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How Sexual Desire Works - The Enigmatic Urge (Frederick Toates)

How Sexual Desire Works - The Enigmatic Urge is an integrated and comprehensive study by Frederick Toates, which can easily engage any kind of reader; whether the reader is a Psychology student like me or even the so-called intelligent lay reader. It fully justifies the statement in the preface that this book is designed for all sorts of readers.

I would like to start by giving an overview of the content of the book to provide an insight to the prospective reader. The book starts with some very interesting quotes which not only keep the reader engaged, but also express the view point of other authors on the same subject. Following this, it unveils the underlying mechanisms of sexual behaviour i.e. the role of neurons, hormones, certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine and some specific brain regions i.e. amygdala and nucleus accumbens that play a significant part in sexual activity. Compared to some other books on the same topic, Frederick Toates has used an excellent level of scientific knowledge. The explanation of conditioning, classical as well as instrumental in sexual arousal is fascinating. Other topics covered include attractiveness, the significance of psychological and behavioural features and the relationship between loss of sexual desire and loss of novelty.

Frederick Toates lays emphasis on the activity of automatic and controlled processing in sexual desire and arousal in various sections of his book. Furthermore, he delivers an explicit description of gender differences and sexual infidelity. The example of David and Clara Harris (page 123) certainly takes the reader’s attention. Toates believes that sexual jealousy can be a powerful emotion, a point which is incredibly well illustrated by a quote from Trachtenberg (1989, p. 81). “Suddenly she’s an unknown quantity, someone whose failure to call or answer the phone shocks me into spasms of jealousy, I twitch like someone strapped into the electric chair.”

Some vicious issues like sexual violence, aggression and rape highlighted in this book have been very well addressed. Rape is one of the tragic realities of the history of sexual desire, which is highly evident across cultures. The sections ‘what goes on in the brain of a rapist?’ and ‘Theories of rape’ in chapter 20 are highly engaging. Another compelling quote used in this book was given by the ex-wife of the British rapist known as ‘monster of the M5’ (quoted by Apter 2007, p. 152): “We always had a perfectly healthy sex life – but he always seemed to need that little bit of extra excitement, like a racing driver.”

This book provides a balanced debate between objective and subjective arguments. For me, this book clearly justifies the perspective that neither psychology nor biology alone can account for human inner desires. In fact, everything is psychology and biology. Overall, the logical sequence of the chapters is easy to follow. The referencing and language used is of the highest level and finally, it is definitely value for money.

To give a flavour of the written style of this book I will end with one example of a number of beautiful passages (page 3): “The mysterious author, only ever known to us as ‘Walter’, endowed the world with a vivid depiction of his series of sexual adventures in Victorian London, a study entitled My Secret Life. The quest for sexual novelty was enough to sustain the intrepid author’s fascination and vigour during a life that seemed to feature precious little else. Whether the vicarious re-living of this life is sufficient to hold the average reader’s attention through Walter’s 11 volumes, consisting of no fewer than 4,000 pages of unremitting graphic detail, is perhaps a moot point.”

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