According to tradition across all cultures, the female sex drive vastly exceeds that of men. The Greek seer Tiresias, who had been both male and female, told the Roman gods (in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) that women enjoy sex far more than men. [1] In The Arabian Nights, the Persian Shah Shahryar observes his new bride comporting with a whole troop of slaves. Giovanni Boccaccio famously stated in The Decameron, “While farmers generally allow one rooster for 10 hens, 10 men are scarcely sufficient to service one woman.” [2] The matriarch Sarah’s first reaction to the angelic annunciation of the birth of Isaac was, “After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

Across ages and cultures, women universally are said to be more libidinous than men. I can find no report to the contrary. Women get most of the pain in the propagation of the species, so they should get most of the pleasure. With the plunging birth rate in the industrial world, one suspects that something has changed in this equation.

A case in point is Joan Sewell’s book I’d Rather Eat Chocolate, a middle-aged woman’s account of sexual ennui. It is customary to find salacious material on the best-seller lists, but this to my knowledge is the first time that the absence of desire has attracted mass attention. Think of it as a companion volume to Sex in the City. American women are purchasing Sewell’s volume, perhaps to leave as a hint on their husband’s pillow.

Mrs. Sewell “slathers her husband, Kip, in chocolate frosting,” reports Sandra Tsing Loh, who interviewed the authoress in the Atlantic Monthly. “She whispers naughty nothings in his ear. She lights candles, dons a bustier and fishnets, and massages him with scented oil. Ho-hum. She would still prefer a brownie, a book – anything to sex. And she says most women, unless they’re fooling themselves, consider the deed a chore.”

No wonder. Mrs. Sewell dresses like a prostitute with her husband. Sex is a chore rather than a pleasure for prostitutes, and it is fair to assume that the same is true for women who act like prostitutes. Women do not like to be sex objects. Yet Mrs. Sewell’s complaint is epidemic among American women. The supposed sexual freedom of modern secular culture objectifies women, and eventually disgusts them. Nothing is more likely to kill desire than the life depicted in Sex and the City. In another location, I argued that sexual objectification makes women paranoid. [3] It also makes them squeamish.

Americans seem to suffer disproportionately from this problem, but they are not the only ones. A new survey by Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare concludes that two out of five married couples in Japan do not have sexual relations. Unfortunately the survey did not ask couples why this should be the case – I do not think it is because Japanese women dislike sex – so we shall have to wait for additional information before evaluating this report.

“What do women want?” asked Sigmund Freud, reinforcing my suspicion that the man was a moron (see Put a stake through Freud’s heart, May 9, 2006). Women in the modern world want what everyone wants, to be recognized as an individual unique upon the Earth. One does not have to accept the religious view that God made every soul uniquely and for a unique purpose. Individuality is the marketing pitch of modern shopping-mall culture. Women wander through a labyrinth of chain stores that sell the same products in a thousand locations, to pay them to bolster their sense of individuality, which is to say, to become a better sex object.

Prior to our epoch of sexual liberation, men had to court women to mate with them. The desired woman was a princess, the sovereign of the man’s heart: that was the point of the ritual of kneeling and presenting a ring, a holdover of feudal obligation and etiquette. Women want to be loved for themselves, that is, for their unique and individual souls. Sexual objectification diminishes their interest in sex.

There is a story about a rabbi who is asked whether sex on the Sabbath is pleasure or work. “If it were work,” the rabbi responds, “my wife would have the maid do it.” Being a sexual object is work, not pleasure; it is not something one does for oneself, but for someone else, and it must become tedious. Women expect men to love them uniquely and in isolation from the rest of their gender, and want a man who actually and in fact loves her because there is something about her uniquely created soul that fulfills him.

Love and libido, according to the latest research, affect different parts of the brain. Professor Helen Fisher of Rutgers University suspects that low sex drive in women is due to the absence of love. She told the New York Times:

Lust is associated primarily with testosterone in both men and women … Romantic love is linked with the natural stimulant dopamine and perhaps norepinephrine and serotonin. And feelings of attachment are produced primarily by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which at elevated levels can actually suppress the circuits for lust. I’m not so sure that sex drive diminishes when most people believe it does. Show me a middle-aged woman who says she’s lost her sex drive, and I’ll bet if she got a new partner, who excited her, her neurochemical levels for lust and romantic love would shoot back up. [4]

Every human being wants to be completed by another person, like Aristophanes’ four-legged creatures in Plato’s Symposium. The trouble is that if everyone waited around to be quite certain that they were marrying the one individual on Earth whom God had apportioned to them, the species would die out rather quickly.

We do not have time to find our one true love among the other 6 billion inhabitants of the planet, but we (and women especially) need to believe that we are close to the mark. That is why God lies to us or, rather, induces us to lie to ourselves. That particular lie is the euphoria associated with falling in love. We cannot be sure that the person with whom we fall in love is uniquely apportioned to us by destiny or divine decree, yet that is the way it seems to us when love takes hold of us.

I say that “God lies” because of an extraordinary precedent in Genesis 18, the annunciation of the forthcoming miraculous birth of Isaac. Three angels appear at Abraham’s tent and inform the centenarian that his elderly wife Sarah will bear him a son and heir. As noted, Sarah bursts out laughing at the idea that her elderly husband might give her pleasure, and God lies to Abraham to protect his feelings. The text reads:

9 And [the angels] said unto [Abraham], Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.

10 And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.

11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.

12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

13 And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?

14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.

15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.

Perhaps Abraham did not quite believe God’s explanation, for he growls at Sarah in verse 15, “What are you laughing at?” Or perhaps we are to understand that Abraham’s outburst at Sarah preceded God’s explanation in verse 13. In either case, the medieval Jewish commentators observed that God lied to Abraham to preserve domestic harmony.

This remarkable fact I learn from the newsletter of the Orthodox Community at Brandeis University, whose motto is “Truth even unto its innermost parts” – excepting one, evidently, namely relations between men and women. An article by Adena Frazer titled “God’s white lie” observes, “The Talmud explains that God edited Sarah’s statement for the sake of peace (Bava Metzia 87a). Apparently, he felt that repeating Sarah’s original comment would detract from the couple’s domestic tranquility.” [5]

It is not always the case that the truth shall set you free. Sometimes the truth will make you crazy. That applies in the case of decisions we must make on Earth that affect our sense of immortality. The choice of marital partner and parent to our children is the most important an intimate of these, and its implications are too sensitive to let truth get in the way.

Of course, woman discover in time that Prince Charming is neither a prince nor particularly charming, and men discover that the woman who once seemed to distill the energies of the universe into a single draft are not much different from a range of other women. Even God cannot keep the truth from us forever. If things work out, of course, by the time we come to our senses, it is time to fall in love once again, with our children.

1. Metamorphoses, Book III 316-338.
2. Novella Prima, Terza Giornata, 37.
3. Ask Spengler: Women as priests? Women never forgive anything! Asia Times Online, April 27, 2005.
4. The New York Times, June 5, 2005.
5. (pdf file).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *