Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Tits and Tats

It is often said that women should not freak out about their men looking at porn. "Men need visual variety!" cry the proponents of porn. Advocates say that porn may help keep men from actually cheating because it allows them to feel like they got their rocks off with another woman in essence if not in reality. It gives them a release when their women aren't interested in sex. And these arguments are not completely without merit.

However, I started thinking about something. A reader of Dan Savage's column recently queried, "What's the female equivalent of porn? Where's our activity that might bother our significant other but, hey, girls will be girls?" The answer Dan came up with was cupcakes, which was decidedly lame and not in the least equivalent. The other day in the car, though, it hit me. The female equivalent would be MAKING porn.

According to studies that overgeneralize everything, women are turned on by feeling desirable. If the argument for why women shouldn't freak about their men looking at porn is all based in the idea that men are very visually stimulated, then it stands to reason that the female equivalent would be being in positions to be desired. Stripping for strangers. Posing for some nude photos and placing them on the internet where they can hear all about how sexy they are from commentors. Walking into a bar and flirting it up with other men just to get the feedback about how hot they are. If you're one of the aforementioned people who believes in the previously stated reasons for men to look at porn, then this idea shouldn't be all that unsettling. Is it? Because if it is, there's a problem.

Now, of course, many will argue that "women aren't like that." I always love this line when I hear it. Men are allowed to be sexual AND emotional. Sure, we talk about how men aren't as emotional as women all the time, but when it comes down to brass tacks, many of us will admit we've seen men fall in love. Men can love AND they can want to fuck. A man looking at another woman while with his significant other, we're told, is not a sign of his desire for infidelity. It's just the way they're built. But this culture is still in serious denial about female sexuality. The idea that a woman would be turned on by anything purely physical is immediately dismissed as preposterous. Women's sexual and emotional lives are assumed to be completely intertwined. I would argue that just as with men, women's sexual and emotional lives are like a Venn diagram: two separate circles with some overlap but also separate properties. Women want to eff the one they love--but, then, so do men. Women also get turned on by things that have nothing to do with the one they love. They're just conditioned to not even recognize when that's happening because we're taught that it's ludicrous. Studies have shown that many women are so mentally detached from their bodies that they can be experiencing full-on arousal reactions and not even know it.

How many men--men who look at porn on a regular basis and still love their wives and girlfriends because, hey, men can do that--would be comfortable with those wives and girlfriends posing naked or stripping? Some might argue that it's not the same thing, but I actually would argue that the two are strikingly similar. They're both situations in which two people are interacting without actually engaging with each other. So, what's the difference?

I point all of this out to show that there are still huge discrepancies in how we treat men and women's sexuality. Specifically, the ideas we have about women's sexuality seem to hem them in and make them seem controlled; the ideas we have about men's sexuality seem to allow them the maximum amount of freedom. We're told that these are natural states arising from our biology, but the biology of the female actually contradicts that. In different times and different cultures, it wasn't unusual for women to pair bond with the man with the most resources while having sex with the man with the best physical genes on the side. These women would pass these offspring off as their mate's because that's how they gained support. What does that tell you about women's natural sexual desire?

I don't point all this out to say that I'm in favor of or opposed to open-relationships. When it comes to one's relationship style, I think it's every man for himself. Some people (men and women alike) cherish monogamous relationships. Some people (again, men and women alike) cherish open relationships to various degrees. I'm also not saying that I think men shouldn't ever look at porn or that I'm going to run out and pose for Playboy. Sorry fellas. Actually, I'd probably be more of a Suicide Girl. Anyway, what I'm saying is simply that we need to further question the sexual assumptions we make along gender lines. Are some things typical of a specific gender? Certainly. But some things are not, and some ideas have been actively generated by a culture that is STILL afraid of letting women own their sexuality. Look at the idea that a woman only wants to have sex with someone she loves. This essentially makes her sexuality her beloved's property. She can't even help but give it away and allow her beloved to own it--she's built that way. I would argue that just like men, her sexuality is hers, and she makes the conscious decision about who to share it with. When a man is monogamous, we all act like it's this really conscious decision. When a woman does it, we act like it's just the way she is. Some women make this choice easily, almost without effort on any level--but, then, so do some men. But some women have sexual desires that are not fulfilled by their beloved. Hell, for some of us it's still hard to understand the first half of that sentence.

Again, I am not looking to advocate a specific lifestyle. I would not take the evidence culled from biological imperatives to advocate for an "anything goes" ideology. Neither would I condemn anyone for HONESTLY AND OPENLY pursuing an "anything goes" ideology. This is about general ideas we have about sex that, to my mind, just don't add up.

Seems to me that if men get to look at other women's tits, we should get to show other men our tats.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebates and sluts living together--it'll be...anarchy!

And what's anarchy but another word for freedom? Today is National Sexual Freedom Day, and I shall now mark the occasion in the appropriate manner. Or, at least, one of the appropriate manners. The others are not available to me at the moment.

The other day I read an article about research into women's sexual desire. It was mostly talking about how to unleash it. The elusive desire of women. How, oh how, do men convince us to have sex with them?

The story is seemingly as old as time. Man and woman meet. Man and woman have lots of sex because they've just met and damn, that shit is awesome! Man and woman fall in love. Man and woman get married. Man spends the rest of his life trying to touch woman's breast and getting told, "Not tonight, honey. I have a headache." Man slouches off to watch porn in his office while the woman watches crappy woman-centered television shows about women and their feelings. The moral of the story was always thus: men love sex; women love feelings (and don't want to have sex later in the relationship because they never really cared much about sex to begin with). Women use sex to get love; men use love to get sex.

We were all raised with this story. Maybe we saw it first-hand in our own households. Maybe we just saw it on sitcoms. As we grew up, we didn't realize it, but this narrative became a central part of how we viewed male/female sexual relationships. Some of us--maybe even most of us--recognized at some point that this story didn't match up with our own feelings about sex. Maybe the men recognized at some point that they love to cuddle or they like women-centered television shows about women and their feelings. Both of my brothers love Gilmore Girls. Maybe we women realized we love sex. The problem was that while we were able to question what we'd been told about our own genders, we carried on believing whatever it was we'd been taught about the other.

The aforementioned article came with some information that rocks that cultural myth. Research is showing that women lose interest in sex as their relationship moves forward because they aren't particularly turned on by familiarity. Once they know they have a man in the bag, they find him much less sexually attractive. What?! But wait! I thought it was because women are these pure-minded souls who just love love and do not care much for sex and certainly don't care much for sex with anyone other than their beloved! Oh, my, how this information flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

Apparently men and women have more in common sexually than we care to believe.

It seemingly serves men to believe all that claptrap about women, love, and sex. It allows them to believe that their women would never want to sleep with someone else. It also allows them to believe that they hold a lot of the power in the relationship. Men supposedly have women under their thumb because women will do anything for love, including never leave and never cheat. Tell men that their wives have "headaches" because they're bored with their husbands and all hell will break loose. Men will actually have to work for it or, worse, won't be able to do anything at all to win back the sexual favor of their lady love.

Meanwhile, women are told that men have a sexual thought "every seven seconds." Actually, according to the Kensey study, 54% of men think about sex every day--which could mean once every day. 30-something percent think about it every week. Some only think about it every few weeks or once a month. That seven seconds statistic? That's just a cultural myth as well. I shared this interesting information with my boyfriend the other day, and he seemed relieved. He said he'd always wondered about that because he's not even sure he has a thought--any thought, sexual or otherwise--every seven seconds.


That seven seconds thing has always perplexed me. Here I am, a woman who loves sex, wondering how it is that so many men aren't in the mood all the time! When women are told that men are thinking about it constantly, what are we supposed to think when they don't want to do it with us? We have no choice but to think a) there's something wrong with us, or b) there's something wrong with our partner. But only about half of men think about it every day! That's a huge discrepency.

Another phrase that's trotted out and treated like science is the old "men are more visual." It's essentially used as an excuse as to why men just can't bring themselves to date ugly chicks. Men also use it as a way to prop up their egos. "Luckily for us dudes, we can get fat, lose our hair, and wear sweatpants and our ladies will still love us!" This might be true--love is crazy like that--but it's got nothing to do with women being less visual. Just like you men, your lady love checked out the hot piece of ass she saw wandering the produce section of the grocery store while you and your sweatpants were across the room in frozen foods. Women are visually stimulated. Don't believe me? Check my internet history. The argument here is not that we need to fight against the idea of men being visually stimulated. We just need to understand that a lot of people are visually stimulated. And we can be visually stimulated by all kinds of looks. And people--people, not men and women--have all kinds of sexual tastes and desires.

However a woman will not want to have sex with a man unless he has lots of money. That shit is the truth.

I kid. What we're seeing in that tale as old as time is the idea that relationships are power plays. For most of human history they were. Women and men needed something from each other. The modern belief that she controls the sex that he needs so badly because men love sex and he controls the love that she needs so badly because women love love is just the modern version of her having the womb in which his genes will survive and he controls the resources that will feed her while she's busy having babies. As people have become more independent, this outmoded power play no longer serves us. It causes more harm than good in the post-modern relationship.

Is there a place in all this for love? Is there a place in all of this for mutually satisfying sex? Is there a place in all of this for both simultaneously? Certainly. I'm just saying that some men like to cuddle and some women like to fuck. My love of sex has been met with varying levels of shaming on every front. Even progressive types like to imply that maybe I love sex because I have a desperate and unnaturally strong need to feel attractive or have security issues and will do any "sordid" thing to feel loved. You know, because that's the only reason women like to fuck. We need to challenge these deeply ingrained gender beliefs about sexuality. We all seem to think that just because women now pose in their underwear on album covers a la Britney Spears that the sexual revolution won, as if the only issue was whether or not it could be okay for women to be portrayed as sexy. But the old cultural trope of "men love sex, women love love, and the two are mutually exclusive" is still at play, and until it's played out, we won't have anything resembling a sex-positive culture.

And why would we want that? I think the term "sex-positive" speaks for itself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A dream is a wish your heart makes...but hearts were made to be broken.

If you read Psychology Today online religiously (as I do) and have a self-help collection that contains more than three titles (as I do), then you have come across the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If you're not nuts or are nuts but haven't had any realizations yet about that fact, let me fill you in on what this is. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within a person. "I paint because I just love painting!" Extrinsic motivation comes from without. "I go to my shit job everyday because they give me the money I need to live." Pretty simple concept, right?

Well, just moments ago, I was sitting in the bathroom at work contemplating possible tweets I could post on my Twitter page when I came up with, "shaved my legs last night and didn't even get laid." That's when it hit me--most modern psychobabble is horseshit! I'd been duped AGAIN! I've got to stop reading Psychology Today religiously, but I get so bored at work and besides, sometimes I find good instructive articles for my boyfriend in the relationship section.

What does one have to do with the other? Well, I only shave my legs because I believe it will get me something I want--sex. I suppose one could argue that this is a mixture of motivations. It's somewhat intrinsic because I'm motivated by something I want (again, sex) to do something I otherwise would not care so much about doing (shave my legs). Honestly, I can still get the sex without shaving my legs, but I figure it provides a more pleasurable sensation for my partner during the act, so I try to keep up with it. But I find myself trying to calculate when I shave my legs around when I'm most likely to be having of the sex. "We had sex two days ago, which means tonight is probably a sex night, except he's not going to get home until late, and..." But this is pretty much the textbook definition of extrinsic motivation. It's certainly not like I shave my legs because I just love shaving my legs. Hell, I don't even do it for the wearing of the skirts. I will shamelessly go unshaven in a skirt if I haven't remembered to shave in a couple of days and that's what's clean.

Essentially what you've just learned is that I only care about people's good opinion of me when it leads to me getting laid.

Anyway, after thinking this about my leg shaving, I started thinking about how much of what we do is extrinsically motivated. Again, this means we do not do it for sheer love of the activity but because we have to do it in order to get something we want or need. But I've read so many freaking articles and books that hinged partially on the idea that we should be doing what we love! Ever heard the question, "Ask yourself what you would be doing if money were no object, then DO THAT!" Yeah. Whoever came up with that question is a) a marketing genius who has not only sold a lot of whatever he or she was selling but also helped a lot of other people who ripped off that sentiment sell a whole lot of something as well, and b) the ruiner of life. People read that in an article on a website, and the next thing you know they're trying to think up ways to move to the middle of nowhere and write the next great American novel (for instance--it's a hypothetical fantasy scenario). Problem is, imagine how realistic it must be that we can all write novels (or become painters, dancers, musicians, nuclear physicists) or do whatever else it is we love to do just for the sheer love of it while still getting paid a living wage for said thing.

If the minute you start to imagine that you panic, it's because it's IMPOSSIBLE--or, if it happened, it would lead to chaos of such proportions nobody would be doing any of those awesomeamazingwonderful things after about three weeks because we would be living in a Mad Max movie.

This philosophy--this "anybody can be anything and should only do that which makes them happy" thinking--is so hopelessly flawed, I don't even know where to begin to address it. First, it's classist. You know who came up with that thinking? Some rich 50-something white lady whose husband did a fancy job that allowed her the cash to go teach yoga in her very own ashram. Second, it's in full flight from reality. Hello, person who came up with this thinking--I'd like to introduce you to the American economy. I'd also like to introduce you to the social constructs that determine how much money people get paid for certain kinds of work and all the people who have been in bands their entire adult lives but never made a cent off their music. I'd like to introduce you to the concept that there are only so many positions available in any certain field. No, we do NOT need that many more internet content writers on the block. There's enough useless crap on the internet already.

Moving on...

Really, though, this philosophy sounds so wonderful! And it comes in even more subtle forms, like when we see Rachel suddenly go from coffeshop waitress to Ralph Lauren la-di-da on Friends. Hope that reference made sense; I never really watched that show. This idea that almost every action we take SHOULD be intrinsically motivated if we're GOOD people and we play our cards right is everywhere we turn...and it's harmful. I'm not a dream squisher. People ultimately do what they want. It's just that for most of us, eating and having a place to sleep are more important than quitting our jobs we hate in order to follow our dreams of not ever having to do anything that isn't fun EVER AGAIN. The reason that this thinking is harmful is that it sets people up for feeling like failures--perfectly successful people who've managed to make great art (even if they've never sold any), have fulfilling relationships (which, contrary to popular belief, are really important to a person's overall happiness and satisfaction with life), maybe write a screenplay that sits in a drawer but is nonetheless amazing, or raised a couple of kids whom they love. People who are good at their jobs, as much as they hate them some days. People who have managed to live through seriously tough stuff--and so much of life is tough stuff. I'm actually still amazed sometimes at the fact that I've been a grown-up without supervision for over 10 years and haven't been arrested or died yet. Everyone who knows me is nodding in agreement.

Ultimately, this philosophy is also tied up in the idea that money equals measurement of success. It isn't explicit, but what they're saying is that this is how you choose what to do for a living. So if you can't MAKE A LIVING out of your dreams, you've failed in some way. Because, you know, we should all be doing what we love FOR A LIVING. And I'm not discounting the fact that this does happen. We just have to be prepared in the event it does not happen for us. We might find perfectly awesome lives in the meantime, but only if we're willing to be okay with the fact that some very specific dreams didn't come true or, at the very least, that we never made OUR LIVING that way.

So follow your dreams. Just don't quit your day job yet.