What do women want?


First aired on Q (9/7/2013)

If you think only men get turned on by sexy images, think again. Magic Mike became a success story when it hit the big screen last summer, and it was pointed to as proof that heterosexual women enjoy the image of male nudity on screen. Now, it seems that this box office mojo can be explained by new scientific research -- and that the belief that women aren't stimulated by visual images is only one of many misconceptions about female sexuality. Journalist and author Daniel Bergner captures it all in his new book, What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire.


For quite some time, Bergner says, it was the accepted belief that when it came to sexual desires, men were supposed to "spread their more or less limitless seed" and are therefore "promiscuous" by nature, whereas women are "programmed to seek out out a good man" making them "well suited to monogamy." 

These assumptions, Bergner says, are wrong. Bergner spent eight years talking to scientists studying female desire about their research and talking to "everyday women" about their relationships and sex drive and his findings debunked these myths easily. "Science is giving us now a very different, but I think ultimately empowering vision of women's sexuality though, again, one that may be a bit unsettling for men," he told Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview. Women are complex. Women like visual stimulation. Women aren't hardwired for monogamy. Women don't necessarily need an emotional connection to feel an attraction. 

So why did it take until 2013 to figure this out? Bergner cites two reasons. The first is the "fragility of the male ego." Bergner points to his own relationship as an example -- if he could believe his partner wasn't checking out other people and didn't mind if he put on a few pounds because visual stimulation wasn't important to her, Bergner could focus on being an attentive partner and not feel guilty when "my eyes might roam a bit and my thoughts may wander" and would also be more comfortable in his own less-than-perfect body. Receding hairlines and beer bellies aren't a big deal if it's believed they don't have a strong influence over female attraction.

The second is the societal expectations for women. These beliefs about sexuality are tied up in the old-fashioned notions of women being wives, mothers and caretakers. "It's so nice for society to think that half the population is somehow programmed to serve as a social glue to keep our society together." But, Bergner points out, this places "a terrific burden on women" and further "distorts our understanding of who women are sexually, and who we all are sexually."

Bergner believes we need to put these tired notions of what women want away and start having a real dialogue about sex, both on the individual level and on the social level. "I certainly hope that people put down my book after reading the science, after reading women's stories, both men and women begin a new kind conversation, a more candid conversation. One that's more electric, one that might, conceivably, even lead to better sex."

Related links: