“Being desired is very arousing to women.”
— Marta Meana, quoted in A Billion Wicked Thoughts, p. 110.
In a typical romance novel aimed at heterosexual women, the hero’s physical features as well as his social attributes are discussed at length.
His height, his square jaw, his expressive eyes. His command of his chosen field of work, the respect he gets from other men, and other personal qualities such as his sense of honor and duty.
Often, though, even more attention is devoted to the physical and social attributes of the heroine herself. Her hair, the shape of her face, the cut of her figure are elaborated in loving and meticulous detail.
And her character — her honesty, her courage, her loyalty and capacity to sacrifice for the sake of those she loves.
The authors of A Billion Wicked Thoughts conclude that two kinds of related female sexual cues are on display here. They call them “The Irresistibility Cue” (the hero can’t keep his hands off her) and “The Adorability Cue” (the hero is so in love with her that he can’t think straight).
There’s something new here, that we haven’t yet encountered in our brief survey of sexual cues so far. Other sexual cues involve attributes of the potential partner. Irresistibility and adorability are attributes of the sexual self.
Women getting turned on by the idea that they are irresistible.
That’s interesting, and different from the ordinary male pattern. Your average man might be pleased if a woman finds him to be irresistible – but it doesn’t usually get him hot.
Is there any doubt about the importance of self-related cues for women’s sexuality?
Men’s magazines, after all, feature images of beautiful women.
And women’s magazines? They feature images . . . of beautiful women. The aim of such images seems to be to stimulate pleasing thoughts about the sexual self.
In the Katy Perry song Teenage Dream, self-related erotic cues are everywhere —
“Put your hands on me
In my skin-tight jeans
Be a teenage dream tonight.”
If instead it were a young man singing, he’d most likely be mentioning his partner’s jeans, not his own. But for the young woman in the song, her partner’s greatest value – what makes him a teenage dream — is that he likes to put his hands on her when she’s wearing those jeans of hers.
It’s noteworthy that A Billion Wicked Thoughts touches on two eros-related industries, the pornography industry and the romance novel industry – but doesn’t mention the one industry that dwarfs porn and romance novels in terms of its revenues and its central importance for erotic life.
I’m talking of course about the beauty industry. From fashion to cosmetics to hair, the beauty industry is an economic powerhouse.
Aside from garments that are clear sexual come-ons, we don’t usually connect beauty directly to eros. But that’s because we define eros too narrowly. As any sex therapist will attest, for a woman to feel good about sex often requires that she like how she feels in her jeans.
No. I don’t think any sex therapist who’s treated a man with erection problems would say that men are not also narcissistic in bed. They’re obviously preoccupied with themselves as well. But it’s different.
Men tend to be preoccupied with just a few things, mostly relating to their penises: getting and staying hard, and not ejaculating too quickly (because that results in loss of an erection).
Women, on the other hand, tend to be preoccupied with all aspects of themselves. Their hair. Their skin. Their figure.
And many women seem to find their partner’s appreciation of their sexual body to be a principal source of erotic excitement. More on that later.
Women whose partners, for whatever reason, no longer seem to desire them are among the most unhappy people I see in my Manhattan office. Rivaled only by men who can’t get erections.
It’s noteworthy that human sexual suffering so often seems to involve narcissistic wounds, rather than simply missed opportunities for pleasure.
The link between sexuality and ordinary human self-love is a deep subject, to which I hope to return often on these pages.