Igniting Female Desire

What science can tell us about sex.
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Igniting Female Desire

Postby Seekryt » Wed Jan 20, 2010 11:49 am

Here's an interesting article I came across the other day. It's called "What do Women Want? Igniting Female Desire."

It's here:


http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magaz ... wanted=all

WARNING!!!! On the first two "pages", there is some erotic imagery. A feminized man kisses a woman, close-up on the face. Two pictures of women's faces, meant to be in the throes of passion (I assume, though to me it doesn't really look that way) and a close-up of a man's back facing a woman's stomach, implying sex.

I know I'm not allowed to copy and paste the whole article in order to share it more safely, but perhaps I could copy it to a PM if anyone is concerned.

I found much of this article interesting. I hate to post and run, but I can't do it justice right now. So, the article interviews a few sex researchers (one of whom is at Queen's, which is in my hometown, so cool ) about female arousal, response, desire. One of the first things I found interesting:


She found footage of bonobos, a species of ape, as they mated, and then, because the accompanying sounds were dull — “bonobos don’t seem to make much noise in sex,” she told me, “though the females give a kind of pleasure grin and make chirpy sounds” — she dubbed in some animated chimpanzee hooting and screeching. She showed the short movie to men and women, straight and gay. To the same subjects, she also showed clips of heterosexual sex, male and female homosexual sex, a man masturbating, a woman masturbating, a chiseled man walking naked on a beach and a well-toned woman doing calisthenics in the nude.

While the subjects watched on a computer screen, Chivers, who favors high boots and fashionable rectangular glasses, measured their arousal in two ways, objectively and subjectively. The participants sat in a brown leatherette La-Z-Boy chair in her small lab at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, a prestigious psychiatric teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto, where Chivers was a postdoctoral fellow and where I first talked with her about her research a few years ago. The genitals of the volunteers were connected to plethysmographs — for the men, an apparatus that fits over the penis and gauges its swelling; for the women, a little plastic probe that sits in the vagina and, by bouncing light off the vaginal walls, measures genital blood flow. An engorgement of blood spurs a lubricating process called vaginal transudation: the seeping of moisture through the walls. The participants were also given a keypad so that they could rate how aroused they felt.

The men, on average, responded genitally in what Chivers terms “category specific” ways. Males who identified themselves as straight swelled while gazing at heterosexual or lesbian sex and while watching the masturbating and exercising women. They were mostly unmoved when the screen displayed only men. Gay males were aroused in the opposite categorical pattern. Any expectation that the animal sex would speak to something primitive within the men seemed to be mistaken; neither straights nor gays were stirred by the bonobos. And for the male participants, the subjective ratings on the keypad matched the readings of the plethysmograph. The men’s minds and genitals were in agreement.

All was different with the women. No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, they showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood flow rose quickly — and markedly, though to a lesser degree than during all the human scenes except the footage of the ambling, strapping man — as they watched the apes. And with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. The readings from the plethysmograph and the keypad weren’t in much accord. During shots of lesbian coupling, heterosexual women reported less excitement than their vaginas indicated; watching gay men, they reported a great deal less; and viewing heterosexual intercourse, they reported much more. Among the lesbian volunteers, the two readings converged when women appeared on the screen. But when the films featured only men, the lesbians reported less engagement than the plethysmograph recorded. Whether straight or gay, the women claimed almost no arousal whatsoever while staring at the bonobos
.

A caveat - there doesn't seem to be, or I couldn't find, a link to any of the data. Additionally, the experiment would obviously be affected by the fact that the participants were willing to engage in it in the first place, being exposed to sexual imagery and having stuff hoooked up to them.
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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Job29Man » Wed Jan 20, 2010 12:03 pm

I didn't go to the link, but thanks for posting the summary text. I'm not surprised by the findings. Trying to think what a takeaway would be for a husband who is eager to ignite his wife's desire. Actual images? The thought of images? I wonder if her reading a story about sex would have a similar effect? Would be interesting to test whether these responses can be derived from the female's imagination as much as from her observation.

I have observed in my DW an increased sexual response to me shortly after we watch a romantic movie together, especially one with an honorable man and a wife who re-discovers or re-claims her relationship and/or passion with him. When we turn off the DVD it's not her saying "Nice movie, let's put away the popcorn bowl." But it's her snuggling closer and sending out the passion signals. Overall though it seems to be the story rather than the images that bring on her desire.

Seek, did they have a control to factor out arousal from the buttered popcorn or chocolate snacks that were probably served during the image presentation? ::al
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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby jokerman » Wed Jan 20, 2010 1:29 pm

I read the article and still don't know what women want.

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Mr. Rkt » Wed Jan 20, 2010 2:19 pm

jokerman wrote:I read the article and still don't know what women want.

Apparently, neither do they.
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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Robbed Seahawk » Wed Jan 20, 2010 3:16 pm

Don't throw up your hands too quickly. There's some good stuff here.

One important finding discussed in this article is the difference between "rudderless" reflexive sexual readiness, on the one hand, and desire, on the other. Physiological arousal (lubrication, etc.) happens without particular focus, it's comparatively "rudderless," whereas psychological desire is highly focused. Women can be "turned-on" at the same time they are feeling revulsion toward what turns them on. This means the primary job of husbands, when it comes to foreplay, is to ignite her mind. The body is doing its own thing.

Another important finding is that women’s system of desire is more receptive than aggressive. As Chivers said, "One possibility is that instead of it being a go-out-there-and-get-it kind of sexuality, it’s more of a reactive process. And I’ve often thought that there is something really powerful for women’s sexuality about being desired. That receptivity element.” I think it frustrates women that their sexual desire is supposed to equal and compete with that of men. It's different. The question is not so much whether she has self-generating sexual urges (which she may, or may not), but if she can respond with sexual desire for her husband's sexual desire. This may take some of the pressure off if the desire doesn't arise spontaneously or automatically every time.

This last bit about the thrill not so much of "desire" as "being desired" is picked up by Marta Meana. Meana calls an element of female desire as akin to "narcissism." (Narcissus, you recall, is a figure from Greek legend who was very handsome, but as punishment for being disdainful of his admirers, was showed his own reflection, in which he became transfixed to the point of paralysis, eventually dying there while staring at himself.) "For women, 'being desired is the orgasm,' Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving.'" They are "ignited by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need."

If you think about it, women and men are both "visual," but they both look primarily at females. In men's magazines, the models are mostly female, for obvious reasons. But the same is true in women's magazines. The idea in the latter, however, is to identify with that highly desirable female, to emulate her, to be her. Likewise, women report wearing fancy lingerie as much for themselves as for their partner, because it makes them "feel sexy," by which they mean, "feel desirable."

This is all supported by the research discussed in the article. Women looked at sexually-themed images while their eye-focus was being tracked. It was discovered that the women looked at the faces of men and the whole bodies of women, whereas men focused only on the women. The male face showed signs of desire in which she was interested, but not so much the desirability of his body. Rather, the bodies of the women embodied (literally) the allure in which they wanted to be participants. Speaking of the audience's fixation on the women in the dance troupe, "the women in the crowd gazed at the women onstage, excitedly imagining that their bodies were as desperately wanted as those of the performers."

The article takes a controversial turn when it discusses the very famous phenomenon of female fantasies often involving the theme of being overpowered or "ravished." This has been known and discussed for years. Whatever one makes of it, it obviously feeds into the "being desired" theme, where a male can't help but act roguish in the face of the woman's allure. The element of it being fantasy then strips the imagined situation of objectionable elements -- i.e., it's usually a highly desirable man, from the female's point of view, who does the ravishing (to which she willingly "unwillingly" surrenders).

Really, all these researches need to do is do a literary study of romance novels, all of which explore most of these features of female sexual desire in one form or another.

What it means for men is to continue pursuing your wife. Make it clear that you're not "trapped" by the fact of marriage, but that you choose her each new day as the one you desperately desire. Make her feel desirable. Show her a mirror, but not the one that says Sleeping Beauty is the fairest of them all, but that she is. Give her a look at herself as you see her, as utterly sexy, shapely, pretty, delicious, whatever. Defeat her self-criticism and her comparison to other women, many of whom are -- let's face it -- probably prettier than she. Don't lie. My wife and I both know she's not as pretty as Monica Bellucci. Neither of us is vapidly idealistic. But my wife knows that I fall on my knees in glorious sexual frustration at the site of her. I tell her so in words, show it with my eyes and my actions. I do this often and especially when sex is not around the corner, e.g., when she's getting ready for work, when she's tucking the kids in for bed, etc. I surprise her with it. All of these little moments combine to ignite her sexual desire where she wants to come on to me and have me devour her. She works it, let me tell you! Yeah, and I work it, too. That's how it's done.
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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Seekryt » Wed Jan 20, 2010 3:46 pm

Hurrah! RS is doing my job for me! You're awesome. Will BBL to post a few other tidbits from the article I found intriguing.

I know it's 20 pages long, and might take a bit to slog through. Sorry about that, I didn't even realize it was that long till I printed it out for DH.

It sparked an interesting discussion with his sex therapist yesterday, who essentially reiterated much of what the article said. (nice to know he's up on the latest research!)
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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby jokerman » Wed Jan 20, 2010 4:07 pm

This idea of "receptivity" is interesting, and not very reassuring. It still sounds like the guy has to do a lot of work to flip the switch; or, the switch won't be flipped until he initiates. What responsibility, beyond saying "Yes," does the woman have toward the couple's sex life? Can a man feel valued and desired if he is the one who is always pursuing?

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Job29Man » Wed Jan 20, 2010 9:40 pm

This is exactly the kind of information and discussion I was seeking in my thread "Female Sexual Response".

Jokerman, your questions are valid.

If the "receptive" desire is more typical of females than the "go out and get it" desire, then indeed the whole issue of "I'm not in the mood" is moot, because "not YET in the mood" would be the natural and persistent state of feminine desire until her husband "ignites" her desire. Therefore it would be incumbent upon the female to not protest that she is "not in the mood", and it would be a reasonable expectation of the husband to persist through objections of "not in the mood", at least to the point of "I know you are not in the mood honey, but go with me for awhile first. Let's get naked and climb into bed. Let me caress you and "get you into the mood". I need you to go with me for 15 minutes, THEN you can tell me if you are in the mood or not. OK?"

A responsible reading of this principle would be for wives to give up any thought of being the "sexual gatekeeper." This would be consistent with 1 Cor 7:4-5.

It would seem though that "receptive desire" would take any responsibility from a woman to initiate or show any desire for her husband until after he has taken all the steps to get her there. This is a frustrating thought if she were to say "I'll never show desire for you on my own. I'm just not wired that way."

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Robbed Seahawk » Thu Jan 21, 2010 10:05 am

I'm the first to sympathize with the frustration of being the one to have to cajole an ambivalent marriage partner when it comes to such a seemingly basic expression of marital love. Something seems wrong with that, just as there is something wrong with a wife having to cajole her husband to listen to her during meaningful conversations. Whenever someone makes a case for a behavior being "hardwired" into their gender makeup, I get fearful that they'll use it to give themselves a free pass to be a lame lover (as they often do).

On the other hand, it shouldn't be news to anyone on a Christian forum that a husband's job is to take some leadership in the marriage. To me this means, primarily, "initiative": to be the first one to stick his neck out, the first one to get the ball rolling, the one who won't wait for her to make the first move before he'll come through with his own loving behavior of whatever kind, the one who knows the right thing to do and just sets about doing it before any promise of reciprocation is granted. If a guy does that, he has firmer ground to be somewhat insistent about what's right for the marriage.

The article, at least in a sideways manner, backs this up. Women don't want a mamby-pamby lover. "Do you think maybe, kinda, should...? Is this OK? Am I doing it right? How's that feel?" etc. They apparently often fantasize about being "taken" by a desirable man who is strong and directive, and yet caring. The underlying narrative of female sexual thinking seems often to involve surrender, to succumb to a passion that she "never knew she always wanted" until he boldly ushered her into it. There's a reason this is the premise of a million romance novels, a genre consumed almost exclusively by women.

Maybe it's a pain in the ::xx to be the leading man, the hero. On the other hand, isn't that also the guy we most want to be?
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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Her Thorn » Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:16 am

Fascinating article, Seekryt. Lots to ponder there.

I'm struck by the inherently contradictory dichotomy expressed in the desire pattern we're talking about here. A woman wants a man who confidently pleases her. But to get the knowledge to do that, it seems he needs information from her. Much of the tentativeness on the part of the man isn't because he's not bold or strong -- it's because he wants to please her and has absolutely no clue what is going to accomplish that in this situation. It's not that he isn't willing to go all out to please her, it's that he doesn't want to hurt her. Is this showing that women (statistically speaking; yes, I know there are always exceptions) have greater desire for a man who is willing to increase the risk of hurting them in order to increase his chances of pleasing them? Or is this where the lies perpetuated by the romance novels (and porn) really become a problem? In those fantasy situations, the lover is never wrong -- never does something so long it hurts, or not quite long enough; never presses so hard as to cause pain, but presses hard enough to get the best effect; spends the right amount of time in the right places and never wastes time in the wrong ones. They just "know" how to do that, without being told explicitly outside the bedroom or given clear cues inside it. So in real life the woman is often left frustrated that her man doesn't boldly act on knowledge he doesn't have (and is often frustrated that he doesn't have).

What I'm wondering now is whether there's some point where confidence itself becomes knowledge. Do more places become the right places, is there more allowance for variation in pressure/timing/duration when whatever is done is done with self-assurance? Is it not so much that the confident man knows what the right thing to do is as that whatever he does (within reason) IS right just because it's done with confidence? (Or is it simply more likely to be right?) And is this confidence short-circuited where there is a lack of trust, or does confidence trump even trust?

Another thing that jumped out at me was the research showing that strengthening the relationship does not always strengthen the sex. A bad relationship could certainly prevent good sex... but that a woman could be in an otherwise satisfactory relationship without good sex. That implies that when a couple is having sexual difficulties traced in part to a lack of desire on the part of the wife, the general relationship is a good place to start (the guy being romantic, talking with her, speaking her love language, etc.)... but it's not a safe assumption that if sex isn't good, he's not relating well. In that light, it's interesting that when the Bible gives clear instructions about sex in marriage, it tends to do so in separate contexts from direct instruction about the rest of the relationship. (Eph. 5 - no direct mention of sex. Prov. 5 - no particular mention of the rest of the relationship. I Pet. 3 - no direct mention of sex. I Cor. 7 - no particular mention of the rest of the relationship. I'm leaving S.o.S. out because it's descriptive, not prescriptive.) Does that imply that there really is a functional separation between sex and the rest of the marriage relationship?

I'm not making assertions here at the moment; just pondering and asking questions, some of which have a lot of bearing on my own situation.

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Seawolf » Thu Jan 21, 2010 11:35 am

Cliff's Notes version?

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby jokerman » Thu Jan 21, 2010 12:37 pm

Ivy League eggheads discover that women want to be swept off their feet by a swarthy rogue.

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Robbed Seahawk » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:10 pm

Another thing that jumped out at me was the research showing that strengthening the relationship does not always strengthen the sex. A bad relationship could certainly prevent good sex... but that a woman could be in an otherwise satisfactory relationship without good sex. That implies that when a couple is having sexual difficulties traced in part to a lack of desire on the part of the wife, the general relationship is a good place to start (the guy being romantic, talking with her, speaking her love language, etc.)... but it's not a safe assumption that if sex isn't good, he's not relating well. In that light, it's interesting that when the Bible gives clear instructions about sex in marriage, it tends to do so in separate contexts from direct instruction about the rest of the relationship. (Eph. 5 - no direct mention of sex. Prov. 5 - no particular mention of the rest of the relationship. I Pet. 3 - no direct mention of sex. I Cor. 7 - no particular mention of the rest of the relationship. I'm leaving S.o.S. out because it's descriptive, not prescriptive.) Does that imply that there really is a functional separation between sex and the rest of the marriage relationship?


Relationship strength doesn't just fail to correlate with the sexual desire, it is sometimes what mutes sexual desire. Suppose all the needs for security and familiarity are being met and it's warm and cozy in the nest of lifelong marriage. The problem here is that security is not a positive erotic force. Desire is a form of excitement about the other. But excitement is what security effectively eliminates. Sure, it leads to contentment, appreciation and warm fuzzy feelings. But those things are not necessarily erotic. They are, at best, a pilot light that keeps the system primed for when actual fuel sets things ablaze. But without the fuel, nothing is going to happen. And, mind you, fuel is dangerous by definition. Things that ignite are not primarily for safety!

I think couples need to take a step back from one another and realize how much of what they pursue in marriage is really a quest for equilibrium, which in turn translates directly into sexual inertia. Relational security is good, but complete avoidance of risk, surprise, adventure kills relational vitality and life. The risk-averse person is almost always the low-desire partner. There's a reason for that.
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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby heartofsong » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:11 pm

Robbed Seahawk, speaking from this woman's perspective, your thoughts on this are RIGHT ON! I'm going to show your comments to my hubby and I'm sure it will spur great conversation (and actions!).

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby jokerman » Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:30 pm

I've gotten 100 times more value from your posts, Robbed Seahawk, than I got from the New York Times article cited in the OP. Thank you for your thoughts, they are very interesting.

And by the way, just when were the Seahawks robbed?

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Robbed Seahawk » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:39 pm

Thanks for the props!

The Seahawks were robbed in Super Bowl XL vs. the Steelers. The Seahawks outplayed the Steelers in ever category, including turnovers, yards, and scoring drives. But several of those key scoring drives were negated by officials calling dubious penalties. The officials later acknowledged the calls were close, but defended their underlying correctness. (They did, however acknowledge the error of flagging the Seahawks QB for an illegal block on an interception return; Matt Hasselbeck was tackling the ball carrier, not blocking for him!)

What they never acknowledged was bias. In any game, there are close calls. When, however, all such calls (plus one completely erroneous call) go against only one team, a case for bias can be made. The Steelers were, of course, the heavy favorites and the much more popular franchise in the contest. The bias need not have been due to a conspiracy among the officials, but merely a failure to be objective in that environment. Super Bowl XL regularly makes the list of the worst championship games in sports, largely because of the officiating.

At a fan rally for the Seahawks upon their return to Seattle, Coach Mike Holmgren addressed the crowd, saying, "We knew the Steelers would be tough to beat, but we didn't know we'd been playing against the ones wearing striped shirts, too." He was never fined for making that statement, as would normally be expected.
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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby MayDayGirl » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:40 pm

Good stuff, Seahawk........would you mind telling us exactly what you mean by a 'risk-averse person?' I'm curious because I would describe both myself and my DH that way.

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby jokerman » Thu Jan 21, 2010 2:42 pm

I'm from Cleveland, and we believe the Steelers have been getting the calls since 1975.

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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby Robbed Seahawk » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:33 pm

MayDayGirl wrote:Good stuff, Seahawk........would you mind telling us exactly what you mean by a 'risk-averse person?' I'm curious because I would describe both myself and my DH that way.


Thanks! :D

I think a risk-averse person is one who chooses to avoid what he fears rather than pursue what he desires.

I guess it's mostly an investment term, like for your retirement fund. If you're risk-averse, you'll invest conservatively because it's more important to you to minimize loss than it is to maximize gain.

Relationships pose some of the same questions when risks and rewards are involved. Sometimes it takes courage to start a conversation about a sensitive subject. Doing so could lead to a breakthrough! But it could also lead to a blowup. A risk-averse person will remain quiet when he or she has too much to say.

An effort to seduce your mate carries risk of being rejected. A risk-averse person might retreat to fantasy rather than tempt fate with real sexual intimacy. Trying something new poses the risk of having a bad experience doing so. In matters of sex, the risks are fairly high. It's a very personal thing. The effort to conceal one's nakedness during sex is risk-averse behavior.

Let's be honest. Sex is not physically exhausting. But for all that, people tend to treat it like it's very exhausting. "I'm too tired." To tired to what? Remove your clothes, lay down together and do a few motions ? Come on! Well, no. Sex is psychologically demanding. At least one reason for this is because it means facing your fears about ourselves and our partners when we come together for sex.

That's why I think risk-averse people are more apt to avoid sex. Or at least more apt to avoid adventurous sex.

I'm from Cleveland, and we believe the Steelers have been getting the calls since 1975.


Ha ha! You feel my pain then. Maybe Mike Holmgren will turn the Browns around and he'll get his revenge on those Stealers once and for all!
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Re: Igniting Female Desire

Postby jokerman » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:47 pm

Robbed Seahawk wrote:I think a risk-averse person is one who chooses to avoid what he fears rather than pursue what he desires.

At what point does such a person start taking risks?


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