Monthly Archives: June 2011
Freud may have named sex drive the primary motivational force among humans, but sometimes you gotta wonder. Because sex serves other aims an awful lot of the time.
How about first sex? According to a 2011 study by Laura M. Carpenter, PhD, many see virginity as a gift to give to someone special, with the goal of strengthening the relationship. Women were more likely than men to have this purpose in mind, though some men did, too.
Men were more likely to have sex to shed the stigma of virginity. Not surprisingly, women were much less likely to state that reason, though some did. But for men, especially, it can be embarrassing to be a virgin.
About one third of those in Carpenter’s study saw losing virginity as a rite of passage, a step toward growing up. By the way, this group was the most satisfied with the experience, perhaps having lower expectations. They typically planned for the moment, complete with birth control, and they could more easily take a bad first experience in stride.
Looking at a 1994 study, by comparison, half of women said they had sex for the first time out of affection, which fits well with social expectations that women will have sex out of love — or “strengthening a relationship” as cited in the 2011 survey. Meanwhile, 51% of men had sex for the first time out of curiosity or because they felt ready. This fits well with a focus on achieving manhood (“ready” to be men).
Interestingly, only 12% of men and 3% of women said they had sex for pleasure their first
time, in the 1994 survey. Carpenter didn’t separate out “pleasure” as a separate category, and said it was most often attached to “ridding self of stigma” in her study.
By the way, the 2011 survey found that women and men were more alike than expected. “The idea we have from TV and movies is that for women it’s all about love and for men it’s all about getting it over with,” Carpenter related. “If men and women shared metaphors, the choices they made and the kinds of experiences they had were pretty similar. That’s something that hasn’t been noticed that much.”
Carpenter also noted that gays and straights were similar in their experiences.
All in all, it’s interesting to see how often pleasure takes a back seat to other concerns when it comes to sex. I’ll discuss this in a variety of other contexts to come.
Even as women’s power has increased over the last fifty years, self-esteem has too often diminished. Why? Blame unachievable beauty ideals.
As Naomi Wolf explains in The Beauty Myth, women have more money and power than ever before but, “a secret ‘underlife’ poisons our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of aging and a dread of lost control… In fact, in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.” Too bad her book, which was written twenty years ago, is not now obsolete.
Once upon a time, she says, the family was a productive unit so that a woman’s value lay in her work skills, economic shrewdness, physical strength, and fertility, with physical beauty playing a lesser, and less oppressive, role.
Before the industrial revolution – before photographs, photoshop, and plastic surgery – women did not feel pressured to live up to a mass-marketed ideal – one that is nearly impossible to achieve, leaving women frustrated and depressed, obsessed with their looks, and wondering what is wrong with them.
As the beauty myth creates a hierarchy pegging some better than others, I am reminded of a piece by Nick Kristof of the New York Times, entitled, “Equality, a True Soul Food.”
He cites evidence from two British epidemiologists who wrote a book called, The Spirit Level. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett argue that “Gross inequality tears at the human psyche, creating anxiety, distrust and an array of mental and physical ailments,” with those at the bottom of unequal societies suffering from a range of pathologies.
The Spirit Level is concerned with economic disparity. But the theory fits with other
inequities. Beauty hierarchies leave too many women depressed with low self-esteem, eating disorders, competing to be plastic on reality TV, jealous, envious, and sometimes dying from anorexia or plastic surgery. Notably, the problem isn’t so much where you stand as where you think you do. Unfortunately, it’s common for women to place themselves at the bottom, and suffer.
Inequality undermines social trust and community life, and people feel stressed when they sit at the bottom of a pecking order. Kristof discerns that the toll of our inequality is a melancholy of the soul.
Why not celebrate the wonderful variety of figures and faces that women embody, instead?
Natural male urges like raping, cheating, tweeting crotch shots and general offensiveness are made shameful and criminal by society, says Dilbert creator, Scott Adams. Yet the natural urges of women are mostly legal and accepted, the cartoonist gripes in a blog post called “Pegs and Holes.”
Adams can’t imagine why rape and general offensiveness are not approved of? Women just made up the rules, willy-nilly? Like they’re the ones who’ve been in charge all these years?
Actually, none of the above is naturally male.
Men sometimes ask me why some men rape, because they don’t get it.
And rape is not found in every culture. The more that equality and respect marks a society, the less women are assaulted. Before contact with Europeans, rape was virtually unknown in egalitarian American Indian cultures like the Cherokee and Iroquois.
Since Adams is a hetero male, he likely has few worries of being attacked, although men sometimes are. If his chances shot up as high as women’s, I wonder if he’d feel differently.
Rape survivors typically become anxious and depressed. They lose interest in sex. Many develop eating disorders that threaten their health and lives. Some undergo post traumatic stress disorder. Some attempt suicide.
The damage doesn’t matter? On balance, Adams thinks men unabashedly raping is preferable?
On the topic of cheating, evolutionary psychology says men are more promiscuous in order to more widely spread their genes. But mathematicians can’t figure out how men can have more sex partners than women. Evolutionary psychology could be wrong.
Other research suggests that fidelity is actually good for us, with long-term romantic relationships yielding greater happiness, life satisfaction and longer, healthier lives.
Meanwhile, do men really feel sexually repressed because society disapproves flashers and tweeted crotch shots? As noted earlier, some evolutionary psychologists believe flashing is natural male behavior, since male apes routinely display erect penises to females. But then, it actually works for female apes while women just get turned off, leaving the behavior unlikely to “spread men’s seed.”
And do men really enjoy being personally offended any more than women do? Doubt it.
Adams doesn’t think much of men, does he?
Tags: Cherokee, culture, Dilbert, Evolutionary Psychology, feminism, gender, Iroquois, men, monogamy, Pegs and Holes, psychology, rape and sexual assault, relationships, Scott Adams, sex and sexuality, sexism, sexual assault, social psychology, violence against women, women
What if I just have a small slice of raspberry cheesecake? I was good today, I deserve it. Maybe a bigger slice would be okay if I eat celery later? They would cancel each other out, right? Or I could eat the cake while jogging in place?
These are the musings of a young woman’s mind in a Yoplait yogurt ad. (See ad here.) Sound familiar?
Does to me. Evokes the mantra that once ruled my twenty-something brain. Back then, food was both magic and evil. That’s a noxious combination, known to create obsessions and addictions.
A person who feels guilty about eating often overeats. They obsess about food. Food calls to them. Think you’ve had a little too much? Feel guilty! Now that you’ve sinned you might as well go all the way. Besides, a pint of Häagen-Dazs feels sooo good. At least while there is still some left in the container.
Works the same with alcohol. To the Irish, spirits magically change your mood. But overindulging brings shame and disgrace. Imbibed a bit too much? Might as well drink more and feel better. The Irish have fairly high levels of alcoholism. It’s different in places where alcohol is simply a part of dinner. A good wine is a dining must in France. And alcoholism is low.
But back to eating disorders. Some are more serious than mine. Jenni Schaefer survived both anorexia and bulimia. She told the Huffington Post that you start to divide foods into “good” and “bad” categories until they all seem bad. “I was shocked by how (the ad) really nailed it on the head,” she said. “That’s exactly what I thought every time I opened a refrigerator door.”
Experts worry that the ad’s message makes this sort of obsessive thinking seem completely normal, with some responding by eating too little, while others eat too much. To their credit, Yoplait pulled the piece once concerns surfaced.
I was lucky to eventually hear a different message. I was shocked to find a diet that denied the notion that food is bad. Maybe because the book, Eat to Win, was written for athletes with tennis champ, Martina Navratilova, a fan.
The notion that food is good and shouldn’t be an obsession had a profound effect on me. I highly recommend a healthy perspective on food that recognizes the need for nourishment and enjoyment.
Imagery is powerful. I remember my mother watching Marilyn Monroe movies and looking at her pictures in magazines. She bleached her hair and styled it like Marilyn’s. Mom dressed in high heeled boots and miniskirts and wore the style of make-up that graced magazine covers. My father loved it. I saw the attention men gave her, especially at parties. Looking back I see how the ideal of the perfect woman had a huge impact on the psychology of my mother. And me.
Although beautiful, mom lacked self-confidence and self-esteem. She gave up on her dreams to pursue the love of a man through beautifying herself. She became a submissive woman at the beck and call of the men in her life. No surprise, she married eight times before age thirty.
I watched men walk all over my mother, treating her like a trophy wife in front of their friends. But behind closed doors they demeaned and objectified her. I grew to dislike men, yet followed in her footsteps. It began in elementary school.
In elementary school super cute girls wore bows in their hair and cute dresses with knee high boots in white patent leather. I was plain looking and had a poor self-image, partly because of experiences with my mom. But also because I looked nothing like the ideal
images that surrounded me on magazine covers.
At the same time, I felt uncomfortable wearing glamour styles and dressed more like a tomboy. I covered my body even though looking back, it was rockin’! I still got attention from boys, but not the kind a girl wants. I was one of the guys.
My low self-esteem carried over into my teen years. Mom made comments about my body and told me I better be careful or no man would want me. I’d never had weight issues until my mom made me painfully aware of it.
I looked in the mirror and saw things that weren’t there. I wasn’t fat, but I thought I was. I wasn’t ugly, but I thought I was. I thought my friends were prettier than me. Funny, my low self-esteem made me less attractive.
With poor body image and low self-esteem women don’t reach their full potential. I didn’t. My life goal: attracting a man. I dropped out of high school. I dropped out of college. I had sex with many men hoping to feel beautiful, adored and loved.
I recently took a photography class and learned the secrets of Photoshop. The instructor showed an un-retouched photo of Cindy Crawford, highlighting the roughness of her face, acne, arm fat, and a “thick” waist. He then showed how they thinned her waist, removed the arm fat, elongated her chin, and gave her a flawless complexion for the magazine cover.
I sat in disbelief. None of the images we see in Playboy, Vogue, Glamour,
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, Shape or InStyle are real images. Men are made to
believe this is what women should look like and they view women who don’t
harshly. Women and girls also believe these images are true representations of
beauty and glamour.
But I hadn’t known that.
Hopefully the future will see new media sprout up portraying real women without airbrushing and manipulation. Let women embrace who they are so they can be strong and healthy. I want to get to that point in my life. I am still dieting and still struggling with poor body image.
One day, I will embrace myself for who I am and not worry about what I eat. One
day I will have the confidence I need to make my way through this second half
of life with a great career and a great love of myself. I wish that for all
This piece was written by a student of mine. I asked if I could publish it on my
blog. She requested anonymity.
Anti-gay rights activists want to overturn a ruling to allow same-sex marriage in California. In their most recent attempt, they maintained that because San Francisco Chief Judge Vaughn Walker is gay, and could personally benefit, he acted with bias when he rendered his decision. This week Judge James Ware rejected the claim, calling it warrantless.
No one calls “bias” when whites or men make rulings that benefit them. Affirmative action cases, for instance. White Justices have been known to rule in ways that would benefit their own white children and grandchildren.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice John Roberts seems to vote consistently
in ways that benefit Republicans, and therefore himself, as a member of that
party. As court watcher, Jeffrey Toobin, observes, “In every major case
since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with
the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive
branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual
plaintiff… Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the
contemporary Republican Party.” Yet no one says that Roberts should recuse
himself from said cases.
Worries of bias seem only to rise when members of the LGBT community, women and people of color hold positions of judicial power. Many wondered whether Sonia Sotomayor could judge without favoritism as a Latina.
Meanwhile, in their search for justice gays, women and ethnic minorities have usually been at the mercy of white, straight, males. In the past it’s been argued that minority judges can’t be objective on affirmative action. Why would a white judge be fairer? It has been claimed that women can’t be objective on abortion rights. Why would a male judge be fairer? And now accusations that gays cannot rule objectively on gay marriage. Why is
the privileged perspective constantly deemed more fair-minded?
Why? Because most of our information has come to us over the years through straight, white men’s eyes, whether via the media or over the political, corporate, or religious pulpit. We are so inundated that after a lifetime, their view comes to seem like the “normal” and unbiased way of seeing.
But really, if gays can’t rule on issues affecting gays, should whites be allowed to rule on matters that impact whites?
June is LGBT Month
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I surveyed my women students (a total of 47, non-random sample) and asked: How attracted would you be if your partner let you know he thought you were the most attractive woman in the world? He never ogles other women because he only has eyes for you. Nearly everyone gave this scenario 10’s on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 = very turned on; 1= very turned off; n/a = no affect).
What if he said, “You’re the most attractive woman in the world,” but he sometimes ogles other women. No 10’s anymore. Answers fell mostly around 7. But if he did it a lot responses dipped to about 3.
What if he assured you that he found you just as attractive as other women, but still sometimes ogles? Typical response landed around 4. If he did it a lot, 1’s were common.
Now let’s up the ante in terms of how he feels for you. He explains that he loves you and not them, but other women are just more attractive. Suddenly we find 1’s all around. One student went off the scale, writing in “0.” With exclamation points!!!!
Many seem to think women dislike ogling because they fear cheating, or being left for another woman. So a cure is prescribed: “Be more secure.” Yet few women cited concerns with cheating as their problem. Instead, most simply didn’t like feeling that their man was “as attracted” or “more attracted” to other women.
The feeling likely has something to do with how women’s sexuality works.
Men operate by seeing a sexy woman, or sexy body parts, and getting excited. No
wonder so many want to stare. But how do women work? First, the mere sight of a
man, or any part of him doesn’t do a whole lot for most women. Hence, the abundance of girlie magazines and the dearth of beefcake.
Men aren’t sex objects in our culture. Women are. As Linda Phelps explains in an article called, “Female Sexual Alienation,” a woman gets aroused by feeling like her guy is turned on by her. So it stands to reason that if she feels like he’s getting turned on by someone else, that has the opposite effect: it’s a turnoff. Hence, the survey results.
Ogling may dull a woman’s libido for just a few hours, for several days, or permanently – a few hours being most common, women said.
So men, you can ogle if you like, but it could put a damper on your real sex life.
A female political activist and former parliamentary candidate prescribes sex-slavery as a means of protecting Kuwaiti men from committing adultery, according to the Kuwait Times and the Arabic news website, Al Arabiya.
In an online video the activist, Salwa Al-Mutairi, insists that Kuwaiti men could avoid moral corruption by purchasing non-Muslim women from an “enslaved maid” sex agency, if such a service were legally available. Otherwise, pious men may continue to be tempted by attractive household servants (who may go so far as to cast sensual spells).
Sex-slavery would protect the chastity of both men and women, she claims.
Since she sees non-Muslims as something less than human, Islamic men can’t commit adultery by having sex with them. Al-Mutairi reasons thusly: “The rules regulating sex-slaves differ from those for free women [i.e., Muslim women].” She explains, “The latter’s body must be covered entirely, except for her face and hands, whereas the sex-slave is kept naked from the bellybutton on up — she is different from the free woman; the free woman has to be married properly to her husband, but the sex-slave — he just buys her and that’s that.”
Meanwhile, pious women would be protected from sex-crazed men.
While not scripturally based, she insists the practice is not religiously forbidden. After all, several sheikhs and muftis in Mecca assured her that sex-slavery was perfectly legal under Sharia.
I see the problem here not as religion, but the mindset. Every Muslim I know would be completely appalled by a call for sex-slavery. Or by Al-Mutairi’s view that non-Muslims are something less that human.
Religion and religious advisors can say all sorts of crazy things. The Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament (scriptures Jews and Christians share) recommend that disobedient children, Sabbath breakers, homosexuals and adulteresses all be killed. And God either approves or orders the destruction of several cities and communities. It’s just that today no one pays attention to these extreme passages.
Of course, it’s not just religion. Similarly strange notions can come out of culture, too. New York Times columnist, Nick Kristof, tells a story in Half the Sky that is eerily similar to Al-Mutairi’s proposal. When Kristof asked Indian border guards why they didn’t stop young Pakistani girls from being brought into the country to be trafficked in the sex trade, the guards felt that since there will always be prostitution, it’s better to bring in girls from a lower class (and presumably lower morals) to save the Indian girls’ virtue as future wives of the same men who will frequent the prostitutes.
What of the ethics of Al-Mutairi’s proposal? Is morality grounded in religion? Doesn’t seem like it, given the religiously stained horror of nearly everything written above.
Additionally, must we accept that all cultural practices and perspectives are equally worthy? In most cases I agree with the tenants of cultural relativity: don’t judge a society’s practices if you live outside of it. But I’m not a moral relativist.
I ground my ethics in reason and human rights with this question in mind: Is anyone being harmed? If someone is being killed or crippled, physically, spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually, the behavior is wrong, regardless of culture.
Clearly, slavery wounds. So would the ongoing rape that this setup would entail.
When powerful groups profit by exploiting the powerless among them, I call that immoral. Certainly, sheikhs and muftis who declare sex-slavery acceptable under Sharia would personally benefit from satiated libidos, but at great cost to enslaved women. Regardless of what they claim their religion allows.
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Tags: cultural relativism, culture, feminism, gender, human rights, Islam, rape and sexual assault, religion, Salwa Al-Mutairi, sex and sexuality, sex slavery, sexism, sexual assault, social psychology, violence against women, women
This week Congressman Anthony Weiner admitted sexting a picture of his package to a young woman, in the tradition of Brett Favre, Kanye West and assorted flashers everywhere.
What are these men thinking?
Tracy Clark-Flory over at salon.com put out a call on Twitter to get women’s reactions to this sort of sexting. Plenty of women wanted to see a man’s chest. But with few exceptions the response was complete repulsion. When asked whether crotch shots “do it” for them, one tweeter replied, “If by ‘do it’ you mean ‘send me to the toilet retching,’ then yes, they do.”
Flashers seem similarly clueless. Flasher message boards suggest that these men expect women to get turned on. At least one man finally “got it,” saying, “I simply can’t do it anymore… I found that I was basically just offending woman after woman.”
Men love looking at lady parts, so they think women must love the sight of man parts, too. Surprisingly, “penis” is a common web search among men, straight or gay, and they are as likely to “google” penis as vagina. No wonder they think women want to look at theirs, too. Of course, porn depicts women going wild at the sight of the male member. But porn is a wildly inaccurate instructor on women’s sexuality.
Some believe the flaunting is tied to evolutionary psychology. After all, “Male monkeys and apes routinely display their penis (usually erect) to females to indicate sexual interest,” says cognitive neuroscientist Ogi Ogas. The move may make female monkeys and apes swoon. But among women, retching seems an unlikely process by which to pass on ones genes.
But I think women’s reactions also run counter to Freud’s contention that women experience “penis envy” (this being the supposed cause of our feelings of inferiority: “His is so big!”). I know my first reaction to seeing a penis was a huge relief that I, myself, was streamlined. Looks like others might feel the same.
Women may appreciate a man’s package in the context of “wanting” and/or loving a particular man. But this sort of sexting? Not so much.
It seems men are a bit more obsessed with the sight of their penises than women are.
When I was ten years old plenty of my friends would wear “big girl lingerie” that they got from Abercrombie and the like. I felt pressured to constantly push to be sexier, or more desirable. At ten years old, who exactly am I trying to attract?
This comment (paraphrased) came in reaction to a piece I recently wrote called, “Cartoonish vs Authentic Sexuality.”
I found the remark a bit starling. At age ten I did not feel any pressure to be sexy. I was a kid! None of my little-girl friends seemed to have such notions, either.
Wondering who she was trying to attract, the young woman added, “I don’t think any of us really knew the answer to that, but it felt necessary all the same.” And then she asked what lay behind the focus on sexualizing young girls.
My first thoughts are that companies like Abercrombie are trying to get young kids to like their brand by appealing to the desire to feel “grown up.” Not to mention all the free
publicity they get from controversies surrounding their products.
But I’ve also noticed a broad trend toward sexualizing both girls and women that goes beyond what I had experienced at the age of ten, or even twenty.
In fact, not long ago I was flipping through TV channels looking for movies when I saw the 1988 film Crossing Delancy with Amy Irving (Steven Speilberg’s ex) and the 1986 film About Last Night with Demi Moore and Rob Lowe. And then I noticed that in these films – and several other romantic comedies of that period – the women were not dressed sexually. No body-hugging clothing. No revealing décolletage.
Why the change?
Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth might help us out. Wolf points out that as women
have gained power they have also become more sexualized. She says it’s no accident.
Think about it. As women take on sex object status, they become objects. Objects aren’t quite human, leaving them at a lower rung on the ladder than men. Meanwhile, the ideal of huge breasts and skinny waists is near impossible to achieve, leading to poor self-esteem and an awful lot of time spent trying to fulfill this “requirement.” And if you’re busy focused on your looks, you’ll take your attention off more substantive things.
In sum: As women become more sexualized, even as they gain power they lose status by becoming objects. Even as women gain power, narrow notions of beauty leave them feeling worse about themselves as body image suffers. As women put tremendous time and energy into their looks, they have little time or energy left to become more empowered.
I personally feel that sexy is fine (and beyond the cartoonish narrow notions, please!), but that “sex object” isn’t. Sexy can be one part of a well-rounded woman’s life, while “sex object” sees women as being only about sex.
Women should not be seen as only sexy. Sexy should not be the primary source of self-worth. Sexy should not be the most important thing in the world.
And children should not be trained to see themselves as objects.