Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lust wears lipstick

Lasses (like lads) long for lovemaking

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So what do women want? Many would suggest this is the $64,000 question, but in fact, the answer is more likely to cost you $64 million in research funding.

In this slim, easy-to-read volume, New York author and journalist Daniel Bergner attempts to answer the question using a combination of science, folklore and stories (of real women, names changed).

Along the way, he dispels some myths about women focusing more on relationships and emotional satisfaction than men and suggests women are perhaps more libidinous and lustful than common discourse would suggest.

But he starts off, as many experiments do, with mice and monkeys -- bonobos to be exact.

Through discussions with a number of scientists, many of them Canadian, Bergner explores the underpinnings of female desire. It appears that studies exploring human sexuality are more likely to be funded here than in the U.S., owing to overt efforts by conservatives and Conservatives to control funding for research that is "sensitive."

Meredith Chivers at Queen's University has shown that women are turned on by a variety of visual stimuli (heterosexual and homosexual -- and, yes, sex between bonobos) in contrast to the commonly held belief men are the ones who need visual stimulation for arousal.

Jim Pfaus from the University of Toronto uses mice to show that the female is not naturally monogamous and suggests female sexuality has historically been repressed because men are ultimately afraid of being cuckolded.

Marta Meana, a Canadian now working in the U.S., uses computer-assisted eye tracking to follow where people look when they are viewing erotic or pornographic images. The eyes do not lie and Meana eloquently debunks the myth women want emotional closeness. She suggests that what women want, what sparks their desire, is the idea that they are desired by their mate.

She maintains that an element of distance between a woman and her partner, rather than the meshing of two individuals, is what fans desire.

Lori Brotto from the University of British Columbia uses mindfulness-based meditation to show women how to literally talk themselves into states of higher desire.

And of course there is the inevitable race to find a magic bullet, a pill, to fuel women's sexual desire. Bergner's penultimate chapter in (aptly titled "Magic") describes the long and convoluted search by pharmaceutical companies to find a quick fix for the lack of desire that many women (and men) complain about.

Each chapter in the book includes a story about a woman searching for something in her relationship -- lust, abandonment, eroticism, surrender, love, commitment. These serve to illustrate the complexity of female desire and arousal and how women have been taught to ignore or deny their innate sexual selves.

The depth, breadth and fluidity of female sexual desire may be uncomfortable for some to contemplate, but these stories will make the reader think about his or her own limits or opportunities for sexual growth and satisfaction.

Bergner has the chops to write eloquently and with authority. One of his previous books, 2010's The Other Side of Desire, delves into similar territory. His writing style reflects his background as a journalist and contributor to such quality publications as the New York Times, Mother Jones and Harper's.

This is a very readable book, but it is not for the faint of heart -- or the socially conservative. Bergner takes a no-holds barred approach to describing the science and the personal stories illustrating his hypothesis of the book.

And his book will also not answer the question of what women "really" want because, ultimately, what women want has been shaped by society, by those in power (men) as well as by religion, politics and culture. And as these (hopefully) change, the answer remains fluid.

Anne Katz, PhD, RN, is a Winnipeg nurse and certified sexuality counsellor.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2013 A1

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