Ogi Ogas, a computational neuroscientist, and author of A Billion Wicked Thoughts infuriated the feminist community recently when he described feminism as toxic to sexual arousal. A predictable and natural enough response, I must admit.
Over the weekend, he penned The Online World of Female Desire at the Wall St. Journal, which is more closely aligned with the material in his upcoming book. Ogas and a colleague analyzed a billion web searches for sexual content.
Because this online activity leaves behind a trail of digital crumbs, for the first time we can gather reliable data on the erotic interests of a broad swath of humanity.
Looking at online activity has the advantage of examining the use of a precious resource: time. Whether someone ultimately pays for content, there’s little doubt that both men and women are investing significant time on arousal, though in very different ways.
“All across the planet, what most women seek out, in growing numbers, are not explicit scenes of sexual activity but character-driven stories of romantic relationships.”
This isn’t news, exactly. Everyone knows that women are the consumers of rom coms, chick flicks, chick lit, and romance novels. Ogas goes into the science, i.e., “the unconscious evaluation” of how attraction and arousal work in women, calling it “the source of feminine intuition.”
“Using investigative skills, the female brain evaluates all available evidence regarding a potential mate’s social, emotional and physical qualities to make an all-important decision: Is he Mr. Right or Mr. Wrong?…Though the female brain carefully processes many stimuli simultaneously, it is experienced only as a general feeling of favorability or suspicion toward a potential partner. This feminine intuition is designed to solve a woman’s unique challenge of determining whether a man is committed, kind and capable of protecting a family.”
Ogas examines female erotica to understand how the female brain differs in this respect from “the much simpler male brain.” For example, women account for 2% of online porn subscriptions, but 90% of romance novel purchases. He points out that in all romance novels, a “gradual elucidation of the hero’s inner character leads to an emotional epiphany between the hero and heroine.” Sex never is gratuitous or merely pleasurable – it always leads to long-term commitment, even when, in this modern age, it occurs beforehand.
Recently, female fan fiction as exploded on the internet, where women write their own stories about beloved franchises: Harry Potter and Twilight, for example. The most popular site is FanFiction.net, which gets more than 1.5 million visitors a month.
Ogas boils down the differences between the online sexytime of men and women:
1. They search for different things.
- Men search primarily for racy pictures of famous women they find attractive.
- Women search for details on celebrities’ personal lives. If they search for sexual content, it is more likely to be erotica in which their favorite character stars.
2. They consume pornography differently.
- Men almost always consume pornography alone.
- Women prefer to discuss stories in “probing detail,” exploring the emotional arc, the characters, and the “nuances of the relationships.”
Our data suggest that these women probably have a higher sex drive than other women and that they are more socially aggressive and more comfortable taking risks.
For most women, the evaluation of a mate’s social, emotional and physical qualities “must be completed before mind and body are united in sexual harmony.”
It follows, therefore, that a woman who is not high testosterone but attempts to “have sex like a man” anyway is living in a state of disharmony, one where her mind and her body are at war with one another. This is characterized by doubts, feelings of guilt, rejection or loneliness after casual sex.
Anne Campbell, a researcher at Durham University in England, conducted a One-Night Stand study with 1743 subjects. Although she found that the many of women were regretful immediately afterwards, and reported feeling used (46%), the real eye opener was the motives of the women engaging in no-strings sex:
“Women were not hooking up in an effort to secure a long-term beau, but because they felt flattered by the overnight proposition.
They were mistaken…men lower their standards when it comes to one-night stands, so the presumed flattery is a fantasy or close to it.
Often [women] said things like, ‘I felt so flattered, so happy that he found me attractive. It was so nice to be wanted. What women don’t seem to see is that men drop their standards massively for a one-night stand. No woman should be flattered because a man wants to have sex with her once.”
Every woman comes equipped to deduce a great deal of information about a man to determine whether she is attracted to him. For her intuition to give her the green light, she must like his smell and the taste of his saliva, both of which clue her in to his level of DNA dissimilarity, an essential component of successful mating. She must also like his demeanor, his emotional affect and his social persona. For most women, one-night stands short-circuit the process.
This is the checklist that matters. Women must respect and heed their intuition in mating. And men should understand that there is much to the process that is truly not personal. If your DNA resembles her own family’s, you’re not going to give her butterflies. As an acting coach once said to me, “You are not for all markets.”
Ultimately, sex and even love are pure science. We cannot control it, but we can find greater satisfaction, even peace, by embracing it. We certainly can’t cheat it.