What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire - Daniel Bergner (2013)
Behind this book lies a labyrinth of reading. There are the scores of books that line my shelves, from Richard Posner’s cost-benefit analysis of erotic motivation, Sex and Reason, to Karen Horney’s reappraisal of Freud, Feminine Psychology, from a collection of sexologists’ biographies, How I Got into Sex, to Max Wolf Valerio’s memoir of metamorphosis from woman to man, The Testosterone Files, to a legion of sexual self-help volumes spanning the pragmatic and the spiritual. In the following list of readings, I include a few of the books that my readers might find most directly relevant to the topics I’ve raised, as well as academic papers that detail much of the research I’ve written about (though what I’ve learned from these papers has been dwarfed by what I’ve taken in through conversations with researchers) and whose footnotes will offer a beginning to anyone who wants to enter the maze of sexual science I’ve lived in for the past eight years.
I start with Meredith Chivers, whose work is discussed in chapters one, two, and six. (Always scrupulous—at once the bold sexologist and the careful statistician—she asked me to note that the comparison of responses to strangers and close friends in chapter two relies on standard deviations as opposed to absolute values.) Her relevant papers, in order of publication date, are:
Chivers, M. L., & Timmers, A. D. (2012). The effects of gender and relationship context cues in audio narratives on heterosexual women’s and men’s genital and subjective sexual response. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 187–197.
Chivers, M. L., Seto, M. C., Lalumiére, M. L., Laan, E., & Grimbos, T. (2010). Agreement of genital and subjective measures of sexual arousal in men and women: a meta-analysis. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 5–56.
Suschinsky, K., Lalumiére, M. L., & Chivers, M. L. (2009). Sex differences in patterns of genital arousal: measurement artifact or true phenomenon? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 559–573.
Chivers, M. L., Seto, M. C., & Blanchard, R. (2007). Gender and sexual orientation differences in sexual response to the sexual activities versus the gender of actors in sexual films. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 1108–1121.
Chivers, M. L., & Bailey, J. M. (2005). A sex difference in features that elicit genital response. Biological Psychology, 70, 115–120.
Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., & Bailey, J. M. (2004). A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal. Psychological Science, 15, 736–744.
Studies by Terri Fisher and by Terri Conley appear in chapter two; they are:
Alexander, M. G., Fisher, T. D. (2003). Truth and consequences: using the bogus pipeline to examine sex differences in self-reported sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 40, 27–35.
Fisher, T. D. (in press). Gender roles and pressure to be truthful: the bogus pipeline modifies gender differences in sexual but not non-sexual behavior. Sex Roles.
Conley, T. D. (2011). Perceived proposer personality characteristics and gender differences in acceptance of casual sex offers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 309–329.
Turning to chapter three, for further study of the history of female sexuality since classical times—or, rather, of the way female sexuality has been perceived—the scholarship of Thomas Laqueur may be the best place to begin:
Laqueur, T. (1990). Making sex: body and gender from the Greeks to Freud. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
In his exploration of sexual and societal transformations of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Faramerz Dabhoiwala delves into a wide range of cultural factors that contributed to women being viewed, in the nineteenth, twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries, as the less libidinous gender:
Dabhoiwala, F. (2012). The origins of sex: a history of the first sexual revolution. New York: Oxford University Press.
Nancy Cott provides an analysis of Victorian perspectives:
Cott, N. (1978). Passionlessness: an interpretation of Victorian sexual ideology, 1790–1850. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 4, 219–236.
The work of David Buss is central to evolutionary psychology’s view of human sexuality, and Louann Brizendine offers a popular primer:
Buss, D. M. (1995). The evolution of desire: strategies of human mating. New York: Basic Books.
Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: an evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204–232.
Brizendine, L. (2006). The female brain. New York: Broadway Books.
The health education programs quoted in chapter three are from curricula produced by Choosing the Best Publishing of Atlanta, Georgia, and by the Center for Relationship Education of Denver, Colorado. Each organization has recently altered some of its language, but the curricula continue to include declamations like “Men respond sexually by what they see and women respond sexually by what they hear and how they feel about it.”
Chapter four is devoted primarily to the research of Kim Wallen and Jim Pfaus, and Pfaus in turn emphasizes the importance of experiments conducted by Raul Paredes:
Wallen, K., & Rupp, H. A. (2010). Women’s interest in visual sexual stimuli varies with menstrual cycle phase at first exposure and predicts later interest. Hormones and Behavior, 57, 263–268.
Rupp, H. A., & Wallen, K. (2007). Sex differences in viewing sexual stimuli: an eye-tracking study in men and women. Hormones and Behavior, 51, 524–533.
Wallen, K. (2000). Risky business: social context and hormonal modulation of primate sexual desire. In K. Wallen & J. Schneider (Eds.), Reproduction in context: social and environmental influences on reproductive physiology and behavior (pp. 289–323). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wallen, K. (1990). Desire and ability: hormones and the regulation of female sexual behavior. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 14, 233–241.
Wallen, K. (1982). Influence of female hormonal state on rhesus sexual behavior varies with space for social interaction. Science, 217, 375–377.
Pfaus, J. G., Kippin, T. E., Coria-Avila, G. A., Gelez, H., Afonso, V. M., Ismail, N., & Parada, M. (2012). Who, what, where, when (and maybe even why): how the experience of sexual reward connects sexual desire, preference, and performance. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 31–62.
Georgiadis, J. R., Kringelbach, M. L., & Pfaus, J. G. (2012). Sex for fun: a synthesis of human an animal neurobiology. Nature Reviews Urology, 9, 486–498.
Pfaus, J. G., Wilkins, M. F., DiPietro, N., Benibgui, M., Toledano, R., Rowe, A., & Crouch, M. C. (2010). Inhibitory and disinhibitory effects of psychomotor stimulants and depressants on the sexual behavior of male and female rats. Hormones and Behavior, 58, 163–176.
Pfaus, J. G. (2009). Pathways of sexual desire. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 1506–1533.
Pfaus, J. G., Giuliano, Francois, & Gelez, H. (2007). Bremelanotide: an overview of preclinical CNS effects on female sexual function. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 4, 269–279.
Martinez, I., & Paredes, R. G. (2001). Only self-paced mating is rewarding in rats of both sexes. Hormones and Behavior, 40, 510–517.
Paredes, R. G., & Vasquez, B. (1999). What do female rats like about sex? Paced mating. Behavioural Brain Research, 105, 117–127.
The narcissistic element in female desire, the prevalence of rape fantasies, as well as other subjects that come up in chapters five and six are explored in:
Sims, K. E., & Meana, M. (2010). Why did passion wane? A qualitative study of married women’s attributions for declines in sexual desire. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 36, 360–380.
Lykins, A. D., Meana, M., & Strauss G. P. (2008). Sex differences in visual attention to erotic and non-erotic stimuli. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 219–228.
Young-Bruehl, E. (Ed.) (1990). Freud on women: a reader. New York: W. W. Norton.
Klein, M. (1975). Envy and gratitude and other works, 1946–1963. New York: Delacorte Press/S. Lawrence.
Critelli, J. W., & Bivona, J. M. (2008). Women’s erotic rape fantasies: an evaluation of theory and research. Journal of Sex Research, 1, 57–70.
Meston, C. M., & Frohlich, P. F. (2003). Love at first fright: partner salience moderates roller-coaster induced excitation transfer. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 537–544.
Fedoroff, J. P., Fishell, A., & Fedoroff, B. (1999). A case series of women evaluated for paraphilic disorders. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 8, 127–140.
My discussion of monogamy in chapter seven focuses partly on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and at the time of my writing the current DSM was the Fourth Edition, Text Revision, Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association. The Fifth Edition (the DSM-V) is due to be published in 2013. To fully understand the magnitude of the changes regarding female desire that are being incorporated in this upcoming volume, it would be necessary to study editions going back at least as far as the DSM-III of 1980. But one representative detail is the substitution, in the new version, of the phrase “sexual interest” for the phrase “sexual desire.” In this and other ways, Basson’s vision of cognitive, unlustful decisions, as opposed to erotic drive, is being codified as the female norm. For a complete discussion of the DSM-V language and the rationale behind it, read Brotto, L. A. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 221–239.
The following work also lends vantage points on the concerns of chapter seven:
Basson, R. (2003). Biopsychosocial models of women’s sexual response: applications to management of “desire disorders.” Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 18, 107–115.
Basson, R. (2000). The female sexual response: a different model. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 26, 51–65.
Brotto, L. A., Erskine, Y., Carey, M., Ehlen, T., Finlayson, S., Heywood, M., Kwon, J., McAlpine, J., Stuart, G., Thomson, S., & Miller, D. (2012). A brief mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral intervention improves sexual functioning versus wait-list control in women treated for gynecological cancer. Gynecological Oncology, 125, 320–325.
Brotto, L. A., Basson, R., & Luria, M. (2008). A mindfulness-based group psychoeducational intervention targeting sexual arousal disorder in women. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 1646–1659.
Brotto, L. A., Heiman, J. R., Goff, B., Greer, B., Lentz, G. M., Swisher, E., Tamimi, H., & Blaricom, A. V. (2008). A psychoeducational intervention for sexual dysfunction in women with gynecological cancer. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 317–329.
Hrdy, S. B. (2000). The optimal number of fathers: evolution, demography, and history in the shaping of female mate preferences. Annals of New York Academy of Sciences, 907, 75–96.
Hrdy, S. B. (1997). Raising Darwin’s consciousness: female sexuality and the prehominid origins of patriarchy. Human Nature, 8, 1–49.
Hrdy, S. B. (1981). The Woman That Never Evolved. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hrdy, S. B. (1979). Infanticide among animals: a review, classification, and examination of the implications for the reproductive strategies of females. Ethology and Sociobiology, 1, 13–40.
Zeh, J. A., Newcomer, S. D., & Zeh, D. W. (1998). Polyandrous females discriminate against previous mates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 95, 13732–13736.
Diamond, L. M. (2008). Sexual Fluidity: understanding women’s love and desire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
On the disputes over varieties of female orgasm—covered in chapter eight—discussions held in the pages of the Journal of Sexual Medicine are a useful way to begin:
Jannini, E. A., Rubio-Casillas, A., Whipple, B., Buisson, O., Komisaruk, B. R., & Brody, S. (2012). Female orgasm(s): one, two, several. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 9, 956–965.
And then there’s Barry Komisaruk’s and Beverly Whipple’s more pragmatic guide to the science of climaxing:
Komisaruk, B. R., Beyer-Flores, C., & Whipple, B. (2006). The Science of Orgasm. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
For the recent history of female desire drugs chronicled in chapter nine, I’ve drawn mostly from innumerable conversations with experts in the field, but the mainstream press has written extensively about these failures, and a Web search of the drugs’ names, from Intrinsa to Bremelanotide, from Flibanserin to Libigel, will turn up a wealth of further reading.
Finally, about speed dating:
Finkel, E. J., & Eastwick, P. W. (2009). Arbitrary social norms influence sex differences in romantic selectivity. Psychological Science, 20, 1290–1295.