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.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
Every last one was a male-centric plot line. Nearly every last one is an action movie. All of them were directed by men, produced by men and starring men. Women are a minority behind and in front of the cameras. (For insight as to why, read this Salon’s roundtable with 10 powerful Hollywood women).
So what’s the real dirt on women and power in this country? Gender equality isn’t as equal as this guy is shouting about. Yes, women are making gains in education but at a time when educational systems are crumbling. Yes, women make up 52% of the workforce but in low paying positions. In the Forbes top ten richest there are two women from the Walton Family (Wal-Mart) but their wealth was inherited.
Really, the U.S. ain’t doing so hot with gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. ranks #31 out of 115 for equality. Read the WEF report here, relevant snip below:
The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender inequality gap in four critical areas:
Economic participation and opportunity – outcomes on salaries, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment
Educational attainment – outcomes on access to basic and higher level education
Political empowerment – outcomes on representation in decision-making structures
Health and survival – outcomes on life expectancy and sex ratio
The Index’s scores can be interpreted as the percentage of the gap that has been closed between women and men.
This was out of 115 countries. When I read about women’s lives in other parts of the world, I really want to cry. Rape, honor killings, systematic abuses, minimal autonomy. Horrifying. We so often forget that in our own country, women have only really been making gains over the last century. Women around the globe need a leg up after centuries of unequal treatment. Please read this article in the New York Times about women’s rights around the world.
So to the haters out there: women’s rights are still an issue. We’re making progress, but not enough. I struggle to understand why people (usually men) direct such vitriol at women trying to succeed in life.
What boggles my mind even further is that Matthew Fitzgerald’s writings center around women as shrewd manipulators using sex as bait. I read his book’s Amazon reviews to get a feel for his audience and what I saw…well, it’s disturbing to think he’s right about any people in the world. But what he says resonates with some. In half of the reviews people exclaim “OMG! Women are totally like that!” but the only women I’ve seen use their bodies for financial gain were sex workers. So, women of the world using sex for manipulation: stop lying. Go ahead and be a sex worker. It’s OK. Just be upfront and tell the guy you’re fucknig him for rent money or a new purse.
And to the guys complaining/writing about those women: stop dating them. There are plenty of women that enjoy their financial freedom. There are also women that enjoy sex for its own sake.
At the heart of his writing, and much of the anti-feminist parading as anti-misandrist writing, is a very true frustration.
Are Equality Policies Rooted in Sexist Thought?
“The modern man walks around on eggshells, afraid of saying the “wrong thing,” scared of showing his natural sexual interest to a woman, scared of being scorned, humiliated, or even fired — scared of his own true self.”
Exaggeration (and heteronormative) but a phenomenon I see with some men of my generation. They’re…. Peter Pans? No. Hesitant is a better word. Prone to inertia. And I think the writer is on to something when he points out the role of politically correct speech and sexual harassment charges.
Before you get all riled up: sexual harassment is serious. Anyone in a position of power manipulating an underling sexually deserves punishment. But the way we lay out the law sometimes hinders equality and political correctness can be an ineffective solution.
I am thankful to have laws that prevent my higher-ups from sexually harassing or coercing me. But I resent a law on the books stopping someone from calling me “babe” or “chick”. I’m a grown woman and I should be able to easily say “Stop it”. If I have to, take the matter to a higher-up and keep pursuing it. There is something creepily paternalistic about some of the sexual harassment guidelines, particularly when schools use suspension as a behavioral intervention for inappropriate touching. I am also frustrated with a world that lumps flirting with sexual harassment, that pegs any sexual move from a guy as predatory and aggressive. Sexism underlies these policies. We assume men to be sexually aggressive and women always dislike sexual attention and need outside intervention. The regulations are necessary but we need to look at ineffective and harmful aspects of these policies, lest our solutions create more problems than answers.
Which leads me to an uncomfortable question, still unresolved in my own mind: when we create policies to spur equality through encouraging preferential treatment for disadvantaged groups, should those policies only be short term? By carving them in stone will we, over time and gains in equality, have laws with unequal treatment? And are we sending the message that women need this protection permanently? We certainly need to give a leg up to historically oppressed and disadvantaged people but at what point can we resume an even playing field? Do permanent laws of preferential treatment hurt in the long-term and uphold racist and sexist ideals?
The Blame Game
Whatever the answers to the above questions, one thing is certain: we cannot sit and point fingers at other groups or nebulous ideologies. Yes, it’s comforting name our monsters but ultimately misleading. Men are not at fault for all the world’s problems. Women are not at fault for the current masculinity crisis and anxieties. Feminism (whatever you think that is) has not ruined gender relations. Agitated, yes, but that needed to happen. The old gender order wasn’t working.
But when we agitate a cultural bedrock like gender roles we need to think critically about how to reconstruct gender relations in society. Some would say eradicate gender, but I disagree. You will find cultures with two, three, four, five or six genders but you will not find gender-less socieites. So while I feel so sad when I see inflammatory, gender-stereotyped, sexist analysis that plays the blame game, I know it’s a mistake to write it off wholesale. Just because someone else won’t engage in critical thought (or provide any evidence to back their claims) doesn’t mean the frustration isn’t valid.
The problem is not feminism or women withholding sex. It’s that we need a new construction of masculinities, alongside femininities, that deal with harmful aspects of male gender while encouraging men to shine and succeed in life. We need to deal with the sexist man-bashers of every gender. We need to deal with restrictive gender roles in general because the times, they’re a-changin’.
First there were just orgasms. Then Freud came along and declared female orgasms fell into either the immature clitoral or mature vaginal category. And thus began this century’s strange preoccupation with women attaining every orgasm type, like kids collecting baseball cards.
Already had clitoral? Experienced the remote lands of vaginal? Well move onto the mystical G-Spot orgasm. Or perhaps you’re skilled enough for the big, bad blended orgasm. Don’t worry if you haven’t gotten there; Cosmo will give you enough advice to keep trying.
In reality, the only true type of orgasm is the hypothalamic orgasm. That little section in our brains releases a delicious orgasmic chemical cocktail in our brains with enough pleasurable stimulation.
When it comes to female orgasms we focus on the area being stimulated, hence all the different categories and “types” of orgasm. And it isn’t just women’s magazines devoting discourse to this idea. In my early sex education training days, several professionals repeatedly taught me that a clitoral orgasm is different than a vaginal orgasm. Even Planned Parenthood gives primacy to the theory of distinct orgasms:
“Although some researchers believe there is just one type of female orgasm, others believe that stimulation of these two parts of the genitals can cause different types of orgasm. During a clitoral orgasm, the vagina becomes longer, and it causes a pocket to be formed beneath the uterus. During a vaginal orgasm, the uterus drops lower and shortens the vagina. Stimulation of both the vagina and clitoris can cause a blended orgasm, the third type of orgasm. All these orgasms may feel different from each other.”
On one hand, it’s not illogical to categorize orgasms by stimulation source. But the idea behind the categorization is that some orgasms are superior to others, an idea that drives Cosmo sales every month. Read their article and achieve sexual enlightenment by finding your G-Spot.
Feminist writer Anne Koedt argued against this hierarchy of female orgasm way back in 1970’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm“, pointing out that the vagina contains far fewer nerve endings and any importance placed on vaginal stimulation served straight men more than it did women. In Koedt’s construction of female sexuality, the clitoris is the puppet master:
Although there are many areas for sexual arousal, there is only one area for sexual climax; that area is the clitoris. All orgasms are extensions of sensation from this area.
Weirdly, Koedt’s argument towards clitoral orgasm centrality operates within the very Freudian paradigm she railed against. We have orgasms from nerve ending stimulation. Though nerve endings exist abundantly in the clitoral structure (about 8,000) nerve endings exist everywhere else on the body. Substituting the clitoris for the vagina does nothing but rearrange the sexual stimulation hierarchy and ignore that nerve endings exist in the vagina. For some, those nerve endings feel amazing when stimulated.
When I present sex ed lectures, my favorite question to ask participants is: “What are the two largest sexual organs?”
The answer? Brain and Skin. Stimulating skin sends signals to the brain, which processes the sensations and releases the appropriate neurotransmitters. That’s an orgasm. No clits, vaginas or G-spots to define it. If you’re still feeling unsure or confused about the social construction of orgasm vs. the physical realities, I recommend reading Heather Corinna’s With Pleasure: A View of Whole Sexual Anatomy for Every Body.
Tune in tomorrow for suggestions on how to have an orgasm!
New communications technologies and media have blown the doors off of information propriety. On one hand, this is awesome because knowledge is power. On the other hand, this blows because factoids without understanding create false assumptions of the world.
The term “pop psychology” comes to mind. Example: I date those women/men because my mother/father was that way!
Here’s another term: “Pop Darwinism.”
Few things are more seductive than biological explanations of behavior. No moral assessment needed because it’s in your genes. Don’t bother with social analysis: we can’t help our human nature.
Let me disabuse you of any evolutionary misinterpretations.
When it comes to sexual behaviors, experts love to claim we get down how we do because of sexual selection favoring a hunter gatherer society, where females nurtured the babies and males hunted the food. Somehow, these behaviors are etched deep into our genes and any resulting behavior is an attempt to recreate this world.
An easy to digest concept package.
Problem is, organisms are complex. Reproductive strategies are diverse in the animal kingdom, from fishes to humans. Many like to assert that our ancestors favored only one type of male-female relation but this flies in the face of multiple adaptive reproductive strategies found among animals. Forget all this selection favoring only the dominant males and fecund, nurturing females nonsense. If species survival favors adaptive ability, then organisms adopting multiple strategies would fare better. Diversity and complexity beat out simplistic single-strategy approaches.
Organisms relying on social groups (like humans) are even more complex. Claiming that our sole purpose is sexual reproduction ignores life in social groups. If we want to pass on our genes, if we want our species to survive, cooperation (on some scale) increases our chances of survival. Cutthroat competition would only be beneficial in situations of absolute scarcity. United we stand, divided we devolve.
Our biology is one of many factors when we talk about behavior in humans . Genetics are not behaviorally deterministic, only influential among mammals. We learn most of our behavior from traditions and mores passed down through culture and adapt to contemporary contexts. Behavior and culture are not absolutely predicated on some genetic competition. Influence is possible but, again, we would be influenced by a multitude of genetic reproductive behaviors and strategies.
“The universal claims of sexual selection theory are inaccurate. Males are not universally passionate, nor females universally coy. The social dynamic between males is not universally combat to control females. Diversity among males and females does not universally fit a hierarchy of genetic quality. Females do not universally select males for their genetic quality. Moreover, sexual selection theory is inadequate to address the diversity in bodies, behaviors, and life histories that actually exists. Darwin didn’t bother to explain the exceptions he recognized, and as data on diversity in gender and sex continue to accumulate, sexual selection theory, which addressed only a subset of facts to begin with, becomes increasingly inadequate.” -page 169.
So the next time you hear, read or encounter any Pop Evolution, think back on this article and realize that well-packaged, comforting explanations of human behavior are often false.
I knew the moment I saw the title “How to Be Less Intimidating to Men” the video content would be annoying. When I saw that the advice-dispenser was the author of “Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus” I knew it would be hilarious.
“I am six feet tall and proud of it. I carry myself proudly with my head held high. I have a ‘robust’ or ‘forceful’ personality, as many have said. I’ve had a few guys flat out tell me I’m intimidating. How can I be less intimidating, without being untrue to myself?”
Dr. Gray tells Cohaku1188 that she might be turning off men with her height and success, so find that femininity within and be needier. Sit back and let the guy take control because if dudes can sit back and let a woman take care of it, they will. Unless it’s an emergency and they can be a hero. So now that women are ass-kicking their way through life without men helping, we’re all tired and cranky. So just tone it down lady, k? Make the guy feel like a stud. (Entire video here, sorry I couldn’t embed.)
Where do you even start with something so asininely sexist?
The entire premise is so stupid (Find the part of me that needs a man? Does he mean my G-Spot? Wait, that’s still a want.) I don’t even want to analyze this beyond saying that it’s awful dating advice. I should just make an advice video called “How to Be Less Intimidated by Women” or “Don’t Be Such a Little Wuss”.
*sigh* Really. I thought we’d moved beyond women as meek accessories that make men feel better about themselves. I understand that everyone likes feeling wanted, but needing and wanting are two different things.
Not entirely related, but if you haven’t participated in my thesis study: GO DO IT. Less than 5 minutes of your time. For science. SEXY science.