‘ Men really caring about what women want sexually makes a huge difference ‘: Wednesday Martin. Photo: Christopher Lane for the Observer
Martin isn’t here to talk about her own relationship, but for the record she’s 53, has been married for 18 years, still lives in New York, and has two sons aged 17 and 10 who are, predictably enough, “mortified” at what their mother writes about. She hopes her run will help validate the feelings of the new generations of young lady:” It’s not about devoting them permission to’ cheat ‘, not even giving them permission to refuse monogamy, but I hope it does give them permission to feel normal if they don’t like monogamy ,” she says. Because that’s the central fallacy: the notion that monogamy is harder for men than for women. In fact, argues Martin, exactly the opposite is the case.” Women crave novelty and assortment and adventure at least as much as humen, and maybe more .” She talks me through what she says is the classic pathway for women when they marry or commit to one heterosexual partner long-term( the research has so far concentrated on heterosexual couples; more work is needed on homosexual women’s sex lives ).” A couple live together, their libidos are matched, and they have a lot of sexuality. But after a year, two years, maybe three years, what tends to happen is that the woman’s longing falls more quickly than the man’s. At that point the woman guesses,’ I don’t like sexuality any more .’ But what, in fact, is happening is that she is having a hard time with monogamy; because women get bored with one partner more quickly than humen do .”
So females are socialised to believe that they’ve gone off sexuality, when in fact they’re craving range. Instead of being the brake on passion, says Martin, the female half of the long-term partnership is the key to a more adventurous and exciting sexuality life. What it’s all about, she explains, is the existence of the only altogether pleasure-seeking organ in the human repertoire, the clitoris. For her portrait, she wears a necklace shaped like one.” Women evolved to seek out pleasure, women are multiply orgasmic, women’s biology situates them up to seek out pleasure ,” says Martin.” The clitoris has a very important back story about female human sex which is that our sexuality evolved for the purpose of escapade .”
Another element in the mixture, she says, was the finding that a third of women who are having an extramarital relationship say their wedding or long-term partnership is happy or very pleased about.” So we need to understand that women aren’t just seeking assortment because they’re unhappy, they’re seeking it because they need assortment and novelty ,” she says.
What does all this entail, in a practical sense, for our sex lives? Martin doesn’t like the word “cheating”- she prefers to use the word “step out”- and that’s what some females decide to do. But it’s not the only solution.” There are many women who are suffering but don’t want to leave their relationship or to step out, and they’ve not yet discovered vibrators ,” says Martin.” I can’t tell you how many girls have told me they never had a vibrator- there’s a generation in their 40 s and 50 s who missed the vibrator revolution and never caught up. And there are all these new vibrators out there- and anything new you can introduce will make a big difference to your sexuality life .” Another way forward can be for a couple to open up their relationship in some way, and invite someone else in. And she has other ideas up her sleeve that seem a lot less risque, like going on a zip wire, taking up dancing lessons or running scuba diving together. Why does that help?” Research on the neurochemicals has found that our sexual desire is triggered when we do something new with a long-term partner. A thrilling activity is ideal: it can give you a washing of hormones that builds you feel new to one another again .”
Indeed, one of the purposes of the narrative seems to be that humen are too quick to settle for “the usual”( which induces sense now we know they’re not the ones who are bored ); but opening up the conversation about what else they could try can relight the fuse. The trick here, counsels Martin, is for them to keep on and on asking.” Men truly caring about what women want sexually makes a huge difference. You might need to have the conversation over and over, and women might keep saying they’re happy with things as they are- but keep asking, and eventually girls will open up about their sex fictions. We find that their menus are more varied than men’s. Man are shocked, but also gratified and thrilled, when they find out how sexually exciting we can be when we get past the inhibitions that have been socialised into us .”
Paradoxically, there’s been a parallel transformation in attitudes towards extramarital affairs and divorce alongside the growing studies into women’s sexuality. Martin quotes the US statistics: in 1976, fewer than half of well-educated Americans thought having an affair was always wrong; by 2013, that figure was 91%.” We’ve become a lot less tolerant of infidelity in recent years ,” says Martin.” And meanwhile divorce has become much more common: a significant number of people in the 1970 s who guessed affairs were OK, believed divorce was incorrect .”
So at the precise moment science uncovers girls have the bigger “need” to be sexually adventurous, society clamps down on infidelity. And that, says Martin, is tremendously significant.” The route we feel about women who refuse monogamy is a vital metric for how we feel about equality .” She’s talking, she says, about women who openly refuse monogamy by being polyamorous. The overwhelming story we buy into, after all, is that men who “cheat” are just” men being men “; women who “step out” are far more likely to be criticised and dishonor. Ultimately, though, they’re challenging something very deep in society’s expectations of them- and perhaps their posture is the most radical female stance of all.
Untrue by Wednesday Martin is published by Scribe at PS14. 99. Buy it for PS12. 89 at guardianbookshop.com