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah found that many women experience their sexual interests as fluid and open, encompassing at different times men or women, or both.

“In 1997, the actress Anne Heche began a widely publicized romantic relationship with the openly lesbian comedian Ellen DeGeneres after having had no prior same-sex attractions or relationships. The relationship with DeGeneres ended after two years, and Heche went on to marry a man.”

 --Lisa Diamond , from her book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire

Diamond's findings suggest that "there are, in fact, appreciable boundaries between the long-term developmental trajectories of lesbian, bisexual, and unlabeled women, but these boundaries are relatively fluid. Hence, the present study supports the notion of bisexuality as a third type of sexual orientation and also supports the notion of bisexuality as a capacity for context-specific flexibility in erotic response."

(Lisa M. Diamond. "Female Bisexuality From Adolescence to Adulthood: Results From a
10-Year Longitudinal Study." Developmental Psychology, Volume 44. 2008.)

Overall, the most commonly adopted identity found in the study was “unlabeled.” Bisexual/unlabeled women had stable overall distributions of same-sex/other-sex attractions but greater absolute fluctuations in attractions from assessment to assessment than lesbians. All women reported declines in their ratio of same-sex to other-sex behavior over time. These findings demonstrate that "the distinction between lesbianism and bisexuality is a matter of degree rather than kind."

Diamond's work supports the idea that female desire may be dictated -- even more than popular perception would have it -- by intimacy, by emotional connection. She doesn’t claim that women are without innate sexual orientations. But she sees significance in the fact that many of her subjects agreed with the statement “I’m the kind of person who becomes physically attracted to the person rather than their gender.”

What might redirect female erotic attraction? Diamond suggests, an answer may be found in oxytocin, a neurotransmitter unique to mammalian brains. The chemical’s release has been shown, in humans, to facilitate feelings of trust and well-being, and in female prairie voles, a monogamous species of rodent, to connect the act of sex to the formation of faithful attachments.  Judging by experiments in animals, and by the transmitter’s importance in human childbirth and breast feeding, the oxytocin system, which relies on estrogen, is much more extensive in the female brain.

What Do Women Want?" The New York Times. January 22, 2009.)

2. Richard Lippa of California State University has found that unlike men, whose sexual appetite narrows as it increases, sexually charged women display an increasingly open orientation. Women with higher libidos are more likely to feel desire toward members of both sexes. In plain words, the higher a woman’s sex drive, the more she desires both men and women.

Lippa said ...

“For most men, a higher sex drive simply intensifies their existing sexual orientation. The unexpected result is that women seem to be more intrinsically bisexual in their sexual attractions. Men tend to be either-or [heterosexual or gay], but women have more shades of gray... It seems that in most women, there is a latent bisexuality, and high sex drive energizes it.”

(Richard Lippa. "The Relation Between Sex Drive and Sexual Attraction to Men and Women: A Cross-National Study of Heterosexual, Bisexual, and Homosexual Men and Women." Archives of Sexual Behavior, Volume 36. April, 2007)

In addition, Vinita Mehta, Ph.D., Ed.M., says numerous studies have found that women's male mate preferences shift according to their menstrual cycle. Mehta says, "During peak levels of fertility, they prefer more masculine and socially dominant men. In the literature these men are known as 'cads.' Indeed, they tend to be sexy, with their narrow eyes and strong jaws — but they also tend to be flashy and exploitative of others. Even worse, these masculine men often embody the Dark Triad, a personality constellation that encompasses Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism." Typically, these men offer only short-term prospects.

(Vinita Mehta. "What Women Want in Men." Psychology Today. August 05, 2013.)

3. And, Marta Meana, a researcher at the University of Nevada, has argued that the organizing principle of female sexuality is the desire to be desired. In her view, the delicate, tentative guy who politely thinks about you and asks if this is okay or that is okay is a guy who may meet the expectations of your gender politics (treats me as an equal; is respectful of me; communicates with me) and your parents’ preferences, but he may also put you into a sexual coma -- not despite these qualities, but because of them.

Meana claims female desire is activated when a woman feels overwhelmingly desired, not rationally considered. Female erotic literature (Fifty Shades of Grey) is built on this fantasy. Desire seeks the path of desire, not the path of righteousness. It thrives not on social order but on its negation. This is one reason all religions and societies try to control, contain, limit and re-direct it. "(For women) being desired is the real orgasm," Meana says.

Meana argues that female sexuality is more self-centered than male’s. Noam Shpancer, clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Otterbein University interprets Meana's findings:

"While male fantasies focus on giving satisfaction, not on receiving it (Men see themselves in their fantasies bringing the woman to orgasm, not themselves), women see the man, set aflame by uncontrollable lust for them, bringing them to ecstasy. Men want to excite women. Women want men to excite them. Being desired is the real female orgasm, Meena says, and her words resound as a kind of truth. After all, wouldn’t more women be jealous of the desired woman who cannot orgasm than of the orgasmic woman who is not desired?"

(Noam Shpancer. "What Do Women Really Want?" Psychology Today. August 22, 2013.)

Meana says. "What happens in relationships is we fall into these old patterns, and we start thinking we've figured everything out about each other, and we really haven't." She believes that female passion depends upon novelty, discovery, and desire. Women worry when passion seems to fizzle.
Happily married women often face a paradox when it comes to sex because the very thing that makes them happy -- closeness with their partner -- is what gets in the way of desire.

(Karen E. Sims and Marta Meana. "Why Did Passion Wane? A Qualitative Study of Married Women's Attributions for Declines in Sexual Desire." Journal of Sexual and Marital Therapy. June 2010.)

Some New Insight About What Women Desire

Let's summarize these understandings of feminine desire. Research supported the following:

* Women have sexual interests that are fluid and open.
* The higher a woman’s sex drive, the more she desires both men and women.
* Female desire is activated when a woman feels overwhelmingly desired, not rationally considered.

It seems that society’s repression of female sexuality has reshaped women’s desires and sex lives. In truth, recent work has found that women’s sexuality is not the rational, civilized and balancing force it’s so often made out to be: Instead, it is base and ravenous, much like lustful male sexuality. Daniel Bergner claims argues, “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.”

If women are, indeed, narcissistic in the sense of relentlessly seeking what they want, this realization may be most alarming to men. "If you look at how women behave and what we spend our time and energy and lots of money on, it's on desire-creating behaviors rather than on trying to get sex," Meana told Oprah.

Women are so damned complicated. That is evident. Just consider this 50 Shades allusion Meana explained to Oprah: "When women talk about domination, what they're trying to communicate is 'I was so wanted by someone I wanted.'" I mean, I kind of "get it," but also I don't really "get much" that I can intellectualize as a male that will translate to better practice. Does a lady want a man to dominate her only when she is the epitome of his every desire? To me, that sounds a little creepy unless role play is a constant part of a couple's mutual happiness.

I completely understand that women want to be desired, yet isn't this true of men also? Perhaps men don't seek as much recognition for their good looks and sexuality as women, but they desperately want women to acknowledge them for their basic masculinity. Even in a man's world turning more and more toward equality of the sexes, men are narcissistic, too.

To end this entry on womanly desire, I will cite a study from the University of Texas that argues that beautiful women (however the researchers decided to define beautifulwant it all when it comes to picking a mate. In fact, the more beautiful a woman is, the higher her standards. 

(David Buss. Evolutionary Psychology. Reported by Lee Dye. "Study: Beautiful Women
Want It All." ABC News. March 26, 2008.)

At one time it was believed women were more successful at reproduction if they picked various mates for different functions, such as marrying a guy with money but making out with a guy with great genes. David Buss, leader of the study said that is not understood as standard procedure now.

Here is what was found to be "wanting it all":

* The more attractive women rated sex appeal, physical attractiveness and physical fitness as the most important "good gene indicators."

* An older man, with a college education and good earning capacity, led the list of "good investment ability indicators."

* Desire for home and children was by far the most important "good parenting indicator," followed by emotional stability and maturity.

* And "being a loving partner" was most desired as a "good partner indicator."

The results showed that the most attractive women consistently had the highest standards, except for one peculiar exception.

When it came to evaluating intelligence as a "good gene indicator," being intelligent was at the very bottom of the list for both the beauties and the plain Janes.

Buss explained that although "intelligence is one of the most highly valued traits in a mate, attractive women do not desire it any more (or any less) than less attractive women."

So, evidently the hotties and the beautifully disadvantaged both find brainy guys equally unhunky. Looking at women's attraction to "bad boys" and all the baggage that goes with them, this exception doesn't surprise me. I would say both sexes struggle with logic when confronted with strong desire and other chemically fed emotions upon entering a prospective relationship. Women underrate intelligence when a handsome physical specimen appears. And, I believe, sadly, so do men.

What can we learn from all of this?  One thought reigns supreme -- women are a lot like men only different. This we know. And, it is with this knowledge, we will continue to desire each other's companionship. Ain't love strange?

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