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Thursday, May 25, 2000

What a girl wants...
Maureen Dowd
The New York Times

WASHINGTON - I have seen the future, and it is backing out of the room.

We are awash in female dysfunction this week -- the cover of Newsweek, the front of USA Today and CBS's 48 Hours -- tracking the Amazonian efforts of scientists to figure out why so many women suffer from low sex drive, and why Viagra does not work for women.

CBS calls the disappearing female libido "a silent epidemic."

Men might be able to solve all their problems with a little blue pill, but for women, as always, things are a bit more complicated.

Who ever thought that women would be trying to figure out how to turn themselves on with estrogen, testosterone and brain juice dopamine? Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll has a whole new meaning for boomers.

The only one who remains fabulously optimistic, of course, is Helen Gurley Brown. To go with the Newsweek cover story "Searching for a Female Viagra: Is It a Mind or Body Problem?" Brown contributes an essay urging Cosmo Golden Girls not to give up on Sex After 60.

"I had sex last night," Brown writes, not burying the lead. "I'm 78 and my husband, movie producer David Brown, is 83 ... Sex is one of the three best things there are, and I don't know what the other two are."

She does concede that, after 60 or 70, some shyness might set in. "Here's the biggie: How you can possibly undress in front of a man who's never seen you naked ... that cellulite, those folds, those pouches!"

But she has some tips: "Wear something up to the last minute before getting into bed; turn off the lights if that makes you less nervous and back out of the room when it's over if you think your front is better than your back."

If older men can attract nubile sweeties with trips and baubles, she says, why can't older babes go the "American Gigolo" route? "If there's a man who might be up for having sex with you, take him to Gucci," she instructs.

Oh, gosh. The thought of being with a man who wants to go to Gucci, much less having to pay for him to go there, is a little daunting. Next he'll be asking you to buy him a little white dog.

The arc of female sexuality is dispiriting. We had decades of Victorian prudery, when women were not supposed to like sex. Then we had the pill and zipless love, when women were supposed to have the same animalistic drive as men.

Then it was discovered -- shock, horror! -- that men and women are not alike in their desires.

The idea that men and women have identical sexual natures turned out to be "folly," as Patricia Dalton, a clinical psychologist, put it in The Washington Post on Sunday, writing about the not-so-quiet desperation of the single women on Sex and the City and Ally McBeal.

"Those women who have embraced both word and deed of the sexual revolution can find that the years of fertility pass pretty quickly," she wrote.

The sexual revolution has ended in a whimper and an Advil. It turns out that a lot of women do have headaches after all. Newsweek notes that "as many as four in 10 American women experience some form of sexual dissatisfaction."

The magazine, which in 1986 reported that women over 40 had a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than finding a husband, offers this news flash: "For women, the relationship and the context of sexuality can be even more critical to satisfaction than the majesty that is orgasm."

Women aspire to the majesty of the cuddle? Who knew?

We live in a society that is obsessed with sex, but we don't live in a sexy society.

The more we analyze it, medicate it, demystify it and deconstruct it, the more we make it the incessant subject of movies, novels, memoirs, TV shows and online "female sexual dysfunction quizzes," the less clarity we attain.

The more one-night stands the girls on Sex and the City have, the grumpier they get.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to allow round-the-clock soft porn on cable. It is doubtful this will bring any further enlightenment on the subject, either.

The future looks grim. A population addled by arousal is feeling less and less aroused.

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