What women want are multiple partners

07 January 2014 - 02:28
By Jackie May
Jackie May. File photo.
Image: Times LIVE Jackie May. File photo.

Don't be offended that What do women want?, the title of a peculiar book published last year isn't about you, if you're a man or child. But taken too seriously it might severely affect your life no matter your sex.

The popular science book is one man's adventures into "the science of female desire". Daniel Bergner, a New York-based journalist, set out to discover the latest research on desire, and during his time talking to psychologists, scientists, primatologists and women, he discovered that we've been fed a lie.

Over centuries we've been told monogamy is what makes women happy. Living, loving and sleeping with one man is how we feel best loved. Monogamy, says Bergner, is among our culture's most treasured and entrenched ideals. It determines our romantic lives, it shapes our families, and it keeps our societies delicately balanced.

But who does it really serve? We've been led to believe that one sex is sexual and another is reproductive, according to an Australian urologist, Helen O'Connell. Having women at home, sleeping with only one man means the womenfolk can be trusted to look after men's offspring.

But Bergner debunks this idea and seems to turn the ideal of monogamy on its head. Through his research, Bergner discovered that women were lustful, sexually aggressive and wanted multiple partners. He watched the laboratory behaviour of some female monkeys and rats who, he wrote, were more active and in control than their male counterparts. He spoke to therapists about the many married women seeking advice on their fading love lives, and he spoke to women sadly out of lust with the men they love.

"Women's desire - its inherent range and innate power - is an underestimated and constrained force," he wrote.

But what is there to do about this? A Viagra-type aphrodisiac to help us along? Unlikely in my lifetime. Another option is an open relationship. The US sex columnist Dave Savage wrote recently that we should treat marriage more like a playground and less like a prison.

We should embrace the notion of being monogamish, rather than strictly monogamous - there could be some joy in negotiating polyamorous relationships based on love and respect. Bergner's suggestion is that men had better perform: "They'd better learn, they'd better deliver, and they'd better keep on delivering."

The option I like best is not to compare us to rats and monkeys, but to our partners, the people to whom we often become intensely attached. Monogamy may not be sexy, but it offers an environment within which we can happily function. We may be wired very differently from each other, but we could aspire to being equals in bed, like the equality we desire in everything else we do too.