When it comes to women and sexuality, stereotypes are presented as truth more often than the actual truth. Women are confronted with a combination of poor sex education and the societal effects of slut shaming, and all of that has a real impact on the way individual women experience sex and lust and love. But in her new book, Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free, social researcher and author Wednesday Martin deconstructs many of the false beliefs that have negatively affected the way women's sexuality is viewed — including the deeply entrenched notions that women are the more naturally monogamous sex or that women's sex drives are shrinking violets compared to men's ... This book turns everything we think we know about women and sex completely on its head, essentially undressing the falsehoods of female sexuality to reveal what lies beneath the layers of distortion women operate under.
Describing Untrue is tricky, so I’ll let Martin’s introduction provide a window into her well-executed goal: 'Untrue,' she writes, 'is a book with a point of view—namely that whatever else we may think of them, women who reject monogamy are brave, and their experiences and possible motivations are instructive.' Part manifesto, part cultural anthropology, part literary criticism, part memoir, Untrue veers in a number of directions in pursuit of proving Martin’s thesis, but never abruptly or in an order that feels jarring. Interviewing both experts in the field and ordinary women living outside the alleged norms of monogamy, Martin takes her readers on a winding path from divorce to adultery, from Darwin to fruit flies, from the sexism that came about after the invention of the plough to the sexual liberation of the Himba, a Namibian tribe in which, according to one sample cited by Martin, nearly 32 percent of mothers give birth to babies fathered through extramarital affairs ... The sui generis quality of Untrue is the author’s forte.
Those who have a nodding acquaintance with work on what evolutionary biologists call 'female choice' will doubtless be worried that Martin has simply cherry-picked the examples that support her argument, while passing silently over all those thousands of studies that don’t show research subjects behaving in ways we’re used to: prudent egg-guarding females, and splashy seed-scattering males. One also wonders whether this material, invigorating though it is, quite counts as the 'new science' that is trumpeted by the publicity. Some of this work, including that by the pioneering biologist Hrdy, dates back to the 1980s. The tone and structure are awkward, with the interviews with academics mixed with case histories of women who have chosen to break cultural taboos by openly sleeping with a secondary partner while retaining their primary relation ... Martin’s own attempt at fieldwork is marked by a counterproductive coyness.