Chivers hooked up a bunch of straight men, gay men, lesbian women and straight women to plethysmographs, devices that measure genital swelling and blood flow and which, under other circumstances, might make amusing sex toys. She showed her subjects film clips of same-sex couples having sex, opposite-sex couples having sex, a naked woman exercising vigorously and a flaccid, yet buff, guy walking down the beach. For reasons known only to her, she also showed each group a film of a male and a female bonobo chimpanzee having sex, with screeching and hooting dubbed in from the other chimp species. Apparently, the bonobos are quiet lovers.
Each set of men responded “categorically,” as Chivers calls it. Straight men were turned on any time they saw a woman. Gay men were turned on any time they saw a man. Neither group was turned on by the chimps. And, as stated, the men’s reports of their various levels of arousal matched, for experimental purposes, the data compiled by the plethysmograph.
The women, those tramps, got turned on by everything. Bergers reports Chivers’ report of “strong and swift” genital arousal at every pairing of humans and, to a lesser degree but still noticeable, to the chimp pornography. The women did not care for the naked buff guy, whose member flapped gently in the breeze as he strolled down the beach.
The most fascinating part: on the whole, the straight women’s reports of their levels of desire were completely wrong, as compared to the plethysmograph measurements. They reported “much more” arousal than their vaginas did while watching the opposite-sex couple do it and “much less” while watching two men do it. And, natch, while watching two chimps do it. Lesbians were better in tune with their hoo-hoo’s (or more honest); however, they too underreported arousal with respect to the chimps, as well as the two men and the heterosexual human coupling.
The rest of the Chivers section of Bergers’ article describes her blue-skying theories as to why these data might be true. She’s an intelligent woman and knows that at her experimental subjects’ ages (I assume they’re all at least 18 years old), the influences of genetics and culture are impossible to separate (if, indeed, they ever are). Working with what she has, though, she cites a study by a colleague at UC Davis finding that men with “higher sex drives” (it is not clear how or if this is measured or whether it is self-reporting) have more strongly polarized desire (i.e. men or women only) than other men, whereas women with strong libidos report less polarization than other women (i.e. men, women, chimpanzees, shoes(?)).
Chivers’ data support the cultural discourse of the fluid and still-mysterious female sexual desire, as well as ancient myths about goddesses devouring everything with their vaginas. Yummy! By extreme extrapolation, Chivers’ data can also lend some credence to the common evolutionary psychological assertion that men are “hunters”—their brains adapted to scan the visual field, pinpoint a precise stimulus and kill it or screw it—and that women are “gatherers”—brains adapted to scan the visual field with “softer” eyes and observe and respond to a wide range of subtler stimuli (e.g. this green plant is OK but this green plant, which looks a lot like the other one but it slightly different, will kill you).
If we posit the existence of Ruby’s Evolutionary Psych Pleasure Feedback Mechanism (Is Good, Feels Good) (REPPFMIGFG) in some form, we might safely assume that the wise human organism experiences pleasure in connection with those behaviors that are evolutionarily beneficial. I have read only one study (inevitably, I have forgotten where or when) that addressed the possibility of this pleasure mechanism. The researcher in question noted that, for example, not only are women more capable than men of distinguishing among 20 different shades of white, but that they enjoy sitting around with paint chips and discussing with their friends whether Winter White, Ecru, Antique Ivory, Modern Ivory, Butter Cream or Polar White would look best in the living room.
Anecdotal data from my life suggests that men do not derive any pleasure from this sort of activity. “They’re all white,” a male person was heard to say impatiently in my presence, “what’s the fuss?”
On the other side, the Great Lost Demographic for gaming is the demographic that buys the most other stuff: women from 18-45 or so. Game publishers and retailers dream of making video games women will buy in the quantities they buy everything else. I suspect this project is doomed through the operation of REPPFMIGFG. Males, as “hunters,” enjoy perceiving, focusing on and killing or otherwise interacting quickly with objects flying across the visual field. They will always be the most likely to buy games that mimic this behavior. Of interest here: women play massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing-games (MMORPGs) at about the same rate as men do; such games do involve shooting and killing and acting quickly in three-dimensional space, but they also require the establishment of relationships and, of greater interest to this subject—buying, selling and haggling.
Of course, it is difficult to know with any certainty what is actually happening when women get turned on by men, women and chimpanzees and impossible to answer “why.” Perhaps the REPPFMIGFG is operating underneath the surface, rewarding women for being able to respond and take pleasure from so responding to a wide range of stimuli, perhaps women are just big ole’ tramps.
Next up: Why They Won’t Admit ItBonus Ruby Blue-Sky Hypothesis About Why Women Dig Musicians: It is possible that men who are musicians, poets, painters, possibly architects and other artsy types have more feminine brains. That is, these men presumably enjoy the relative valuation of and the practice of distinguishing among subtle differences among thousands of stimuli: the right word, the right shade of red, the right instrumentation, the right rhythm. These girlie men attend to the minutest pieces of information to achieve their masterpieces and, given that none of these are particularly certain or financially rewarding careers, we must assume they dig doing it. A woman’s mind in a man’s body. Perfect.