Corseting female sexuality

The New York Times has an interesting and in-depth article on research into female sexuality that looks at the work of some of the most prominent female researchers in the field.

It does a great job of discussing the often surprising results of recent scientific studies but a commentary on Neuroanthropology really nails why it misses the mark.

The whole article is pitched to support that old tired clich√© of sexuality that ‘women are complicated, men are simple’ and it uses the differences in research findings to suggest women are enigmatic, complex, they don’t know what they want, or are torn by competing sexual desires.

But this is largely because the scientific studies have looked at specific research questions that don’t relate to ‘what do women want?’ line, as if this is a question that could actually be answered.

Neuroanthropology uses a great analogy that demonstrates why this is just bad spin:

One can imagine an article with the title, ‘What do diners want?’, which bemoaned the fickleness and impenetrable complexity of culinary preferences: Sometimes they want steak, and sometimes just a salad. Sometimes they put extra salt on the meal, and sometimes they ask for ketchup. One orders fish, another chicken, another ham and eggs.

One day a guy ordered tuna fish salad on rye, and the next, the same guy ordered a tandoori chicken wrap, hold the onions! My God, man, they’re insane! Who can ever come up with a unified theory of food preferences?! Food preferences are a giant forest, too complex for comprehension. What do diners want?!

You get my drift. The line of questioning is rhetorically time-tested (can we say clichéd even?) but objectively and empirically nonsensical. So many of these experiments seem to be testing a series of different, related, but ultimately distinct questions.

Can they all be glossed as, ‘What do women want?’ Yeah, sort of, but you’re going to get a hopeless answer.

Rather ironically, the NYT article celebrates the complexity of female sexuality but ultimately suggests that it’s the one-dimensional question that’s important when this is nothing but a caricature of human nature.

It’s worth reading for the coverage of the research, but the whole premise of the article is slightly askew. The Neuroanthropology piece is an excellent way of getting a broader vista.

Link to NYT article ‘What Do Women Want?’.
Link to excellent Neuroanthropology commentary.

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