“License my roving hands, and let them go, / Before, behind, between, above, below.”
Poet John Donne liked to touch. Some people are turned on by sex in the woods or in the bathtub. Some like high-heeled boots, candlelight, or Kama Sutra-like coital positions. And every human being has a slightly different opinion about how he or she wishes to be caressed and talked to during coitus.
Much of this variation comes from childhood, from adolescence, and from all of the chance mental associations we make between certain experiences and sexual feelings. But men and women also have some sexual habits that almost certainly originate in the gendered brain.
Men, for example, are more likely to remember specific aspects of a past sexual episode, such as particular smell, piece of clothing, or time when sex occurred. The feminine psyche is less subject to “conditioning,” to associating specific odd things or events with sexual encounters. This may explain why men are more interested in fetishes and exhibit more “deviant” sexual behaviors than women do. For some men, a particular incident or object in childhood becomes linked with sex and they must replay this scenario to trigger lust.
Men’s impressionable sexual nature may have evolved for an important reason. Women can find a sex partner almost anytime they want one; after all, women own the precious egg. Men must fertilize this egg if they are to send their genes into perpetuity. So men are obliged to remember the circumstances of successful sexual encounters.
Men also fantasize about sex with different partners and anonymous partners more regularly than women do, most likely because it is biologically adaptive for men to inseminate as many females as they can.
And men like to look.
“Peeking in through/ the open window, / your face was / virginal. / But you were / all woman / below.”
The poet Praxilla wrote these lines in Greece in the fifth century B.C.C. Times haven’t changed. In a 1920s study of several hundred American men and women, 65 percent of the men said they had done some peering through a bedroom window. Only 20 percent of the women had done any stealthy ogling.
Men are more turned on by visual stimuli.
They are visual pornographic materials of every kind more frequently than women do. When they fantasize, they conjure up more images of coitus and body parts, the explicit details of sex itself. Men are even aroused by looking at their woman’s genitals and by showing their genitals to wives or lovers. This can lead some men to outright public exhibitionism.
Sexual peeping probably gives men a physical jolt. We know that when male monkeys see a sexually available female or watch a companion copulate with a female, their levels of testosterone spike. So primatologist Kim Wallen, of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University, speculates that men may go to strip bars and look at girlie magazines to boost their levels of testosterone. Not surprisingly, the $500 million porn business in America today is supported almost exclusively by men.
This male urge to look has a Darwinian payoff. By peering at a woman, a man can judge her health and vigor. As levels of testosterone rise, he is also stimulated to woo those who look young, health — and fertile.
This is an excerpt from, “The First Sex: The Natural Talents Of Women And How They Are Changing The World,” by Dr. Helen Fisher.