I wrote an article for Vogue about the female sexual imagination, which I have now re-posted below. Technically the article is a response to Will Self’s response to an article a guy wrote about how men think about sex all the time. If that makes sense.
It’s a pretty standard notion that men are born with bestial instincts and perverted minds, and that women are their more pure counterparts. I find this really funny. Just last week, Andy Hinds caused some commotion on the Internet for his Slate article, in which he confessed to being overwhelmed by sexual thoughts that “objectify women.” In response, the British writer Will Self wrote a piece for Vogue last week agreeing that yes, heterosexual men do imagine sex with every woman they see, and what of it? It surprised me that neither article acknowledged the female lascivious imagination. So I would just like to point something out: We think about sex a lot too.
It’s no secret that the modern world is supercharged with sexual provocation, from TV to music to fashion. For example, Rihanna’s stage show often involves her giving a lap dance in a leather harness, essentially dressed as a dominatrix. And just walking around New York these first days of summer, the streets are already a sea of microshorts and crop-tops. Sexuality—especially female sexuality—is everywhere, and as a result it’s no surprise that men fantasize about sex all the time. But why would anyone think that this excess of erotic imagery affects men alone?
Women have a cosmic sexual power. Don’t think we don’t know it. When I walk outside in a low-cut top, I know exactly what I’m doing and the effect it has on those around me. Just because the woman on the train seems to be engrossed in her book doesn’t means she’s not fully aware of the height of her skirt on her thigh. “Thinking about sex” does not begin and end with a male fantasy of bending the cashier over the register (although women also dream of dragging the hot waiter into a bathroom stall). Sometimes simply being conscious of the erotic potential of every situation, and the effect we have on men, is in itself a form of sexual consideration.
In the seventies, men wore tight trousers that highlighted the outline of their manhood. More recently, however, the idea of male sexual display has been usurped by gay culture, and as a result, straight men today are rarely so explicit. Perhaps men think that by not showing off the goods the female mind is kept more pure. If only they understood that women, in all our complex psychosexual glory, are aroused by things far more subtle than the sight of a penis. Seeing a man wearing a starched oxford shirt might trigger a memory of her father, which itself becomes a weird turn-on. Sometimes just the sound of a stranger’s voice gets me going. Humans have the ability to sexualize almost anything, and lust is part of the minds of men and women alike.
As the ever-controversial feminist Camille Paglia said, sex is about “animality and artifice, a dynamic interplay of nature and culture.” If men are more often the animal, howling in the streets with their tongues dangling from their mouths, then women have more guile. Not to let the cat out of the bag, but a lot of our aloofness is very calculated. For both sexes, indifference is the key to sexual power, for as soon as a man gets a thirsty eye, he’s not getting laid. But if men actually believe that women rarely think about sex, that’s only proof that our long con has been effective.