It's not, of course, as if feminism, or Internet porn, or any other feature of modernity has suddenly created desires that never previously existed. Rather, as Bergner and his researchers show, science is finally asking the right questions about what women want, perhaps because enough of us are ready to hear the answer. The broad and enthusiastic coverage of What Do Women Want—Amanda Hess at Slate and Ann Friedman at The Cut are nearly as swept away as Clark-Flory—suggests a collective cry of relief: At last, irrefutable evidence that women are so much more like men, and so much more full of erotic potential, than we had ever admitted.
Yet acknowledging that women are as horny as men (if not hornier) isn't enough to guarantee equality, just as the recognition that women are increasingly adept at breadwinning doesn't ensure pay equity. Even as we see more and more evidence that women want what men want, antiquated sexual scripts mean that women are caught, as Friedman puts it, in a "catch-22" with "few options." But is that dilemma one for which both sexes are equally responsible?
Some say yes. Friedman quotes dating expert Chiara Atik:
Everyone's being kind of wishy-washy... Women want sex, but they don't want to be seen as forward (or worse, desperate). Men want sex but are intimidated, unconfident, or don't want to be seen as domineering. We're not sure who should be the sexual instigators, and then no one really steps up to the plate.
That explanation appeals, but it also rests on a false assumption that the risks of playing "instigator" are equal for both sexes. To continue Atik's baseball imagery, it's only very recently that women have even begun to be allowed to compete as equals on the sexual playing field; the rules of the game are still written largely for the benefit of men. To say that women want sex and are afraid of being slut-shamed while men want sex but are afraid of being rejected falsely posits that these are equally consequential experiences. "Slut-shaming" serves as both a precursor and an excuse for sexual violence. "She was asking for it," the classic defense of the rapist, is based on the assumption that a woman who instigates a sexual encounter, "deserves" whatever ill treatment she gets. As real as men's anxiety about being "shot down" might be, it's hardly comparable to women's equally justifiable fear of rape. Margaret Atwood's famous remark that "men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them" clarifies that distinction nicely.
If Bergner is right, men's and women's libidos are far more similar than previously imagined. If he's right, and the formidable data he marshals suggests he is, then our sexual scripts need to shift to accommodate this new reality for everyone's sake. Both men and women need to overcome what Atik calls their "wishy-washiness," and be willing to deal with the discomfort that comes from stepping outside of prescribed gender roles. That's easier said than done; as Friedman notes in her article, the data suggests that even among the young, a significant majority of both men and women think it's the job of men to make the proverbial "first move."