I was faking it…

one woman’s search for orgasm

Female sexual arousal: demystified at last?

with 3 comments

Does the image of two bonobo monkeys ‘doing it’ turn you on? Well if you’re a women then, according to the a study conducted by Meredith Chivers, it most certainly does, and if you think differently it’s because your just not paying attention to your vagina.

In Chiver’s study, (as referenced in the Jan 25 New York Times article) women’s level of arousal was measured as they viewed various images, including the bonobos. Tiny plastic probes were inserted into the subjects’ genitals, which in turn monitored genital blood flow via a machine known as a plethysmograph.  A high blood flow measure was interpreted as evidence of sexual response. In addition to the ‘scientific’ readings, the women were asked to identity which of the images did or didn’t ‘do it’ for them.

According to Chiver’s, women got this last part (yeah, the part where they actually had to make a decision) wrong:

[The women’s] blood flow rose quickly — and markedly…as they watched the apes… [However]…mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. The readings from the plethysmograph and the keypad weren’t in much accord…Whether straight or gay, the women claimed almost no arousal whatsoever while staring at the bonobos. (source)

The machine said yes, but their thumb said no. Chiver’s conclusion? Like the magician’s attractive assistant, women are ‘split’ in half-with their minds in one side of the box and their bodies in the other.

Excuse me? I checked it out on youtube just be sure—and I can confidently say, that as a woman, strawberry Jell-O is more erotic to me than Bonobo porn.

"Does this turn you on, m'am?"

"Does this turn you on, m'am?"

It shocks me that, sexologists like Chivers think can wire up a girl’s clit and claim that it gives a more accurate and authoritative assessment of her sexuality than what the girl being tested believes for herself?

Arousal is a complex interplay of emotion, experience, biology and I’m sure a lot more—and to reduce it to a Pavlovian like experiment–ring a bell and get a bone, show a penis and make her wet—seems ludicrous.

And what scares me most about Chiver’s experiment and the scientific rationale informing it, removes the agency of the person that the genitals’ belongs to—essentially undermining women’s ability to be masters (or mistresses) of their own bodies.

 As someone who’s out to do just that–take control over my sexuality–I’d like to tell her where to stick those wires.


3 Responses

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  1. Well, I don’t think the research was intended to show that women are “wrong” or lying about whether they’re aroused. Rather, I read it as saying that there’s a component to women’s arousal that’s mental, & is separate from physical signs like blood flow. I mean obviously women know what turns them on. You sorta have to interpret the research findings that way; otherwise it’d mean that women “really” want to have sex with bonobos. I got the impression for that article that Chivers felt the same way.


    February 1, 2009 at 8:39 pm

  2. In other words, if I can manage to be articulate for once, the research pointed to an interesting disjuncture between women’s physical responses
    & their actual desires — that there’s more going on than just a mechanical stimulus/response process.


    February 1, 2009 at 8:43 pm

  3. Exactly. I don’t believe the women were wrong and yet, in a way that is what Chivers is suggesting when she says there is a a ‘split’ between desire and arousal in women so that they themselves are not in control, or unaware of their what does and doesn’t turn them on. Granted, not wrong in the sense that they do in fact want to have sex with bonobs, but that there was something erotic in the image.

    My problem is that she is equating gential blood flow with arousal and that may not always be the case.

    Perhaps it was an indication of fear or shock?

    Anyway, basically I don’t like this idea that I’m not aware of when I am and am not aroused–the idea of a ‘split’ inside me I find condescending.

    thanks for your response!



    February 1, 2009 at 9:41 pm

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