Monthly Archives: November 2010
Meredith Chivers, a highly regarded psychologist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, showed men and women, both straight and gay, short film clips of heterosexual sex, gay and lesbian sex, a man masturbating, a woman masturbating, a nude well-toned man walking, a fit woman doing nude calisthenics, and bonobos (an ape species) having sex.
Chivers then asked the men and women to rate how aroused they felt. But she also used probes to gauge penile swelling and vaginal blood flow.
Men’s responses were as expected.
But women’s genitals and minds seemed to belong to entirely different people. For instance, hetero women’s bodies were more aroused by the exercising woman than by the strolling man – though they claimed otherwise.
In other research, she asked men and women to wear goggles that track eye movement, and had them look at pictures of heterosexual couples in foreplay. The men gazed mostly at the women – their faces and bodies. But the women spent equal time looking at both sexes, with their eyes focused on the men’s faces and the women’s bodies.
In these two pieces of research we find hetero women more aroused by nude pictures of women than men, and spending more time looking at nude women’s bodies than men’s.
Chivers isn’t entirely sure what to make of it all. Since women’s blood flow rose in every sexual situation they viewed, including the bonobos – and because lubrication (and blood flow) also increase among rape victims when sex is unwanted – she speculates that women’s bodies may lubricate whenever a sexual signal arises in order to reduce discomfort, and the possibility of injury, during penetration. With this need, women’s bodies may simply be much more sensitive to any sexual signal than men’s, whether or not they feel sexually aroused.
Okay, but why were women more aroused by looking at the nude woman than the nude man? “Possibly,” she said, “the exposure and tilt of the woman’s vulva during her calisthenics was processed as a sexual signal while the man’s unerect penis registered in the opposite way.”
The notion that the women were less turned on because they couldn’t see an erection seems odd given that Playgirl, until recently, has had a long history of hiding the penis. Many women are ambivalent, at best, about the penis as a visual turn-on.
Perhaps Chivers is referring to some primal response that women aren’t consciously aware of, responding to a sexual stimulus requiring need for lubrication. Yet a nude exercising woman is no more likely to penetrate than a flaccid man.
Also, straight women spent more time looking at the bodies of nude women than nude men during sexual foreplay. Why did women’s bodies draw greater interest?
Many will seek out biological explanations, but as a sociologist, I think culture may explain the oddity.
Society teaches us how to see the world: How to think about it, feel about it, and react to it.
The male body is pretty much ignored in our culture. Billboards aren’t splashed with sexy men. No men in Speedos. Nothing much but an occasional underwear ad.
Women’s bodies are focused upon, with breasts selectively hidden and revealed, creating a captivation, leaving us wondering about that which is hidden. The camera gazes, zeroes in on women’s bodies. We talk about women’s breasts as alluring. So they become a sexual signal to both men and women. We don’t treat any part of the male body in the same way.
Men learn the breast fetish, too. In cultures that don’t selectively hide and reveal the breast, they are no big deal. So tribal men, who see them all the time, aren’t especially interested. European men’s attraction waned when topless women suddenly appeared all over local beaches and billboards. And men can become numbed to titillation with overexposure to porn.
Hetero women likely experience all this a bit differently from men. For one thing, the fetish isn’t attached to their natural sexual interest, which may weaken the allure. Homophobia may also lead to repression. Women might also see other women’s breasts as competition, distracting from the erotic. Or, they may become angered by female objectification — another distraction. But research suggests that women often do experience the fetish, none-the-less.
I’m hetero, but ask me which image I find more erotic, a nude female or a nude male, and I’ll choose the girl. Many of my hetero female students nod in agreement.
I used to think that was odd, until I realized that the breast fetish is learned, and not based in biology.
To anyone who plans to inform me that I am bi, please see this post first (I’m tired of answering repetitive comments): Men Know My Sexuality Better Than Me
With recent new good news, I’m updating a past post and expressing my thanks, first, that only a very small part of the world lives under the Taliban, and second, that a young girl now has a new nose.
The August 9, 2010 cover of Time shocked the world as an 18 year old Afghani named Aisha gazed from behind her mutilated nose. Punishment for running away from home. Aisha had run away because she feared she would die from her in-laws’ abuse.
Eventually discovered, a Taliban-run court ordered her nose and ears be cut off, declaring she must be made an example. This was effectively a death sentence, since it was assumed she would bleed to death.
A death sentence? For running away? From people who might kill you?
Her husband took her to a mountain clearing where he slashed Aisha and left her to die.
Yet she lived. After passing out from pain, she eventually awoke, choking on her own blood. Then Aisha summoned her strength and crawled to her grandfather’s house. Fortunately, her father managed to get her to an American medical facility.
Alive but disfigured, sympathy arose around the world, and the non-profit Grossman Burn Center in California has now fitted her with a prosthetic nose. They are hoping to eventually do reconstructive surgery.
The Taliban tell their people that women’s rights are a Western concept that breaks away from Islamic teaching. But the Quran says nothing of cutting away ears and noses, and leaving girls and women to die. Early Islam actually had a feminist air.
I’ve often thought that if Asian women had gained the vote before their American sisters, the powers that be would warn us away from rejecting our religion and our culture.
Is it really a loss of culture or “religion” that is feared? Or do these men just worry that women might gain equal footing?
Meanwhile, beware: Don’t reject the culture that mutilates you body, mind and soul.
A version of this article was originally published August 3, 2010.
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Did Women Create Burqa Culture? Early Islam’s Feminist Air
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What do hard core porn and reality show, Top Model, have in common? Hard core pornography often gets the viewer off on women’s suffering. So does Top Model.
In the first episode the models underwent Brazilian bikini waxes on camera. As Jennifer Pozner described it, “Cameras flitted back and forth from their pained facial expressions to their nearly nude legs spread wide in the air, while the audio lingered at length on the models’ blood-curdling screams as hot wax was spread over their genitals and their pubic hair was ripped off.”
The only thing missing was the close-up.
Pozner went on to describe how contestants have been asked to drop from platforms onto surfaces with little cushioning, or to sit on ice sculptures in freezing temperatures. One model was asked to pose in a pool of icy water – shaking, shivering, and begging for a break – until her body began to shut down from hypothermia and she was rushed to a hospital.
If pain and suffering isn’t imminent, models are asked to act as though it is, coached to look “scared! Something’s chasing you! Something’s coming to get you!” Scared, “but pretty,” that is.
Host, Tyra Banks, has also asked models to act like they are in pain: chest pain, fingers slammed in a door, strangulation… A signature pose was suggested for one model, “Look like you’re getting punched.”
Beautiful, sexy women in fear and pain. All reminiscent of hard-core pornography. In the popular video, “Two in the Seat #3,” an actress is asked by an off-camera interviewer what will happen. She replies, “I’m here to get pounded.”
In other pornos women are hit or raped. Too-large objects are inserted as actresses scream out. Sometimes pain is registered in penetration. Even when suffering isn’t purposely placed in the script, directors don’t bother to edited it out, suggesting viewers’ taste. More and more, the new edge in porn involves cruelty.
I worry about a society that develops a taste for women’s torment. Or for anyone’s distress. As pain becomes eroticized, women can develop a desire for their own suffering. My women students sometimes talk of getting turned on by a little S&M in the bedroom. Depending on how far it goes, the sex play can lead to broken skin, bruising and infections.
We worry about women being battered. Should we worry when women come to crave their own abuse?
As they sexily submit to domination and acts of violence by their male partners, male domination, itself, becomes sexy.
We may have come a long way, ladies. But we’ve still got a long way to go.
Related Posts on BroadBlogs Men Finding Fewer Women “Porn-Worthy”
Men Aren’t Hard Wired To Find Breasts Attractive Surprises in Indiana University Sex Survey Men Are Naturally Attracted To Unnatural Women
Sources: Robert Jensen, Ph.D. “The painful truth about today’s pornography – and what men can do about it.” Ms. Spring 2004; John Stoltenberg. “Pornography and Freedom” in Susan Shaw and Janet Lee’s Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions, 4th ed. 2009
Sara Kruzan was raised by a drug addicted, abusive mother. She had no relationship with her imprisoned father. Eventually, she ended up in foster care. By age nine depression had set in and she attempted suicide more than once.
At age eleven, a 30 year old man named G.G. became the father figure she was missing. He showed her affection, told her she was special, and took Sara and her friends roller skating or to the movies.
Girls like Sara are vulnerable to pimps, who know their story and manipulate them for personal gain. They know the girls are emotionally needy, seeking love and stability. So they offer a sense of love from a “father” or a “husband.”
Eventually, through a combination of “love,” abuse, and drugs, the pimps come to control the girls.
After Sara turned 13, G.G. told her she was “so special” that she should never give away sex for free. Adding terror for good measure, he raped her, and then forced her to walk the streets from six in the evening until six in the morning every day, so that she could be raped by other men – and turn all her money over to him. G.G. continued to rape her, as well.
Three years later she killed him.
Sara got a life sentence, without parole.
The circumstances of Sara’s behavior were not understood in 1994 when she was sentenced. Back then, most people thought girls sold sex because they simply had low morals. Today many still think that way, which is why young prostitutes are typically arrested instead of helped. Too many people didn’t – and still don’t – understand the dynamics behind child prostitution, or that trafficking is essentially slavery.
In fact, some have criticized reporting on Sara’s story, noting that the murder was premeditated and accomplished after Sara had moved away from G.G. But his abuse and betrayal likely played into her willingness and desire to murder him. I’d want to kill him, too, if I were her. At the least, her background would seem to point to mitigating circumstances.
Sara is now 32 and has spent half her life in prison. She is a model prisoner, and is asking Gov. Schwarzenegger for clemency.
If you would like to read more about Sara, go to chang.org, where you can also sign a petition asking Gov. Schwarzenegger to release Sara with time served.
Hopefully one day we will appreciate the horrific lives of trafficked girls, and aid them so that they can heal and lead productive lives.
Feminist, Andrea Dworkin, had feared that easy access to internet porn would turbocharge women’s objectification and turn men into wild, raping beasts. But internet porn actually seems to be having the opposite effect, deadening male libido in relation to real women, with men who over-consume finding fewer women “porn-worthy.
This is what author, Naomi Wolf, noticed when students talked about their sex lives during her speaking tours of college campuses.
Others have made similar findings.
Pamela Paul interviewed over one hundred people, mostly men, in her research for Pornified, and found that porn-worthiness was a common concern among those who over-indulged.
One young man talked of his change in perspective:
My standards changed. Women who are otherwise good looking but aren’t as overtly sexy as the women in porn don’t appeal to me as much anymore. I find that I look more for women who have the attributes I see in porn. I want bigger breasts, longer hair, curvier bodies in general.
I find that when I’m out at a party or bar I catch myself sizing up women. I would say to myself, wait a second. This isn’t a supermarket. You shouldn’t treat her like she’s some piece of meat. Don’t pass her up just because her boobs aren’t that big.
Paul went on to cite a 2004 Elle-MSNBC.com poll which found that one in 10 men admitted he had become more critical of his partner’s body with exposure to porn.
Meanwhile, 51% of Americans believe that pornography raises men’s expectations of how women should look.
Many of the college women Wolf spoke to complained that they couldn’t compete, and they knew it.
Men, she said, learn about sex from porn but find that it is not helpful in teaching them how to relate to real women. She ended with this observation:
Mostly, when I ask about loneliness, a deep, sad silence descends on audiences of young men and young women alike. They know they are lonely together, even when conjoined, and that this imagery is a big part of that loneliness. What they don’t know is how to get out, how to find each other again erotically, face-to-face.
Assiya was sixteen when a “family friend” sold her to two Pakistani criminals who beat and raped her over the next year. Eventually the criminals traded her to the police in exchange for pinning one of their robberies on the girl.
Assiya had thought her troubles were over. But instead, the officers took their turn beating and raping her for several days before letting her go.
The police weren’t worried Assiya would tell. She was expected to commit suicide, as sexually assaulted girls had always done to rinse the dishonor of sexual assault from their families.
But instead, Assiya did the inconceivable. She accused her attackers.
This story is shocking. Why would anyone, or any culture, expect a raped girl to commit suicide? As though the shame were hers.
Yet sometimes America doesn’t seem so very different.
Cut to the U.S. where fourteen-year-old Samantha Kelly’s mother told police that her daughter had sex with eighteen-year-old Joseph Tarnopolski. He was arrested, though it’s unclear whether the charge was statutory or forcible rape.
After a local Fox News affiliate identified Kelly by name, she was bullied so much at school that she finally committed suicide. Yet another reminder of the stigma victims can face when they report this crime.
It’s sad to see that even today, in Pakistan and in America, rape victims can be shamed into killing themselves.
Popular Posts on BroadBlogs Cheerleader Ordered To Cheer Her Rapist, and Other Stories Are Women Naturally Monogamous? Sex: Who Gets Screwed?
One day I asked my class to think of slang words for sex. I got the following list:
Screw, f-, bang, nail, ram, smash, smack that, beat those, cut, boning, git-in-em-guts, get some trim, get some grip, do it, get some pussy, nasty time, make love.
I don’t know about you, but I only want to do one of those things.
Most of this list suggests a good deal of violence. And who gets screwed, rammed, nailed, cut, boned, banged, smacked, beaten, and f’d, anyway?
Really, it isn’t pretty.
The music I grew up on offered the B-52’s singing “Bang, bang, bang (on the door baby),” David Bowie intoning, “Wham, bam, thank you ma’am,” and the Tubes celebrating the raw tuna of a sushi girl. A nice piece of meat.
A DJ interrupts to suggest, “Could you trim that thing?”
It all sounds so appealing.
And we wonder why women indicate less sexual interest than men on surveys. But once again, these words are only a small tip of that iceberg.
A friend once told me, “Words are nothing but frequencies in the air. If you don’t give them meaning, they won’t mean a thing.” Ever since he said that, I try to live my life as such.
This was a response to a blog post I made asking whether “whore” should be the “w-word.”
“Words are only words” is great advice if you can pull it off. But most can’t. And really, words affect us all, whether we realize it or not.
As it turns out, language directs thought.
In the 1930s two anthropologists, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf, learned that the Hopi Indians had no words to distinguish among the past, present, and future. Yet English uses a variety of tenses to describe specific points in time. Americans are intensely time-sensitive. Hopis? Not so much.
The anthropologists concluded that words are more than labels. Language affects how we see the world, ourselves, and how we behave.
Women are more likely to respond to a help wanted ad if the job description is “mail carrier” and not “mailman.”
In fact, we use male terms to describe humanity so much – man, mankind, brotherhood, fellowship – that when people are asked to think of a person, a man comes to mind.
When women or people of color are called words that are disrespectful and demeaning, they – along with everyone else – can internalize the notions, experiencing the words as reflecting some sort of real reality: They aren’t worth quite as much as others.
Words like whore or slut are especially powerful because women’s sexuality has long been connected to profound shame. The n-word takes African-Americans back to a time of degradation and dehumanization.
Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can also hurt us when they dig deep into the unconscious psyche of indignity and humiliation.
“Dear Bitches, I mean witches.”
So began Duke’s Alpha Delta Phi’s e-mailed invitation to their Halloween party. It continues just as charmingly:
“The Brothers of Alpha Delta Phi know what true fear is. Fear is having someone say ‘I love you.’ … Fear is riding the C1 with Helen Keller at the helm (not because shes deaf and blind, but because she is a woman). Fear is waking up with no wallet, phone, keys, or front tooth next to a girl who you could generously deem a 3.”
Not to be outdone, Duke’s Sigma Nu frat offered their own enticement:
“Whether your dressing up as a slutty nurse, a slutty doctor, a slutty schoolgirl, or just a total slut, we invite you to find shelter in the confines of Partners D.”
Ummm, how appealing! (And I don’t just mean their grammar and spelling.)
Someone had the sense to print out the invites and scrawl handwritten messages: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” “Is this why you came to Duke?” and then wallpaper the campus.
Strangely, sorority sisters interviewed took it all in stride as “boys-will-be-boys.”
“Honestly, when I first received those e-mails I didn’t think anything of it,” said Emily Fausch, of Delta Delta Delta sorority. “This is the kind of thing I’ve come to expect from fraternities. In my heart, I know it’s a problem but I’ve really gotten used to it. I don’t take it too seriously. I think that college boys will be college boys.”
Now, not all fraternities are created equal. Some actually work to be respectful toward women. But at many frats, women are routinely degraded in attempts to create a sense of male superiority and “manhood” by putting women down, according to sociologist, Michael Kimmel.
But why do women so often support their own disgrace by continuing to fraternize with the frats? This woman’s comment that she’s simply gotten used to it is telling.
We live in a society that sees women as lesser-than, and which sexualizes male dominance. Both lay the groundwork for accepting ill treatment.
A few quick examples: Man, brother, and guy encompass women, but woman, sister, and gal don’t encompass men. So man becomes primary, and woman secondary. A woman marries and becomes Mrs. Leonard Smith. A man never becomes Mrs. Emily Struthers. Unless it’s an insult. Send a card from the family? Likely dad’s name goes first, then mom’s, then the children in order of appearance. Men tend to feel insulted taking the secondary spot. Women are just used to it.
We sexualize male dominance when Rhett takes Scarlett up the stairs for a night of marital rape and Scarlett cheerfully awakens the next morning. Or when Rihanna sings about enjoying mistreatment from her man, while Eminem celebrates abusing women. Watching women enjoy humiliation in porn or mainstream movies like The Secretary also eroticizes male dominance. The list goes on.
Continually treated as secondary, second-rate treatment becomes taken-for-granted, invisible. The women are used to it. It seems natural. Sometimes even sexy.
As too many frat brothers intensify the world of insult, women acclimate to the higher level shame.
All this teaches women to accept attitudes and behavior that regard them as second-class.
A college roommate of mine dated a frat boy who treated her like dirt. She defended him to all of us who cared about her. She had certainly learned to accept her own humiliation.
And how do we know this?
The same way we discover that many things aren’t biologically-based. By learning about other cultures. And the breast fetish does not exist in them all.
Men and women both resist the claim until they’re reminded of tribal societies. We’ve all seen pictures from National Geographic. And we all know that among tribal people women’s breasts are no big deal.
By the mid-1980s, topless beaches and overexposure to nudity in advertising had a similar effect in Europe. Topless women were plastered all over billboards, magazine and television advertisements because both men and women looked. But by the mid-eighties, no one paid much attention anymore. It was all so blasé. European men studying in the U.S. asked why American men were so obsessed with nudity. What’s the big deal, they wondered.
Even men who are overexposed to porn can lose interest, according to Pamela Paul, who has studied porn’s effect on male sexual arousal. As one man put it,
At first, I was happy just to see a naked woman. But as time has gone on I’ve grown more accustomed to such things.
Now he seeks more extreme stuff.
Meanwhile, studies show that even women learn the breast fetish, with images of a nude woman creating greater blood flow to the vaginal area than images of a nude man. More on that later.
How odd. Breasts turn on Western women, but not tribal men? And hetero women get more aroused by a nude woman than by a nude man?
Fetishes are created by selectively hiding and revealing — making that which is hidden enticing. Both men and women become intrigued. (Women do experience all this a bit differently from men, which I’ll discuss later.)
Meanwhile, a student of mine lived in Iran after the Islamic revolution when women strictly covered themselves except for the face. She told me that every now and again she would pull her veil back a little and watch the men go wild over her “hair cleavage.”
In America around the turn of the last century even seeing an ankle was sexy because they were always covered. In some old family photos one of my grandmothers is pulling her skirt up above her ankle to look scandalously sexy. I couldn’t even comprehend what she was doing until someone explained.
Covering is captivating. If you see the same thing all the time, it’s no big deal.
We always hear that men are visual. This isn’t based in biology. Men learn to become visual, while hetero women are left with nothing acceptable to look at. Culturally, we don’t sexualize the male body.
The fetish feels real enough, but then, much of what is learned feels biological.
As we shall see, all this can heighten bedroom excitement. Or it can have the opposite effect. More later…