Are Women Sexually Ravenous?
Wire women up to measure vaginal blood flow and, it turns out, they get aroused at the sight of pretty much anything having sex, according to widely cited research by Queen’s University psychology professor, Meredith Chivers.
As Daniel Bergner described it at the New York Times:
No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, (women) showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men.
Even bonobos — an ape species — got women going.
By contrast, men only responded to the usual suspects. How tame.
The study led many to conclude that women are sexually voracious, as a male friend of mine excitedly proclaimed. Or as Tracy Clark-Flory declared over at Salon:
Bergner, and the leading sex researchers he interviews, argue that women’s sexuality is not the rational, civilized and balancing force it’s so often made out to be — that it is base, animalistic and ravenous, everything we’ve told ourselves about male sexuality.
Women may well have the capacity to be sexually ravenous, and even more so than men. After all, not only does blood rush to the vagina at pretty much any sex signal, they can also have multiple orgasms.
But when it comes to modern women, things aren’t so clear-cut.
First, nearly half of U.S. women have experienced significant sexual dysfunction: no or low interest, painful sex, and difficulty achieving orgasm, for instance. One study found that only 29% of women always climaxed with their partners.
That sounds less-than-voracious.
And it reflects the sexual repression that patriarchy burdens women with. This is far from natural. Women who live in sex-positive societies are easily and multiply orgasmic, and without machinery.
Second, Chivers’ research says nothing about women FEELING aroused. If you aren’t aware of sexual excitement, why would you want to do something about it?
And in fact, the corollary to the penis is the clitoris, not the vagina. The penis and clitoris can both become erect, creating a mental state of sexual excitement. Yet no research has determined what gets the clit going.
One study found that when both the clitoris and vagina were aroused, and then a woman was startled, the clitoris lost responsiveness in a way that the vagina did not.
So who knows, that vaginal blood rush may be registering fear — perhaps nature’s way of protecting women’s bodies from assault — rather than indicating a state of sexual interest, suggests Alice Dreger, a Professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
So far, I haven’t seen any research on the clitoris that mirrors Chivers’ study.
So yeah, women’s sex drive may be — or have the potential to be — as strong or stronger than men’s. But vaginal blood flow data doesn’t establish it.
To gain a sense of women’s true sex drive, we must overcome the shaming that now inhibits it.