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Pajiba Dirty Talk: Feminism: It Ruined Everything, Even Sex

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | April 13, 2011 | Comments ()


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Have I mentioned to y'all that you can't necessarily trust that just because someone has the letters "Ph. D." after their name doesn't mean they're not full of shit? (Yours truly generally excepted, of course.) For example, in a recent Psychology Today blogpost, a couple of Doctoral types hold forth on how feminism has ruined sex for women (because it was generally so awesome when we weren't supposed to want it or request that our own sexual needs be met instead of just servicing men). According to these gentlemen, the reason so many more women experience problems with arousal is because gender equality prevents them from being sexually submissive, which of course most women would find fulfilling if they could just get past the whole equality thing. Leaving aside the fact that no true believer in gender equality would presume to tell another human being what they should or shouldn't like in bed (assuming that said activities involve consenting adults), their arguments are not exactly convincing, and I say that a fiercely feminist vagina-haver who happens to thoroughly enjoy being submissive in the bedroom.

The authors never actually state why feminism makes women less submissive in the bedroom, though presumably it has something to do with modern women being uncomfortable with the notion of sexual submissiveness to men (some of them are, but many are able to reconcile equality and submissive bedroom tendencies). Or possibly because feminism emasculates men, making them less comfortable with dominance and less attractive to their mates (I would argue that it makes them more considerate of whether their partners actually want to be dominated). They simply give a couple of (weak) arguments that women are naturally sexually submissive and men naturally dominant.

Let's unpack the arguments, shall we? The authors note that sexual submission is incredibly common in erotic literature directed at women. This was particularly true in the era before the 70s and 80s, in which "forced seduction," i.e. rape but the heroine has an orgasm from it, was a common theme of romance novels marketed to women. The authors would have it that this is because the majority of women get off on this sort of fantasy. While it's true that many women have rape fantasies, the underlying desire behind them can range from a wish to be humiliated and punished to a desire to ignite such a strong passion in someone that nothing will stop their lust, not even vigorous protest. And it's generally agreed among people who study these things (they exist, honest) that the forced seduction trope was borne not of a deep understanding of female desire, but from the need to give readers the steamy sex scenes they craved while also populating these novels with the type of good girls who would never actively desire sex (but who would often enjoy it once it was forced on them). The fact that these types of romance are not common anymore and that many women are uncomfortable with them even as romance novels continue to be one of the best selling genres in the world, indicates not that modern women are in denial about what they really want, but that they no longer need to pretend that good girls don't (unless forced). On the other hand, erotic fiction directed toward men is often focused on male dominance, but I see no good argument for why this isn't as affected by cultural influence as the bodice rippers of the recent past. Porn styles have changed dramatically over the past few decades, are we supposed to believe that it's because men's biological preferences are constantly in flux?

The authors also point out that the females of many species -Norwegian rats for example - exhibit submissive behavior during sex. This behavior (which the authors are at least honest enough to explain in a footnote is not the same as social submission - this, at least, is true for humans as well.) is controlled by a part of the brain that also controls submissive behavior in primates, and the authors extrapolate these findings to human behavior, though they fail to mention any studies that actually demonstrate this (actually, they kind of fail to directly cite any studies at all). Animal models are certainly useful for studying underlying mechanisms that might explain human behavior, but I don't personally think it's safe to draw any hard and fast conclusions about how human sexuality works from even our closest relatives, chimps and bonobos, let alone rats. As the authors note, both sexes have the necessary hardwiring for both submissive and dominant behavior. Their assumption seems to be that in humans, as in rats, which circuits get activated is based on genetics rather than external factors such as culture. (Even in rats, these things aren't necessarily set at birth. Mother Norwegian rats spend more time grooming male offspring. Simulating this higher level of grooming by tickling female offspring results in these offspring displaying typically male characteristics. Not everything natural is genetic.) The fact that many men get off on being sexually submissive and many women enjoy dominance would seem to indicate that this wiring is not necessarily set in stone for either gender, even if there is an inherent bias toward different directions in the two sexes (And do I need to mention yet again how flexible and adaptable human behavior is comparison to most of the rest of the animal kingdom?).

Having earned a higher degree does not make one an expert on everything, and one of the things it very rarely provides is insight into how the other gender experiences sex. While feminism may make some women question the nature of their sexual desires, such self-examination is not necessarily a bad thing, and most feminists are perfectly capable of distinguishing their sexual preferences from their social status. Some women do have rape and submission fantasies, maybe even most women, for the reasons mentioned above as well as others, but those are personal fantasies, and thanks to feminism women are more empowered to ask for whatever they want sexually in order to realize those fantasies. Whether they are the product of genetics or culture is impossible to unpack, since humans don't grow up in a cultural vacuum, but it doesn't really matter. If it gets you off and genuinely makes you happy and doesn't hurt anyone else, on a personal level there's no real need to understand why. Just fucking enjoy it. Regardless of what women want in the bedroom - submission, dominance, or anything in between - we have more freedom in a post-feminist world to demand it. Feminism hasn't killed sexual submission for women, it's made it more possible for women to enact their submissive fantasies while remaining in actual control of what happens to their bodies. The authors of the piece state that, "Negotiating sexual politics has always been difficult, but paradoxically the laudable and necessary victories of gender equality activism might make it even more challenging." That's only true if you consider it "more challenging" when both halves of a couple have a say.

Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she's had a little whiskey.



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