Here’s an awesome question:
Is the discrepancy in spontaneous desire between men and women the root of all gender-related problems? (I’m talking about the difference between “average of all men” and “average of all women”, not between individuals.)
Because that discrepancy makes sex be seen as something women give to men, and not something men give to women. It’s the reason why (women think) “men always want sex” and why (men think) “women always say no”. Women don’t say no just to be mean, after all.
In other words, there is an imbalance of supply and demand. That’s why
… women can sell sex
… some men will try to trick women into giving them sex
… some men will even do worse things to get sex
… some men who don’t get as much sex as they want feel aggression against women (“women have that thing I want and they don’t give it to me, that’s unfair!”)
… and so on.
I’m trying to make a logical connection from biology(?) to current society, and I’m aware there are many things in between (like patriarchy, history and religion). Could the connection still be significant?
And of course the answer to a question this awesome can only be, “I don’t know.”
I mean, “Root of all gender related problems,” no – there are lots of other sources of conflict, including, not least, male perceived and historical OWNERSHIP of female bodies and the game-theory dynamics of limited resources (e,g., supply and demand, as you say).
But let’s play with the idea a little and see what happens.
A little review:
“Spontaneous” desire is what we culturally think of as being sexual desire. It seems to come from nowhere, out of the blue. You can be in the middle of lunch and think to yourself, “Wow, I sure would like some sex!” “Responsive” desire is a term that was first coined, I believe, by sex therapist Rosemary Basson, and subsequently developed by researchers such as Ellen Laan. For current purposes, it might be simpler just to think about this in gendered terms of “men want sex more than women do.” (That link is my summary of the subject – here is a more formal meta-analysis (PDF), if you like the sciencey bit) This is of course gross overgeneralization that falls down when you look at individuals, rather than at populations, but as a shorthand, for now, it’ll do.
So if the male population’s total desire for sex equals one whole apple pie, and the female population’s total desire for sex equals 80% of an apple pie, that leaves 20% of an apple pie’s worth of unmet male desire, right?
So let’s add something to the mix: the key element of Male Sexual Entitlement.
With that element, we have a 20% lack of pie plus a male believe the Deserves Pie simply because he likes and desire it.
And he’s going to go out and Get That Pie, and he’s allowed to do whatever it takes to get it because: Entitlement.
Okay, and then let’s add to that another important element: the Myth of Sex as a Drive.
Sex isn’t a drive. A drive is a motivation system that helps keep you alive – like hunger and thirst and sleep – by filling you with an uncomfortable internal experience that pushes you out into the world to do something to end that uncomfortable state.
Instead, sex is an incentive motivation system – you’re not pushed into the world by an aversive internal experience, you’re pulled into the world by an appealing external stimulus! (Sometimes it feels like a drive, because of The Little Monitor, who gets frustrated when you can’t get something you want.)
When you mix Sexual Entitlement with the Myth that without sex you’ll suffer some terrible fate, yup, I do believe that’s a recipe for a culture that abuses women. Uh-huh.
It also creates a market for sex, which women can take advantage of by selling sex to men. Yup.
It’s not the difference in desire alone that does it. It takes a lot of other dynamics. But the desire difference is definitely a component, I think.
PS: This is a description of POPULATION LEVEL DYNAMICS. When we zoom down to the level of couples, the difference in desire mostly disappears – for example, in a study (PDF) of “desire discrepancy” in heterosexual dating couples, the female partner was just as likely to be the “higher desire” partner as the male partner. Just so we’re clear on the difference observed at different levels of analysis.