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What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  2,090 ratings  ·  273 reviews
In What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, critically acclaimed journalist Daniel Bergne disseminates the latest scientific research and paints an unprecedented portrait of female lust: the triggers, the fantasies, the mind-body connection (and disconnection), the reasons behind the loss of libido, and, most revelatory, that this loss is not inevita ...more
ebook, 224 pages
Published June 4th 2013 by Ecco
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3.62  · 
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 ·  2,090 ratings  ·  273 reviews

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Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pop-science
In university, I once overheard a couple of female friends talking about guys. One was trying to get the other to set her up with somebody. There was the usual question: ‘Well, what kind of guy are you looking for?’ My one friend hemmed and hawed for a minute, and then said, ‘Oh, who am I kidding? I just need to get fucked.’

It was an eye-opening moment for me (granted, I was a pretty clueless 19-year old.) On one level, it was liberating to realize that women could be driven by the same imperiou
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
I'm not sure how it was done, but this book made desire boring. Each chapter is an interview with a different researcher or scientist, and every chapter almost immediately veers off from the science to a discussion about the scientist's personal fears and interests, and a long and totally uninteresting description of a Woman Who Wishes To Have Desire But Does Not, framed in flowery language and with a totally unnecessary personal background. And he talks about the existence of female lust, simpl ...more
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
The ideas Bergner presents suggest that if we take away the cultural and societal veneer, we are left with the raw biology of how women act and react sexually. So what tests are being done, and how do women act naturally (meaning without the social conditioning)?

I: Plethysmograph Tests

This test is mainly done through a plethysmograph: a tube that is inserted in the vagina to measure blood flow, moisture, and wetness. The idea is that the more blood, moisture, and wet the vagina is, the more it i
Jul 10, 2013 rated it liked it
There's no arguing with Bergner's central premise--that our culture is guilty of minimizing the existence of female lust, and this shortcoming has led to some pretty bad science and some truly awful social norms.

However, Bergner's attempt to answer the question "what do women really want" goes nowhere. He's guilty of three of my major pet peeves for popular science writers:

1. He picks and chooses his trusted sources seemingly at random, and dismisses opposing viewpoints with a couple glib paragr
Laura Jordan
Jul 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yet another confirmation of my long-standing animus against evolutionary psychology. God forefend any behavior be the result of millennia of social conditioning, as opposed to something we must be "hard-wired" to do.

So, yeah, back to the book. Somewhat fluffy, but on the positive side, bound to irritate and anger cultural conservatives. It was both hilarious and disturbing where the drug researchers looking into a female Viagra wanted to to make sure that their drug worked well, but not too wel
Jul 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
I despise evolutionary biology because it often works backwards, suggesting that we can understand human behavior by imagining an evolutionary reason for it. I loved how Berger showed that what women say they want and what their bodies respond to are very different things. Women were traditionally considered the more sexual sex because the mind was prized over the body. The idea that women are less sexual actually dates to the Victorian era. Nevertheless, pop psychology loves to suggest that wom ...more
Melissa Stacy
Dec 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Please be warned, this book is not for people who get easily enraged when conventional wisdom is questioned. In fact, if you are someone who cherishes conventional wisdom, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. Bake brownies, walk the dog, call a relative, play with the baby, watch a movie, read your Facebook wall, do the dishes. But DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

Because What Do Women Want? is the most empowering book I’ve read in a long time. I gush about all kinds of books that I read, but I got something like a he
Sep 23, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for one of my two book clubs. I wavered between giving it 2 and 3 stars. I have to admit that it provoked probably the best discussion our club has had so far this year. However, I was hoping it would tell me something I didn't already know. Instead, the author primarily discussed scientific studies that provide biological evidence of things I already know, because I am a woman: females often initiate sex (although not always in the same obvious peacocking ways males seem to ten ...more
Amy Raby
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the better books I've read about the science of female sexuality. Female sexuality is poorly understood because there aren't many sex researchers out there (because of the stigma), and the ones who do exist mostly study men. It has long been conventional (patriarchal) wisdom that men crave lots of sexual partners while women crave close, intimate relationships.

But anyone who has been through a long-term relationship or two knows that desire tends to wane over time, and this may a
Oct 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. It was a very fast read, and I enjoyed hearing about the kind of work that is being done in exploring female sexuality. It does a great job of tweezing out what we think we know about female sexuality and what can be proven, which is not a lot. The book raises a lot more questions about the topic than it answers, but the overall thrust of it is that much of what we as a society believe about female sexuality is BS. Comforting BS, but still BS. Perhaps it is confirmation bias o ...more
Jun 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Informative. In some cases, erotic. Probably the best work of non-fiction I have read on female sexuality. I take issue with the title however. It is really hard to take a book seriously when the title alludes to how difficult women are. Really, we aren't much different than men, except perhaps our sexuality is more repressed.

Probably a good read for everyone - male and female alike.
Jun 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner

“What Do Women Want?" is the unsatisfying science book on female sexual desires. A surprisingly neglected area of science, this book covers the latest scientific research on female lust. The book however suffers from being uneven, lack of flow and quite frankly scientific negligence. There is some interesting research and some findings are enlightening but ultimately this book fails to answer the premise of this ill
E.C. McCarthy
Bergner's assimilation of current research on women's desire and libido is fascinating. When he sticks to cross-referencing the growing body of science he's giving readers unprecedented access to the seeds of another sexual revolution (or the next phase of one, depending on your point of view.) I was confused, however, by the repeated reference to the idea of "curing monogamy." I think he means monotony, if I understand the information he lays out. Curing monogamy would mean the end of single pa ...more
Jun 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book combining research on women's sexuality with anecdotes, many quite colorful. Unfortunately, reading it is somewhat unsatisfying because so little is known about the sources of desire and many of the things we think we know are either probably or definitely wrong. Apparently women's sexuality is not considered a worthy research topic at prestigious universities and many of the studies we have are flawed in some profound way. One example he gives is the belief that wome ...more
I picked this up after listening to a Savage Lovecast episode that features Bergner as a guest expert. He's an insightful researcher, and here he's put forth some fascinating information. But I can't quite recommend this book because the writing is really uneven. Bergner's ideas are organized in a strange and jumbled fashion. For example, he sometimes opens a section with a vague partial anecdote and then meanders through 20+ pages of scientific discourse before circling back to wrap up the open ...more
Marc Brackett
I started this book with high hopes, after all what male doesn't want to learn this age old secret? After finishing this book I largely felt a gag book titled, "What Men Know About Women," that consisted entirely of 100 some blank pages was nearly as informative.

The big difference between the two books was that Bergner also discovers that women also really don't know much about what they want either. So it seems we are clueless in this together, the status quo is safe.

The problem seems to be th
Paul Cook
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
I read the author's New York Times Magazine piece based on this work, and decided to go for the book. Daniel Bergner talks to researchers, mostly women, who are empirically investigating female desire, and describes specific findings, as well as patterns emerging in the growing literature.

Along the way, much of what our culture likes to believe about female sexuality, and well as what many of the research subjects wanted to believe about themselves, is called seriously into question on increasi
Peter Ellwood
Aug 30, 2013 rated it did not like it
Really quite disappointing. It's as though the book was written at four or more different stages in the writer's life - or even, by four or more different people - and the results were just lumped together in a nonsensical blob.

It starts out with an oh-so "American" bit of pseudo-journalism, full of soft porn innuendo "Her legs were long, her breasts, full, high..".

It moves effortlessly on to an account of how the female of quite a number of species is in fact the sexual protagonist - but witho
Aug 04, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books, sex
A potentially interesting book marred in part by the journalistic style. I know that's unfair, but I wanted less of the human interest and more about the science. That being said, a lot of the studies talked about in the book have been out for quite a while, and the book doesn't add anything to them, despite its supposedly considerable interviews. There is nothing new here.

I also began to wonder whether it was strictly necessary to describe each scientist and her fashion every time the author g
Jul 08, 2013 rated it liked it
It is an interesting topic but I am not sure what to take from reading the book. If nothing else, it confirmed for me how little I understand about what women want and how confusing the topic can be. The book highlights how society has often overlooked and downplayed women's sexuality. As a result, there is a strong force in many women that, because of being subdued for so long, can play a hugely influential role in their intimate lives and relationships. Perhaps my expectations were wrong or th ...more
Jul 28, 2013 rated it liked it
This book started out very promising, but I quickly got tired of the approach — brief, superficial discussions of different researchers work — and the writing style (Hey, guys, look! Scientists are humans, with their own styles and personal tics! And, did you know, they have feelings?! I will write about these things, too, in a somewhat emo and dramatized way!) There was little synthesis of the material, and I wished Natalie Angier had given this guy a talking to about how to write the book bett ...more
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
amazing and transformative. It truly changed how I think about my sexual life.
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I still need to process all the information here, but I think this book will change my life for the better.
Roz Warren
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Roseanne Barr, Monkey Lust and A Sweet Night of Passion with Donald Trump

As a straight woman who once published a 300 page book about lesbian cartoonists (Dyke Strippers: Lesbian Cartoonists from A to Z) I’m the last person to question why “What Do Women Want?” a new book about female sexuality, is written by a guy.

It’s a great book topic. And author Daniel Bergner, who has written about sexuality before (“The Other Side of Desire: Four Journeys into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing”) knows
This book was not as terrible as I expected it to be, but considering I was anticipating something truly atrocious and heteronormative, that's not really saying much. There were limitations within the book, but these limitations had more to do with the research being conducted than what Bergner had to say. Excluding bibliography and other notes, this book clocks in at just under 200 pages double spaced. And that's even with fluffing it up with first-person accounts and anecdotes. This is, essent ...more
Tom Johnson
Jun 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The following notes are for my own amusement.
The parallels with the Hobby – excitement of the new, the unknown, the related sense of risk/danger.
Good grief I’m the one who wants the romance

Page 51: “one lesson,” he said, “is that you don’t want a woman to form her first impression of you when she’s in the wrong menstrual phase. You’ll never recover.” He laughed. – Yes, lol, McFate can be a cruel dude.

Much amazing science – for example a female rat manipulating a male rat to enhance her “pleasu
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book because of all the questions it raises. It races through numerous diverse snippets of information which means there is little depth involved but hopefully it will lead to more - and better - investigations and insight into female sexuality.
The basic premise it attacks is that women are meant to be less interested in sex than are men, which is something that does need to be laid to rest. Throughout history there seems to be a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other wh
Aug 06, 2013 rated it liked it
"The science and thinking I have brought together in this book are a beginning, only that. None of the researchers I have learned from ... would claim to have definitive, fully formed answers about female desire. All of them, no matter how evocative their experiments and piercing their ideas, are acutely aware of the layers of unknowns -- and of the impediments to getting beneath."
-Pp 195

If you approach this book keeping the author's above point in mind, it has some illuminating points to make.
Jun 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Started on Wednesday, finished on Thursday. The prose was tight and, to its credit, relied less on the author's agenda than on testimony of experts and research subjects. Although the book as a whole was riveting, it wasn't entirely satisfying, which I think is partly because research on female sexuality isn't satisfying. As the author states, such study is underfunded, criticized even by liberal educators, and potentially upsetting to the status quo. The author is not so much concerned with ans ...more
I first heard about this book on NPR, and promptly requested that my local library purchase it--which they did! Unfortunately, I wasn't terribly impressed. It may have been that I expect my nonfiction to be scholarly and esoteric, but Bergner seemed fluffy, with an irritating predilection to provide physical descriptions of his experts that did little to distinguish them from one another. Their research was interesting enough--a dismantling of the ideas that women are less visually stimulated th ...more
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Women: will this book change your approach to your relationship? 6 44 Mar 21, 2017 02:38PM  

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Daniel Bergner is a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine and the author of two previous books of nonfiction, IN THE LAND OF MAGIC SOLDIERS: A STORY OF WHITE AND BLACK IN WEST AFRICA, a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year, and GOD OF THE RODEO: THE QUEST FOR REDEMPTION IN LOUISIANA’S ANGOLA PRISON, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Bergner’s writing has also appeared in Granta,
“Men are animals. On matters of eros, we accept this as a kind of psychological axiom. Men are tamed by society, kept, for the most part, between boundaries, yet the subduing isn’t so complete as to hide their natural state, which announces itself in endless ways—through pornography, through promiscuity, through the infinity of gazes directed at infinite passing bodies of desire—and which is affirmed by countless lessons of popular science: that men’s minds are easily commandeered by the lower, less advanced neural regions of the brain; that men are programmed by evolutionary forces to be pitched inescapably into lust by the sight of certain physical qualities or proportions, like the .7 waist-to-hip ratio in women that seems to inflame heterosexual males all over the globe, from America to Guinea-Bissau; that men are mandated, again by the dictates of evolution, to increase the odds that their genes will survive in perpetuity and hence that they are compelled to spread their seed, to crave as many .7’s as possible. But” 1 likes
“The seeking of a lover to embody these words; the pining for a love that
will be unconditional; the search for a union that is absolute; the sense that
our partners should give us what we were given--or what we believe we
should have been given--by our parents; the craving for reassurance--tell me
I’m special, tell me I’m beautiful, tell me I’m smart, tell me I’m successful, tell me
you love me, tell me it’s forever, no matter what, till death do us part--these were
scarcely more than a child’s cries. Yet most us could not bear to give up on
these longings. Most of us could not stand to relinquish the yearning for
someone to be our fulfillment, our affirmation, because to turn away from
such hope would be to acknowledge that we are, inescapably, navigating
our lives alone, supported by love if we are lucky but, finally, on our own. pp. 144-45.”
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