Getting laid is a delicate dance balancing the different triggers that activate male and female sexual desire… How does anyone ever get sex at all?
But, man, what the hell do they want?
I’m sure many a guy’s outing or poker night has contained this ever-elusive question, after a few beers… or even completely sober. Because, it seems, most people of the masculine persuasion feel clueless about what makes women choose certain men over others, and what makes them stay… or leave.
Girlfriends, also after a few drinks or over a warm coffee, despair that men don’t understand what they want. We often bemoan the fact that we have to spell it all out, that we have to explain every single one of our feelings so they’ll finally give us what we need.
Seriously, hun, why doesn’t he get it?
Men: ever-baffled. Women: never satisfied.
And this, according to romantic comedies and general gender stereotypes, is the world we live in.
The first reviews I checked of A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What The World’s Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire didn’t bode very well for the book. Methodologically sloppy, not very revealing revelations, use of easy stereotyping and application of undergrad-level sexual theory: these are all things that readers criticized about this work.
Which, after reading it, all kind of have a point.
But, for a newbie to sex science like me, the book was kind of interesting. At least, through it, I have learned the basic differences between how male and female desire function. And it made me think about a whole lot of other stuff as a result.
Please keep in mind that there are wide generalizations here—it makes it easier to talk about the topic without getting bogged down in specifics for each individual. Yes, every individual has different desires and processes. But what’s interesting is how these processes compare to those that research demonstrates are more or less hard-wired into our brains and bodies. When I say “men”, I include every male-oriented gender. Same for “women”. I’m not talking about biological sex.
We’re all thinking about getting laid… just differently
Men see a pretty pair of boobs or a nice butt, and they are ready to have sex pretty much this instant.
Women consider a man’s physical attributes, but without a compatible socio-psychological profile as well, they usually won’t consider intercourse. Pregnancy is a big factor in women’s… greater reluctance… to have sex.
Sex, then, is a careful negotiation between men’s more physical, instant cues, and women’s more careful consideration of potential risks and rewards of having sex with that specific man. If we consider the chasm between male and female desire, it’s a wonder anyone is getting laid at all. Most women are rightfully turned off by men’s apparent objectification of them and their bodies for the ultimate goal of an orgasm; men are rightfully baffled by women’s need to “get to know him” before she puts out.
But we’re all thinking about getting laid. I think about getting laid pretty often. I know plenty of men who think about getting laid pretty much all the time. Sex is one of our primary drives, whether male or female.
Is desire sexist?
Here’s something that came to my mind as I pondered this new knowledge: I’ve grown to consider male expressions of desire inherently sexist.
On their own, male expressions of desire (focus on body parts and intercourse, competition with other men, etc.) are not sexist. If they are, as some scientists would argue, inherent in the male brain, then we can’t blame them for having them. Would you blame them for having an Adam’s apple or a penis?
Yes, being reduced to a pair of boobs sucks. After all, when we, as women, choose to have sex with a man, it’s because we’ve considered his whole person—he’s kind, he’s competent, he’s socially dominant, he’s confident, and yes, he’s hot too. (Although women are known to have sex just because a man is hot too—god knows I have—but we’re talking about general trends here.)
But women can also be guilty of choosing men based on certain triggers, without considering the whole person: he’s got a nice car, he’s got money, he’s got power. I admit to have found myself attracted to a man simply because of his apparent wealth, power, or competence, without knowing him further. He could be a total asshole, but because he’s a rich CEO, I’d totally do him anyway.
Here’s the thing: women, as those who ultimately control access to sex (except in the case of rape/abuse, of course), have the power to impose their standards.
And, I want to be totally honest with you here: I sometimes (hm, most times honestly) expect men to basically act the way I do when it comes to approaching me for sex. If they even show a hint of “hey, nice tits”, I generally blow them off. It’s insulting, it’s objectifying, and I hate it. I’m a whole person, not just a body.
But men, unfortunately, are triggered by physical cues. They see boobs they like and think “yeah, I want to have sex with that.” And objectively, I see nothing wrong with that. How could I, if it’s hard-coded in their biology?
Biological desire, cultural objectification
Now, I’m a feminist. I despise objectification. I hate that we have to do the sexy lamp test when it comes to media representation of women. We are, after all, more than a collection of body parts.
But here’s the thing. Feeling attracted to body parts isn’t sexist. Expecting women to be body parts without a personality, desires or goals of their own is. A man getting a hard-on looking at a round butt isn’t acting sexist. A man who catcalls women in the street with “hey, nice butt!” is.
Because men have pretty much always had the power over cultural norms and modes of representation, they have made it a world where it’s okay to objectify women to their face, and to expect them to behave as objects. They have made it a world where it’s okay to make women feel unsafe by aggressively imposing their expressions of desire in the street.
But the thing is: a lot of men truly don’t understand what’s wrong with that. Let’s take a current and easy example: the dick pic. While some men do use the dick pic as a way to intimidate and harass women (NOT COOL), others honestly think that we’ll enjoy it, because they would enjoy seeing a vagina, and they think, “hey, if I like it, she must like it too!” (and, according to other studies, are actually cued sexually by other penises—but that’s another story.) The dick pic is a very prevalent illustration of a fundamental misunderstanding, from men, of what triggers women sexually.
As the authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts conclude:
The greatest hurdle to sexual harmony is ignorance of the fact that members of the other sex (and other sexual orientations) are fundamentally different from ourselves. We all instinctively feel that other people must be just like us.
Our desires are so natural to us, that we can hardly believe anyone to feel different.
Similarly, many straight men believe that, deep down, all women secretly yearn for casual, no-strings-attached sex with strangers. Many straight women believe men have been socialized to be aggressive and promiscuous—but hide a secret emotional life that, with the proper attention, will blossom into tenderness and monogamy. It’s hard for us to accept that other people’s most intimate desires are different from our own—and when confronted with this fact, we often dismiss their desires as deviant or dangerous or just plain hurtful.
The problem is, because men are socially empowered to throw their desire at women without considering their feelings of comfort or safety, many of them think they can just do it with impunity.
Social mediation of biological desire
But I hardly believe that we’re just a bunch of chimps who are smart enough to make computers. While we are controlled by biological processes, we also have a way of understanding, and sometimes even counteracting the worst of it: our minds.
Now, I’m aware that I get super moody during certain parts of my cycle. I also get mega-horny around my ovulation, and (interestingly) a lot of my inhibitions about sex with almost-strangers usually fall away. But I can exert some control over my behaviour, because I have a brain that understands the conditions, the risks and the consequences of acting bitchy or hooking up with the hot guy at the skate park.
Women are constantly told to “get a grip” and “control themselves” while in the grip of hormonal mood changes. Should men not be held to the same standard when they are also caught in the testosterone-fuelled moment of sexual desire? Are they not also imbued with a brain and with control over their behaviour?
I’m a big believer in balance. We can live with an awareness of our biological processes, and with an awareness of the extent to which we can control our behaviour. I can’t help having mood swings. But I can arrange my life and make choices to minimize their effect on me and others. There are plenty of social and cultural codes in place to help us not be raging rapists, pillagers and warmongers. “Because it’s biological” is not a good excuse for behaving like, well, a dick.
So, how are we getting laid?
But hey, I’m here writing this and you’re here reading it. Someone, somewhere, got laid to eventually lead to the person that is you.
So, despite our differences, sometimes we get to meet each other in the middle.
Yes, sometimes men manipulate women into getting into bed. And yes, sometimes women manipulate men into long-term relationships. But I like to believe in the inherent goodness of people, that at some point we all just want to be seen and understood. And somewhere in the matrix of infinite possibilities that is life, a man and a woman (or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or a person and a person) come to a balance, an understanding of that it is the other wants, and find harmony in bed, and in life.
Man, it’s important to make her feel loved and appreciated. She wants to feel like she’s a person, not just a sex toy. She’ll be all over you if you just show her you really care about her.
Girl’s night out:
Hun, sometimes guys just need to be shown a little compassion. They can be a bit blunt sometimes, but mostly they just don’t know how to make you happy. Just tell him.
If you’re interested in reading the book, you can purchase it through one of the affiliate links above, or borrow it from a library (libraries are awesome).