Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Narcisisstic Desire Disorder

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So this has been blogged about all over the place, and I’ve already posted about it on Ladyblog, but I’m still pretty intrigued by the New York Times Magazine article on women and sexual desire [seriously, read the whole thing if you haven’t yet].

Yes, the article has a few flaws—the “post-feminist” tag on the headline is sort of annoying, since several of the researchers within are quoted as considering themselves “feminists,” but that’s hardly the writer’s fault; and the ending— “women’s sexuality is an unknowable forest” and all that—is, in addition to being kind of a cop-out, just kind of cheesy. But I think, overall, the (male) writer does a really great job of handling the topic and the material, presenting it in a way that avoids falling into any particular ideological pigeonhole or falling back on the old “women—man!, aren’t they crazy and inexplicable” trap.

The part that most intrigued me was the research about women’s desire based on a feeling of being desired:

[One researcher] emphasized the role of being desired — and of narcissism — in women’s desiring.

The critical part played by being desired, Julia Heiman observed, is an emerging theme in the current study of female sexuality. Three or four decades ago, with the sense of sexual independence brought by the birth-control pill and the women’s liberation movement, she said, the predominant cultural and sexological assumption was that female lust was fueled from within, that it didn’t depend on another’s initiation.

Meana made clear, during our conversations in a casino bar and on the U.N.L.V. campus, that she was speaking in general terms, that, when it comes to desire, “the variability within genders may be greater than the differences between genders,” that lust is infinitely complex and idiosyncratic.

She pronounced, as well, “I consider myself a feminist.” Then she added, “But political correctness isn’t sexy at all.” For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving.
This whole narcissism business has, of course, sparked some complaints from a few feminist bloggers. Jill at Feministe writes:

Shocking, absolutely shocking, that when women are raised in a culture that equates the female body with sex itself, that positions the female body as an object of desire, and that emphasizes that being desired is the height of female achievement, women will see sex as a process primarily centered on male attraction to women, and will get off more on being wanted than on wanting.

Maybe so. I like my cultural constructs as much as the next person and all that. But regardless—whether it comes from some innate position or from acculturation (which, sure, is an interesting exploration in and of itself, though really, an impossible one)—it’s still a fascinating finding. Women get off on being desired. And yet, one researcher notes:

… in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies center less on giving pleasure and more on getting it.

Women are far more selfish and narcissistic in terms of sex—if not in practice, at least in fantasies—then men? Come on, this is good stuff! I don’t understand how this research can be construed as some sort of tool/effect of the patriarchy. And—I have to admit, though I have spent my formative years adamantly denying that gender differences exist at all—that, uh, based largely on anecdotal evidence, I’m beginning to come around to the idea that (while mental/emotional gender differences still be damned!) sexual desire/behavior may be an area of innate difference between the sexes. Not in the typical “men want it/women don’t” or “men can separate sex from love/women can’t” dichotomy that is often presented [one researcher thinks that women may be even less emotional/relational in their lust then men are], but in more subtle ways—which is what a lot of this research seems to be saying.


Written by Elizabeth

January 27, 2009 at 10:52 pm

One Response

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  1. Really interesting. I agree with you.


    March 1, 2009 at 7:28 pm

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