Thursday, June 6, 2013

Nothing is ever women's fault, a continuing series

In the book, Bergner ... lays out a diverse body of research that threatens to disrupt all the modern stereotypes of female sexuality: That women are not visual creatures; that their sex drive is lower than men’s; that they’re aroused by love, not sex; and that they’re naturally fitted to be sexual objects, not agents.
And who is to blame for this? If you guessed men, go to the head of the class.
If society didn’t realize all of that before, Bergner writes, it’s because the men who run it didn’t want to. “Women’s desire—its inherent range and innate power—is an underestimated and constrained force,” he concludes. In the Middle Ages, it was constrained by the idea that “lust-drunk witches … left men ‘smooth,’ devoid of their genitals.” In the last century, it was constrained by Freud’s theory that women have “a weaker sexual instinct” than men. Now, it’s constrained by modern evolutionary psychology that says that “women are rigged by their genes to seek the comfort of relationships.” Across culture, Bergner writes, “with scientific or God-given confidence, girls and women are told how they should feel.” Mostly, they should feel comfortable sexualizing themselves, but not men.
That doesn't pass the smell test.  Men don't want women to recognize their own sexual desire? Does that sound even remotely credible?

Consider, for example, the Facebook app called "Bang With Friends". Created by men, the app allows users to anonymously pick people from their friends list whom they'd like to have sex with. If two people both pick one another, the app lets them both know and they can have sex. Notice the strategy: straight to sex with no complicated social ritual to go through first.

That's not the way all men think all the time but it is the way a lot of men think a lot of the time. Women occasionally feel like that too but only a disgusting pig of a man would go so far as to make a computer app to make it actually possible. To turn around and claim that it is men are telling women that they should not feel these things is bullshit.

And who is it that always insists they want love and not sex?  Or, the dread of it, who insists that they don't want "just sex"? Those are things women say and yet we are supposed to believe that this happens because men are scared of women's  "desire—its inherent range and innate power". That is bullshit on stilts.

No, I don't know why women keep saying they want things they don't actually desire. I don't understand why women fall in love with men they desire and then allow the way they think of him to change so that they no longer desire him. Perhaps they can't help it.

Whatever the reason, Its! Not! Men's! Fault!

The problem needs more careful analysis than what the author of the piece I cite above, Amanda Hess, has given it. For starters, look at stereotype #1 from the list above.  Who is it that tells us that women aren't turned on by visual things? It's women. That tells us that women have, at the very least, internalized the notion that they are not visual creatures when it comes to sex. Or, to put it more baldly, women really believe it when they say they are not turned on by erotic images. But they are aroused by them.

This has been proved by repeated studies in which women were monitored by devices that measure their sexual response while being shown images. And women are not exactly subtle about what they do respond to:
The only strong preference Chivers found among her female subjects? When she presented straight women with photographs of human genitals, their blood “rushed much, much more when an erection occupied the screen” than when a flaccid penis or a female “crotch shot” appeared.
Well, I'm not surprised by that. Any man who has had a reasonable life has had the wonderful pleasure of watching an aroused woman go gaga over his erect penis and marveled at how very, very different that is from the public image she presents. But ask any woman you know if she'd be interested in looking at porn featuring men with erections and the odds are that she'll say "no". She'll deny that such a thing could possibly do anything for her.

(If you conducted a study where women kept under secret surveillance while left alone with porn, I'm certain that the vast majority would spend some quality time with the porn. And then they'd turn around and lie about it. If forced to admit the truth, a good number would then insist that their reaction that day was unusual and not a reflection of what they are really like.)

Part of the problem is that people, such as the author of the piece I cite here, confuse desire and want. There are lots of things that I desire that I do not want. I might desire to have sex with Hillary but I'm married and so is she and I want my marriage and respect hers whereas I merely desire her body. I don't even know that she'd be interested. Likewise, I may sometimes have a desire to tell my friends certain blunt truths about them but I want their friendship more than I desire to blurt out whatever it is that is bugging me so I don't.

The real problem women have, and it's something right in Bergner's book (although he apparently can't grasp the importance of it), is that women don't understand their own desires. In his book he discusses a study where men and women were show potentially erotic images and their arousal was measured objectively by measuring blood flow to their genitals. At the same time, the test subjects were given a keyboard to record their subjective sense of their arousal. The men's subjective responses were 100 percent in accord with what the objective measurements indicated. Here is what happened with the women:
... with the women, especially the straight women, mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. The readings from the plethysmograph and the keypad weren’t in much accord.
Notice the phrase "especially the straight women". For everyone knows what the cause of the problem is. Women tend not to understand their own desires because they don't want to understand them. More to come in tomorrow's post.


  1. You make some very good points here. Part of it is that women believe what's written about them, even when it runs counter to their own experience. So they answer these survey questions in a way they think they ought to based on how they've read or been told women act and feel. I'm also glad you made the distinction between desires and wants. Thanks to the sexual revolution we live in a culture which defines every desire as a want if not a need. Many of our desires belong and should remain in the realm of fantasy for all the reasons you mention, and never ever acted on. But we've been told by the "experts" (won't mention any names) for the last 30 or 40 yrs that everyone has a "right" to act and should act on whatever it is they desire (as long as its with people of legal age and mutually consenting) or they're somehow repressed or incomplete, not whole. Which is garbage.

  2. I stumbled upon your blog recently, so forgive me if I'm not up-to-date on your background, but may I suggest Dr. Emily Nagoski's blog? She's a very well-educated person on the subject of desire, and talks specifically about understanding responsive desire here: which is what women's sexual functioning usually looks like,