Recently, the Ensign and the New York Times ran articles dealing with aspects of female attraction; the Ensign article, found here, is the story of a woman who received a spiritual confirmation about who she should marry, then had a crisis of faith when her marriage came crashing down in disappointment over her husband’s inability to meet her expectations.

The New York Times article, titled What Do Women Want? delves into some current research about women’s attractions and sexual desire, and some of the researchers’ assertions, if accurate, go a long way towards answering some of the unasked questions surrounding this Ensign article, as well as a host of questions over which we men have been puzzling for years.

The New York Times article was written by one of the Times’ writers, Daniel Bergner, who spent time with several researchers considered to be on the cutting edge of research into female attraction, and in one section of the article, Bergner recounts attending an adult, sexual-themed Cirque Du Soleil show with Professor Marta Meana from UNLV. During the show, they conversed about how the number of female performers was significantly more than the males, and why that imbalance was significant:

…there was another way, Meana argued, by which the Cirque du Soleil’s offering of more female than male acrobats helped to rivet both genders in the crowd. She, even more than Chivers, emphasized the role of being desired — and of narcissism — in women’s desiring.
The critical part played by being desired, Julia Heiman observed, is an emerging theme in the current study of female sexuality…
Meana made clear, during our conversations in a casino bar and on the U.N.L.V. campus, that she was speaking in general terms, that, when it comes to desire, “the variability within genders may be greater than the differences between genders,” that lust is infinitely complex and idiosyncratic.
She pronounced, as well, “I consider myself a feminist.” Then she added, “But political correctness isn’t sexy at all.” For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving. About the dynamic at “Zumanity” between the audience and the acrobats, Meana said the women in the crowd gazed at the women onstage, excitedly imagining that their bodies were as desperately wanted as those of the performers.
Meana’s ideas have arisen from both laboratory and qualitative research. With her graduate student Amy Lykins, she published, in Archives of Sexual Behavior last year, a study of visual attention in heterosexual men and women. Wearing goggles that track eye movement, her subjects looked at pictures of heterosexual foreplay. The men stared far more at the females, their faces and bodies, than at the males. The women gazed equally at the two genders, their eyes drawn to the faces of the men and to the bodies of the women — to the facial expressions, perhaps, of men in states of wanting, and to the sexual allure embodied in the female figures.
…The generally accepted therapeutic notion that, for women, incubating intimacy leads to better sex is, Meana told me, often misguided. “Really,” she said, “women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic” — it is dominated by the yearnings of “self-love,” by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need. Still on the subject of narcissism, she talked about research indicating that, in comparison with men, women’s erotic fantasies center less on giving pleasure and more on getting it. “When it comes to desire,” she added, “women may be far less relational than men.”

If this basic assertion is true, that being desired is the engine that fuels female attraction, then here is a list of some of the head-scratching perplexities we men have about females, that are answered at least in part by that fact (beginning with the aforementioned Ensign article):

1. Why are women so obsessed with weddings?
This woman in the Ensign article describes her marriage falling apart after her wedding, so it’s puzzling why she wanted to marry this guy in the first place. If he was such a disappointment, was he lying about himself all throughout their courtship? Or was she just so thrilled to be getting married that she forgot to actually try to figure out beforehand what kind of guy he was? Men like me have always wondered why there are so many chick flicks centered around weddings, why there are entire magazines devoted to wedding planning for women, not to mention countless web sites, etc., when it’s only a one-day event and a couple has a lifetime to live together. Women obsess and plan and even slim down their weight just to look a certain way (there is now an entire TV show, “Bulging Brides“, dealing with wedding weight loss) so that everything will be just perfect just for that one day, often with apparently very little thought for what life will be like with this man after the wedding.
If being desired is the engine of female attraction, then this wedding fixation makes sense, since a wedding represents the public validation of a woman’s desirability as a man, full of desire for her, publicly commits to foreclose on any other possible relationships in return for the chance to be married to her.
What also makes sense in this context is the collapse of a woman’s attraction to her husband after the wedding, as related by the author of the Ensign article. The New York Times article sheds some insight into this:

…within a committed relationship, the crucial stimulus of being desired decreases considerably, not only because the woman’s partner loses a degree of interest but also, more important, because the woman feels that her partner is trapped, that a choice — the choosing of her — is no longer being carried out.

Parenthetically, this idea has some interesting implications in the context of polygamy, but maybe that’s another post.

2. Why do so many girls idolize Britney Spears?
Britney Spears is one of the most genuinely awful singers and performers on the planet. Remember the scene in the movie Wayne’s World, where Wayne’s girlfriend Cassandra is being led by Rob Lowe’s character to do ridiculously tacky things in the name of commercial success, culminating in a music video where she was in a bikini with a boa constrictor on her shoulders? Remember how you wanted to gag at the tackiness of that? Well, folks, Britney Spears did that scene in real life. Add to that Britney’s awful lip-synching of her own awful voice, her unbearable fake smile, the complete lack of originality in anything in her career, and it’s mystifying that she would have any fans, let alone female fans. Yet, she has millions of female fans…
If being desired is the engine of female attraction, then Britney — desired by young men the world over — seems to know what it takes for girls to get guys to desire them. Unfortunately, in reality that means a lot of young women won’t see the loathsome tackiness of Britney’s boa-over-the-shoulders performance or her predictable kiss with Madonna when both of their careers were heading downward. Britney’s desirability alone seems to make her worth emulating in the minds of millions of girls.

3. What is the intense appeal of the Twilight to women of all ages and marital statuses?
It appears Stephenie Meyers is making a fortune by tapping into women’s longing to be desired; in the Twilight series, Isabella Swan (ahem) is intensely desired by two very attractive males, and I would bet any amount of money that if Twilight fans were surveyed about their experiences with the books, they would indicate that they found the marriage relationship of Bella and Edward to be far less stimulating to read about than their courtship. After the marriage, Edward’s choosing was over, and he was stuck. What a mojo-killing development.

The NYT article leaves us in the dark in a significant area, however, and that is the question of factors in women’s selection of a mate. Why do most women refuse to date men shorter than themselves? Why do some women insist on a mate who brings wealth and privilege to the relationship, while others find those factors a turn-off, preferring a more humble, free-spirited Jack Dawson character (for you Titanic fans)? Why do some women want to be desired by tough, combative MMA types, while other women prefer wimps who get misty-eyed listening to Coldplay? Why did women like Clay Aiken so much?

Ultimately, it’s impossible to answer the age-old question of what women want in one article, but I found the NYT article to be an insightful attempt.