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Whatever You Are, You’re Normal

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | June 1, 2010 | Comments ()

By Dr. Pisaster | Pajiba Dirty Talk | June 1, 2010 |


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One of the most well-attended scientific talks I've ever been to was given by this guy. His research was on the effect of a particular enzyme on sexual arousal, and it involved - I kid you not - measuring the strength of rabbit boners. Thanks to this, he was able to use the word "sex" in the title of his talk. Probably 200 people showed up for a seminar that usually brought in less than 50. It was standing room only and there were people there who I'm not even sure were scientists. I think some undergrads saw the fliers and thought they were going to something completely different. The talk itself was as glorious as one would expect of a scientific discussion of rabbit erections given by a man in a bowtie, and my grad school friends and I still bring it up to this day when we see each other. To put that in perspective, I can't even think of the subject of a single other talk I went to that year. I'm telling you this story to illustrate a fairly obvious point: if you want people to show up, there's no better way than to use the magic word -- sex. Sex is endlessly fascinating. It's both extremely enjoyable and kinda weird (so, you put tab B into slot A and...oh. OH.). We can't seem to resist the urge to talk about it, especially around these parts. Anyone who's spent any time in the comment section of this site knows that our readers are a very pro-sex bunch. Which is why Pajiba is introducing a new weekly feature: Pajiba Dirty Talk. This column will feature discussions of sex stories in the news, the latest sex research, and whatever aspect of human sexuality is on my mind when I realize my deadline is approaching. (It will not be an advice column. For that I recommend Professor Foxy over at feministing.) It's not exactly movie/tv/book related, but nobody can argue that it doesn't line up with the interests of the site's readers.

For the inaugural column I thought I'd focus on something that seems to pop up whenever a post about sexuality shows up on the internet: what is and isn't normal, sexually speaking. One of the most frustrating things to read in response to discussions of sex is comments of the type, "In my experience, X is true." Well, guess what, your experience isn't universal, and you should be careful what conclusions you draw from it, because I guarantee you when someone writes that, someone else reading it is thinking "I'm not like that. Does that make me weird?" We don't really have any clear points of reference for a lot of sexual stuff, so we have to piece things together from numerous not-so-reliable sources like porn and cheesy women's magazines and things our friends tell us about their sex lives, if they're even willing to talk about such things honestly. Our culture tends to focus on stereotypes rather than the varied experiences of real people, and the result is that many people are under the impression that "normal" is one specific thing rather than a broad range of behaviors, anatomy, and preferences. The truth is, we're all different and unique, in our sex lives as much as everything else.

Take for example, the fairly recent development of labiaplasty, plastic surgery meant to alter the size and shape of a woman's labia. The surgery was initially intended for women whose labia cause them physical discomfort or pain, but it has increasingly become something women do to "improve" the appearance of their vulvas. A large part of the problem is that most women (or at least the heterosexual ones) haven't really seen very many vulvas outside of porn, which tends to focus on a specific type -- those with small labia minora. The result is that many young women think there is something wrong with them because they don't look like porn stars "down there," and they feel abnormal enough that they are willing to have surgery on a part of their body whose function, frankly, should be more important than its form. Trust me ladies, whatever you have between your legs, it's perfectly normal. I suggest a quick look through this site (warning: link seriously, Seriously not safe for work) to get an idea of how incredibly diverse female anatomy actually is.

Of course men don't escape from this sort of misconception either. While worrying about the aesthetic appeal of our naughty parts is fairly new to women, men have been obsessing over how their members measure up since, well, probably since the dawn of self awareness. Studies show that men consistently underestimate the size of their own junk compared to the average, and our "the bigger the better" mentality probably contributes to a feeling of inadequacy in lot of men who are perfectly well equipped to please their partners. (If you're curious about what actual, non-porno penises look like, you can check out this - also very NSFW - site. Sorry boys, your site has way fewer pictures. If you want to see more you can always check out the casual encounters section of your local craigslist.) Honestly, if it works and doesn't cause you physical discomfort, then whatever you have to work with is probably perfectly fine. It may not suit every partner you'll ever have (we all do have our preferences after all, and sometimes people's anatomy just doesn't line up), but somebody out there will probably be pretty happy with it.

The same thing goes for sexual behavior. Our cultural narrative of "men always want it," and "women always have a headache," is pretty far from the truth for many people. Both men and women have sex drives that fall everywhere on the spectrum from completely asexual to constantly horny. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, but there's nothing necessarily wrong with people who are on one extreme or the other. Although there are some people whose sexual behavior may be a reaction to psychological trauma, many more are simply being true to themselves. If more people were open about their sex lives and actually talked about sex more (Hi 'jibans!), most of us would realize that there is no "normal," there's just individual preference. As long as you're satisfied and what you want doesn't interfere with your life or relationships, there's really no reason to worry or be ashamed. (And even if it does interfere with a romantic relationship, that may be because you and your partner are sexually mismatched, not because there's something wrong with you.) Men who can take or leave sex aren't any less masculine than those who can't get enough, and women who are constantly in the mood are not freaks. People who like kinky sex aren't weirdos, and people with non-standard sexual relationships aren't doing anything "wrong." They're just people, and people tend to be diverse. So please, no judging or generalizing about other people's sex lives and bodies, and no obsessing over whether you're abnormal. Sex is too much fun to go ruining it with pointless neuroses.

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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