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What Do Women Want?

Adventures in the Science of Female Desire

By Daniel Bergner
15-minute read
Audio available
What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner

In What Do Women Want? (2011) Daniel Bergner casts doubt on common preconceptions about women’s desires. Drawing on history and recent scientific research, Bergner exposes the myths about, and the ingrained societal norms that often dictate, women’s sexuality. We may only just be beginning to uncover what women really want.

  • Anyone who wants to understand women better
  • People seeking different perspective on sex and relationships
  • Women with questions about their own sexuality

Daniel Bergner is a writer for The New York Times Magazine, and has authored several nonfiction books, including The Other Side of Desire and In the Land of Magic Soldiers: A Story of White and Black in West Africa. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Harper’s Magazine and The Atlantic.

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What Do Women Want?

Adventures in the Science of Female Desire

By Daniel Bergner
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner
Synopsis

In What Do Women Want? (2011) Daniel Bergner casts doubt on common preconceptions about women’s desires. Drawing on history and recent scientific research, Bergner exposes the myths about, and the ingrained societal norms that often dictate, women’s sexuality. We may only just be beginning to uncover what women really want.

Key idea 1 of 9

Social norms often dictate women’s sexuality – and inevitably simplify it.

Throughout history, women’s sexuality has never received the attention it deserves. This, in large part, is because the story has always been told from a male perspective. What we claim to know about women and desire, therefore, should be taken with a liberal pinch of salt.

Ancient texts and religions reveal that the repression of women’s sexuality is pretty much coeval with its arrival. Just take Greek mythology, according to which Pandora, the first woman, is responsible for unleashing all of the world’s evils.

Later, in the sixteenth century, male scientists discovered the role of the ovum for reproduction; after this discovery, the female libido was regarded as being of minor importance. Because women could conceive regardless of whether they felt desire, men concluded that there was little reason to pay attention to female pleasure.

As well as being repressed, women’s sexuality was, in more recent history, mislabeled.

Assuming that genes regulated women's behavior, evolutionary psychologists claimed that genes made women desire security in relationships. Thus, evolutionary psychologists developed the parental investment theory, which states the following: because men have unlimited sperm and invest little effort in reproduction, and because women have a finite number of eggs and do more work in the reproductive process, men are programmed to spread their seed, while women must carefully select long-term providers.

Nowadays, such claims go more or less unquestioned. Women are supposedly the more restrained sex, a stereotype that just encourages women to behave in the way we think they should.

The problem is: whether it’s through religion, social convention or science, women are told how to feel and act. It’s a combination of these influences that perpetuate the status quo.

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