June 4, 2012

The Fluidity of Women's Sexual Desire {featured news}

A team of Norwegian researchers has found that women, unlike men, feel hornier in the spring because their sex drive is more affected by external circumstances, including light and sun. Sunlight is known to have an impact on the amount of various hormones, such as endorphins, produced by the body and an explanatory factor determining heightened sexual activity. Reports The Local,
According to sexologist Bente Træen at the University of Tromsø, men's sexuality is considered to be more stable while women's is more affected by surroundings and by menstruation. She argued that while men produce testosterone all the time, female hormones affecting sexual interest increase as the amount of daylight increases. "This is connected to the feeling of being in love and the secretion of dopamine, which stimulates the pleasure centre in the brain."
I'm intrigued by the fluidity of female sexuality, also addressed in this New York Times feature on male and female sexuality:
“Men have a consistently high sex drive,” said Richard A. Lippa, a professor of psychology at California State University in Fullerton, “while in women you see more low sex drive and more high sex drive.”

Women’s sexual fluidity extends beyond the strength of desire, he said, to encompass the objects of that desire. In his survey, heterosexual women who rated their sex drive as high turned out to have an increased attraction to women as well as to men.

“This is not to say that all women are bisexual,” Dr. Lippa said. “Most of the heterosexual women would still describe themselves as more attracted to men than to women.” Still, the mere presence of a hearty sexual appetite seemed to expand a heterosexual woman’s appreciation of her fellow women’s forms. By contrast, the men were more black-and-white in their predilections. If they were straight and had an especially high sex drive, that concupiscence applied only to women; if gay, to other men.

Dr. Diamond of the University of Utah also has evidence that women’s sexual attractions are, as she put it, “more nonexclusive than men’s.”

One factor that may contribute to women’s sexual ambidextrousness, some researchers suggest, is the intriguing and poorly understood nonspecificity of women’s physical reactions to sexual stimuli. As Dr. Chivers of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health and other researchers have found, women and men show very divergent patterns of genital arousal while viewing material with sexual content.

For men, there is a strong concordance between their physiological and psychological states. If they are looking at images that they describe as sexually arousing, they get erections. When the images are not to their expressed taste or sexual orientation, however, their genitals remain unmoved.

For women, the correlation between pelvic and psychic excitement is virtually nil. Women’s genitals, it seems, respond to all sex, all the time. Show a woman scenes of a man and a woman having sex, or two women having sex, or two men, or even two bonobos, Dr. Chivers said, and as a rule her genitals will become measurably congested and lubricated, although in many cases she may not be aware of the response.

Ask her what she thinks of the material viewed, however, and she will firmly declare that she liked this scene, found that one repellent, and, frankly, the chimpanzee bit didn’t do it for her at all.

This is fascinating on "the tragedy of the male sex drive:"
Some researchers say that on average, male sexual desire is not only stronger than women’s, but also more constant from hour to hour, day to day. They point to a significant body of research suggesting a certain cyclic nature to female desire, and some say women only begin to attain masculine heights of lustiness during the few days of the month that they are fertile.

Studies have indicated, for example, that women are likelier to fantasize about sex, masturbate, initiate sex with their mates, wear provocative clothing and frequent singles bars right around ovulation than at any other time of the month. Women obviously can, and do, have sex outside their window of reproductive opportunity, but it makes good Darwinian sense, Dr. Wallen said, for them to have some extra oomph while they are fertile.

Men, by contrast, are generally fecund all month long, and they are theoretically ever anxious to share that bounty with others, a state of perpetual readiness that Roy F. Baumeister, a psychology professor at Florida State University, described as “the tragedy of the male sex drive.”

A couple other interesting tidbits:
Conventional wisdom has it that a woman’s libido is stifled by unhappiness, anxiety or anger, but the survey showed that about 25 percent of women used sex to lift them out of a bad mood or to resolve a marital spat.

And this debunking the myth that women look at faces, and men at genitals:
Regardless of gender or relative genital congestion, people attend almost reflexively to sexual imagery. In an effort to trace that response back to the body’s premier sex organ, Kim Wallen and his colleagues at Emory University in Atlanta have performed brain scans on volunteers as the subjects viewed a series of sexually explicit photographs. The researchers discovered that men’s and women’s brains reacted differently to the images. Most notably, men showed far more activity than women did in the amygdala, the almond-contoured brain sector long associated with powerful emotions like fear and anger rather than with anything erotic.

Heather Rupp, a graduate student in Dr. Wallen’s lab, tried to determine whether the divergent brain responses were a result of divergent appraisals, of men and women focusing on different parts of the same photographs. “We hypothesized, based on common lore, that women would look at faces, and men at genitals,” Dr. Wallen said.

But on tracking the eye movements of study participants as they sized up erotic photographs, Ms. Rupp dashed those prior assumptions. “The big surprise was that men looked at the faces much more than women did,” Dr. Wallen said, “and both looked at the genitals comparably.” [my emphasis]

The researchers had also predicted that men would be more drawn than women to close-up views of genitalia, but it turned out that everybody flipped past them as quickly as possible. Women lingered longer and with greater stated enjoyment than did their male counterparts on photographs of men performing oral sex on women; and they noticed more fashion details. “We got spontaneous reports from the women that we never got from the males, comments like ‘I would have liked the photos better if the people didn’t have those ridiculous ‘70s hairstyles,’ ” Dr. Wallen said.

Check out the entire feature here: Birds Do It. Bees Do It. People Seek the Keys to It.

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