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What Do Women Want?

We won't find out by trying to separate biology from culture.
NYT Mag Cover Female Desire
The cover asks "What is Female Desire?" and the story title, "What do Women Want?" seems to promise that scientists are getting closer to figuring out one of life's great mysteries. Daniel Bergner, in fact, does not attempt to answer those two questions (and the small subtitles make it clear that he isn't going to try) but rather he profiles the work of several scientists who are researching women's sexual response, their subjective sense of arousal, and the ways those do or don't line up.

It is a well-written article and a very interesting read. It takes on complex questions and, within its scope, attempts to address them without oversimplifying or sensationalizing (except for the first sentence of the article, in extra large and colorful print that reads "Meredith Chivers is a creator of bonobo pornography."). I would encourage anybody to take a look. But prepare to be frustrated as well as intrigued. Some readers will be frustrated, as was Meredith Chivers (a psychology professor at Queens University, and one of the scientists whose work is the focus of the article) because the answers are not clear and meticulous research takes so long and is so difficult to do, and because, as she is quoted as saying early in the piece, "The horrible reality of psychological research is that you can't pull apart the cultural from the biological."

Click here for my frustration.

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Richmond, KY: Where the tolerance level is shorter than the dresses

It appears the tolerance level of her neighbors was shorter than her dress. When 20-year old Kymberly Clem went to the Richmond Mall* wearing a dress she had bought there the day before, she apparently seemed too attractive to be allowed to stay. She was approached by a security guard who humiliated her and forced her to leave because he said that several women had complained to him that their husbands were staring at her. (For the basics, see these stories in the Richmond Register and Fox News. The Fox story includes a photo of the dress.)

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Beautiful writing about personal sexual experience and the negotiation of "deep relationships and light relationships and predominantly sexual relationships and a few client relationships."
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Working Girls Speak: Shame On You, Diane Sawyer

Tonight, ABC's 20/20 hit the streets looking for hookers & intending to cash in on the salacious sides of sex work ~ with Diane Sawyer as lead pimp, making her paycheck just another one of the profits earned from the poor, down-trodden, girls she herself called exploited.

Diane let us know from the start, with her Good Friday biblical references, that this was not actual news coverage nor anything remotely close to impartial reporting; and from that moment on both Secondhand Rose and myself, Gracie Passette, began typing furiously to one another ~ and no, 'furiously' wasn't our typing speed.

Here are our notes.

The two hour 20/20 was titled Prostitution in America: Working Girls Speak; apparently no one thought this ironic as Diane often interrupted her interviewees to put words in their mouths.

Join our conversation with Pepper Schwartz


prime book coverThe conversation has begun.

Click here to join in.

You'll find our review of Prime and some early excchanges. As Pepper Schwartz says in her first comment here, her most important message is about the importnace of "enjoying our sensuality and sexuality all of our lives, and especially in our fifities, sixties and beyond!"

Are you a reader who can share your experience of sex and sensuality in our fifties, sixties and beyond? Mimi, that means you. And I know there are others! Or perhaps you are a reader anticipating that kind of experience in the future? Jump into the conversation! And men too -- don't be shy. After all, many of those experiences involve you!



Guest Appearance! Pepper Schwartz discusses her new book on Sex in the Public Square

Pepper Schwartz Come, talk about sex and older women with Pepper Schwartz!

Starting this weekend, Pepper Schwartz will join us for a discussion of her new book, Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex and Love in the Sensual Years.

Please join us!

Jeffrey Rosenfeld reviewed the book for us here. We'd especially love to hear from people who have read the book, but all are welcome.

Dr. Pepper Schwartz is a noted sociologist specializing in sexuality. She has written over 40 academic research articles, and also many accessible books on sex and relationships including, including The Great Sex Weekend and Everything You Know About Sex and Love is Wrong, along other books aimed at helping people keep their sexual relationships interesting and vibrant. She has also written Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex and Character and 201 Question to Ask Your Kids / 201 Questions to Ask Your Parents, books that help parents talk about sex with their kids, Pepper Schwartz has dedicated her career to opening up sexuality as a realm of sociological study, but also to making that study useful and accessible to the public. In Prime, she does something academic-types rarely do under their own names: she reveals much about her own sex life, using her own experience as a prompt to offer advice to herself and to other women experiencing the dating and relationship-building world in their 50s.

This conversation marks the beginning of a new feature for us here in the Square. We're initiating a series of conversations with authors of the books we review, and we're thrilled that Pepper Schwartz has agreed to kick off the series for us.

The conversation will take place in the comments section of Jeff Rosenfeld's review. When we start, I'll put a direct link to the conversation on the sidebar of the site so you can get there quickly!




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Lust Life (Stephanie Sellars)

Chronicling the erotic and romantic adventures of a New York City libertine. This is sex in the city from the refreshing perspective of a bisexual, polyamorous woman - not your typical Carrie Bradshaw!

Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love and the Sensual Years

Reviewed by Jeff Rosenfeld, Ph.D.
Director, Gerontology Program, Hofstra University
Professor, Sociology, Nassau Community College

It may take just one village to raise a child. But Dr. Pepper Schwartz finds that it takes a few different villages to fully enjoy “The Sensual Years”: Earthy villages for sharing the joys and woes of that sensuality; and other, slightly more upscale villages, for staying energized and “lush”. The fact that we come to recognize these as separate villages is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of this important book.

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Jeff Rosenfeld reviews Prime, Pepper Schwartz's new book on sex and love for "women of a certain age"

book cover of Prime by Pepper Schwartz From Jeff Rosenfeld's review:

"The message is simple but important. Being single and of “A Certain Age” is no reason to give-up on sex. Pepper Schwartz knows – and we should too, that “You can have sex, and can want sex, way into old age,” And Pepper Schwartz offers herself up as a role-model for women who want to own their sensuality."


"The great value of Prime is that the sexual experience is always wrapped in its psychological and interpersonal trappings. Schwartz wants to create meaningful, honest relationships with her lovers, and takes us along as she does the psychological work."


"Prime deserves the same praise as Betty Friedan’s Fountain of Age (Simon & Schuster, 1993) Friedan’s agenda was similar to Pepper Schwartz’s. Years ago, she reminded her readers that old age should be anadventure. Prime is significant because it gives older women the hope and confidence they need to make their lives sensual and lush."

Click here to read the whole review!

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