Monthly Archives: January 2011

Men Have Higher Sex Drive. Why?

While some women have stronger sex drives than some men, generally the pattern goes the other way.

Why is the male sex drive usually stronger?

Researchers at Indiana University say,

Women had a wider range of response, with some loving sex, and others feeling uninterested. Generally, women have more difficulty with arousal for both anatomical and psychological reasons.

Difficulty with arousal won’t likely lead to a strong sex drive. Biology and psychology both play a role. Let’s start with biology.

According to Louann Brizendine, author of the books, The Female Brain and The Male Brain, the area governing sexuality takes up twice as much space in the male. And the part that controls desire to pursue is 2½ times greater, and more quickly activated. (This is exaggerated and stereotyped in the accompanying photo.)

Brizendine tells us that when the male brain is sexually activated pretty much everything but thoughts of sex shut down. Women certainly can stay focused, but they are more likely than men to be distracted with concerns about the kids’ lunches, a business meeting, or whether they’ll be labeled a “slut” the next day.

Meanwhile, men have much more testosterone, crucial to sex drive. Even when women and men are both treated with testosterone for low libido, the hormone is less effective in women, according to Dr. Glenn Braunstein of Cedars Sinai Medical Center. 

A penis is also larger than a clitoris, making its workings more obvious, so boys are more likely to masturbate, and girls are less likely to get to know their bodies and what arouses them. An erect penis also gives men a lot of feedback, while women’s genitals provide much less. (Men looking at a naked body are much more likely to feel aroused than women doing the same thing. But women’s bodies are also much more sexualized by our culture — that may play a role.)

On the other hand, women seem to be more capable of multiple orgasm. Some think women’s sex drive could be innately stronger than men’s for that reason. Who knows?

But women’s sexuality is also more punished and repressed in our culture.

While men who have sex are praised as studs and players, women are called sluts, whores, tramps, skanks… Men sport a cocky cock, while a vagina is called, “down there.” Negative imagery is often associated with sex as women get screwed, rammed, nailed, cut, boned, banged, smacked, beaten, and f’d, in street parlance.

Sexual violence doesn’t help, either, and it’s something that more egalitarian, sex-positive societies lack.

Meanwhile, because women’s bodies are so much more sexualized and sexually revealed, men get far more provocation on a daily basis.

Add it all together and women experience more sexual problems. University of Texas, Austin researchers reported in Why Women Have Sex that one-third of women, aged 18-23, felt little sexual interest in the prior year. But only 14% of men did. Meanwhile, 30-40% of women reported difficulty climaxing.  Among those in a relationship, 75% of men said they always had an orgasm, but only 26% of women did. This difference likely affects how much each gender desires sex, since one is more consistently rewarded.

Interest and enjoyment needn’t be such a problem for women. And culture, more than biology, seems to be the culprit. The University of Texas researchers note that women are easily orgasmic in cultures where women are expected to enjoy sexuality. But they aren’t in places where they are repressed.

While women are taught that they are bad if they like sex too much, men are taught the opposite. The male role casts men as being ever-desirous, which could propel them to live up to expectations.

Meanwhile, both men and women learn to see women as the sexier sex. So men can be with someone who’s very physically alluring. But women aren’t taught to see men in the same way. Men can focus on a breast fetish. What are women supposed to pay attention to? No fetish is attached to the male. No wonder we’re less interested.

Sex also provides one of the few vehicles for men to experience emotional closeness. Men need that intimacy, yet the male role leaves them repressing their emotions. Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, feels that “For men, sex is the connection. Sex is the language men use to express their tender loving vulnerable side.”

So how do women and men come together? Large cultural changes would help. Seeing women primarily as the sexy half of the species doesn’t aid women’s sex drive. It would help women to live in a less sexually repressive culture, while men would gain from a less emotionally repressive society. But given that this is our reality, perhaps both women and men could use some counseling or therapy.  Communication and acting from a place of love to accomodate each other would surely help, too.

Sure, some women really take pleasure in sexuality, but the heightened and more widespread enjoyment of our sisters who come out of non-shaming cultures tell us that women could be loving sex a whole lot more.

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Is it Rape? She Was Asleep and He Didn’t Use a Condom

Is it rape if a woman said “yes” previously? What if she awakened to the man having sex with her, and without a condom? After she had agreed to sex if he used one?

Two Swedish women have accused WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, of rape under those conditions. One had previously agreed to have sex with him, with condom. But on another occasion she awoke to his penetrating her sans protection.

The other accuser felt similarly violated when he reluctantly used a condom but then seemed to purposefully break it.

New York Times reporter said none of her friends felt either case constituted rape, voicing opinions like:

“It cheapens rape.”

“Why get the police into the bedroom over something like this? Grow up.”

“He sounds really sleazy, but not exactly like a rapist.”

Here’s why I disagree with our reporter’s friends.

Most obviously, rape is defined as sex without consent. When women are sleeping, they cannot give consent. A survey of young women found that most felt that initiating sex while they were asleep was rape.

And if the women gave consent only if a condom were used, a man has no right to find ways around that protection.

A woman may want to have sex if she doesn’t fear getting pregnant or a sexually transmitted disease. But behaving in ways that could create pregnancy or infection, against a woman’s will, has deeply troubling consequences.

Some doubt the allegation because one victim didn’t report to police until days later, and only after she’d learned that Assange had behaved similarly with another woman, who also felt violated.

Yet with the common view that rape comes in only one variety – “stranger jumps out of bushes using violent force” – many women who feel hurt and violated aren’t aware that what happened constitutes rape.

I find it hard to believe that anyone questions whether these women were raped.

But one exasperated male journalist queried, “So in future we need a written contract every time before we close our bedroom doors?”

Not really. Everyone just needs to understand that rape is sex without consent. Meaning, rape occurs when a woman has sex out of fear or force. If she’s unconscious from sleep, drugs, or alcohol.  And if she’s mentally or physically disabled so that she cannot consent.

And communication is key.

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Sex Drive: How Men and Women Match Up

According to Marta Meana, psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, data overwhelmingly show that, typically, men have a higher sex drive than women, when measured by the frequency of fantasy, masturbation and sexual activity.   

WebMD concurs, noting that study after study shows men with the stronger drive: “Men want sex more often than women at the start of a relationship, in the middle of it, and after many years of it,” according to Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University. Most men under 60 think about sex at least once a day, but only one-quarter of women do. Older men fantasize less, but still twice as often as their female counterparts. Men say they want more sex partners in their lifetime, they are more interested in casual sex, and they are much more likely than women to buy sex.

Norah Vincent passed as a man in an attempt to get inside the male psyche. After living as a “man” among men for a year and a half, she described the male sex drive as “relentless,” an “obsession with f’ing.” Male reviewers of Self-Made Man found her insights credible.  

Or as one man described the unyielding obsession, “Someone needs to invent a drug which has no hormonal imbalance side-effects but is able to erase a man’s sex drive and attraction to women. It would increase productivity rates to incredible heights. I’d be free and happy. I’d feel complete. I’d be able to concentrate on my biochemistry studying.”   

Some women want more sex than their partners, but in general the pattern goes the other way.

Given their lower drive, it’s not surprising that women are also choosier. Most men find most women at least somewhat sexually attractive, whereas most women do not find most men sexually attractive at all, according to the University of Texas, Austin researchers who wrote Why Women Have Sex. 

And, women are pickier about both “who” and “how.” They tend to want more connection and romance. Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, says that women’s desire “is more contextual, more subjective, more layered on a lattice of emotion.” She says, “For women there is a need for a plot — hence the romance novel. It is more about the anticipation, how you get there; it is the longing that is the fuel for desire.”

Life can be difficult with such a large gap between the sexes.

Next week I’ll discuss which biological and cultural factors create this gap, and how we might even things out.

Georgia Platts

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Is Sexism Men’s Fault?

UnknownIs male dominance natural and normal? Did sex inequality arise as men’s brute strength cowed women into compliance? My students often think so, saying things like, “Men have always ruled,” as though it’s inevitable. Or, “Men are bigger and stronger so they can bully women into submission.”

I guess we’ve made some progress since I don’t also hear the old argument that women are naturally dependent.

Most people don’t know that men haven’t always been in charge.

When Europeans first made contact with America Indians they were amazed – and appalled – at their equality.

Matrilocal, the husband took his place with his wife’s family after marriage. Matrilineal, relatives were traced through the female line. Property passed through women. Killing a woman brought a double penalty.

Europeans were aghast that native men needed to speak with their wives before taking action!

Men and women both had tribal councils. If the men voted to go to war and the women disagreed, the women could refuse to provide corn (their staple) leaving the men backing down.

Other egalitarian cultures include the Arapesh, the !Kung, and Tahitians (before European contact), to name a few. In fact, it appears that parity was not uncommon prior to agriculture.

Inequality seems to have arisen not because men purposely tried to hurt women and help themselves, but via some seemingly innocuous routes, 1) agriculture and 2) desires to avoid inbreeding by trading, selling, and stealing women (who could have more children and make the tribes larger and stronger). I’ll discuss these dynamics in a later post.

But we know that gender inequality is not predestined. And men do not inevitably try to dominate women through brute force.

Today many men work for women’s equality, too.

And I’d like to thank them.

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Patriarchy’s Role in Shielding Pedophile Priests

Vatican Warned Bishops Not to Report Child Abuse. Vatican Shielded Dublin Priest Until He Raped Boy in Pub, Inquiry Says. Pope Lashes Out at Belgium After Raid on Church (investigating sexual abuse by clerics).

All are New York Times headlines revealing Vatican efforts to shield pedophile priests – and itself. I could go on.

Odd that the Church, which incessantly preaches morality to the masses, is so unconcerned with its own.

In stark contrast, a Catholic nun was immediately excommunicated for saving a woman’s life. Sister Margaret was senior administrator of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix when a 27-year-old mother of four arrived, suffering from pulmonary hypertension. Doctors determined the condition would likely kill her. So Sister Margaret okayed an abortion in the eleventh month of pregnancy to save her life.

Even when priests are defrocked for pedophilia they are not normally excommunicated, remaining able to take the sacrament.

The Vatican shielding pedophile priests while excommunicating life-saving nuns seems nonsensical. Confusing.

Yet one thing ties it all together: a rabid support of patriarchy. Really, patriarchy in its old sense: “rule of the fathers.” Or in this case, church fathers.

In patriarchy’s origins, old men ruled young men and women. Such is the case here. Old men are free to do as they will, while young boys must take what they get. Women are not allowed to control their bodies, or let their lives be saved. Old men control all.

Even Mel Gibson’s staunch rejection of birth control and Vatican II liberalization had seemed odd to me, given the many movies he appeared in promoting sex and violence. Not to mention real-life adultery and battering. Until I realized that the consistency in his life is patriarchy, as well. Men doing as they please, sleeping with whomever they wish (despite church prohibitions). But not allowing a wife to control he own womb (suddenly he cares that the church prohibits birth control). And feeling entitled to lash out and “discipline” women at will.

Vatican patriarchy has certainly not been good for women or children, inflicting suffering upon the “minions.”

Georgia Platts

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Real Women Competing With Porn Stars

Overconsumption of porn is having unintended consequences.

Once upon a time men were hesitant to purchase pornography. Walk into an adult bookstore or movie house? Ring up a purchase with the girl at the counter? Way too embarrassing. But now internet porn is easily available in the anonymity of home. It’s even free. Porn has gone mainstream. Who doesn’t do it anymore?

But porntopia has an unexpected downside. Standards of sexiness are growing narrower. Some men expect their partners to act like porn stars. Sometimes both. Everyone ends up disappointed.

Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by pornographic training, and this is having a huge effect on how they interact.

So said Naomi Wolf after a college campus tour.

In sum: women are now expected to behave like actresses in porn flicks. Emphasis on “actress.” Even porn stars don’t behave that way at home.

And how do the actresses act? It’s male fantasy: It’s all about the guy.

Pamela Paul found something similar in her research for Pornified:

Among men who overconsume porn, real women are now expected to: Howl and moan with delight at the sight of the male member, or in anticipation of oral sex. They must enthusiastically swallow, let their boyfriends ejaculate on their faces and bodies, or maybe be peed upon. Suggesting an interest in lesbianism is always good. And through it all, they’re expected to have quick, easy orgasms. Ideally without much foreplay.

A man named Luis reported,

I’ve broken up with women who wouldn’t perform certain things.

Some recognize the problem. A man named Harrison stated,

I think that a guy’s expectations of his partner might be affected by the images he sees in porn. People’s expectations of their partner’s sexual performance or of what their partners might be willing to do might be unrealistic.

A 2004 Elle-MSNBC.com poll found that 35% of men felt sex with real woman had become less arousing. Twenty percent said the real thing couldn’t compete with virtual sex.

If women want to compete, they’ll need to become actresses, too. Not so much fun for them.

Women who bed these men end up feeling empty and unsatisfied. After watching porn with her boyfriend, a woman named Cara observed,

The women were all fake. No intimacy, nothing sensual. Even when he and I were intimate, the sex wasn’t intimate.

Perhaps this is what happens when sex objects have sex — and not when flesh and blood human beings have sex.

Distracted by candy, everyone ends up missing something more nourishing and substantive. We miss out on the deep, connected intimacy that brings so much meaning to relationship. Soul needs.

Why act in ways that leave us empty and spiritually wanting? Is he that into you to be worth it?  The focus on his pleasure, only, suggests he is not.

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Rape Epidemic in South Africa. Why?

More than one in three South African men admits committing rape, one in seven has joined a gang rape, and more than three quarters admit committing violence against women.

More than half of South African women have experienced violence at the hands of men, and one-quarter will be raped by age sixteen.  

Why? Two thirds of rapists felt sexually entitled. Some wanted to punish women who had angered or rejected them. Others wanted to turn lesbians straight. And some were just bored.

These “reasons” may only get at surface issues. What else is going on?

Rachel Jewkes, a lead researcher on the study of violence in South Africa, feels that racism lies behind the abuse.

Rape holds a sexual component, but it is essentially about power. When a large population is oppressed, say through racism – even as manhood is defined as “dominant and powerful” – men may use rape as a weapon to gain a sense of personal empowerment. Rapists are often trying to bridge a gap between their impotent selves and the dominant men they seek to be. Imagine the control they feel when they restrain, take over, and invade another person’s body. Imagine how high and mighty they feel in creating humiliation.

Gay bashing is another weapon whereby some men try to create a sense of male superiority. If women act like men (sexually/stereotypically) how can men keep their sense of dominance? Hence, the need for “corrective rape” in South Africa that seeks to turn lesbians straight.

In one attack Millicent Gaika was beaten and raped for five hours as her assailant screamed, “I know you are a lesbian. You are not a man, you think you are, but I am going to show you, you are a woman. I am going to make you pregnant.” Since the women are often murdered “correction” sounds less likely than gay-bashing as motive.

Others were simply bored. So the eroticized violence of patriarchy comes in handy: Oh, let’s have some fun!

This is helped when women are seen as sex objects, and not people who have their own lives, goals, thoughts and emotions. When women become nothing but objects for sexual pleasure, it’s no wonder that one third of the rapists said they did not feel guilty.  

So here we have powerless men trying to feel powerful, who live in a world where violence against women is eroticized, and where women are seen as mere objects. A recipe for epidemic rape.  

Georgia Platts

If you would like to read more and sign a petition on corrective rape, go to change.org

I received this note from change.org: “Several weeks ago, survivors of “corrective rape” started a petition on Change.org to ask the Minister of Justice to declare corrective rape a hate crime… More than 65,000 signatures later, and the senior Ministry officials we targeted are apparently having major difficulty accessing their e-mail because of all the e-mails your signatures are generating! WOOOHOOOO! Well done & thank you!”

Let’s help keep it up!

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What Happens When You Beat A Sex Object?

What happens when you beat a sex object? Or hang her? Or rape her? Or hogtie and torture her?

Pop culture is filled with images of women as objects. It’s also filled with images of women as abused objects. But then, the two go hand in hand: Objects have no feelings to empathize with, no lives of their own to interrupt or worry about. They can exist just for sadistic pleasure.

Oddly, I’m not seeking to shame anyone who gets aroused by these images. People tend to unconsciously absorb their culture like a sponge – we all do. Even my women’s studies students and the feminist blogs I read register a taste for this stuff. No surprise that so many find it sexy, our society is so filled with these images.

At the same time, I’m not dismissing the issue. Whether you want to participate or fight it, at least have eyes open and look at the downside.

When I was a little girl I got a children’s book from the library. In one story a woman was punished: She was stripped, placed in a kettle-like contraption with spikes to poke her, and driven through the town in humiliation. That’s my first memory of sexualized abuse.

My second encounter was flipping TV stations as a child, and seeing a man throw a woman over his knee to spank her. Apparently, if I’d flipped through a magazine I could have seen an ad with the same image.

     

When I got older the Rolling Stones promoted their “Black and Blue” album with a picture of a woman bound and bruised.

 

At the movies women are killed – in sexy bras and panties – in popular horror flicks. In tamer fare, Scarlett started out resisting Rhett, but ended up enjoying a night of passion as “no” turned to “yes.” In the soaps, Luke raped Laura and they fell in love.

  

Devo’s “Whip It” showed a man whipping the clothes off a mannequin. The red hat from this video is now in the Smithsonian.

  

In magazines and billboards we are bombarded with ads depicting violence against women.

 

Romance novels and erotic tales tell stories of women who are abducted and raped and who fall in love with their captors. Mainstream movies like 9-1/2 Weeks and The Secretary depict women enjoying abuse at their lovers’ hands. Justine Timberlake slapped Janet Jackson around at the Super Bowl before ripping off her bodice. More recently Megan Fox gets beat up in a popular video that you can view over and over again. In the background Eminem mouths “I’m in flight high of a love drunk from the hate,” to which Rihanna replies, “I like the way it hurts.” And then there’s the porn world full of “no’s” turning to “yes.” Or “no” remaining “no,” but that’s sexy, too.

On a feminist website, one woman described the joys of being a sex slave avatar to a dominant man in the virtual world of “Second Life.” Another explained the appeal with the help of a poor understanding of evolutionary psychology: Through evolution, she explained, women have come to want male domination in their relationships.

  That’s not really what evolutionary psych says (and I have issues with that field, anyway). How would craving your own abuse, or even domination, be adaptive? Pain is meant to warn us to stop doing something. Women’s genes don’t crave poor treatment. If they did, we’d find eroticized violence in every culture, but we don’t. Egalitarian societies like those of the American Indian (before contact with patriarchy) did not sexualize abused women.

Here are two big problems with eroticizing male dominance and women’s pain: First, women and men can both come to crave the abuse of women in real life. Second, when we make male dominance seem sexy, we become more accepting of male dominance.

Neither of these aid the fight for equality, justice or human rights.

Georgia Platts

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Women Seeing Women as Sexier than Men

Girls are so inundated with sexualized images of women that they learn to see women as sexier than men. Women come to see women through male eyes?

In the bedroom, this can make women’s sexuality a bit convoluted, which I’ll discuss later.

But consider my students:

“Women’s bodies are just naturally sexier than men’s,” my class tells me when I ask why women are portrayed as sex objects.

In this belief, my students are not alone.

A few years back Lisa Kudrow, of Friends fame, told Jay Leno that female nudity is displayed more in movies because, “Who wants to look at a guy?”

Hugh Hefner thinks women are natural sex objects, “If women weren’t sex objects, there wouldn’t be another generation.”

I’ve talked before about how the breast fetish is not natural, but is learned by both men and women. But how do we all learn that women are sexier than men in ways that go beyond the fetish?

Growing up, girls are bombarded with visions of women as sexy, with skin selectively hidden and revealed, the camera focused on those intriguingly concealed parts.

When I was little my mom took me to the Ice Capades. After noticing that the women were half dressed while the men were fully clothed, I asked why. Mom told me that women just have better legs.

Do they? One warm summer day an adult from my church youth group commented, “It’s too bad the guys have the best legs.” (Thanks!) But what is our cultural ideal? Longer, leaner. Young men typically have longer legs, and they don’t have the extra layer of fat that women do. So most young men’s legs come closer to our ideal. Yet we say women have better legs? When I think about it, I actually think men have pretty nice looking legs. But nothing and no one directs our attention to them.

On Dancing With The Stars, women are half-dressed and men are fully-clothed. During an advertisement, the camera lingers on women’s breasts and legs in a Victoria’s Secret display. Next, a commercial for shoes focuses on women’s behinds: See this Rebook ad for EasyTone. Try to imagine the same focus on men’s butts (which actually are pretty attractive)!

Watch a football game and see big, fully-dressed, aggressive guys playing on the field, while scantily clad cheerleaders show off their stuff from the sidelines. In the Bikini Open men sport golf wear while women dawn bikinis. When does Sports Illustrated most focus on women? In the swimsuit edition.

Through it all, the camera gazes at women’s body parts, but not men’s. Telling us what’s important to notice. What’s sexy and what’s not.

Men’s bodies are rarely sexualized outside infrequent underwear ads.

Historically, men have had control of media, and they’ve portrayed what they see as sexy.

Bombarded with these images, girls come to see women as sexier than men. As I’ve said before, when I tell my class that I find a Playboy pinup sexier than a Playgirl pinup, women’s heads nod in agreement.

Meanwhile, when women answer surveys about what they find sexy they say “men.” But when they are wired up, blood flow to the vagina is stronger when viewing an image of a nude woman than a nude man – conscious responses and bodily responses not agreeing.

Oddly, and yet logically, women come to see women through male eyes. 

So women come to see themselves as the sexy half of the species. Being sexy has some advantages. It can just be fun, it’s easier to attract mates (consider the success of women versus men in singles bars), and sexiness is a source of power.

But there’s a downside, too, including the narrow construct that leaves so many women feeling they exist outside the “sexy” box, with a drop in self esteem kicking in.

Taken to extreme, some women can become sex objects, taking an unhealthy one-dimensional focus on themselves, feeling that how they look is all that matters. And some men may see them as objects whose sole purpose is to be used for their pleasure.

It ain’t so great to be, or be seen, as mere object.

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. And to those who think this means women don’t find men sexy or desirable, see this: Men Don’t Feel Sexy–and It Sucks.

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How to Look Like a Victoria’s Secret Angel

    “How to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel” Jezebel’s banner teased. “Not that you can be one. You can’t,” ran the verdict following the hopeful headline.

“What people don’t realize is that they’re rarer by far than superstar athletes,” proclaimed Ed Razek, Limited’s chief marketing officer (they also own VS). “The numbers of people who can do this are probably under 100 in the world.”

After all, angels must be skinny and buxom, but also fit enough looking to believably hold up heavy wings. Hard to do all three at the same time (or even two).

Sometime-angel, Angela Lindvall told the New York Times she jumped rope and ate nothing but spinach, chard and kale to lose 20 pounds, post-pregnancy, to “make weight.” Others hire personal trainers, take many-mile runs, do squats and lunges, and generally “kill ourselves,” as one put it.

The models “kill themselves” for a few months to acquire angel status. Yet the message is that all women can look like them by simply dawning VC bras and panties.

Much of advertising works by making people – in this case women – feel inadequate about how they look – which comes easily when an unachievable ideal is placed before us. But Victoria’s Secret offers a product to help! Really?

The message must be working. Sales are up.

A little VS can add some fun. But don’t stress if you don’t look like an angel. Most of the time, the angels don’t either.

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