Econstudentlog

Why Women Have Sex (II) (NSFW?)

Here’s the first post I wrote about the book, here’s goodreads. I didn’t know I’d finish it this soon or I’d probably only have written one post about the book. Anyway – things didn’t change much along the way and I ended up giving it 2 stars on goodreads. Some of the stuff was really weak and I think I’m closer to one star than three. There’s quite a bit of speculation, and there are quite a few anecdotes. Many of the findings which are covered are not dealt with in nearly enough detail for them to be really all that trustworthy. The authors often use cautious language, but they don’t talk that much about why such cautious language is necessary, certainly not in any great detail; some readers will know, others won’t.

It should be noted that the book was easy to read, and so I never really seriously contemplated not finishing it. The theoretical frameworks presented in the book I think tend to constitute useful ways to frame specific problems or useful ways to think about behavioural patterns, but I didn’t feel like they actually added much new knowledge; lots of theoretical stuff covered in the book was already known to me, and one main motivation for reading the book was to get some data as well in order to figure out the extent to which given behavioural patterns matched expectations. I don’t really think they delivered in that respect. I should note that you can’t really fault the authors for the fact that not a lot of good science exists in some of these specific areas (you can blame them to the extent that they’re the ones conducting bad research of course, but let’s not go there…), but you can fault them for not being more open about how uncertain many of the observations and conclusions drawn in the book really are. As mentioned above they do use cautious language with a lot of qualifications and so on (a brief word search told me that they used the word ‘perhaps’ 10 times during the first 100 pages of the book; ‘may be’ is incidentally also used 10 times during the first 100 pages, and ‘maybe’ and ‘it seems’ are used 3 times each as well.), but unless you’re familiar with how scientific research works and know a little bit of statistics it’ll not be perfectly obvious to you why such cautious language is even necessary; they spend very little time discussing the sometimes blatantly obvious and huge limitations of the studies they cover. I consider this to be a problem in that I believe a lot of people who don’t know a lot about how science works will read this book – it’s easy to read and filled with anecdotes, and while reading the book I certainly didn’t get the impression that the intended readership consists of mechanical engineering graduate students from MIT. You can try to go from ‘how 55 mostly-white female college students from one specific study conducted in American town X near Florida (or wherever…) think about X’ to ‘how women think about X’, but the conclusions you draw from that one study probably need some additional support to be taken all that seriously. Don’t take this to mean that e.g. cross-cultural differences, to take an example, are not covered in the book; they are. The problem is that studies covered are most of the time not put into any sort of ‘proper context’. They’ll often jump from, say, ’55 women in study X’ to ‘women’ without any comments, and I’m sure some people will miss the fact that those women are actually the same. The ‘from ’55 women’ to ‘women” transition is not even the worst type; it’s far better than the transitions that involve an unknown number of women, because the authors can’t even be bothered to tell us how many people participated in the study behind the finding they happen to talk about now. As might be inferred, the authors will often only spend a few lines – perhaps a whole paragraph if things are going well – on a study, mostly just summarizing the conclusions from the paper, and then quickly move on to another couple of studies dealing with another matter. It gets really funny when a reported conclusion from a study sparks that familiar thought, ‘There’s just no way in hell a study that small had the power to actually show what they just claimed that it showed with any degree of confidence!‘ It often feels to me as if they’re rushing while covering the studies, and I can’t shake off the impression that part of the reason is that at least some of those studies really wouldn’t stand up to any close scrutiny.

Adding a few remarks about how this stuff (whatever ‘this stuff’ may be) matches up with, say, what we know about how romance novels are written, may be useful to some people, and you may gain a better understanding of the theoretical principles by reading a few remarks about how the sexual experiences of male bass players in bands can help enlighten us here; but these are not the methods usually applied in order to elucidate matters in the books I read. In more than a few sections there’ll be no studies at all, just some theoretical remarks interspersed within the mountains of illustrative anecdotes. “As anyone who has experienced junior high school knows…” Don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason I kept reading – there’s some interesting stuff in there. But this is a very different kind of book from the ones I usually read, and I mostly don’t consider it to be different in a good way.

All in all: Too much talk, too little substance.

Some quotes and observations from the second half of the book:

“As a highly social species, we are constantly threatened by potential mate poachers who try to lure our partners, be it for brief sexual encounters or for a more permanent relationship. We also face the risk that our partners might be tempted to leave the relationship in hopes of “trading up” to a more desirable partner. Among both dating and married couples, the Buss Lab’s research has revealed findings similar to those in our study: Women often use sex in many different ways to protect their relationships. They give in to their partners’ sexual requests in an attempt to keep them happy, they act “sexy” to take their partners’ mind off potential competitors, and they perform sexual favors or succumb to sexual pressures to entice their partners into staying. […] Women are motivated to have sex to mate guard because the costs of not doing so can be catastrophic. […] Having sex, even though it does not always work as planned, is partly designed to prevent infidelity and keep a couple from breaking up.”

“One study found that 79 percent of women who had affairs became emotionally involved with, or fell in love with, their affair partners. Although this finding may seem obvious, it is in stark contrast to the experiences of men, of whom only about a third become emotionally enmeshed. According to one study, most men’s motivations for sex outside their primary relationship are more a matter of desire for sexual variety.”

“Studies consistently show that men report higher levels of sex drive than women. This holds true for college students, middle-aged people, and even eighty- and ninety-year-olds. Men are also much more likely than women to say they want more sex than they are currently getting, whether measured among married persons or couples in the early stages of dating. In a study of 1,410 American men and 1,749 American women, 32 percent of women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine reported a lack of sexual interest in the previous year, compared to 14 percent of men in the same age group.”

I love my husband, but when you’ve been married for awhile, let’s face it—sex just isn’t that exciting anymore. It’s all so predictable. Even when we try to be “spontaneous” it’s almost comical because I can predict his every move. I have sex because I feel I “owe” it to him as his wife, and also because I love him and want to keep him happy. The truth is, though, most of the time I just lie there and make lists in my head. I grunt once in awhile so he knows I’m awake, and then I tell him how great it was when it’s over. It seems to be working. We’re happily married.
—heterosexual woman, age 48″
[One of many quotes of this kind from the book – often interview snippets like these are used to illustrate a point/problem. Quite a few of these quotes are incidentally thoroughly depressing to read. ‘We’re happily married’… But then again, what do I know?]

“Research indicates that women agree to unwanted sex more often than men do—but not by as great a margin as one might predict. One study of married couples found that 84 percent of wives and 64 percent of husbands “usually” or “always” complied with having sex when their spouse wanted to and they did not. […] What determines whether a woman will feel happy or remorseful after engaging in consensual unwanted sex? Probably the best predictor is whether the behavior occurred because of what psychologists refer to as approach versus avoidance motives. Approach-motivated behaviors refer to acts done in an effort to achieve a positive or pleasurable experience. In the sexual arena, this would mean, for example, that a woman agrees to have unwanted sex because she wants to make her partner happy and to feel that she is a good mate. That motivation would likely result in her feeling good about her decision. Avoidance-motivated behaviors, on the other hand, refer to behaviors undertaken to avoid negative or painful outcomes. This could mean agreeing to have sex out of fear of losing one’s partner or making the partner angry or disappointed. Consenting to sex to avoid negative outcomes more often than not leads to feelings of shame and remorse. […]
There is often a fine line between unwanted sex and rape. This is especially true when rape occurs in a long-term relationship, where the couple has engaged in consensual sexual intercourse in the past. Women who are sexually abused in marital relationships frequently define it as rape only if physical force or harm is involved. And research shows that when a woman is sexually abused in a committed relationship she is more likely to make excuses for her partner such as “He’s only like that when he’s drunk” or “I should know better than to provoke him.” They also tend to minimize the situation by claiming things like “It’s only happened a couple of times.” […] According to the National Violence Against Women Survey of eight thousand women, approximately 15 percent of the women had been raped and 3 percent had experienced attempted rape. Sixty-two percent of the assaults were by a past or current partner, and the likelihood of physical injury was higher with intimate partners than with strangers.”

“The value of women’s virginity shifted dramatically with the introduction of the birth control pill in 1961. […] In the landmark 1953 Kinsey report surveying nearly six thousand American women, 40 percent reported being nonvirgins before marriage. In a 1994 survey of more than 1,600 American women, approximately 80 percent of the women who were born between 1953 and 1974 reported having had premarital sex. […] The average age for a woman to lose her virginity also radically changed during this time period. In 1950, the average age for a woman to first engage in sexual intercourse—or at least admit to it—was twenty. In 2000, the average age was sixteen.” […] A study conducted in the Meston Sexual Psychophysiology Lab of more than four hundred Canadian university women showed that 72 percent of women of European ancestry had engaged in premarital sex compared with a much lower 43 percent of Southeast Asian women, most of whom were ethnic Chinese.”

“According to one study, approximately 25 percent of women in their thirties have had sex with five to ten different partners since age eighteen, and just over 10 percent have had sex with more than twenty-one different partners. By contrast, only about 15 percent of women in their late teens and early twenties have had between five and ten sexual partners, and approximately one-third have had sexual intercourse with only one person.” [here’s a post – unfortunately in Danish – with some Danish numbers.]

“Men possess [a] psychological tic, the sexual overperception bias, which is the tendency to overinfer women’s sexual interest based on ambiguous information. […] when a woman smiles at a man, men often infer sexual interest, when in many cases the woman is simply being friendly or polite. Other ambiguous cues—a touch on the arm, standing close, or even holding eye contact for a split second longer than usual—trigger men’s sexual overperception bias. As a consequence, women can exploit men’s overperception bias for economic gain, in what has been called a “bait and switch” tactic, a strategy that involves persuading men to expend resources as part of courtship, but then failing to follow through on an implied “promise” of sex.
Research has also found that most men find most women at least somewhat sexually attractive, whereas most women do not find most men sexually attractive at all.”

“Not all friends-with-benefits relationships result in unmitigated, mutually beneficial sexual bliss. Women who have these relationships also report some disadvantages. These include developing romantic feelings for the friend (65 percent), harming the friendship (35 percent), causing negative emotions (24 percent), and risking negative sexual side effects such as sexually transmitted diseases (10 percent). Interestingly, the vast majority of women, 73 percent, never explicitly discuss the ground rules or expectations for these relationships.”

[I have sex] to get my way or to persuade my husband into something I really want and he might be opposed to.
—heterosexual woman, age 31

I will often use sex as leverage in my relationship to get what I want.
—heterosexual woman, age 27 […]

In modern Western cultures, […] direct exchanges tend to be far less common, or at least less explicit. Nonetheless, sexual economics sometimes continues to influence why women have sex within marriage. The exchange of sex may not be for economic resources per se, but rather for reciprocal favors. […] Sexual economics play out across cultures in many forms. On the mating market, women accrue significant power as a result of men’s sexual psychology—their desire for sexual variety, their sex drive, their sexual overperception bias, their persistent sexual fantasies, and a brain wired to respond to visual stimulation. As the valuable resource over which men compete, women can, and some often do, exercise that power to exchange their sexual resources for benefits, including food, gifts, special favors, grades, career advancement, or entrée into the movie business. In some of these exchanges, there is no sharp line demarcating honest courtship, seduction, and prostitution.”

“many women, when asked what motivated them to have sex, […] respond by saying they were deceived by a man, verbally coerced, plied with drugs or alcohol, or physically forced. These are not ways in which women want to have sex. But they are nonetheless some of the reasons women end up having sex. […] A recent study of online dating ads explored the extent to which men and women provide deceptive information about themselves. The researchers compared men’s and women’s advertised height, weight, age, and other characteristics with actual measured height and weight and independently verified age.
Fifty-five percent of the men, compared with 41 percent of women, lied about their height. Women were somewhat more likely than men to shade the truth about their weight. Overall, an astonishing 81 percent of the sample engaged in some form of deception, be it about physical characteristics, income, habits such as smoking or drinking, or political beliefs.”

“According to a survey of over 1,400 women aged eighteen to fifty-nine years, American women have sex about 6.3 times per month. The average is somewhat higher among twenty-to thirty-year-olds (7.5 times per month) and somewhat lower among fifty-to sixty-year-olds (four times per month).”

January 15, 2014 - Posted by | books, data, Psychology

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