Tag Archives: sexual expression

Explaining Porn Watching With Science!

In 2008, the Mayo Clinic published a case study of treating compulsive sexual behaviors with pharmaceuticals:

A male patient first presented to a psychiatrist (J.M.B.) at age 24, with the explanation, “I’m here for sexual addiction. It has consumed my entire life.” He feared losing both marriage and job if he could not contain his burgeoning preoccupation with Internet pornography. He was spending many hours each day chatting online, engaging in extended masturbation sessions, and occasionally meeting cyber-contacts in person for spontaneous, typically unprotected, sex.

The story is a familiar one. A young man seeking sexual activities outside of his marriage or relationship experiences guilt because of his compulsive behaviors. He feels he cannot stop and is at a loss for solutions. He wants to be good, by whatever measure his culture dictates, but feels he can’t.

The term “sex addiction” is the new darling of sensational media. The narrative of an addict is a compelling one, their struggle with external forces in the world leaves much room for pity. After all, this isn’t their fault but the fault of the pesky stimulus hijacking their tender neurological reward circuitry. Right?

Not really. The picture of compulsive sexual behaviors is far more complicated than (male) brain + (non-monogamous) sexual stimulation = addiction. Dopamine may indeed play a role in all compulsive behaviors but the narrative of porn as an external factor that takes over your system is a false (and overwhelmingly Christian) explanation that fails to recognize sexual histories and user conceptions of sexuality.

Enter….DOPAMINE!

Continue reading

Can We Do It Like Bonobos?

As a burgeoning sexuality student I had a mild obsession with the human implications of bonobo sexual behaviors. They were like this unshared secret of zoology, hidden from sight on nature channels because of apparent prurience and I wondered if we could locate some inherent sexual truth about humanity by looking at bonobos. But doing that means locating the same truths in chimpanzee behavior. Human predilection towards rape, war, and infanticide would be just as valid as promiscuity, cooperation and sex for the fun of it.

In evaluating and understanding our own, often confounding, sexual behaviors I think it’s a mistake to hold any other animal up as an ideal or try to identify immutable parts of our sexual behavior by observing them. Continue reading

Girl Guilt

I stood in front of the bathroom mirror running my hands over the marks he’d left on me. Little nibbles and scratches, like sexual graffiti on my skin. Flashes of his flesh surged through my mind and I smiled as I fantasized about what we could do the next time.

And then it hit me.

Girl Guilt.

A knot of post-sex shame tangled inside of me. I’d violated the most primary tenet of female sexuality: Continue reading

Humans Aren’t Rodents. Porn Isn’t Ruining Marriages.

Look familiar? I thought not.

Humans are not prairie voles. We are not guinea pigs or mice. We’re humans.

Pop science loves to trot out research on rodents to confirm or challenge behavioral assumptions. But what the writers often miss is that our behaviors are shaped by far more than food, fights, flights and fucking. Humans are highly complex social primates and, because of this, our responses to the world can be difficult to explain with simple biology or neurotransmitters.

And yet, as a recent porn hysteria post at The Good Men Project demonstrates, we still love clinging to these simplistic notions. The writers cite our dopamine reward system as evidence that porn’s excitement is ruining marriages. Continue reading

“Brutish” Male Sexuality: Part 2

Yesterday I did a take down of the myth of the sexually aggressive male using science. Now I want to share some stories as further proof that we’re buying into a harmful lie.

In my teen years I regarded romance as something created by men to convince women to have sex with them. My very few unsatisfying sexual experiences combined with a rabidly sex-negative culture reinforced my viewpoint that sex was solely a man’s prerogative.

Then I grew up. Continue reading

“Brutish” Male Sexuality: Part 1

The tired trope of aggressive male sexuality is a pervasive one. The story goes like this: because men are full of testosterone and sperm as well as unhindered by the consequence of pregnancy, their sexuality is naturally brutish and promiscuous. Testosterone fuels aggression, billions of sperm want hundreds of outlets and nature failed to offset these desires with physical dangers associated with reproduction.

The compliment to this heterocentric sex story is that women, with their limited eggs, lack of testosterone and pregnancy burden are naturally chaste and self protective. Any sexual adventurousness or licentiousness is only done to please men and keep them around so they will help with the child rearing.

A simple and neatly packaged explanation of human sexuality. But it’s wrong. Let’s do some debunking. Continue reading

No Pleasure in the Ghetto

Social injustice is a hard wall to break (pic via yoostin.com)

This morning I woke up to a local housing project’s message about canceling a workshop on safer sex. The reason? No funding for outside presenters.

Welcome to the most frustrating injustice in sex education: information access and restricted conversations. Continue reading

Good Men Project In Penthouse

The Good Men Project recently decided to run some excerpts in Penthouse Magazine. Some people are upset. Here’s the comment I posted on Tom Matlack’s defense of the decision.

As a female, I see not one thing wrong with pictures or videos made for sexual titillation. I probably have a bigger porn collection than most commenters here.

But I understand why some (ok, lots) of pornography bothers people. Some of our worst social inequalities and anxieties tend to be projected in porn. Racist porn? Check. Misogynistic porn? Check. There is nothing new about this and even a cursory glance at porn from the way back machine will demonstrate this phenomenon. I have a small collection of books with very graphic porn etchings from the 18th century and I started to notice the social theme of the time: religion. Nuns banging monks, young cloistered women greeting winged penises with hoisted skirts, and acts of religious penance (flagellation) being used sexually. I think this was one way for people to channel social anxieties about debates over secularism vs. church power.

What I want people to think about is that naked people sexing it up in front of a camera is not inherently evil or exploitative. However, it’s important to note that the only place where women consistently outrank men in pay is performing in porn or  for sex work, industries usually controlled by men. That is what I find exploitative.

So what kind of porn is Penthouse? Lots of faux lesbian slumber parties, kind of silly premises, tons of naked women solo shoots, and a refreshingly hot cast of male characters. (As a woman who watches porn, the amount of unattractive and unkempt men having sex with hot women gets on my  nerves. Gay porn is the only place I’ve seen reliably sexy men.) Going through their site I found one video with a questionable title (“Choke on it Bitch” ) that was probably about deep throating. Not my bag, but toying with power dynamics and engaging in rough sex in this way is a huge turn on for some people, regardless of gender.

What I don’t see in Penthouse that I see in some other porn: the message that women enjoying sex are some alien breed of female. That the only way we can describe them is as unabashed no-good slatternly creatures because no respectable woman could enjoy deep penetration, anal sex or oral sex. I mean, we’re only in it for the babies, right?

And this is where people decrying porn as inherently negative collide with porn that is negative: assuming women cannot really be into any of this. That the only reason a woman would have sex in front of a camera for money is drug addiction, low-self esteem or some other social malady. This isn’t to say that doesn’t happen, but this is not the whole story.

I agree that the images are pretty homogeneous but offering slight variations on a theme is what successful porn brands seem to do. Also, large and financially successful brands are hesitant to change anything about their established formula. The answer is not to tell these porn companies to bring in a wider array; the answer is to support porn companies that represent something outside of the mainstream. They’re out there, just use your internet to find them.

So, now that some people are past the knee-jerk reaction of Good Men + Porn = Error, think about the huge benefit of a magazine reaching outside of the bounds of its constituency and singing to the streets instead of the choir. Maybe with enough conversation and reflection about rape culture and the ways we sexualize certain populations, public taste in porn will start to change.

And to Tom: I’m sure the outrage and reactions are difficult to deal with concerning your decision, but it’s hard to reach across the aisle and step outside of thought communities. Big ups.

EDIT: The Good Men Project deleted my comment. Was I too late to the commenting party? Techie glitch? Did I say something offensive? This makes less sense than a bunny wearing a pancake hat.

UPDATE: Tom Matlack was a swift responder: “We switched servers and have yet to copy everything over” Mystery solved!

Study Explains Cougars with Evolution. Uh, disagree.

http://www.scheissprojekt.de/evolution.htm

People love explaining human sexual behavior with evolution. If a behavior exists, it must be because of evolution…right?

In a recent study, among 827 women who self-reported on sexual behavior and fantasies, those women in the 27-45 age range reported the highest frequencies of sex and fantasy. The study authors explain this with evolutionary theory: older women compensate for their aging uterus by being hyper-sexual. Essentially, they’re saying an aging female brain incites more sexual desire in order to compete with younger (and ostensibly more attractive) females.

Here are my critiques of this analysis:

  • Nulliparity. If the evolutionary explination is correct, you would find that nulliparous women (those that have never borne a child) would have higher rates of sexual fantasy and behavior than women in their age cohort with one or more children. Pregnancy and childbirth are hard on the human body so it makes sense to level off sexual desire with age if a woman has already had children and women with no children would have more of an impetus to be hypersexual. An earlier study by the same researcher found no difference on account of having children or not.
  • Does not account for fecundity. Women with higher fecundity (fertility) would be less likely to need this adaptation because they get pregnant easily.
  • Fails to address social factors. The social taboo against female desire for the sake of desire can compel younger women to avoid sex and actively resist fantasies. Factor in roommates, ability to assess or obtain a sexual partner and sexual confidence, and an argument for social conditioning emerges.
  • Simplifies evolutionary theory to explain  one strategy. Multiple mating strategies and behavioral adaptations exist within the same species. I’ve written about oversimplification of evolutionary theory in media before.
  • No cross-cultural or longitudinal comparisons. If the “cougar” approach to mating is indeed an evolutionary adaptation, you would find this phenomenon in many locales and points in history. I checked into data from the Kinsey Studies and the evidence is a bit muddled concerning frequency. Women reported a gradual rise in solitary sexual practices (ie jillin’off) but the website summary does not state when that behavior begins to level off.

I freely admit my bias when it comes to evolutionary explanations, especially concerning desire. The biggest reason is that the evidence is contrary to my experience as well as many of my female friends. When I was a teen my sexual desires came into conflict with basic social acceptance. I felt horny but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even realize that masturbation was an option for me. Instead, I supressed everything I felt between my legs and was constantly frustrated. One time, at 16, I was so horny I actually cried.

And no wonder. If the recent public outrage and ridicule of Taylor Momson’s vibrator comment is any indication, young women are still being shamed about their sexual desire.

I’m not in Time’s “old lady” category just yet (27-45, WTF?) but I definitely fantasize more and have more sex. Why? I don’t feel ashamed about it. Simple as that. Cheers to getting older and learning when to not give a fuck about others’ opinions.

Note: I am not saying that biological factors are meaningless in this case. Rather, a completely biological explanation is insufficient to explain human sexual desire.