It’s almost impossible to ignore an article called, “What Do Women Want?” So it’s no surprise that Daniel Bergner’s piece of that said title is the second most e-mailed article this week from the New York Times magazine. (Bergner’s article was eclipsed in e-mail popularity by an article on road signs—a seriously important journalistic investigation into Great Britain’s towns with funny names: Crapstone; Spanker Lane, Penistone, Pratts Bottom and Wetwang to name a few. This from our nation’s Newspaper of Record.)
Bergner’s article is flying into e-mail boxes, and I suspect that the recipients will scan the first few paragraphs and give up reading. The droll reader will be thinking Chocolate? Money? Shoes? The humorless will be looking for serious answers like, “Respect.”
Turns out, the long, convoluted article is all about sexual response, and it essentially concludes that women don’t know what they want, and the researchers can’t figure out how to isolate the variables.
Meredith Chivers, scientist and member of the editorial board of the world’s leading journal of sexual research, has done extensive studies attempting to measure what triggers arousal and desire among men and women. In these studies, she invites men and women to watch footage of things like mating apes, people having sex or exercising, or walking nude on the beach. The participants are given a keypad to rate how aroused they felt as they watched each scene. Chivers, to get a more objective read, also connects a plethysmograph to the participants’ genitals to measure arousal and compares the plethysmographs results to the subjective keypad ratings. (Who signs up to participate in these kinds of studies?!!)
Men, Chivers found, were completely consistent: the ratings on the plethysmograph matched their keypad ratings of arousal. Women, however, had very different readings from what their bodies registered to what they recorded on their keypads.
Despite the compelling title and a subject matter that usually captures attention, the article was interminably long, veering off into discussions of the monogamy of prairie voles (I’ve always liked prairie voles) and attempts to better understand things like dyspareunia (no connection between prairie voles and dyspareunia, by the way).
Somewhere along what would likely have been 88 inches into the article, a professor of psychology, Marta Meana, starts to discuss a woman’s desire to be desired, to be chosen and wanted. In committed relationships, desire runs the risk of diminishing when women feel that their partners no longer choose them, but are there because they are trapped.
Women want to be cared for and protected, Meana says, but women also long to be ravished and the unique object of desire. Women are turned on by the notion that a man can hardly contain himself; that he would “transgress societal codes in order to seize her, and she, feeling herself to be the unique object of his desire, is electrified by her own reactive charge and surrenders.”
I know. It sounds like a very bad romance novel. Very anti-feminist and un-PC. And I’m not sure about that whole “transgress societal codes” to seize her thing. But honestly, something resonates here. I don’t know how other women think, but something in this female soul at least, wants to be cherished and chosen and desired.
I finished the NY Times piece (because I’m wired to read even insufferably long and convoluted articles all the way through) and turned on a sermon about money and the rich young ruler by Tim Keller, Sr. Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian church (also in NYC).
Sex and money. It’s what makes the world go ’round, right? Oddly enough, it all connected. Keller, as he is wont to do, started talking about what Jesus gave up for us: the power of the universe; the riches of heaven; his relationship with his father; the glory and the praise—he abandoned it all in his desire for a relationship with us, with me. He so wanted me, that he came down to this earth in the most humble of forms and walked the path to a cross and death to ensure that I could be with him.
After my ex-husband left, a few Christians said to me, “The Bible promises that Jesus will be your husband.” Huh? I know it’s in the Bible, but that’s just weird. I never got that whole nuns-married-to-Jesus thing my Catholic friends talk about. Incomprehensible and odd, and I remember looking at my friends quoting the “your maker as your husband” verse as if they were kinda strange. But over time, it’s starting to make sense to me. The more that I reflect on and look at the story of Jesus on this earth, the more I realize that I really am the object of God’s desire; the prize that was set before him that took him to the cross. He cherishes me, is delighted by me. He would, and has, given up everything for me. He would break societal codes, traverse the universe, and vanquish demons for the intense pleasure of my company. It’s hard to resist falling in love with someone who loves you to that degree.