Note to Readers


A recent article in The Atlantic has raised serious doubts about one of the sources we used in Sex at Dawn. According to the article, Technology of Orgasm, by Rachel Maines, contains misleading translations, sloppy sourcing, and intentional inaccuracies. When the journalists confronted Maines with these findings, she essentially claimed that her book was not meant to be taken seriously — despite having been written as a history, replete with scores of citations, and index, and published as part of the Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology series. (The book also won several awards, the Herbert Feis Prize from the American Historical Association, the AFGAGMAS Biennial Book Award, and the Science Award from the American Foundation for Gender and Genital Medicine.) The author’s non-rebuttal strongly suggests that this is not a case of competing historical interpretations, but of extremely sloppy history, at best. We’ve reached out to the publisher of Sex at Dawn, requesting the opportunity to make corrections (or at least add a footnote) to the section of our book that draws from Maines’s work (pages 246-250). Pending that, we wanted to make this apology to our readers and warn you not to tell people the story of how doctors invented the vibrator to treat hysteria around the turn of the 20th century. It’s a good story, but very probably not true!

ADDITIONAL NOTE TO READERS (This appears in the paperback editions.)

The material in Chapter 21 featuring “philandering Phil” struck some readers of previous editions of this book as imbalanced and even hypocritical, in light of all we’ve said about the importance of sexual satisfaction for both women and men. “Why only talk about having an affair from a man’s perspective,” we’ve been asked, “when the rest of your book is so balanced and supportive of women’s sexuality?” That’s a fair and direct question for which we can offer only unfair and indirect answers.

First, many men report that they had affairs simply because opportunities arose, while women—for whom opportunities are often more plentiful—tend to report a more complex confluence of motivations. For example, when Shirley Glass and Thomas White anonymously interviewed three hundred men and women about their extramarital affairs, they found that men tended to see their affairs as more sexual while women were motivated more by emotional considerations and reported greater levels of dissatisfaction with their marriages. These findings have been echoed repeatedly in other research.

Secondly, as we discussed in previous chapters, women’s libidinous motivations tend to be far more fluid, and thus harder to discuss adequately, than men’s. Recall that women are more likely to engage in extramarital sex when they’re ovulating, for example, and are less likely to use birth control than at other points in their menstrual cycle. A woman in her forties may well approach a “friends with benefits” situation completely differently than she would have two decades earlier, for reasons relating both to hormonal levels and life experience.

In addition to these internal factors, women tend to be more responsive to external conditions. (Are the kids grown and out of the house? Is she financially independent? What would her friends and family say? Does she suspect that he’s having an affair?) Men—even highly intelligent, otherwise cautious and calculating men—often blunder into these situations blinded by something that doesn’t seem to render women quite so helpless.

Of course, none of this is definitive or universal. Whatever generalizations we make about motivations will be belied by many, many exceptions among both men and women. Every per- son is a world and every relationship a universe. Nothing we say here is meant to simplify or minimize anyone’s experience, male or female.

Our purpose was merely to briefly explore how some of the theories we’ve discussed play out in many modern lives by looking at the scenario married couples confront most frequently: the middle-aged man who strays. A similar assessment of women’s motivations and experiences of extramarital affairs would have required far more space than we had. Plus, we actually know “Phil,” who was willing to discuss his experience with us. If we know any women who are having affairs as we write this, they’ve chosen not to share their secret with us, perhaps wisely.