Sex: Should women be more like men?
December 9th, 2010
09:21 AM ET

Sex: Should women be more like men?

In the very first episode of "Sex and the City," Carrie poses the question,  “In an age where women enjoy the same successes as men, why shouldn’t they also be able enjoy sex like men?” She was, of course, referring to the male ability to indulge in sex casually, freely, and without a sense of emotional attachment: sex for the sake of sex. And clearly, the phenomenon of the TV series itself, as well as the culture of hooking up of which it was part and parcel, has answered its own question: Yes, a woman can have sex like a man—and then some!

But maybe the real question isn’t whether a woman can have sex like a man, but if she should. At Good in Bed, our experts are debating this topic and we don’t always agree.

Many years before Candace Bushnell put pen to paper, Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing wrote, on the subject of sexual freedom, "Men get erections when they're with a woman they don't give a damn about, but we don't have an orgasm unless we love him. What's free about that?" Or as Carrie’s gal-pal, Charlotte, puts it after hooking up with a guy, "Did the last four-and-a-half hours mean nothing to you?"

Sometimes we treat sex lightly, but sex doesn’t always treat us lightly in return. In biological terms, the female orgasm releases a burst of oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone. Oxytocin helps facilitate a sense of attachment. But if there's nothing to attach to, if there's no deeper emotional content or meaningfulness, orgasm could become a regretful reminder of the hollowness of the sex that preceded it. Some sexolgists call this phenomenon post-orgasm regret, and it typically manifests itself in the form of sadness or anger.

This was brought home to me in a recent editorial in the New York Times titled “Sex and Depression.” in which Richard A. Friedman, M.D., writes of a female patient, “She was a 32-year-old woman who experienced a four- to six-hour period of intense depression and irritability after an orgasm, either alone or with a partner. It was so unpleasant that she was starting to avoid sex.” And in her book, "The Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms," sex educator Emily Nagoski explains, “A woman is less likely to have orgasms early in a relationship. Her body needs time to adapt to the new partner, to learn to trust him or her, and to relax into the knowledge that her partner accepts and appreciates her body.” But is this period of adaptation just that—a period—or does it point to a more fundamental difference between male and female sexuality?

In 1966, Masters and Johnson published their classic book, “Human Sexual Response,” and proposed a linear model of sexual response for both men and women that included four stages: arousal, plateau, orgasm, and resolution (the time where many men roll over and start snoring). But over the years experts have questioned this model, as it assumes that men and women are more similar than different. More recently, sex researcher Rosemarie Basson has proposed a new framework for thinking about female sexual response, one that places the importance of emotional intimacy and relationship satisfaction at its center. Basson’s framework contends that female sexual arousal is more complex than a male’s and depends more intensely on factors such as relationship satisfaction, self-esteem and previous sexual experiences—pretty important stuff in maintaining a long-term committed relationship, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.

So let’s rephrase that question one more time, shall we? It’s not a question of can, or even should, a woman have sex like a man. The real question is, Should a man have sex like a woman?

And remember, if you’d like more help navigating this life-change years, check out our free download of the Good in Bed Guide to Sex and the Baby Years.

Ian Kerner is a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website,GoodInBed.

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