I knew the tipping point had arrived when I heard three women discussing it in my local St Vincent de Paul charity shop. Loudly. Without embarrassment. Even though two of them were in their seventies and the other was at least 84 or so.
That was last year and the book they were dissecting in great detail was the now infamous Fifty Shades of Grey. One was just about to go off on her holliers and was determined to pay greater attention to the young Adonises on the beach now that she "knew what they could do for her". And yes, I was a bit shocked. I had to admit to myself a well suppressed streak of prudery – I had refused to finish the erotic novel on grounds of pseudo-intellectual priggishness as opposed to the (also pseudo) feminist 'morality' excuse some others used. Mea culpa.
This year, thankfully, there's a book that explains the entire Fifty Shades phenomenon – and reactions to it – in scientific detail. As an aspiring intellectual (slightly prudish) feminist I'm much more comfortable with a hefty tome researched by academics – even if one calls herself a "sexologist". This book also explains why there's been a huge rise in (reported) infidelity in women of all ages and classes. Stop the presses! Women like sex. Not just as much as, but even more, than men do.
According to Daniel Bergner's (not very originally) called; "What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire", it's the female of the species that are the most sexually predatory, lustful, unsuited to monogamy and more likely to objectify a sexual partner. He's proved it. Using lots of scientific research and a few monkeys. And what is it they want? Sex. And more sex. Followed by even more sex: kinky sex, stranger sex, shameless sex. It's simple – women want more sex. Just not sex with their husbands.
What? Surely that's nonsense? I mean we know the drill ...
Since time immemorial women have accepted, fairly meekly it must be said, their "natural" role as faithful, caring, nurturing companions to the sexually roving, predatory male. Blah, blah blah ... Once a woman becomes a mother, their sexual interest wanes, their male partner looks elsewhere on occasion to satisfy his own still healthy lust and the little wifey at home pretends not to notice in order to keep a secure family unit intact. (Nowadays the modern woman takes anti-depressants, which further depress her natural lust). Blah, blah, blah ... And more of the same ever since Eve was kicked out of Paradise and Lilith was written out of religion class.
But no – Bergner insists that this is all social conditioning and that women have basically been shamed into forgetting their very innate and powerful sexual urges. Think Sile Na Gigs and you get the sort of thing he's talking about.
His research – courtesy of a "gathering critical mass of female researchers" – proved to him that when so many women lose interest in sex within a marriage, this is not due to a low libido, but instead a bored libido. She just isn't turned on by safe sex anymore. (As one woman put it, sex with her husband gave her the same satisfaction as returning library books). Socially, however, in order to protect fragile male egos – and society as we know it from caving in – woman has been conditioned to believe that she is just not that interested in sex. Not like a man is, anyway.
Bercgner argues that his research shows that the shame previously attached to women who like sex prevented us from admitting that we'd really like to shag every passing stranger. But, if something happened to release our natural horniness women would prove far more sexually predatory, voracious and less emotional about pure lust than men. Something like, for instance, being able to work outside the home, being financially independent, being able to rear children without having to be dependent on a male? Something like having the courage to read erotic novels on the morning train and say; "So what? I like kinky sex, don't you?" And of course, the internet and social media have made both finding sexual partners and hiding that knowledge from a partner (if you want to) all so easy.
I have a couple of friends who believe this is self-evident. One told me she sat her husband down in front of a computer and showed him the local meet-a-married-woman/man-for-sex-sites. "Get online there", she said to him, "and get yourself a nice little friend to have sex games with, because that's what I'm doing". Another has two mobile phones, three Twitter accounts and is an expert at hiding her online history. Yet another swops sex for favours. And they're only the ones that confided in me.
I thought perhaps these women were the exception but both anecdotes and statistics show that women – and in particular Irish women – are embracing infidelity and sexual adventures not seen here since the demise of the Brehon Laws. Science – and who are we to argue with empirical and research-based evidence? – and the statistics show this is ultimately; "What Women Want".