Spike Jonze won this year’s Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for “Her,” a film set in a time slightly in the future when humans are developing emotional feelings for their operating systems. The movie is a classic love story in the genre of “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl,” except that here the girl is a piece of emulation software. But no matter. “Her” is still an accurate depiction of the troubles “nice guys” get into in love.
And one more thing. The film puts an interesting twist on an ancient male fear: The insatiable woman.
Men are disadvantaged in bed. A man can ordinarily get one erection and one climax—maybe two if he’s young and hungry—then he’s done. Not so his female partner. She can go on having sex even after orgasm. Later that night she could theoretically do it again as many times as she wants.
This fact of women’s extra erotic potential is not lost on their male partners. It’s a deep source of male anxiety. Will he really be able to satisfy her? Did her last partner satisfy her more completely? And after he’s given her all he’s got, will she still be hungry for more?
When Joaquin Phoenix's character discovers that his female operating system is simultaneously having love affairs with over 600 other individuals besides himself, it’s a pretty good riff on this basic male concern. I’m a veteran sex therapist, and that scene still made me anxious.
Of course the idea of the insatiable woman is just a male fantasy. Most real women don't want to have sex all night. But the fact that they could if they wanted has haunted men for a long time. As Mark Twain wrote in Letters from the Earth, it’s paradoxical that one man can command a harem of women. From a strictly sexual perspective, the reverse would be more practical.
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“Samantha,” the computer operating system that serves as the film’s love interest, dominates outside the bedroom as well. She has much more bandwidth than her human operator—a fact that’s also evocative of the ordinary male-female situation. I tell my male sex therapy patients just to accept the fact that their female partners are going to notice much more—and think much more comprehensively about everything they notice—than even the most sensitive man.
“Samantha” is of course not really a woman. When the Joaquin Phoenix character goes through his new operating system’s “set-up” program, he’s asked would he prefer a man’s or a woman’s voice. Answer the question differently, and the result could have been either a buddy movie or Brokeback Mountain.
But by making the operating system female and capable of engaging with over 600 partners, “Her” cleverly evokes this most basic male fear—of women’s extra potential in the realm of sex and love and just about everything else.
Check it out for yourself, if you’re a partnered heterosexual woman who hasn’t seen the movie yet. Take your man to see it, and watch the look on his face when Samantha tells her human operator that she’s having affairs with over 600 other partners at the same time.
Then whisper in his ear that he’s the only man you want. Because he completely satisfies you.
He won’t believe you, of course. But he’ll appreciate the thought anyway.
Copyright © Stephen Snyder, MD 2014
www.sexualityresource.com New York City