What is the future of our sexuality?
How, in twenty maybe forty years, will we be expressing ourselves sexually?
Do we have any clues today about what kind of sexuality tomorrow might bring?
And why did my second wife doze off on our wedding night just as I was getting to the climax of my inspiring lecture to her on Socrates’ concept of love? After all, she positively begged me for some “oral sex”! Doesn’t make a lick of sense she fell asleep in the midst of it.
I’ve been wondering about those and other questions this morning but not, as you might suspect, because I’ve been binge viewing Balinese donkey on donkey porn again. What inspires me instead is the emerging consensus in the science of human sexuality. That consensus strikes me as a game-changer.
It’s sometimes said that the early human sexuality studies of Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, paved the road to the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s. It seems to me today’s new, still emerging consensus could be like that — or it could be even more seismic than what we’ve seen before.
What’s at the core of this is women’s sexuality, along with a growing body of research that strongly suggests women’s sexuality isn’t what most of us nearly the world over have been taught it is.
To be sure, nothing is going to happen overnight. For one thing, any really profound cultural changes that result from this new understanding of women’s sexuality are almost certain to take generations to be fully realized. Deep cultural change is seldom quick. Yet, sometimes great storms are proceeded by light rains blown ahead of the main storm, and something like that could happen here too.
For another thing, it’s always possible that the emerging consensus will fall apart. The research seems to me solid so far, but as yet, not massive.
Some Old Ideas About Women’s Sexuality
To understand how the new science could transform our cultures, let’s first look at what’s at stake. It seems that across many — but certainly not all — cultures there is a more or less shared set of beliefs about the differences between men and woman’s sexuality. Among these beliefs:
- Women are naturally much less promiscuous than men.
- Women naturally seek and need emotional intimacy and safety before they can become significantly horny.
- Women naturally prefer to be pursued by men, rather than to do the pursuing.
- Women are naturally pickier than men when choosing a sex partner.
- Women are naturally less horny than men.
- Women are naturally less likely than men to cheat on their partners.
- Women are naturally more suited to monogamy than men.
- Women are naturally more traumatized by divorce than men.
Even more traumatic for women than divorce is a night spent with Sunstone.
What seems to be happening is that, idea by idea, the old notions of how men and women differ in natural sexuality from each other are being challenged by the new science. Sometimes the challenges merely qualify the old idea, usually by showing that, although the difference exists, it is largely due to culture and learning rather than to innate human nature. At other times, the challenges threaten to overturn the old ideas completely.
Some New Ideas About Women’s Sexuality
Bergner, and the leading sex researchers he interviews, argue that women’s sexuality is not the rational, civilized and balancing force it’s so often made out to be — that it is base, animalistic and ravenous, everything we’ve told ourselves about male sexuality. –Tracy Clark-Flory
I believe that when thinking about the emerging new consensus, the emphasis should be put on “emerging”. There are so many questions yet to be answered that I do not believe it can as yet be definitively stated. But at this stage, the following four points seem to me, at least, to best characterize the most important findings:
- Women want sex far more than almost all of us are taught to believe.
- Their sex drive is as strong as, or possibly even stronger, than men’s sex drive.
- Their desire for sex does not always depend on their feeling emotionally intimate with — nor even safe with — their partner.
- Women might be less evolved for monogamous relationships than men.
But do women know this about themselves? There’s evidence that many women might not. One such bit of evidence:
Dr. Meredith Chivers attempts to peek into the cage by sitting women in La-Z-Boy recliners, presenting them with a variety of pornographic videos, images, and audio recordings, and fitting their bodies with vaginal plethysmographs to measure the blood flow of desire. When Chivers showed a group of women a procession of videos of naked women, naked men, heterosexual sex, gay sex, lesbian sex, and bonobo sex, her subjects “were turned on right away by all of it, including the copulating apes.” But when it came time to self-report their arousal, the survey and the plethysmograph “hardly matched at all,” Bergner reports. Straight women claimed to respond to straight sex more than they really did; lesbian women claimed to respond to straight sex far less than they really did; nobody admitted a response to the bonobo sex. Physically, female desire seemed “omnivorous,” but mentally, it revealed “an objective and subjective divide.”
Women, it seems, might not be in tune with their physical desires when it comes to sex. But if this is so, it should come as little or no surprise.
The Repression of Women’s Sexuality
While significant efforts to repress women’s (and often enough men’s) expression of their own sexuality are not found in every culture (e.g. the Mosuo), they seem to be found in all major cultures, and they range from shaming all the way up to female genital mutilation, honor killing, and stoning. Indeed, rape — which is a nearly ubiquitous behavior — can be seen as largely a form of repressing women’s sexuality, especially given how often it is justified in terms of “she asked for it”, meaning that she in some way or another expressed her sexuality in a manner the criminal(s) thought invited attack.
But those are merely the enforcement mechanisms for more subtle ways of repressing women’s sexuality. Sexual ideologies seem to be the primary means of repression. By “sexual ideologies” I mean in this context anything from full blown systems of thought about what is proper or improper, right or wrong, natural or unnatural about women’s sexuality to unorganized and unsystematic ideas and beliefs about their behavior. For instance, advising young women not to wear short skirts doesn’t count by itself as a true ideology, but for the sake of convenience I’m lumping such advice into the same bucket as true ideologies here.
Sexual ideologies are perhaps even more effective than the gross enforcement mechanisms at repressing women. If you can convince someone that it’s natural, right, and moral to suppress her sexual feelings, then you do not need to rely on the off chance you can catch and punish her for them if she fails to do so. Ideally, you can even get her to suppress her feelings to the extent she no longer knows she even has them, because if you can do that, then she herself is apt to become something of a volunteer oppressor of other women, especially, say, in raising her daughters.
Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above. — Rose Sayer, The African Queen (1951).
Here are a few quick examples of the things being found out about women’s sexuality these days:
In surveys men routinely report having two to four times the number of sex partners that women report, which lends support to the notion that men are naturally more promiscuous than women. But one study, published in 2003 in The Journal of Sex Research, found that when men were tricked into believing they were hooked up to a lie detector, the men reported the same number of sex partners as the women reported. This is significant because it calls into question a fair body of research that is often cited in support of the notion women are less promiscuous on the whole than men.
A 2009 study published in Psychological Science found that pickiness seems to depend on whether a person is approached by a potential partner, or is themselves doing the approaching. The experiment, conducted in a real-life speed-dating environment, showed that when men rotated through women who stayed seated in the same spot, the women were more selective about whom they chose to date. When the women did the rotating, it was the guys who were pickier. This implies that women’s choosiness might largely depend circumstances, and not on innate nature.
In 2011, a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that women liked casual, uncommitted sex just as much as men provided only that two conditions were first met: (1) the stigma of having casual sex needed to be removed, and (2) the women had to anticipate that the man would be a “great lover”. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the women did not seem to need to feel emotionally intimate with the man in order to enjoy casual sex with him.
In 2015, evidence was published in the journal Biology Letters that both men and women fall into two more or less distinct groups: Those who prefer monogamy and those who prefer promiscuity. Curiously, the sexes were about the same in terms of the proportions of men and women who favored one or the other. A slight majority of the men favored promiscuity, while a slight minority of the women did. This would seem to undermine the notion that men as a group are markedly more promiscuous than women.
The journal Psychological Science published a 2006 study that found women in general are more flexible than men in their sexual orientations, and that the higher a woman’s sex drive, the more likely she was to be attracted to both sexes (the same was not true of men).
In 2006, the journal Human Nature reported that both men and women in new relationships experience about equal sexual desire for each other, but sometime between one to four years into the relationship, women’s sexual desire for their partners began to plummet (The same was not true of the men: Their sexual desire held constant.) Two decades into committed relationships, only 20% of women remained sexually desirous of their partners. Long term monogamy appears to sap a woman’s sex drive.
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The new science has huge implications if it is indeed sound. For instance, as hinted above, the sexual repression of women often enough depends on women buying into certain myths about their own sexuality, such as the myth that a woman’s sexuality, when compared to a man’s, is weaker, less urgent, less demanding. If the myth is true, then an implication is women should sexually defer to their partners, place their own sexual needs on the back burner while tending to the needs of their man.
Yet, if the new science is sound, then men and women’s sex drives are more or less equal, and there becomes no ideological reason for women to not demand their rightful share of the fun. That seems to disturb some men.
I can think of any number of reasons why some men are disturbed or put off by sexually assertive women, but none of them are relevant enough to go into here. Yet, it should be kept in mind that some men — but not all — are disturbed by the notion that women, being by nature sexually equal to men, ought to have equal rights in bed.
There are other implications of the new science men might find even more disturbing. Perhaps the biggest implication might have at its core how women’s unleashed sexuality could affect men’s reproductive success. The new sexuality might fearfully suggest to many men that their liberated partners are now more likely to cuckold them. That’s not a prospect most men are entirely blissful about.
Grand Sweeping Summary and Plea for Money
Acceptance of reality is not, actually, one of our major strengths as a species. Even if the new science proves over time to be sound, it’s unlikely to be accepted without a fight.
If you are like me, you believe more research is needed into women’s sexuality. Much more research. Moreover, you are keen on funding some of that research yourself! Yes, this is your opportunity to send me on a mission of scientific discovery to my town’s finest strip joint, where I will be surveying and assessing how women express their sexuality through dance, while flirting with suffering a heart attack from the intrinsic excitement of doing science. Simply email me to arrange a transfer of funds!