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This Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured a piece on recent research on female sexual desire conducted by what the Times describes as "post-feminist sexologists". If you haven't read the piece yet, I would suggest doing so before you read the rest of this post.While I'm thrilled that the New York Times gave such a prominent place to the topic of female sexuality, there were several things that came to mind as I was reading the article that I would like to throw out there for general reflection and comment that I wished the article had addressed, or addressed more concretely.First, much of this research is aimed at "fixing" female desire which is seen as being lower than it should be. Why? I think there are two main reasons. First, to what standard are we comparing female desire? Male desire. Men are the referent, the default as they have been for everything else throughout history. What if it's actually the other way around and women have (in general) the right levels of desire while men are hyper-active? (Or what if neither is true and it's all a big jumble?) We can't even imagine this world where women's desire is foremost because so many things would have to change for that world to exist. I therefore reject the idea of these researchers as "post-feminist".� Second, these women who are less desirous than they should be constitute fully one-third of the female population. The definition of a disorder is that it is irregular. Is something a disorder if one-third of people have it? Is blond hair a disorder? How about left-handedness?Of course, one could say that if women feel their lack of desire is a problem, then it should be addressed. This may be the case, but how should it be addressed? I bet there isn't one person out there who doesn't have at least one thing about their sex life that they feel needs fixing. What does it do to those women with "low desire" if we take their particular problem and medicalize it, hooking them up to things and trying to develop drugs? Are these the fixes we're hoping for or could we look outside of the medical establishment into people's bedrooms and work from there? Perhaps the solutions we would find if we did this would be healthier, less stigmatizing and longer lasting.At the very end of the article, this brief paragraph appears:

?So many cultures have quite strict codes governing female sexuality,? she said. ?If that sexuality is relatively passive, then why so many rules to control it? Why is it so frightening?? There was the implication, in her words, that she might never illuminate her subject because she could not even see it, that the data she and her colleagues collect might be deceptive, might represent only the creations of culture, and that her interpretations might be leading away from underlying truth. There was the intimation that, at its core, women?s sexuality might not be passive at all. There was the chance that the long history of fear might have buried the nature of women?s lust too deeply to unearth, to view.

When I read this I thought to myself� "start the article here!". All research is embedded within culture. Gender and sexuality, being so fundamental to every culture are even more embedded. This means that assumptions we make about gender and sexuality can influence our thinking and research without us even being aware of them. They're there in the questions we ask, the subjects we recruit, and how we interpret our data. We're as mixed up in at as the people we want to research, so pulling back and looking at something with a completely objective eye can be impossible.This cultural context also means that what research describes might not be how things actually are, but how the current culture is shaping them to be. Could past attitudes about sexuality and gender resulted in very different results? It's entirely plausible. For me, this means that our sexuality is not set, it's flexible and "fixing" something that is undesirable may be more about changing the culture than developing a drug or therapy. As someone always hoping for a bit of a revolution, this idea appeals to me.First on my list of themes for the revolution would be something left entirely out of the discussion in this article: pleasure. In any discussion about sexuality in the United States, especially one that takes place in the mainstream media, pleasure is often the elephant in the room. The following scenarios seem entirely plausible: women in pleasure-less sexual relationships don't want to have sex as often; women who are not having the kind of pleasure they were raised to think they should get feel inadequate and don't want to have sex as often; women who were raised to think the kind of pleasure they do have is wrong or should not be expressed feel guilty and... you guessed it, have less desire. It could even be that what women were responding to in the porn films including the bonobos was pleasure.In other words, maybe what women really want is true, uninhibited, guilt-free, glorious pleasure -� be that by themselves or with a partner. It's just a thought, but it's certainly something worth researching. Or, we could start a pleasure revolution. I think I know the perfect spot for the headquarters. :)Update: Obviously this article is generating a lot of discussion on the blogosphere. Here are some other perspectives. If you've written about this, please post a link in the comments.FeministingCory Silverberg at About.comFuture Feminist Librarian ArchivistNeuroanthropologyght not be how things actually are, but how the current culture is shaping them to be. Could past attitudes about sexuality and gender resulted in very different results? It's entirely plausible. For me, this means that our sexuality is not set, it's flexible and "fixing" something that is undesirable may be more about changing the culture than developing a drug or therapy. As someone always hoping for a bit of a revolution, this idea appeals to me.First on my list of themes for the revolution would be something left entirely out of the discussion in this article: pleasure. In any discussion about sexuality in the United States, especially one that takes place in the mainstream media, pleasure is often the elephant in the room. The following scenarios seem entirely plausible: women in pleasure-less sexual relationships don't want to have sex as often; women who are not having the kind of pleasure they were raised to think they should get feel inadequate and don't want to have sex as often; women who were raised to think the kind of pleasure they do have is wrong or should not be expressed feel guilty and... you guessed it, have less desire. It could even be that what women were responding to in the porn films including the bonobos was pleasure.In other words, maybe what women really want is true, uninhibited, guilt-free, glorious pleasure -� be that by themselves or with a partner. It's just a thought, but it's certainly something worth researching. Or, we could start a pleasure revolution. I think I know the perfect spot for the headquarters. :)Update: Obviously this article is generating a lot of discussion on the blogosphere. Here are some other perspectives. If you've written about this, please post a link in the comments.FeministingCory Silverberg at About.comFuture Feminist Librarian ArchivistNeuroanthropology