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Cory Silverberg

Sexual Fantasy in the New York Times

By January 26, 2009

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Good news ladies! According to Daniel Bergner writing in the New York Times Magazine there is a "small force" of young women sex researchers who are radically altering the way that female desire will be understood, which in turn will lead to you having more pleasure and a long sought after reunion with your sexual biological destiny. Say goodbye to political correctness and feminism and say hello to women scientists who are ready to tell you what you really want.

Obviously I don't happen to think this is good news for anyone. The piece, which is really just clumsily torn excerpts from an upcoming book (it doesn't even read like a magazine feature, except for a faint whiff of New Yorker wannabe prose), is riddled with problems and disappoints on many levels.

Lets start with failing to deliver on it's pitch of young women researchers studying female desire. Only two of the three women featured could correctly be called chronologically young, and only two of them are focusing on female desire. Couldn't an editor at least have insisted he find three researchers to back up the referrals to a "small force" and a "critical mass"?

But that's a minor complaint compared to the real problem with this piece.

The real problem lies in the assumptions about gender difference made both by the writer and by two of the three researchers. The assumption goes something like this: Male sexuality and female sexuality (often conflated with masculinity and femininity) are completely different and fundamentally incompatible, and the only people who can get to the heart of female desire are women researchers. Ironically, there’s nothing new or radical here, it’s just the trotting out of that old chestnut of sexual dimorphism with new quantitative data to back up old assumptions we find comforting.

With the notable exception of Lisa Diamond, whose work, unsurprisingly, gets the least amount of real estate in the piece, what we learn from this ‘cutting edge’ research is that women may be sexually passive, what is most important is to be desired, and what is keeping women from a happy return to their sexual biological destiny is too much political correctness.

Next month the Huffington Post is sponsoring a panel which asks the question, “Can we change the sexual conversation in America?” I’m on the panel, and I might just bring my copy of this article as a sad reminder of the way the public conversation about sex is held hostage by sloppy writing, thoughtless editing, and what I can only hope is largely misrepresented research.

**UPDDATE** Petra Boynton pointed me to this excellent critique and thinking through of the article from Greg Downey at Neuroanthropology.net. I obviously didn't find the article enjoyable to read as Greg did (it's hard to enjoy reading something while simultaneously choking on your own incredulity) but I appreciated his more generous and open minded assessment of the work:

Sometimes I feel like the research makes sense in context, but once it’s sampled, sound-bited, mixed and matched into a single article with the title, ‘What do women want?’, the simplification tragically robs all the individual studies of any of the insight they could have offered in the first place. Here, synthesis makes understanding impossible because the heterogeneity of what is being studied is ignored, as if all these research projects had the same research question.

Read more – New York Times Magazine: What Do Women Want?

Read more - Neuroanthropology.net: What do these enigmatic women want?

Comments
January 27, 2009 at 6:14 am
(1) Sexual Freedom Activist says:

No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.

Albert Einstein said that. Asking the same question repeatedly for over a century is like having the same conversation going nowhere. Frankly, the very title What Do Women Want is a red flag to me that we’ve heard this all before. As long as that question is being asked, we know they’ve not listened, despite how many women speak. Not surprising what makes the article. I also
find it interesting that ‘young women’ became relevant. Do we EVER see articles about research done by ‘young men’ in need of that distinction.

January 28, 2009 at 12:52 pm
(2) Susie Bright says:

THanks for doing what I had too much of a tummy ache to initiate. I am SO SICK of these puff-stinkers.

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