Desire – Male vs Female

If there is a common thread running through every #MeToo story, including the babe article involving Aziz Ansari and Grace, it is that the men involved by way of their behaviour, typically play the role of the villain.  And that behaviour is generally blamed on male sexual desire, which at this point anyone can attest, is pretty different from female sexual desire.  But how different is it really, and why?  Earlier in the previous article on consent I made the somewhat simplistic assertion that male desire is like a switch.  Getting turned on for a man is as simple as flipping a light switch.  The following article delves a bit deeper into what exactly male desire is and how it works:

The Triggers of Sexual Desire: Men vs. Women

It’s written by Leon Seltzer as part of a series of articles that serve as a review and summary of a book called A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire, written by the neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.  Among it’s conclusions is that the reason research papers studying men’s arousal patterns “emphasized their sensitivity to visual cues”, is that “Men’s greater sex drive may be partially due to the fact that their sexual motivation pathways have more connections to the subcortical reward system than in women” or in other words –  “men’s brains are designed to objectify females.”  

I’m going to copy and paste an entire paragraph from the article to make the next point, as I think it has particular relevance to how men and women approach and think about sex.

Additionally, the authors talk about male desire as “a solitary affair.” That is, the single-minded pursuit of sexual arousal can exist totally independent of a relationship. “Getting off” as such has precious little to do with emotional intimacy. A man can sit alone, half-mesmerized before his computer screen, as he intently clicks on images and videos in his hunt for what will immediately ignite his libido.

My quick takeaway from the above is that  men can disassociate sex, from being in a relationship (i.e. emotional intimacy).  Hence the propensity for many men to desire casual sex.

The article closes by making the following analogy to the male libido – Elmer Fudd.  The loony tunes cartoon character that is eternally hunting for, and failing, to catch his prey Bugs Bunny.  Fudd is described as “solitary, quick to arouse, goal-targeted, driven to hunt . . . and a little foolish”.  Despite failure after failure, Elmer Fudd remains undaunted.  He resolutely reloads, and keeps going.

The same writer Leon Seltzer wrote two more articles on female desire, again summarizing the work of Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.

The Triggers of Sexual Desire Pt 2: What’s Erotic for Women?

Paradox and Pragmatism in Women’s Sexual Desire

The first article details romance novels, which the writer contends is the female equivalent of pornography for men.  Unlike pornography, which is exclusively about sex, “the central fantasy in such fiction is the “awakening to love” (p. 88)—which is glorified all the more by a sexual awakening.”  And in general there is “more emphasis on the emotions and relationship of the two principals than in male-fashioned fiction”.  The male characters in romance novels are stereotypical alpha males right out of the PUA handbook.  Unlike men, who are primarily visual when it comes to attraction, women respond to a much greater range of cues regarding what they find attractive in a man.

Women respond to a truly astonishing range of cues across many domains. The physical appearance of a man, his social status, personality, commitment, the authenticity of his emotions, his confidence, family, attitude toward children, kindness, height, and smell. . . . Unlike men, who become aroused after being exposed to a single cue, women need to experience enough simultaneous cues to cross an ever-varying threshold. Sometimes, just a few overwhelming cues can take a woman there. Other times, it takes a very large number of moderate cues. . . . For women, no single cue is either necessary or sufficient.

The second article – Paradox and Pragmatism in Women’s Sexual Desire builds on the above paragraph and delves deeper.  It references a researcher in the neuropsychology of female desire – Meredith Chivers, who found that there was a difference between a woman’s physical arousal at the unconscious level (measured by blood flow in her vaginal walls), and her arousal at the conscious level, i.e. what she actually thought.  This was in contrast to men, who’s physical arousal at the unconscious level (i.e. what their penis was doing), was in lockstep with their conscious thoughts of arousal.

To explain this disassociation between a woman’s physical arousal, and her psychological (or conscious) arousal, Ogas and Gaddam created a metaphorical female counterpart to the Elmer Fudd of the male libido – Miss Marple.  Miss Marple is a detective, and the creation of Agatha Christie, the female mystery writer.  Miss Marple is described as

“an elderly, somewhat eccentric woman, who is at once pleasant and frail, yet extremely shrewd both in picking up on clues others miss and in plumbing the depths of human character.”

And in fact

“To Ogas and Gaddam, women’s inner Miss Marple won’t allow them (despite whatever physical arousal they might be experiencing) to become psychologically aroused till sufficient non-sexual criteria are met.” 

It all comes down to evolutionary biology according to them.  Men are “wired (or “propelled”) to spread their seed far and wide—and indiscriminately.”

However women are programmed to

“think ahead before acting. They must scrupulously consider how their choice of mate will affect their, and their prospective family’s, welfare—the other critical element in preserving the human species.”

It’s really an excellent article, hence my massive use of quotations directly from it.  I recommend reading it in it’s entirety.  As of writing this, I’ve only read the articles by Leon Seltzer reviewing and summarizing A Billion Wicked Thoughts, but not the book itself by Ogas and Gaddam.  However it’s now been placed on my must read list.

The conclusions of the Paradox and Pragmatism article (if true) go a long way to explaining a lot of the frustrations men encounter, when they want to get intimate with a woman.  The oven analogy for female desire as discussed in the consent article?  Miss Marple explains that.  In my experience a woman will often wait to see if a man can control his own lust (maybe being unable to is an indication of a bad lover?), and want to see some empathy shown her way.  When thinking of the babe article with Grace and Ansari, perhaps Grace just needed more of an emotional connection with Aziz Ansari.  Her own little awakening to love fantasy.  Sometimes a woman just wants a man to wait for a while, to make him work for the privilege of having sex with her, to see if he can handle it, and make herself feel better.  His own desire, his inner Elmer Fudd, will propel him to carry on in the hopes of having sex with her.

It’s March of 2018 as I write this, and I’ve felt as the months have gone by since #MeToo first began in earnest, that the prevailing male view on it has shifted.  Initially there was something like tabloid style fascination when news of Harvey Weinstein’s misdeeds came out.  It was easy to denounce Harvey, very few men have personal experience with anything like what he did.  But as the cases mounted for things on the level of touching someone’s knee, or going in for a kiss, I felt there was a growing degree of trepidation, perhaps even some bitterness that there wasn’t anything that men could get right.  This article by Stephen Marche in the New York Times is downright despairing on the state of men – it ends with

It is not morality but culture — accepting our monstrosity, reckoning with it — that can save us. If anything can.

The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido

So while women in the public eye – hollywood celebrities, media people, writers, seem increasingly triumphant; their male counterparts are generally in a humbler, gloomier, quieter mood.

By the way, keeping in mind that the majority of #MeToo stories happened in workplace situations; I personally feel that it’s become too dangerous to try anything that resembles flirting – anything verbal, or any mild physical contact (knee to knee, hand on back) in a workplace setting, or even outside of it with female co-workers, unless you really are good friends.  Remember the majority of approaches fail, and you’ll never know how someone will react.  You could be putting your job on the line.  Which is kind of a shame, since we spend so much of our time at work socializing with our coworkers.  I remember one company I worked at of about 70 people, that had something like four or five married couples that had met there.

Alright back to the doom and gloom.  I’d like to pose the following question – what if male desire was more like a woman’s?  Say we trade in Elmer Fudd for Miss Marple.  Instead of the horny, dogged hunter, we get a conservative and choosy long term planner.  In my opinion if men took the same approach to courtship and sex that women did, the human race would have gone extinct a long time ago.  What if instead of becoming Miss Marple, Elmer Fudd was toned down – less aggressive, and smarter.  What if our sexual drive didn’t have the pervasive power to influence so much of a man’s motivations towards what he thinks, and does.  I believe that without that drive and aggression, men would just stop competing with other males (and females) to be successful, probably in all aspects of life.  We’d all just stop trying as hard, or care less about finding a mate.  If our inner Elmer Fudd was aware that the majority of times the average man approaches a woman, or the online version of it, he will be rejected – would he bother trying?  Particularly in non-online interactions, a man has to overcome his own fear of rejection – that he’s potentially bothering someone and being creepy, that he’s being socially awkward, that he might be publicly humiliated in some manner.  It is our sexual desire that helps us overcome these fears, and keep going.

Let me illustrate the above points with a real world example.  In a somewhat ironic twist, we return to Aziz Ansari.  Before Aziz Ansari went on a date with Grace and had his own #MeToo moment, he wrote a book on dating and relationships with the sociologist Eric Klinenberg in 2015.  I wrote a review after reading it on my blog page only a few weeks before the story hit.  My opinion on the book hasn’t changed, I thought it was an entertaining and informative read, backed up by data gathered by qualified social scientists.  In a chapter called international investigations of love, I want to draw attention to a section called Tokyo: The Land of Herbivores and Tengas.  What Ansari and Klinenberg found was that in Japan, about 60% of male singles in their twenties and thirties self identified as herbivores – “men who are very shy and passive and show no interest in sex and romantic relationships.”  Along with displaying no sexual desire whatsoever, they also tend to spend a lot of time holed up in their rooms playing video games, and generally pursue and maintain lower paying jobs that help them get by without really striving for more.  Consequently these men don’t really spend much money, which has kept consumer consumption low, which has held back the recovery of the Japanese economy from the recession that began in the 1990’s.  (Note: I’m not saying this is the only reason for the stagnant economy).

Not coincidentally, surveys done around 2013 have revealed the following stats:

  •  The percentage of men aged 18-34 who are not in a romantic relationship has risen to 61%.
  • The corresponding percentage of women in the same age range has risen to 49%.
  • One third of Japanese people under thirty have never dated
  • In the age range of 35 to 39, more than a quarter of people are virgins.
  • Japan’s birthrate ranks 222nd out of 224 countries, and by 2060 the number of Japanese will have fallen from 127 million to 87 million; almost 40% of which will be 65 or older.

It’s a serious concern for the Japanese government, and they are throwing money ($25 million in 2014) at the problem in the hopes that people will date, have sex, get married, and produce offspring.  The lack of sexual desire for many herbivores is apparently largely due to an extreme fear of rejection, much stronger than in western countries.  The groups of Japanese women surveyed for the book all seemed frustrated by this lack of initiative, exhibited even when they’ve gone out of their way to pickup a man themselves.

Oh and by now you may be wondering what a tenga is, as referred to in the title of the chapter section.  It’s a single use silicone egg that men fill with lubricant and masturbate inside.  Apparently herbivores preferred it to the dangers of trying to have sex with an actual woman.

Could the herbivore phenomenon happen in the west, particularly in North America?  I personally don’t believe that.  There are some very Japanese socio-economic reasons cited in the book for the emergence of herbivores.  Chief among them is the decline of the Japanese economy in the 90’s, referred to as the lost decade.  It was a hard fall for men, where the typical role of a husband-provider as a salary man with a job for life was turned upside down.  At the same time women began to challenge their expected roles as domestic housewives, many desiring careers of their own that didn’t end when they got married.  Some other factors included many single men living with their parents, well into their thirties, and a general lack of interaction between  the sexes in people’s formative years.  I’d also like to add to that, my opinion that the Japanese tendency to try and avoid shame, and not draw attention to oneself as factors.

I think that in North America our gender roles are not quite as rigid as Japan’s were, and that our cultural conventions, ideas, and beliefs as a whole are robust and flexible enough; that a large portion of men won’t just throw their hands up in the air and say they give up, in the face of economic and cultural upheaval.  However the phenomenon of herbivores is a lesson on what our world would be like without male sexuality.

The next page is our final article moving forward – the next step.  It discusses how to get more involved in the PUA community if you wish to take that route, and will discuss some of the dating coaching options available, both of the PUA variety, and more mainstream coaches.