Books March 2007

She’s Just Not That Into You

Women prefer food to sex with their husbands—and that’s OK.

Impossible to believe, but true. For this hip, young, urban woman, even rubbing massage oil into her husband’s naughty and luscious buttocks ends up inducing not lust so much as a kind of low-level tedium. So it is with all the other popular “hot monogamy” techniques Sewell attempts—from talking dirty at a museum (which is so uncharacteristic that her husband is confused), to wearing thong underwear in public (cold, uncomfortable, and humiliating; younger women look and laugh), to smearing chocolate frosting on her husband’s penis and then licking it off (resulting, to her horror, in the awful reveal: In the mirror, Sewell sees that her face has become a ghastly, chocolate-smeared reverse of Al Jolson’s).

And understand that all the while, Mr. Naughty Luscious Buttocks is working as hard as he can to be the model postfeminist husband. His top half couldn’t be more open and caring: He listens to all of his wife’s stories, makes a point of buying her favorite ice cream, stands by so ready to deliver gentle back rubs (with oily hands) that she practically shrieks, turns tail, and runs away from him. There’s literally nothing this Sensitive Man won’t do to make his wife relaxed enough so that she might possibly, at some remote point, consider having sex with him. (Even still, Mr. NLB is lucky: Though sexpert John Gray, in Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, says that for a man to arouse his woman, he should be ready to “camp out” between her legs for approximately twenty minutes of cunnilingus, a creeped-out Sewell herself won’t abide it.)

Figuring that there must be some deeper emotional trauma at play, Sewell and Kip seek a sex therapist, who probes Sewell’s sex history. (Or her sexistory. At a certain point, you want to start conflating every word with sex—e.g., what midlife marrieds have is fortysex; a particularly galling episode would be a sextastrophe. To that end, I think of a bookish fiftysomething bachelor friend of mine, who had suffered a four-year-long sexual dry spell. After much arduous typing on eHarmony, he finally met a similarly sex-starved female, and they broke the curse. How was the sex? He admitted: “Over the course of the evening, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say we hit every number.”)

Anyway, surely, the therapist wonders, Sewell must have some prior upsetting incident? Past relationships must be to blame, including those Sewell had with her parents. And indeed, after digging, Sewell’s therapist points to such sex-inhibiting factors as a distant father, teen feelings of ugliness, failure to trust, and thinking of sex as dirty.

Of course, as Sewell points out, Kip (who we know is also dutifully in therapy) has the exact same psychological markers in his background, and his libido is sky-high. Which brings us to the crux of Sewell’s underlying political argument: Hormonally, it has long been understood that men and women are measurably different. Sewell was reminded of this obvious fact while watching a documentary about a sex-change procedure. With presumably no particular psychological agenda in mind, the doctors informed the female-to-male subject that

she would have a higher sex drive when given that large an amount of testosterone. They simply took it for granted that there was a direct correlation between high testosterone levels and higher libido. They didn’t have to know how Anita felt emotionally, or the status of her personal relationships, or her confidence levels, or trust issues to know that the amount of testosterone she received would increase her sex drive enormously.

But in this day and age, Sewell points out, to admit that a woman’s sex drive tends to be lower than a man’s seems politically incorrect.

Of course—and here’s the para­dox—this is not to say that Sewell finds masturbation either stressful or, in fact, a chore. Demurely shifting to the third person, she admits that “she herself has bowed her own violin, and darned if she can’t get her own strings to sing like Pavarotti.” It is true enough that women who feel tense about keeping up with their marital sex duties often find masturbation to be a stress-buster. Do it constantly, even daily? Why not? And what are we girls thinking about while we bow our own violin strings? Admits Sewell, “When I was an adolescent, I imagined these knights from the Middle Ages would ravish me.” A recent confession that made me howl is in the anthology Mortified, where one of the contributors, Jillian Griffiths, describes her teen sexual fantasies about the members of Duran Duran—John puts on the Rio album and climbs on top of her “like a baby tiger. Gentle but sort of aggressive.”

As one gets older, fantasy quality only worsens. An informal survey among women of a certain age who don’t care anymore reveals the secret: Whatever is politically correct, you imagine its polar opposite, and that’s what’s hot. It’s not fantasizing that you’re Jodie Foster getting drooled over for your Oscar-winning acting—no. It’s fantasizing that you’re the victims Foster has played to get the Oscar, the waitress raped on a pinball machine by a bunch of mooks—yeah!

Or here’s another: You are a nineteen- year-old blonde, a slightly chunky and bored communications major with a defiantly unquenchable taste for amaretto sours. They are a passel of fiftysomething Kuwaiti businessmen (oil?) at some hideous downtown hotel with glass elevators. The oilmen offer money for a private party. Thirty dollars? No. Five hundred? Better. Two thousand seems about right. Five thousand is definitely too much (the high price being too call-girl-professional; proper licensing in the state of Nevada and vaginal health exams somehow become involved). At $5,000 the fantasy loses traction.

Presented by

Sandra Tsing Loh is a writer and performer whose radio commentaries appear regularly on American Public Media’s Marketplace. She can also be heard on KPCC-FM, in Pasadena, California.

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