Sex researcher Marta Meana noted, as have many other observers, that a woman’s negative feelings about her body can have a disastrous effect on her erotic turn-on. But in an insightful twist, she also noted that the converse was also typical: That same woman’spositive feelings about her body might be a principle source of her turn-on. This phenomenon, “Erotic Self-Focus,” has been the subject of much discussion lately.
Chapter 7 of my book, Love Worth Making, is entitled “The Woman in the Mirror.” It’s all about erotic self-focus. And in my article, “Women’s Sexual Desire, and Why Men Often Don’t Recognize It” , I discuss a common strategy used by heterosexual women to enhance their erotic self-focus, which typically backfires because their partners have no idea what’s going on. We’ll have more to say about this below.
In 2014, when I was just starting to put the book together, I happened to be interviewed by Anna Davies in Men’s Health on the subject of “women’s hottest sex fantasies.” And as we discussed what we thought the leading candidates might be, it became apparent that a key element of many heterosexual women’s erotic fantasies was that a man would be driven near-crazy with desire for her. Because she was just so extraordinarily sexy.
Sex researcher and computational neuroscientist Ogi Ogas referred to this as a “self-directed erotic cue” — a sexual signal not based on anything about one’s partner, but rather on something about oneself. Ogas called it “The Irresistibility Cue.” In other words, Marta Meana’s “erotic self-focus.”
A quick glance at the women’s magazines on any newsstand will show erotic self-focus in action. The titles of the magazine say it all: Allure. Glamour.
Self. Think about it — a magazine called Self?? What in the world is that about? Is human female eroticism that narcissistic?
Actually, as I discuss in Chapters 3 and 4 of my book, all eroticism is narcissistic. But there’s something particular about most women’s capacity to derive erotic pleasure from self-directed cues.
Recentl Meana and her graduate student Evan Fertel conducted a study intented to elicit information about erotic self-focus. They asked male and female subjects questions like,
“Is it arousing for you to imagine stripping in front of many members of the opposite sex?”
“Does looking at yourself in the mirror in your undergarments help get you in the mood for sex?”
“Would you want to have sex with yourself?”
The results were clear. Many more omen than men said “yes” to these questions.
Men often seemed not to know what to do with questions like, “Would you want to have sex with yourself?” But a lot of women understood the question immediately, and replied that they’d very much like to.
When I last spoke with Meana about her research, she kept emphasizing that her results are preliminary—and that future studies will be needed to refine these concepts. But I think this line of research points to something people have known intuitively for a long time.
For example, here’s a cut from Katy Perry’s hit song, “Teenage Dream”
“Put your hands on me
In my skin-tight jeans
Be a teenage dream tonight.”
Now if this were a man singing, the subject would much more likely by his partner’s jeans, not his own. But for the young woman in the Katy Perry song, what makes her boyfriend a teenage dream is that he likes to put his hands on her when she’s wearing those jeans of hers.z
As I’ve said elsewhere, you don’t have to be a sex therapist to know that a woman’s sexual enjoyment can sometimes strongly depend on how she feels she looks in her jeans.