alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 52: What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner

Goodreads summary: “When it comes to sex, common wisdom holds that men roam while women crave closeness and commitment. But in this provocative, headline-making book, Daniel Bergner turns everything we thought we knew about women’s arousal and desire inside out. Drawing on extensive research and interviews with renowned behavioral scientists, sexologists, psychologists, and everyday women, he forces us to reconsider long-held notions about female sexuality.

This bold and captivating journey into the world of female desire explores answers to such thought-provoking questions as: Are women perhaps the less monogamous sex? What effect do intimacy and emotional connection really have on lust? What is the role of narcissism—the desire to be desired—in female sexuality? Are political gains for women (“No means no”) detrimental in the bedroom? And is the hunt for a “female Viagra” anything but a search for the cure for monogamy?

Bergner goes behind the scenes of some of the most groundbreaking experiments on sexuality today and confronts us with controversial, sometimes uncomfortable findings. Incendiary, profoundly insightful, and brilliantly illuminating, What Do Women Want? will change the conversation about women and sex, and is sure to spark dynamic discussion for years to come.”

This book blew my mind. When it was first published, it got some buzz in the feminist blogosphere (and on Pajiba, if I’m not mistaken.) The reason being: as the synopsis above alludes to, much of the evidence that Bergner collects from researchers in the field completely upends society’s traditional narrative about female sexuality. At the initial time of publication, the articles writing up What Do Women Want? mentioned this, so I wanted to pick up the book and read the interviews with scientists for myself, as well as take notes on their publications so I could go to the primary sources. I haven’t read through the complete collection of literature yet that I had intended to tackle, but so far Bergner’s conclusions, informed through the work of scientists studying sexual behavior in human and animal females, seem pretty sound to me.

I don’t want to necessarily “give away” more than what is hinted at in the synopsis and already covered in the articles online, but one of the things overall that really struck me is how sexual puritanism disadvantages women on two fronts. In the first place, on the sociological and psychological level, general sexist double standards (that we are all pretty aware of) restrict our sexual knowledge and activities both through social pressure and internalized misogyny. Secondly, it’s shocking how much resistance has been thrown at genuine biological exploration of female anatomy and arousal. It’s only been in the last 20 years that we’ve even learned of the full internal structure of the clitoris, and yet, it’s still not common knowledge; even some of the sex researchers Bergner interviewed weren’t aware of the internal modeling. (Also, Begner doesn’t discuss this at all, but people still think the hymen is a thing that has anything to do with virginity. Protip: it doesn’t.) Anyway, with the stigma against biological/evidence-based research into female sexuality, it has allowed our society to rely on, and indeed, default to, untestable theories about women and sex from the field of evolutionary psychology, which is rather famously patriarchal.

In summation: I, frankly, think this is a book that everyone, but especially women, could benefit from reading. Though Bergner’s narrative suggests, in many places, that the opposite of what we think we know about female sexuality may in fact be true, the book doesn’t come across as pushy. Given that such a narrow range of sexual behavior and preferences have been traditionally ascribed to women, What Do Women Want? is less about trying to change that narrow definition to another narrow definition than it is about broadening the scope of what is considered “normal” sexual behavior for women.

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 40: Bonk by Mary Roach

Goodreads: “The study of sexual physiology – what happens, and why, and how to make it happen better – has been a paying career or a diverting sideline for scientists as far-ranging as Leonardo da Vinci and James Watson. The research has taken place behind the closed doors of laboratories, brothels, MRI centers, pig farms, sex-toy R&D labs, and Alfred Kinsey’s attic.

Mary Roach, “the funniest science writer in the country” (Burkhard Bilger of ‘The New Yorker’), devoted the past two years to stepping behind those doors. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Why doesn’t Viagra help women or, for that matter, pandas?

In ‘Bonk’, Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm, two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth, can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to slowly make the bedroom a more satisfying place.”

It’s hard for me to critique nonfiction in all of my usual ways, so I’ll just say firstly that I immediately took to Roach’s writing style here, which is humorous and engaging. I think she does a great job of interpreting the data and results and translating them to a less scientific audience, and I was amused by her anecdotes of how she had to participate in some studies in order to get any kind of access to the equipment that was used.

There are some cringey passages, which aren’t Roach’s fault so much as she’s just dutifully reporting some rather cringey experiments (both official and not.) I’d absolutely recommend this book to anyone who has curiosity on the subject, with the caveat that there will probably be at least one or two things she discusses that will squick you out. Otherwise, I definitely learned a few things and enjoyed Roach’s presentation.

Kash’s #CBR5 Review #14: Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex by Erica Jong

When I read about this book in an issue of Bust magazine, I was very excited. I bought it immediately but it took me at least a year to sit down and read it. The pretext of this collection of essays is about the best sex you’ve ever had. Whether fictional or non-fictional. Each author was asked to write about sex, and there were various various differences from author to author.

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Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #13: White Oleander by Janet Fitch

I believe that I read White Oleander many many moons ago and I recently reread it due to my participation in a book club with students at the college where I am employed. Lately I’ve been reading comics and slowly slogging my way through “A Song of Ice and Fire” so this was a nice departure into some meaty, but not too meaty, literature.

This is the story of Astrid, and how her life is altered by her mother’s total self-serving and unyielding personality and sociopathic behavior. Astrid’s tale is one of nature versus nurture. As she bounces around the foster care system you wait to see how she is going to fair. She tries to make sense of her mother, her place in the world and ultimately herself as a lone survivor and stumbles frequently and with great consequence.

It’s a slow, painful read and rich in imagery and symbolism. As a former english major it was nice to have this sort of story to dive into without feeling compelled to pick it apart. Instead I chose to just revel in the story and the language and sad reality of Astrid’s life, and her struggle to connect with anyone and climb out from the depths of despair into which her upbringing have pushed her.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #11: Preacher Volumes 6-9 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

Volumes 6-9 of Preacher are just as offensive, jarring, and compelling as the first five.  Jesse continues on his path to hold God accountable for abandoning his creation, and has a showdown with the zealots.  

After the nuclear showdown, Cassidy and Tulip end up on their own, and Cassidy finally shows his true colors.  (Think Spike, but without any of the drops of remorse and emotion that he later develops.  Just deplorable and self-serving, to the core.)

Eventually, Jesse ends up as a sheriff in a small town and has a surprise reunion with someone from his past.  The conclusion of this series is explosive, surprising, and not altogether what I was hoping for, but I highly recommend it to like-minded people who have a high tolerance for violence and depravation.  If you have seen and appreciated “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” then this may be for you.

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #10: Preacher Volumes 1-5 by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon

My good friend has quite the comic collection and I’ve been reading through his library, bit by bit.  Preacher was my next challenge and boy, was it a doozy.  It was equal parts vile, disgusting, horrifying and entertaining.  Definitely not something that all people appreciate.  I’m going to borrow a paragraph from the Goodreads posted review, because I couldn’t say it better myself.

“One of the most celebrated comics titles of the late 1990s, PREACHER is a modern American epic of life, death, love and redemption also packed with sex, booze, blood and bullets – not to mention angels, demons, God, vampires and deviants of all stripes.”

Basically, Jesse Custer is an accidental preacher who gets filled with the unholy offspring of an angel and demon (which allows him to, among other things, command people to bend to his will), and God is afraid of it and has gone on vacation.  Meanwhile, a secret religious organization is trying to use Jesse to be the next prophet and his girlfriend, who dabbled in being a murderer for hire is along for the ride.  And by ride, I sometimes mean riiiide (heh). And his best friend is Cassidy, a vampire who is there to help…sort of.

Got it?  Yeeeeah.  Volumes 1-5 take us on a wild journey through the plans of the religious fanatics and backstories of Cassidy and Jesse including a trip home for Jesse to visit his family.  And by “family” I mean his grandmother and uncles who make the folks in Deliverance look like cuddly puppies and rainbows.

Oh.  And there is a character named “Arseface.”  (I’ll just leave that there.)  Basically, this story takes the worse things I could think of and makes them much, much worse.  Nobody tell my mom I read it, k?


Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review #1: Playing Well With Others by Jay Harrington and Mollena Williams

The full title of the book is “Playing Well With Others: Your Field Guide to Discovering, Exploring, and Navigating the Kink, Leather, and BDSM Communities.”   This is the book we need in a post-“50 Shades of Gray” world.  The authors, both highly respected in the kink community, present their information in a manner that is kind, funny, knowledgable and straight forward.

I didn’t read “50 Shades of Gray,” so I can’t comment on the accuracy of its portrayal of BDSM.  But, I have read other BDSM romances.  The BDSM Romance genre is to BDSM as the Historical Romance genre is to historical fact.  Here’s what you might expect to find if you went to a kinky club after reading a bunch of BDSM romance: most of the women are, unbeknownst to them, submissive and just waiting for the right dominant man to show them what they really need.  All the men are ridiculously good looking, successful, and wealthy.  All the women are gorgeous, even if they think they are fat.  Everybody is having amazing sex all the time.

The reality is so far from the fantasy.

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