What Being Editor in Chief of Playgirl Taught Me About Female Desire

A recent study at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis backs up my theory. Study leader Andrey Anokhin measured the brain activity of women while they were viewing erotic images. Anokhin expected the women's response to be slower compared to men, which would align with previous research on the subject, but in fact it was just as fast. "Women have responses as strong as those seen in men," he said.

Whether it's Daniel Craig emerging from the ocean in a cock-revealing bathing suit, Brad Pitt in Fight Club or Adam from Girls with his shirt off (yes, please) women desire visual stimulation just as much as the next guy.

Women may not be turned on by a full-page picture of a penis the way men might like to look at close-ups of vaginas in porn, but what we're discovering is that male and female sexual desire is more alike than different.

In his new book, What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, journalist Daniel Bergner finds there can be a vast divide between what society expects women to desire and what actually turns them on. In an interview with Time he explains how scientific evidence forces us to reevaluate old assumptions about women and sex. "We're speaking in generalities here, but on average, we're told that women are sexually programmed to seek out one good man and thus more suited to monogamy. That seems so convenient and comforting to men and so soothing to society, that we can rely on women as a kind of social glue." By citing studies using plethysmography, which measures blood flow to the vagina, Bergner begins to demystify a subject that had previously seemed unknowable. Instead of relying on hearsay about what women want, we are challenged to look at the hard science.

Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and a co-author of a study published in the February 2013 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says that while the psychological differences between men and women have historically been neatly lumped into two distinct categories, statistical evidence does not support that. The study authors write:

Contrary to the assertions of pop psychology titles like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, it is untrue that men and women think about their relationships in qualitatively different ways... Even leading researchers in gender and stereotyping can fall into the same trap.

What turns women on is not a mystery wrapped in an enigma. The pervasive idea that female arousal is a circuitous, delicate, and finicky thing is a sneaky way of spaying us. It's certainly more socially acceptable for men to value physical appearance. Case in point—male nudity at the movies. When we see male nudity on film it's often played for laughs. While men (and women) are treated to Halle Berry's breasts, the best we girls can get is "joke dick"—think Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Mark Wahlberg at the end of Boogie Nights. If we acknowledge that women are visual creatures then it puts more pressure on men to look good. While a shlubby sitcom writer might try to convince us that hot girls do, in fact, want to marry fat, funny bald guys, most women want to be visually attracted to their partner. In fact, a 2012 survey conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that physical attraction matters to both men and women. Seventy-eight percent of over 1,000 men and women polled said being attracted to their partner is "very important."

Sexuality is not a one-size-fits all proposition. And I'll admit that many women are not turned on by the images in Playgirl. But I'm against downplaying the strength, vigor and animalistic quality of female sexual arousal by dressing it up with flowers and chocolate-dipped strawberries. When it belongs to the right person, a naked male body can be exactly what a woman wants.

Presented by

Ronnie Koenig is a freelance writer based New York City. She the author of the forthcoming book Am I Your Mother? A Memoir of Love, Girl Scouts and Figuring This Whole Baby Thing Out.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in The Sexes

Just In