A strong libido and bored by monogamy: the truth about both women and sex

When a heterosexual couple marries, whos likely to get bored of sexuality first? The answer might surprise you

What do you know about female sexuality? Whatever it is, chances are, says Wednesday Martin, it’s all wrong.” Most of what we’ve been taught by science about female sexuality is untrue ,” she says.” Starting with two basic assertions: that humen have a stronger libido than girls, and that men struggle with monogamy more than women do .”

Martin pulls no punches. Her bestselling memoir Primates of Park Avenue cast her as an anthropologist observing the habits of her Upper East Side neighbours. She claimed among other shockers that privileged stay-at-home moms were sometimes given a fiscal “wife bonus” based on their domestic and social performance. The book caused a furore, and is currently being developed as a TV series, with Martin as exec producer. Her new volume, out this week, should be equally provocative. Entitled Untrue , it questions much that we thought we knew about women’s sexuality.

Her starting-point is that research into human sexuality has been, historically, overwhelmingly male-centric;” notable sexologists”, beginning with the Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal( 1833 -1 890) are mostly male. You have to scroll through another 25, including Sigmund Freud and Alfred Kinsey, before you arrive at a female name: Mary Calderone( 1904 -1 998 ), who championed sex education. And even in the subsequent 30 names there are only five females, including both Virginia Johnson( partner of the famous, and male, William Masters ), and Shere Hite.

All these men made certain presumptions about women’s sexuality. It’s no surprise that it was Hite who revolutionised guessing on female orgasm, arguing that it was not “dysfunctional” to fail to climax during intercourse. Crucial, too, says Martin, has been the work of Rosemary Basson, who realised that spontaneous passion, the kind sexologists had measured for years, was only one type of relevant desire, and that responsive or triggered sexual response is much more important for women. Measured on that scale it turns out that females are, in fact, every bit as sexually arousable as men.

New findings showed that females reported similar intensities of longing and arousal to humen, and” a real shifting in thinking” about females and monogamy.” We were taught that men were the ones who needed range, but the exact opposite turns out to be the case ,” says Martin.” Overfamiliarisation with a partner and desexualisation kills women’s libido. We used to think it’s only men who became sexually borne after wedding; turns out that’s not true. It’s when women get married that it’s detrimental to their libido .”

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‘ Men actually caring about what girls want sexually makes a huge difference ‘: Wednesday Martin. Photograph: 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 currently, predictably enough, “mortified” at what their mom writes about. She hopes her work will help validate the impressions of the next generation of young lady:” It’s not about dedicating 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, the exact opposite is the case.” Women crave novelty and range and escapade at least as much as men, 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 gay women’s sexuality lives ).” A couple live together, their libidos are matched, and they have a lot of sex. But after a year, two years, maybe three years, what tends to happen is that the woman’s passion falls more quickly than the man’s. At that phase the woman believes,’ I don’t like sex 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 men do .”

So women are socialised to believe that they’ve gone off sex, 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, females are multiply orgasmic, women’s biology situates them up to seek out pleasure ,” says Martin.” The clitoris has a very important back tale about female human sexuality which is that our sexuality evolved for the purpose of adventure .”

Another element in the mix, 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 happy.” So we need to understand that females aren’t just seeking range because they’re unhappy, they’re attempting it because they need variety 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 women 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 women 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 are able to introduce will make a big difference to your sexuality life .” Another route 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 dance 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 wash of hormones that induces “youre feeling” new to one another again .”

Indeed, part of the narrative seems to be that men are too quick to settle for “the usual”( which builds 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, attorneys Martin, is for them to keep on and on asking.” Men genuinely caring about what girls want sexually makes a huge difference. You might need to have the conversation over and over, and women might maintain saying they’re happy with things as they are- but keep asking, and eventually women will open up about their sexual fictions. We find that their menus are more varied than men’s. Human are shocked, but also satisfied 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 believed 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 large number of people in the 1970 s who guessed affairs were OK, believed divorce was incorrect .”

So at the exact moment science reveals girls have the bigger “need” to be sexually adventurous, society clamps down on infidelity. And that, says Martin, is staggeringly significant.” The way we feel about women who reject monogamy is an important metric for how we feel about equality .” She’s talking, she says, about women who openly refuse monogamy by being polyamorous. The overwhelming tale we buy into, after all, is that men who “cheat” are just” humen 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

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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