Is Male or Female Sexuality Better?

“I heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal.”

That’s what 25-year-old Lena Dunham told New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni as they discussed her new Sex-and-the-Cityish HBO series called  “Girls,” which she writes, directs and stars in.

Dunham points out that numerous cultural cues press women to take on non-emotional, non-connected, “empowered” sexuality.

Yet she can’t manage to do it, herself. And she is not sure it’s empowering.

“There’s a biological reason why women feel about sex the way they do and men feel about sex the way they do,” she adds. “It’s not as simple as divesting yourself of your gender roles.”

Evolutionary psychology says women are genetically programmed for monogamy so fathers will stick around and provide resources for their children, while men are promiscuous so that they can widely “spread their seed.”

I have my doubts. If women are monogamous then men can’t be promiscuous. And both men and women are promiscuous in some tribal cultures.

Modernity seems to breed a monogamous ideal (meaning lifetime marriage after a few years of “sewing your wild oats”) among both women and men, perhaps because these societies are complex and children aren’t raised by the entire community (as they are in small tribes) making single parenthood difficult.

And even while casual, male-stereotypic hookup sex has overtaken college campuses (at least in theory), a recent study of hookup culture found that both men and women prefer close, connected relationships.

Still, study after study shows most women preferring sex in a context of love and connection, while men are more open to casual encounters.

So which is better? Casual or connected?

I’ve asked my students what they think. They see positives and negatives in each approach.

The variety offered in non-connected sex can be fun, and if you really do it “man-style,” guilt-free. There are no ruts! But STDs and unwanted pregnancies are bigger risks. And it’s possible that one partner will end up wanting more, which can create hurt and complications. Emotional connection adds depth and dimension, and many can’t enjoy sex without it.

The problem, my students think, lies in feeling pressured to behave in ways that are inauthentic – which isn’t pleasurable, either!

And is non-emotional, non-connected sex more “empowered”? Or do some just think so because it’s the “male” way in a culture that values masculine over feminine? Or that sees men and “their ways” as more powerful, by definition. Sure, you’re less vulnerable and dependent, but there is great power in relationship.

Likely the “best” and “most empowered” sex is that which is most fulfilling, and which best expresses who you are and what you want, and which is acted out most responsibly.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 9, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I think ultimately most people want to have the connection and a long monogamous relationship. The establishment of couple identity, children, investing for the future together and the white picket fence are all intrinsic dreams I think both sides have. The last two years population reports have shown that there are less babies born each year, this to me is showing the latest mentality towards love and connection vs casual sex. Between all the dating apps and reality TV shows about dating are a gateway to have casual encounters to some degree. Social media has exploded with so much visualization of what is out there in the world, temptation is everywhere. I would have to argue that most women I know these days are strong, independent and single. They are not looking for relationships because most women are trying to progress in something, let’s say their career. I have seen a shift in most of the women I know, married, in a relationship or single where they are taking more control over their careers, future and body. There is a sense of empowerment with sex, their choice as to of when, with whom and without remorse. So I would have said in the past that when it came to sex and the very perception of it, men had the ability to turn off the emotion while women wanted more. I don’t think that is true today. I think causal sex is very prominent in the world today as women have started to find louder voices. I think we are in the mix of a change in perspective and sex. Women have to climb that wall to get over the “slut” talk and being “prude”, and I think a lot more women are now owning who they are and their actions. Which one is better I believe is left up to the individual and where they are at in their life.

  2. Marietta Snowden

    Sugar spice and everything nice, snakes, snails and puppy-dog tails. It’s the ole saying about what boys and girls are made of. Women for the most part make love, men on the other hand for the most part have sex. Women go head first for the connection. Especially if she is attracted to him and there is nothing blocking her pathway to him. Men can pull their pants down and not even know her name. It has mostly to do the society’s view of what kind of morals and self-respect a woman should have and the freedom to sow his oats society has for the male species. But in today’s modern times, women are catching up for more reasons than one. The gay trend, the increase of worthless men, incarceration, and the few that’s already taken. So these scenarios pushes her into hook-ups, casuals, booty-calls and the side-chick position. More men are into freelancing nowadays. So it leave a strain on women choices. But I say sell it and you’ll keep your heart out of it and the feeling of being used. Putting a price on it gets you the sex you’ve after and keeps the heart strings in check. And by all means if keeps you from losing site on reality plus help pay the bills.

  3. I love reading and learning the value of a connected relationship in a cultural generation that is seemingly so disconnected. I strongly believe that this generations disconnection in most social relations has created the result of higher interests in connected relationships. I agree with your students that there are both positive and negative effects when it comes to connected relationships and casual sex. I find it fascinating that your students cited the problem of “feeling pressured to behave in ways that are inauthentic.” I think this sums up a majority of our generations problems as well as the controversial topic of casual sex versus a connected relationship. We all feel pressured to behave in a certain way in order to impress others, especially the opposite sex. Maybe if we spent more time focusing on becoming the most authentic versions of ourselves, we would feel more comfortable in expressing our expectations within a relationship.

  4. Well casual sex might be physically pleasurable, but I think that STD’s, pregnancy, risk of being kidnapped, & babies overrule any benefit 😛 Imagine if EVERYONE had casual sex all the time? The world would be in shambles!

  5. I always thought that combining sex and love would be something that would hurt me. Why should I combine guaranteed pleasure with guaranteed pain? That’s my reason for thinking that sex without feelings is more empowered, but I did not push that onto other people. I feel more empowered when I don’t care because then I am in control of my actions. Love makes you do crazy things…I think we all know that.

    To be honest, I had never really thought about how our current view of sex is shaped by the percieved “good” attributes that males tend to have. I think it’s a definite possibility that a lot of people tend to think that whatever a man naturally does is what is natural. And that happens a lot more, sorry for the term, naturally than once expects. That is not to say that sexism is natural. In fact I have a hard time believe that we can ever know what is natural and what is not.

    The way I think about our notions of sexual relationships has more to do with our culture rather than male vs. female. I’m sure that the male perspective has had its most enormous effects on our socially acceptable rules however I do think that our American culture has had a lot to do with this. (Sorry for assuming that all people reading this are American, but I will bring another view point into this.) In the United States it is bad to need. If you are vulnerable it means you are more likely to fail because other people will take advantage of you. And it’s not quite outright competition either. America is about putting other people down to get yourself up, not always about being the best. It’s more about how you look compared to other people than how you are as an individual.(This is in our working environment becuase although we encourage self expression nad individualism we admonish it if you’re supposed to be following rules.) This might be shaped by our “male” mindset or it might just be something our country has evolved to be. American life looks easy to other cultures, but it is actually much harder than anyone would expect. Here you lack the support and structure that you have in other older countries. Other countries have had time to explore and come upon their current traditions. I found that when I went to India, I found more men less likely to agree to casual sex. It was very interesting to me because I’m used to being around people are open and unhindered about sex. I’m used to people thinking that sex and love can be different things. However around my cousin’s friends I found them thinking that it is not right to have sex before marriage and before you are committed. They saw that as a wrongful act that was disrespectful to women. I’m not sure exactly why this is the case (although I doubt anyone really knows the answer to that one) but I do find it innteresting to notice how different cultures come to different conclusions when the basic principle they are dealing with is the same. Sex in India and sex in the United States and sex in China are the same. It’s how we incorporate them into our psyche is what is different. And I find that the combination our our genes and environment along with our fellow people make an interesting (though tough) battle for humanity.

  6. The question which is better casual or connected sex.
    In todays society men are praised for having the ability to “hit it and quit it” get out fast before feelings get involved and males have to deal with the consequence of that.That is the where the term having sex like man comes into play. The consequence of having to deal with emotional after math. Obviously sex comes with emotion not matter the circumstance. Lust, Love, Passion ect… Who really wants to deal with those feelings if they are not in some kind of established relationship. No one. Having sex like a man implies no feelings involved or emotionless sex. So why in society is it implied that this type of sex is better ? In my opinion either type of sex is healthy and empowering. Non emotional connected sex for a man or woman can make either party feel as if they have power. A woman having the ability to walk away from a man without thought of a romantic relationship, or parental responsibility, proves that woman also enjoy sex to purely enjoy sex which is the ultimate fulfillment for her. A man being able to have causal sex also fulfills his sexual desires and creates a disconnect for having to be responsible for his actions.

    In more connected sex for either party has more goals and set out to accomplish more. For example a more connected sex might have the goal to bring a relationship to a deeper level or to establish a family. This type of sex is fulfilling in ways that non connected sex can’t always do.

    Both types of sex have power. However in our society one is recognized as being a more, male and more positive view because through out society we are taught to desensitize ourselves to get ahead of the game. This also comes with a more male connotation. However this idea is also meant for woman succeeded in a powerful word and society. This is why I believe the idea that causal sex is valued more.

  7. So which is better? Casual or connected?

    I don’t think you can categorically say one is better than the other, just different.

    This binary approach also ignores the potential for overlap and the growing trend of practices like polyamory. In addition to this third way, fourth, fifth and more ways may emerge as we go forward. I see the potential for casual relationships becoming more involved without becoming too involved and conversely for connected relationships staying connected without becoming suffocating or too restrictive.

    At the moment the dictates of our respected institutions and our subsequent conditioning prevent us from seeing exclusive, connected monogamy as anything other than good and everything else bad. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but provided our governments don’t impose repressive laws on how we conduct ourselves in relationships and sexually, people will continue to explore and find the lifestyles which suit them.

    As your students say, the problem ‘lies in feeling pressured to behave in ways that are inauthentic’. I think there are a lot of people who feel these pressures. So until we create societies which are accepting of a whole cornucopia of different approaches to relationships and sexuality we are going to have a whole bunch of people who feel estranged from society in these areas and who feel compelled to keep a side of themselves hidden from public view.

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