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 recent study about men faking orgasms came out last week and sparked the usual reactions about “faking it”: personal admission, condemnation, and advocating for more communication to battle this scourge.
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.
I have a confession: most porn bores the hell out of me.
When I was a teenager, porn was exciting and titillating because it was forbidden. The shaky camera and dubious acting did nothing to damper my adolescent enthusiasm for flesh-on-flesh visuals. Now I get more of a rise out of a Jeffry McDaniel poem or an Oglaf comic strip (NSFW) than a Vivid production.
What happened? Nothing, which is exactly why it bores me.
Most porn I see is the same linear progression appendage-in-orifice mêlée as in my high school years. The only apparent novelty is how many people can shove how many dicks/toys/vegetables into how many holes. Some people get creative with cinematography and context, but that’s still the same anal sex scene behind the glitz.
I realize I may be desensitized. Years ago, I organized a group called “Girls Watch Porn” where ladies got together to watch and review smut. We found some great films by Shine Louise Houston and Eon McKai along with the 1970s classics. But mostly, we found tired and uninspired videos of sex along with some disturbing and unhygienic scenes. (The raw chicken porn is forever burned into my retinas.)
But overexposure isn’t the best explanation. Porn itself is partially to blame.
“doesn’t encompass the range of human experiences and desires anymore than a handicam and a handful of people having sex encompasses the range of human sexual experiences and desires.”
Porn (to me) should be about fantasy and possibility. How much fantasy and possibility can you express through low-budget formulaic porno flicks that spend less time in post-production than in filming? Not a whole lot.
Some people find porn horribly offensive. As with any offensive media in the world, the best bet is simple avoidance.
But I’m not offended. I’m unsatisfied.
I know I’m not alone in this either. This Best of Craiglist from Boston summarizes my feelings perfectly:
You suck, dude.
And I’m not trying to make some sort of cute pun here – you really do suck. You’re awful, horrible, poorly made, and I can think of a whole list of huge problems that you have. (more…)
I wish pro-good porn crusaders had half the psychotic dedication and passion of anti-porn crusaders. What a world that would be.
Oh, oh, oh: Orgasm. A tasty, potent hypothalamic chemical cocktail released through nerve ending stimulation. When many people think about sexual pleasure, orgasm is the ultimate goal.
But some people have a hard time getting on the orgasm bus, which the medical community calls “anorgasmia.” Among men, the prevalence is between 8%-14%. The rates for women are wildly divergent: anywhere from 5% to 75% depending on the literature. I would put the estimate of actual anorgasmia (different from “dysfunction” estimates, where we lump “low sexual” desire in with everything else) somewhere around 10-20% of females, not far off from male prevalence estimates.
Maybe you’re in that anorgasmic category. Or maybe your mojo is flagging and you can’t quite trigger that neuro-chemical delivery. Our sex drives fluctuate and vary throughout our lives. Many, many factors contribute to orgasm blockage. So how to get around orgasm barriers like sex-negative cultural messages or physiological blocks?
Relax. You know that saying: “It’s all in your head?” This is especially true for orgasms and arousal. When we tense up or become anxious our bodies route blood to our heart and lungs instead of exposed skin like the lips and genitals. Tantric breathing practices are really helpful here. Sit with yourself or your partner and take slow deep breaths. You will start to feel high and relaxed.
Enjoy sensation. Once you start to feel zen-like and anxieties subside, start exploring the vast expanse of skin. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. And I’ll say it a million more: Brain and skin. Largest sex organs. Focus on those first. Feel your whole body starting with your feet and moving all the way up. Forget the genitals for now, just concentrate on finding the most responsive non-genital areas on your body. Ironically, having an orgasm is best served by not trying to have one. The more you focus and make it the end goal, the more anxious you’ll feel about having one. Saturate yourself with sensation for the sake of sensation.
Check your medicine cabinet. Sometimes the issue is not anxiety but medications to deal with anxieties or depression. SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are a class of antidepressants that boost serotonin levels. While serotonin helps alleviate depression it also acts as a hand brake on orgasms so sexual activity can feel like driving a car with the hand brake on. If you’re on SSRIs, talk to your healthcare provider about newer SSRI options that have fewer side effects. Or see tip #2 above.
Diet and Exercise. I recently hooked up with a past lover after three years. He went from hot-bodied sexy mofo to an aging alcoholic and the sexual side effects were not fun. Your circulatory system is important in sexual arousal and pleasure. Excessive smoking, drinking, drugs, bad diet and no exercise inhibit sexual arousal and orgasm by dulling nerve endings and messing with blood flow. This doesn’t mean that smoking or drinking or eating cheetos on the couch will absolutely prevent pleasurable sexual experiences. But if you’re having a hard time and you do any of those to excess, try stopping for a bit. (I quit smoking after 10 years, started exercising regularly and my sexual response capacity/level of sensation/orgasm intensity shot up like a rocket.)
Love your body. Remember the whole “sex is in your head” rhetoric? Self-perception is all in your head as well. Sexiness is not limited to lithe, caucasian, photoshopped and surgically enhanced bodies. Turn off the TV, ignore the glossy mags, and realize that you have a perfectly touchable, huggable, kissable, masturbatable, fuckable body. The beauty is in difference. Dont believe me? For the next two weeks avoid mass produced media. Look at people around you instead. Find photographs in National Geographic or any media outlet that depicts lots of regular people. Marvel at the diversity and how so many different body shapes can look so attractive. Enjoy where your body fits in with that spectrum. Once you realize that sexiness comes from within, letting go and experiencing sex will be so much easier.
Yesterday, WordPress caught me with my pants down. I posted some partially formed thoughts on nice guys vs. bad boys in the bedroom. Namely, the pervasive idea that nice guys are duds in the bedroom. Or that any nice person will not be good in bed because sex is naughty and only bad people can be good at naughty things.
Is precum in guys like vaginal wetness in girls? Is it a similar process? (-question asked during a sex ed talk.)
No. Vaginal wetness comes internally from transudation (water content in plasma pushes past cell walls when blood vessels/capillaries become engorged) and externally from the Bartholin’s (greater vestibular) glands. Lubrication is part of the arousal process in females and can vary greatly due to a long list of factors.
Precum, on the other hand, occurs for a very different reason: to prep the urethra for safe sperm transportation. Urine and semen both pass through the urethra in males. Because urine is acidic enough to kill sperm, males secrete a small amount of fluid prior to ejaculation to create a more alkaline environment.
Be aware: precum still contains enough sperm to impregnante someone.
Oh. My. Yes. My friend Horvath turned me on to this amazing new website called Fleshmap, a visual sexual data representation project done by Fernanda Viégas and Mark Wattenberg with Dolores Labs. I have an academic boner for slick data visualization and this site is making me dizzy. In a good way.
I raise my mimosa this morning to bid adieu to 2009, the worst year ever. The world seems at its lowest right now, so things can only get better. Right?
Many of my friends mark 2009 as a learning year. I sure as hell hope so. If we as individuals, cities, nations, cultures and subcultures stroll into 2010 padded with willful ignorance and blind to the lessons of the last decade, there is no hope for anyone.
My roommate breezed through the living room the other night, freshly showered and heady with man-scent, stopping short at my desk. I looked up.
“So,” he asked, “as a- a professional sex educator, do you…uh, do you get free condoms? Condoms that you might have lying around?”
His cologne made sudden sense. I guessed his current lady friend was in town and smiled. “Yeah. I’ll go find some. What size?” He stared at me. I laughed and he finally responded with his hands spaced apart.
After a few moments rummaging around in my various sex supply drawers I put together a little safe sex bag for him. I pointed out the different condoms as well as the packets of lube samples. “Lube is very important when you use condoms. Use it on the inside as well as the outside.”
He eyed the sample packs. “Well, not if you keep things wet enough on your own.”
[Cue internal sex educator alarm] “No! Latex messes with natural lubrication so over time the friction can become irritating as hell. Haven’t you ever noticed that with condoms woman becomes less wet as time goes on?”
He thought about it for a moment. “Oh. I never realized that.”