An exploration of why women have less satisfaction with their sexual lives than men.
Former Guernica publisher and executive director Rowland, who has contributed to Nature, Psychology Today, and other publications as a freelance writer and researcher, interviewed more than 100 women of all sexual orientations about how they experience feelings of arousal, pleasure, and desire as well as frustration and pain. Unfortunately, the comments she elicits are generally imprecise and uninformative. Besides these interviews with ordinary women, the author sought out and frequently cites the professional opinions of psychologists and sexologists and the practices of therapists and counselors. The sexual revolution, writes Rowland, has brought women improvements in some areas, such as education and health care, but not in sexual health. While the quantity may have increased, the quality has not improved. “For younger women, especially, the message these days is that you should want sex because sex is fun and physically exciting,” writes the author. “There is so much pressure to be nonchalant about it, to not appear needy or emotionally invested, and that leaves little room for considering why it is that we should want sex in the first place.” During the author’s quest for answers, she spent time observing the leader of a group therapy clinic teaching the art of mindfulness, proposed as one solution to sexual dissatisfaction, and she reports on the thriving sex coaching business and the efforts of the pharmaceutical industry to formulate a drug treatment for women diagnosed as having hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Such approaches have their limits, and Rowland points to cultural issues as one of the main driving forces of the so-called pleasure gap. Consequently, sociologists may find some useful information, but many of the author’s conclusions are too nebulous to benefit general readers.
A candidate for the supplemental reading list in a women’s studies course.