If Women Do Have Lower Libidos, It Would Make Sense
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Another Valentine's Day, another round of features on sex and love, and another bout of studiously ignoring the role sexism might play in diminishing women's sexual desire. Consumer Reports published a sex poll, and once again women's on-average lower sexual desire is treated as an unfortunate but largely inexplicable phenomenon. In this, they stuck to the mainstream media trend of talking about women's desire -- the lack of it, really -- without addressing any social causes for why that might occur. Most media outlets treat women's desire as a free-standing, unchangeable misfortune brought on by fate or biology, but certainly not worth exploring in depth.
Journalists refuse to explore polling data demonstrating a reported gap in men and women's sexual desires for the same reason people refuse to really tackle the issue in their own relationships. Even in the polling data citing the top six reasons people don't feel desire, two of the reasons given, constituting 59% of respondents, were just a restatement of the problem, and not really a reason. (Forty percent of respondents said they just weren't in the mood, and 19% were too busy watching TV, which is a polite way of saying they aren't in the mood, since people in the mood use Tivo.) But really addressing the reason men and women feel this gap in desire means asking hard questions about how our society treats men and women differently, and doing that means signing up for defensive responses. No wonder journalists writing pieces on the issue avoid the question strenuously.
The New York Times Magazine recently devoted a lengthy feature story to the "mystery" of what women want, a feature that at least took the step forward of involving women in the answer to the question, when tradition dictates that men ask each other this question and continue to be baffled that they can't come up with the answer. ("Mad Men" took on the issue humorously, portraying a roomful of bright men who can't figure out how to find out what women want, with not a single one coming up with, "Let's ask them," as a solution.) But despite going on for several pages on the issue, Daniel Bergner managed to avoid even entertaining the notion the our sexist society turns women off, preferring instead to dwell on portraying women as inherently perverse, narcissistic, and even masochistic. After all, the weirder women seem, the easier it is to shrug off the responsibility of really understanding women, since it seems like an impossible task.
Ignoring the differences in how men and women's sexualities are regarded in our society is an interesting omission, considering how obvious and pervasive these differences are. And by "interesting," I mean, "somewhere between annoying and offensive." The double standard between straight men and women hasn't gone anywhere, but in fact has barely been eroded by an intensive, multi-decade onslaught from feminists. It's still women who are instructed to worry about their "number" being too high. It's still women who have to hear that having prior sexual experience makes us legitimate targets to rape. The words "whore" and "slut" describe women, not men. Sexual mores have loosened somewhat, but we still live in a world where Good Girls Don't.
To add to it, sexual desire in our culture is almost solely contextualized as something straight males have and not anyone else. Images of nubile (presumably straight) women with no clothes on still signify "sex" in our culture. Half-dressed women greet straight men everywhere they turn with beckoning smiles and lidded eyes, titillating men and inspiring men to think about sex constantly. Straight women don't get near the provocation on a daily basis -- is it any wonder that 60% of the men who answered the Consumer Reports survey thought about sex once a day, but only 19% of women?