October 20, 2009

New Book Explains “Why” Women Have Sex…Sort Of

A new book by two University of Texas researchers attempts to answer the question - why do women have sex?

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Obviously, working at the Kinsey Institute tends to lead a person (say, me) to have a keen interest in any article, book, or study that explores and then attempts to explain why anyone has sex. Kinsey himself was more interested in tracking specific sexual behaviors and desires through rigorous quantitative work but not necessarily explaining the more qualitative questions around why people have sex. A new book by clinical psychologist Cindy M. Meston and evolutionary psychologist David Buss.

The book focuses on why women in particular have sex and is based on data from 1006 women conducted by the two researchers from the University of Texas at Austin. Honestly, it’s been difficult, reading what I can on the preview on Amazon.com, to figure out if the interviews were more survey/quantitatively based or more qualitatively based in-depth interviews, although the quotes in some of the text I saw seems to indicate more open-ended interview questions since the quotes were lengthy and contained detailed information. This doesn’t mean that the researchers took data solely from these interviews as they begin the few chapters I saw with findings from other sexuality studies from a variety of disciplines from psychology to sexuality researchers to biologists.

One reviewer said the book is being hailed as “the new Kinsey report” but from what I can tell, this book won’t be quite as groundbreaking, even if it does contain some interesting findings. I say interesting because a sample of only a little over 1000 women, even if it did include 1006 in depth interviews, cannot be considered a comprehensive and total view of what all women want or what all women think about anything, especially sex – a notoriously complicated act that involves physical, emotional, and psychological aspects.

From One Sexpert to Another

Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright, Fox’s Sexpert, (who obviously had access to the full text) made a list of a few of the reasons women in the study gave for having sex:

  1. Alleviating boredom

  2. Relieve a stress headache or migraine.

  3. Trying to put an end to an argument.

  4. Wanting a better complexion.

  5. Thanking her date for a nice dinner, a present, or spending a lot of money on her early on in the relationship.

  6. Wanting a spiritual experience since sex is seen as “the closest thing to God.”

  7. Refining her sexual skills.

  8. Feeling sorry for the fellow.

  9. Enjoying his extravagant lifestyle.

  10. Being in a long-distance relationship and wants action now versus later.

It seems pretty dismal and hopeless. I’m a little sad that the only real aspects of sexuality she chose to highlight was the refinement of sex skills and zero mention of sexual pleasure or fun, which the book does include. It also seems to paint the women included in the book as greedy, manipulative, and quite a few other negative female stereotypes I’m sure you don’t have to reach too far to come up with on your own. To be fair, Dr. Fulbright did express concern at the end of her review about a few of the study characteristics (based on university women, mostly white, non-representative sample) and reminds her readers that women have sex for a lot of reasons but may want to have sex for an entirely different set a reasons, a distinction not very well defined in the book, apparently.

Final Thoughts About Women, Sex, and Other Stuff

I have to say that I personally respect David Buss quite a bit. In fact, I even took an evolutionary psychology class with him at my undergraduate university as part of a special, intensive week-long workshop with him and 8 other students. The thing is, evolutionary psychology is a very specific branch of psychology that takes a very narrow, and very biologically based view of sexuality that relates almost all human action to survival traits and instincts. This type of study of sexuality can be useful in some ways but can also ignore huge elephants in the sex room such as culture, society, religion and a million other factors outside of our hormones that control when, how, and why we have sex.

TIME magazine interviewed Buss about the book and, to his credit, he did mention that some of the more “interesting” discoveries of why women have sex (he focuses on revenge, specifically) only after mentioning the more common reasons: love, attraction, expressing affection, etc.

It never hurts to read new research about sexuality if you’re interested in the subject. This book is authored by two well-respected sexuality researchers and seems worth a read. It even got a glowing review from Mary Roach, author of “Bonk” which I’m currently reading and enjoying, if only for the Kinsey-related name-dropping. You can also check out thoughts on the book from Kinsey director, Dr. Julia Heiman, and a few other notable sexuality scholars via the Ghana Business News.