Evolutionary psychologists tell us that women (and I'm talking cavewomen here) were originally monogamous out of necessity. Females have a limited number of eggs, so their time and resources had to be devoted any children they managed to have in order to, you know, continue the human race. Therefore, they needed to be choosy about procreation partners. Men, on the other hand, have an unlimited supply of sperm, so they want to spread their seed as much as possible to pass their genes on to many members of the next generation.
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But what if this long-believed gender dichotomy isn't true? In his new book, What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, Daniel Bergne topples society's ingrained notions that women crave intimacy, monogamy, and emotional connections and are passive in their pursuit of sex. In fact, several studies "are beginning to hint that female eros isn't in the least programmed for fidelity," Bergne wrote in this weekend's New York Times Magazine.
Emerging research on female sexual desire from the past few years also suggests that women are just as excited by sexual novelty as men. In fact, Bergner argues, multiple orgasms (which evolutionary psychologists have long struggled to explain) are "evolution's method of making sure that females are libertines, that they move efficiently from one round of sex to the next and frequently from one partner to the next, that they transfer the turn-on of one encounter to the stimulating of the next, building towards climax."
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Still, "Most of us aren't about to give up on monogamy as the governing principle of our romantic lives," Bergne writes in a piece on Slate. In the same article, he also solicits responses from female readers who have experienced waning lust for their long-term partners. "How can women maintain desire within long-term committed relationships?" Bergne posits, saying that he will follow up next week with a post containing helpful reader responses.
In the meantime enter a decidedly modern-day "cure" for monogamy: pharmaceuticals. Companies are working on drugs that alter female sexual desire, making women able to lust for their husbands of many years with the same fervor and passion they felt in the honeymoon phase of their relationship. "We had sex five times a week when before it was once a week. I wanted to have sex even after we had sex. I would feel horny, and I got like a throbbing sensation, like I had to do something or it was going to bother me all night. I would just want more," a woman who was involved in a trial for one such drug, Lybrido, told Bergne.
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Some of the lack of desire also stems from external forces. Bergne mentions in The Times that women's brains have actually been rewired over time to shy away from lust because of culturally ingrained messages. "Boys and men tend to take in messages that manhood is defined by sex and power, and those messages encourage them to think about sex often, [so] neural networks associated with desire will be regularly activated and will become stronger over time. Women, generally speaking, learn that sexual desire and expression are not necessarily positive, and therefore don't think as much about sex, so those same neural networks will be less stimulated and comparatively weak."
While it's nothing we don't already know deep down already, it's nice to have the counterintuitive and interesting research into the female sex drive put all in one place because it helps codify previously uproarious ideas that our sexuality isn't black and white, it's constantly evolving as we go through our lives, and never seems to neatly fit into the outdated archetype of a '80s TV mom stereotype no matter how hard our culture seems to try. Now where's the book deconstructing why all Don Draper really wants to do is hold his ex-wife? That's something we'd really like to get our hands on.
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