Monthly Archives: August 2010

Porn: Pro and Con

When it comes to pornography feminists are divided. Where do you stand?

Pro-porn feminists

Feminists who call themselves “sex-positive” say sexual freedom is essential to women’s freedom. They feel patriarchy represses women’s sexual expression, and say porn can liberate through challenging conventional notions that women should be monogamous, romantic, and that sex should be tied to procreation. They do not believe that laws written in a male-dominated society would serve women’s interests.

 Anti-porn feminists

Feminists who oppose pornography say it turns women into objects, promotes misogyny, eroticizes male dominance, and leads to violence against women. As one anti-porn blogger put it, “instead of being portrayed as individuals, as human beings, they are treated as fragmented body parts; women, men and children are depicted and used as holes, cunts, living sex aids, receptacles for the depositing of waste fluids.”

Does pornography cause violence against women?  

Studies are not conclusive.

Researchers asked male volunteers to administer electric shocks to women, under the guise of providing feedback in learning experiments. Men who had been exposed to violent and humiliating pornography were more aggressive in administering shocks.

Men who were shown violent and humiliating pornography also developed attitudes that were closer to those of rapists’. But the effects evaporated after a couple of months. Of course, men who view violent and humiliating pornography probably don’t wait a couple of months between viewing.

But we still don’t know whether pornography causes actual rape.

On the other hand, correlation studies often find that the more pornography is consumed, the lower the rate of rape. Does pornography decrease rape? Other factors could be in play. Over the last 20 years:

  • pornography consumption increased due to the Internet
  • women’s power and status rose because of increased opportunity in our society
  • the rate of rape decreased according to Justice Department victimization surveys

Has rape decreased because of higher pornography consumption or because women’s power and status has broadly risen despite porn?

Civil Libertarian Feminists

Other feminists believe that pornography is offensive and even harmful, but they feel that protection of individual rights and freedoms is more important.

What should be done?

Should pornography be celebrated as “pro-sex” feminists believe? Should laws be imposed against pornography as many anti-porn feminists advocate, and as civil libertarians fear? Should those who are concerned about negative effects of pornography turn to dialogue and education rather than the law?

Where do you come down on the issue?

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Go Topless for Equality?

I once heard a man say he wished women would go topless all the time. Many men have probably desired this.

Be careful what you wish for.

If it actually happened, men would likely lose interest.

In cultures where women go topless all the time, as with tribal societies, breasts are no big deal.

A similar phenomenon occurred in Europe in the 80s when women went topless at the beach, in magazine and television ads, and on billboards.

Female nudity was used in European advertising because it caught the attention of both men and women.

But after a while, people stopped noticing. Nudity became blasé.

Male European students studying in the U.S. began asking why American men thought breasts were such a big deal. They’d grown up seeing so many of them, they couldn’t fathom the mystique.

National Topless Day protesters say women should have the same constitutional right as men to bear their chests. They want women to see that their breasts are noble, natural, and not something to be shamefully hidden. 

The Go Topless campaign argues that feminism has led women to repress their femininity, which is “a powerful asset.” Go Topless doesn’t get that in the end, uncovered breasts would likely lose that very power.

In fact, some feminists have advocated going topless, arguing that if men were continually exposed to breasts, they would lose their status as sex objects – and so would the women who are attached to them.

Is Go Topless really concerned with women’s equality? As Jezebel reports, their founder, Claude Vorilhon, who now calls himself Rael, says a UFO inspired him to start a church, complete with an “Order of Angels,” really, a group of women who sexually service Rael and his friends. Go Topless looks more like shock PR for his church than a real concern with gender equality.

Sex Research: It Doesn’t Fit Me, It Must Be Wrong

A couple of people who joined the discussion on how women and men “do sex” questioned research findings I had cited because the data didn’t fit their experience.

 There is reason for concern. Often, people want to look good, normal and acceptable, even when they are anonymous.

 Prudish people are more likely to throw sex surveys in the trash. People who have more interest in sex are more likely to fill them out.

 Men exaggerate the number of partners they’ve had, while women under estimate theirs.

 Some people who are gay or lesbian may be in denial, or they may fear someone finding out, so their numbers may be underestimated.

 Trying to look normal, most people say they have sex with their spouse once a week, since that’s the number they always hear.

 At the same time, the data is based on a larger swath of the population than most of us interact with.

 Most of us are friends with people who are like us, and who share our views. That’s why they are friends. And our group may not be typical.

 One person who felt the studies didn’t fit his experience is in an open marriage, which constitutes less than 1% of the population. That’s not your typical group. Another is a feminist, also not typical of the population. A group of Southern Baptists would probably see things differently from these two.

 Keep in mind that research reflects averages. You and your friends may not be typical.

 We also tend to project our own views onto others. If we love sex, we don’t get that others don’t. If we think sex is dull, we have a hard time believing that others love it.

 From the comments I’ve posted, it is clear that there is no one way that men or women behave. There is no one attitude.

 But there are some strong social patterns:

  • Surveys say men want, on average, 14 partners over a lifetime, while women say they want 1 or 2
  • Women report enjoying sex less than men
  • While prostitution finds plenty of male customers, female customers are in short supply. Gigolos are practically a myth
  • Playgirl is perennially bankrupt, yet the male porn audience is huge
  • Hooking up: College women get bored quickly and exit the scene, but college men want to continue casual sex even after leaving college
  • Men are usually more enthusiastic about open marriage or swinging, and more often initiate the idea
  • Male fantasies are more x-rated; female fantasies revolve more around romance
  • For more survey data on how much women and men say they enjoy sex, see: DO Women Like Sex Less Than Men?

Is this conversation dated?

One woman commented:

  • I came out of the feminist 70’s and this conversation seems a little dated.  Really, we can do whatever we want to do and who cares? 

Yet this issue still comes up with my 18, 19, and 20-something students. They still feel the conversation is relevant.

Another woman’s perspective:

  • While we are free to do what we want, what good is the freedom when you feel used and discarded?

Or slut-shamed?

Are You Pro Life, Or Do You Just Want To Control Women?

When I was young I heard feminists say that “pro-lifers” were more concerned with controlling women than preventing abortion.

That line of reasoning didn’t make sense to me at the time. Now it does. I don’t think that everyone who is prolife is disingenuous. But some are.

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved new emergency contraception known as ella, aka “Plan C.” Unlike the emergency contraception currently available, Plan C can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex, and is 98% effective when properly used. The drug stops fertilization by preventing eggs from being released.

Some pro-lifers protest that Plan C brings us one step closer to “over the counter abortions” – though medical studies prove otherwise.

These same folks say stem cell research equals abortion. Yet they don’t worry that fertilized eggs are thrown in the garbage if they aren’t used for research. Garbage isn’t constantly publicized while breakthrough science is.

Pro-lifer, George W. Bush, didn’t seem to have a problem sending young men to die in Iraq and Afghanistan. But as one cartoonist put it, “No stem cells were hurt.”

I once heard Christopher Reeve pose the following question: if you were in a research lab with a two-year-old and a fire broke out, would you save the child, or would you leave her to die so that you could save thousands of stem cells? I suspect most of us would save the actual child.

Utah Senator, Orin Hatch, says it’s fine to use fertilized eggs for research. But destroying eggs implanted in a woman’s womb equals murder. In one case a woman’s body is controlled. In the other, it isn’t.

Pro-lifer, Pat Robertson opposes a woman’s right to choose abortion in America. But he supports forced abortions in China. Once again controlling women is the only common denominator.

Pro-lifers don’t seem to be too concerned with making sure poor women get prenatal care, or that their babies have food once they are born.

Pro life?  Sometimes it’s all about controlling women.

Georgia Platts

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Readers Discuss: Are Women Polygamous?

Below are comments on the question: Are women naturally, or culturally, monogamous? They’re edited for brevity and clarity. I’ve organized them and added my comments in italics.

Polygamous women

  • I seem to be different than the study, but then so are most males I know.
  • Divorced at age 33, I experienced a natural heightening of sexual interest and there were a number of men with whom I had sex during the next 7-8 years. I enjoyed it all tremendously and learned at lot about men and about myself. During that time, I met only one man I would have considered as a life partner. Now I realize that the relationship was great because the sex was great.
  • If women were paid equally and had equal opportunity in the job market, I think that monogamy would be weakened.  When I earned more my husband, and could survive financially on my own, my sexual behavior changed as well.

Polygamous men

  • Sex is so pleasurable. Why limit yourself from pleasure so long as everyone knows the ground rules – that this is about pleasure and not about commitment or love.
  • Sex is magical. I would like to have sex with as many women as possible. But I always thought women experienced sex the same as I do.  It hadn’t occurred to me that they might not.

Research suggests that women, on average, don’t enjoy sex as much as men do. U.S. women enjoy sex less than women in some cultures, but more than women in others. I’ll explore why later.

Jealousy and not loving equally

Women who are interested in polygamous sex can discover difficulties:

  • As a lesbian I have a perspective that is completely woman oriented.  I personally have had more than one lover at a time and found it difficult since I was always trying to explain why I was leaving to visit someone else.  One always seems to love one more than the other.

Meeting social expectations: Women

  • Here is my confession – two or three times I allowed myself to be picked up at a party or a bar. I am still so ashamed of those incidents. Remembering them makes me feel so dirty! I thought it was expected.  You know – times were changing.  Everybody did it. I now believe I let myself be used by men who were only after a little fun and had no serious intentions.
  • I let myself be used by men who were only looking for fun… then I felt ashamed! Many women were brainwashed into believing they would enjoy it as much as men only to realize they were no more than a toilet bowl or conquest.  I am sorry to disappoint but sex ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Many may hide the shame and humiliation they feel by saying they liked it.

Women are punished for sex
Some women feel pressured to have sex, but they are also punished when they have it, labeled “sluts”:

  • The stigma attached to women likely keeps the number (of lovers they report) low
  • (At least men) seem to have each others’ backs. Women don’t. They’re often quick to stab each other in the back.

Meeting social expectations: Men

  • Men might be lying too since the cultural expectation for them seems to be quantity rather than quality.
  • Men also have cultural expectations to live up to: amass notches on their belts.

Agreed. Women claim 5 lovers and men claim 12. Women must be underestimating and men exaggerating. The real number for both is likely in between: 8 or 9.

A man’s view:

  • I wanted to have threesomes for the longest time. Then I realized it was largely about feeling left out of something I thought everyone else was doing.

There’s also plenty of research on how men feel pressured to notch up “conquests” in order to be valued by other men.

Shallow, one-dimensional vs deep, connected relationship

  • Women prefer depth, romance, quality in a relationship. They know that the closer one is in spirituality, emotions, the better the sex. Women need that depth to be fulfilled.
  • A purely physical relationship requires little work. You don’t have to concern yourself with messy thoughts or feelings beyond the immediate moment. It’s shallow and one dimensional. Real relationship takes depth: looking at someone’s worth beyond pretty eyes, nice butt, and teeth.
  • I have heard some women say they enjoy casual sex – but in 62 years I have heard far more say they haven’t enjoyed any sex let alone casual – meaningless sex. It’s intimacy we want!  But I am still waiting for the rush of women who can honestly tell us about all the hot meaningless sex we have been missing! I’m all ears?

Men desiring depth, connection too:

A woman’s perspective

  • I met both kinds of guys when I was dating. I met guys who seemed downright anxious to connect on a deeper level and guys who would lie in a NY minute if they thought it would get them into my pants faster.

A man’s perspective

  • Our sexuality and the expression of it before and during (and after) marriage is, I am convinced, one of the more complicated aspects of what it means to be human. One could argue that God created men and women different sexually (in all the ways!) because to come together in meaningful intimacy (erotic or sexual) requires the development and expression of our deepest and highest virtues—sacrifice, humility, and kindness (even long-suffering at times!), and especially love. It is among the most meaningful and challenging dances we do.

And, don’t forget the men in men’s studies.  Both Michael Kimmel and John Stoltenberg recommend men do sex from a place of love and commitment, and they say that is where the come from, themselves.

SOURCES: Comments from:
Blogs: BroadBlogs and FreeMeNow
Facebook
Various lists responded either to the list, or to me via email
Student discussions

Are Women Culturally Monogamous?

We know that women aren’t destined to be monogamous by nature. Culture affects our sexual psyches.

Polygamist inclinations vary from person to person, but today’s Western women are much more monogamous than our Tahitian or American Indian sisters were before European contact. We are now also much more monogamous in our inclinations than men. 

In surveys, men say they would prefer to have 14 partners over a lifetime. Over that same lifetime, women prefer to have only one or two.

A friend suggested that women were lying because they feared seeing themselves as sluts. Yet women admit to five real-life partners. (Here they are certainly underestimating. The real number is likely 8 or 9 for both men and women, given men’s estimate of 12.) But if they’re so worried, why not say they’ve had only 1 or 2 partners?

I was surprised by the low number of “one or two” as the preference, but I doubt women feel the need to go that low just to feel socially acceptable.

Younger women’s preferences may be higher. During the first year of college many willingly experiment with sex – and freely admit to it. But they quickly tire of random sexual contacts. Most drop out of the casual sex scene by sophomore year.

Men, on the other hand, don’t tire of the casual hook up, and want to continue even after college.

When it comes to open marriage or swinging, men are usually more enthusiastic, and more often initiate the idea.

So women seem less interested in casual sex than men. Quite likely because they are more repressed.

I feel that women are more repressed than is healthy. But I’m not sure that limits are all bad, for women or men.

When I read women’s studies literature, women are often advised to have sex more the way men do: have fun without guilt.

Yet men’s studies, which comes from a feminist perspective, often advises men to have sex more the way women do it. Don’t follow the 4 F’s: Find ‘em, Feel ‘em, F- ‘em, and Forget ‘em. Do not use women as a means of gaining a notch on your belt. Have sex in a context of love and care.

What do you think? How would you describe women’s ways and men’s ways of having sex? What are the positives and negatives of each approach? Is one way better than the other? Is there an optimal in-between? Do men and women tend to have different views on this issue?

I’m interested in exploring the matter. I’d like to year your thoughts, too.

Georgia Platts

Sources: Brizendine, Louann. The Male Brain. Crown. 2010, Kimmel, Michael. Guyland. Harper. 2008

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Are Women Naturally Monogamous?

Gaugin--300x184[1]Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology, was skeptical of evolutionary psychology, which sees women as monogamous and men as polygamous, due to genetics. Let’s take a closer look.

Children have the best shot at surviving if their mothers mate with only one man, who sticks around to provide support and resources. Thus, women prefer men who are older and richer. Moms put a lot into their kids because they have a small number of eggs compared with the millions of sperm that men produce. And all this is genetic, so says evolutionary psychology.

On the other hand, men will have more children (and reproduce their genes) if they are promiscuous because of their large sperm count. Again, the behavior is in the genes.

This premise seems to contradict the prior point that children are more likely to survive if their fathers are around to support them. Maybe more survive than don’t. Or perhaps it’s a survival of the fittest worldview: Babies who can survive without resources improve the gene pool?

The bigger dilemma: How do men manage to enjoy many partners when women are monogamous?

Men also value beauty above all else because attractiveness indicates health and an ability to reproduce. Oddly, supermodels are the most sought-out, yet they’re often so thin that they no longer menstruate. And I hadn’t known that so-called unattractive women were infertile. But never mind.

Returning to Darwin’s concern – and it doesn’t take a genius like him to make this observation – while evolutionary psychology had fit nicely with British middle-class behavior, where women sought resources and men sought beauty, Darwin pointed out that the theory did not fit with the British upper class. There, men were more concerned with wealth than good looks.

Now that Western women are able to make their own money, they have become more concerned with looks than in the past. And men now like to marry women who can earn some money – it’s a plus.

Other cultures don’t fit the theory so well, either.

Gauguin’s infatuation with Tahiti likely came in part from the women’s desire for many sex partners (prior to European influence).

Meanwhile, Europeans who were among the first to arrive in the Americas were shocked by similar behavior among the native women.

In these Tahitian and Native American societies the entire community cared for children, and property passed through women, so men’s resources weren’t an issue. These women weren’t called sluts, either.

Once Europeans transformed the cultures, things quickly turned around.

It appears that social structure and culture trump biology in explaining women’s monogamy.

There is more to discuss, but I’ll leave that for later.

For now I must ask: Are evolutionary psychologists unfamiliar with this information, or do they simply ignore it because the theory so well justifies a status quo in which women are told to stay monogamous, but understand men’s need for many partners, aka the double standard?

After all, it’s in men’s genes – or was that jeans?

Georgia Platts

Sources: Lips, Hilary M. Sex and Gender, 4th Edition. Mayfield. 2001; Eagly and Wood 1999. “The origins of sex differences in human behavior: Evolved dispositions versus social roles.” American Psychologist, 54 (6)

See also: Angier, Woman: An Intimate Geography; Fauso-Sterling, Myths of Gender; Hrdy, Mother Nature; Meston and Buss, Why Women Have Sex; Ryan and Jetha, Sex at Dawn

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Will Education Shrink a Woman’s Uterus?

Classes start this week for many students. In honor, I’ll raise this question: Does education shrink a woman’s uterus?

At one point this was a real worry. In 1873 Edward Clark of Harvard voiced his concern. In 1889 the renowned scientist R.R. Coleman cautioned university women, “You are on the brink of destruction… Beware!! Science pronounces that the woman who studies is lost.”

Scientists fretted because the more education a woman gained the fewer children she bore. They hadn’t imagined the most obvious cause: That educated women simply put off marriage and childbearing.

Who knows how many women were discouraged from education from such silly concerns.

Worries about weak minds were accompanied by worries about weak bodies: Some 19th Century doctors explained that corsets were needed because women’s bodies were too frail to adequately hold themselves up.

Uneven bars were invented for women gymnasts, who were thought to need rest between each move.

Moral of the story:

Don’t make judgments, scientific or otherwise, that assume biology lies behind social patterns and stereotypes.

Think we don’t do this today?

I’ve already written about Hugh Hefner’s assumption that women are naturally sex objects.

Notions that women lack ability in science or math are still bandied about, while evolutionary psychology is accepted by most.

Yet each of these notions is based on stereotypes and social patterns that vary by culture. They are not biologically based.

Details to come!

Georgia Platts

Sources:

Goodman, Ellen, “Anxiety Reigns As Women Pull Ahead On Campus.” San Jose Mercury News. September 3, 2002

Smith, Barbara Clark and Kathy Piess. Men and Women: A History of Costume, Gender, and Power. Smithsonian Institution. 1989

 

Eminem Makes Sexism Seem Sexy – And That’s A Problem

“Eminem and Rihanna Collaborate to Address Domestic Violence,” reads one headline.

Really?

The phrase “address domestic violence” rings of efforts to decrease it.

Is that the message of “Love the Way You Lie”?

Rihanna begins:

Just gonna stand there
And watch me burn
But that’s alright
Because I like
The way it hurts

Eminem joins, mouthing these words:

As long as the wrong feels right
It’s like I’m in flight
High of a love
Drunk from the hate

Rihanna’s lines are jarring since she broke up with Chris Brown after a brutal beating. She had said she wanted to be a good role model for girls and young women. These lyrics send a very different message.

Eminem’s words fit his history of domestic brutality. In concerts past he sent an inflated doll resembling his wife into his audiences to be batted around. In 2008 he told Esquire, “I’m a T-shirt guy now. But wifebeaters won’t go out of style, not as long as bitches keep mouthing off.”

Megan Fox plays the sexy battered lead in the music video, where frames shift from abuse to making love, and back again. The video has had nearly 20,000,000 hits on YouTube.

All involved seem to want it both ways. Eminem and Rihanna said they wanted to start a conversation, while Megan Fox donated her salary from the shoot to Sojourn House, which helps abused women.

But the overall effect romanticizes violence against women.

That makes sexism feel sexy.

Unfortunately, that makes both women and men more accepting of it.

Georgia Platts

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Playboy Doesn’t Objectify Women?

The notion that Playboy turns women into sex objects is ridiculous. Women are sex objects. If women weren’t sex objects, there wouldn’t be another generation. It’s the attraction between the sexes that makes the world go ’round. That’s why women wear lipstick and short skirts.

That’s what Hugh Hefner says, anyway.

If this is true, then…

Why do women want to have sex with men? Men aren’t sex objects.

Why do men have sex with women who aren’t sex-objecty?

This doesn’t make sense.

There’s a difference between being sexually attracted to a woman and seeing women as objects that are all about sex and little else.

I don’t feel that I’ve been treated as a sex object by most of the men I’ve dated. And I’ve ended relationships with those who did see women in that way. They’re so annoying!

So I don’t buy it.

Playboy has certainly played a part in objectifying women. Hefner just can’t see it because he thinks we fit naturally into that limited box.

And by the way, women’s bodies are not inherently more sexually alluring than men’s. The male’s buttocks are just as attractive as the female’s. But the camera does not gaze at a man’s derrière as it does a woman’s. So we learn to see women’s bodies differently.

You think men are hard-wired to be drawn to women’s breasts? What about native societies where women walk around topless? And no one cares. The breast fetish isn’t biological. More on that later.

Notions like Hefner’s simply help those who objectify to feel better about it.

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