It was great to read your replies last week—many thanks. Another question is on the way, after some thoughts about the role of the visual in female sexuality.
For a long time, we’ve been told that female desire isn’t powerfully sparked by visual turn-ons, by, say, great shoulders or a great package. That is, the visuals might matter but not so much, and certainly not as much as they do for men. This fits with evolutionary psychology’s perspective, which suggests that female eros is innately more measured and cerebral, more about future plans than present gratifications. But are women less visual?
Meredith Chivers, one of the inventive researchers and original thinkers in my book What Do Women Want?, does not dwell on attempting to compare men’s reactions to women’s. In her lab, she shows all kinds of porn to women and men and graphs the changes in their genitals. She can’t statistically compare what a vagina does to what a penis does—they do different things. What she can do, though, is show that women get physically aroused, strongly and swiftly, while watching all sorts of X-rated scenes. To stare at her graphs is to doubt the old assumptions.
But our culture goes right on perpetuating those notions. Ronnie Koenig, former editor in chief at Playgirl, wrote wisely about this month in the Atlantic:*
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.
So, for a moment, please forget my fragility and the fragility of my fellow men and tell us the truth. How important is the visual to you? How does it play out in your sexual life? Is it essential? Peripheral? Do you bring home the visual turn-ons of the day when you get into bed with your partner? If the visual is important to you, is your partner aware of this? As always, please write from personal experience and be as specific and honest as possible, but stop short of pornographic. We want to be able to publish some of your responses later this week. Send your replies to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “what do women want—visual” in the subject line. We will use your name unless you specify otherwise. (Let us know if you prefer that we only use your first name.) Please check out Slate’s submission guidelines before you write in. We look forward to hearing from you.
Correction, June 17, 2013: This post originally misspelled former Playgirl editor in chief Ronnie Koenig’s last name.