If I dare this most unassailable of subjects – which famously stumped even Freud – it is because I believe that the end of the war of the sexes is finally within our grasp. Thanks, in particular, to Sex at Dawn, we can now attempt a more fundamental answer, more purged of cultural contingencies, than the kind of trite, half-true compilations available in pop psychology.
According to the “standard discourse”, women would have such a daunting list of requirements from a mate that no human male could ever hope to be adequate. Apparently, plenty of men are busy studying and elaborating on this list in order to achieve their goal – sex without commitment – notwithstanding that this goal is intrinsically incompatible with it anyway. Here is a good example. Apart from this being a depressing exercise, it’s also self-defeating: according to that same standard discourse, presumably the last thing a women would want is a man who spends half his time trying to decipher her desires, especially if it’s all a trick anyway. That just ain’t manly. Whoops.
I don’t think this account, at some level, while a caricature, is descriptively wrong. It does, however, show a not very deep understanding, as well as being unhelpful, as it basically would require a man to be several incompatible things simultaneously, and all of them artificial, not flowing from his true and spontaneous nature. In contrast therefore to the Venus/Mars theory, I would like to list a few of my ideas on what women really want, or would want, if only the world were organized in such a way as to let them have it. These are my intuitions towards a general theory:
1. Women want to be recognized for their capacity to lead a man to love and ecstasy. Women are gatekeepers of ecstasy and spiritual beings deeply bound with the earth. They significantly facilitate the binding of men to the earth.
2. Women want to experience deep sexual pleasure. For this, they require safety, trust and reverence. These, however, are merely preconditions in order to enter the space of sexual pleasure. Any woman who is satisfied that these preconditions are met will abandon herself to pleasure at the hands of any man.
3. Women want to be a vehicle of collective well-being. They want to bring healing and peace into the world, and are disturbed by intermale and intergenerational tensions. Women very much value strong relationships between men and express their sexuality to this end, rewarding group-oriented behavior with intimate and sexual connection.
4. Women want to live in a social framework which makes them feel physically and emotionally secure and offers them scope for self-realization. Commitment is intensely sought after. Because in a monogamous situation there is or may be no fallback secure situation for a woman, the monogamous commitment is made to bear an enormous burden, and many methods have been developed to hold onto it, methods which, in practice and inevitably, run into conflict with male sexual instincts.
It is interesting how many aspects of contemporary sexual economics reflect the striving after these goals under the conditions of modern life. In this perspective, marriage, monogamy, religious rites and prescriptions, romantic notions of love and chivalry and other female-endorsed epiphenomena of pair-bonding, all have a deep sense. It is a sense, certainly, so far removed from its original expression that it is scarcely recognizable – but it is not an alien imposition. I view these institutions, critical as I am of them, as attempts to hold onto the deep, feminine truths of sexual experience in a world which has long been hostile to the sacredness of the female. The institutions we observe are simply a projection of what is general about female desire into a specific, contingent (and conservative) socioeconomic context. For men and women truly to connect, men cannot just dismiss and discard these social forms, seen by women as embodying a basic sexual instinct: they must reformulate them at a higher level of synthesis based on real insight into what it is that truly and eternally underpins them, versus what is contingent and based on fear.
Achieving relationships based on such a higher synthesis is important because it is only by rolling back the layers of cultural accretion that we can come to a place where we can realize this: that men and women inhabit the same planet and that their sexual instincts are perfectly compatible. Even if we cannot reconstitute the utopian sexual situation, we can find peace in a better understanding of each other and correctly interpret the signals we receive, seeing how they complement our own perspective and fundamentally strive at outcomes which we also seek but might otherwise have missed.
And men want?
To love women. We do not just want to “score”, as this crude and ugly stereotype of our sexuality would have it. We really want to dive in, to lose ourselves in the feminine, to bring pleasure and adoration, to nurture, comfort and sustain. Not just one woman. All.
I both believe and feel this to be the fundamental nature of men. Although each woman contains all women, we all know it is a nonsense to circumscribe our erotic intuitions. We want to bring new women into the tribe, not out of superficiality and fear of commitment, but precisely out of an astounding capacity and a limitless desire to commit and to love. This is no zero-sum game or sequential monogamy, but a polyamorous instinct we share with women but which modern life frustrates us in realizing.
I hope this vision can deconstruct some stereotypes and help us find common ground. Ultimately, it seems to me there is no difference in what women and men want, but only in the relative ordering of their goals – women want first of all security and connection, men want first of all to lose themselves in love.