Jacob Bronowski on the dangers of applying lessons learned from the animal kingdom to humans (mentioned in the Ascent of Men film series).
“…the wonderful work on animal behaviour by Konrad Lorenz naturally makes us seek for likeness between the duck and the tiger and man; or B.F. Skinner’s psychological work on pigeons and rats. They tell us something about man. But they cannot tell us everything. There must be something unique about man, because otherwise, evidently, the ducks would be lecturing about Konrad Lorenz, and the rats would be writing papers about B.F. Skinner.”
This comes from an amazing medical blogpost by Tara-Parker-Pope about sexless marriages (with 1030 comments, all of them fascinating). Be warned. I spent 5+ hours reading the comments on this thread.
Under the fold are some more comments from the thread. Mostly well-mannered but about frank topics:
Sex is like air, its not really all that important, until you’re not getting any.
I live in the epicenter of nyc’s artist community, and I can assure you these folks are WAY more interested in getting laid than in being the next Pollock. Which is precisely why there are no Pollocks walking down the street these days.
In one series of studies, relationship researchers interviewed married men and women about how they wanted their partners to behave during sex. Both men and women wanted their partners to be more direct and tell them exactly what they wanted from sex. At the same time, both men and women were often too self conscious to be that direct with their partners in describing their own needs and desires. But they also had very specific sexual wishes they wanted from their spouse. Here they are:
Husbands want their wives to …
Be more seductive
Initiate sex more often
Be more experimental
Be wilder and sexier
Give more instructions
Wives want their husbands to…
Talk more lovingly
Be more seductive
Be more complimentary
Be more experimental
Give more instructions
Be warmer and more involved
I’ve come to realize over the years – if a guy wants to get laid, maybe get off your butt and do the dishes.
Daphne: It’s not like men have never used sex to get what they want.
Frasier: How can we possibly use sex to get what we want? Sex IS what we want!
“Show me a beautiful woman, I’ll show you a guy who’s tired of _______ her.” – Don Johnson
If it fly, floats or f****, it’s always cheaper to rent.
(RJ: Obviously this is vulgar and wrong. But I liked the construction of that sentence)
here it is, a ginormous portion of the troubles between men and women, in one cogent nutshell! Anyone familiar with the widespread caricature representing the circuitry of Man and Woman will immediately glom to its identical, overwhelming truth. [The caricature I refer to typically shows a plain box labeled ‘Man’, with a single, central On/Off Switch; beside it is a similarly sized box labeled ‘Woman’, but this one is encrusted with more switches, meters and indicator-lights than you can shake a stick at!]
We deconstruct these metaphors thusly: What do men want? Sex. What do women want? No one, and certainly no man, can ever say – their desires are too multiple and befuddling. And pleasing a woman is commensurately daunting. When a man does please a woman, it is like hitting a bulls-eye blindfolded while facing away from it – a feat of pure dumb luck. It’s a safe bet he can’t do it the same way twice!
As a woman, I was considerably better able to “do without sex” until I had children, than after. How does that fit with your theory? Yes, logistics make combining sexual life with kids at home more difficult. But that is not an insurmountable hindrance. All it takes is re-prioritizing your life, working out some personal space, simplifying whatever you can, weeding out extraneous social obligations, for example. Who said you are obligated to give massive baby birthday parties or drive yourself frazzled with play dates?
A very good reason for a second child is to give your first child a friend and playmate so you and your mate can get away more often to… you know what.
No, that was not a tongue-in-cheek remark. People who find parenting overwhelming, and wearing down their marriage, ought to sit down and chat with some glowing Mom & Dad they know and simply ask them, honestly: how do you do it? Because it can be done…
I’ve also found our cultural definitions of “good” sex keep us from enjoying sex.
Consider: lots of people think sex is only “good” if it’s also an erotic experience. But erotic experiences come more from distance than from closeness. When people stop requiring sex to be erotic, they discover new ways of enjoying sexual pleasure.
From anecdotal evidence, I’ve found many (not all) women in long-term relationships (i.e. where the eroticism has waned) are most easily aroused by engaging sexually with their partner. If they wait until they’re aroused, sex will never happen, but once they begin to play, they become interested.
But for hetero couples, it’s practically considered criminal to stop having sex before the male ejaculates. This creates a catch-22 – if she begins sexual engagement and doesn’t get aroused, she has to wait for him to ejaculate before she can stop (and if she’s not aroused, chances are he’ll take much longer to come!), and sex becomes a boring annoyance.
When couples allow sex to happen without requiring him to ejaculate, she can freely engage, and see if her arousal follows. It makes for a much more playful opportunity.
You may be interested in the work of Mavis Hetherington who studied different relationship patterns and the likelihood that they would succeed or fail. Demand-withdrawal relationships (or pursuer distancer they are also called) are the most likely to end in divorce. Pay attention to this pattern as you date and form new relationships. focus on communication and when your new partner tries to discuss an issue, be aware of your tendency to withdrawal. So much of where couples go wrong is in managing their conflict. (From RJ: here’s a piece by Jonathan Kandell about pursuer-distancers).
Obesity is not, in itself a bar to sexual activity. I’m fat, not just “overweight,” I mean pushing 300 lbs fat. And my husband and I have a feast or famine sex life based more on his exhaustion from work and commuting than my weight. He still finds me sexy and because he goes out of his way to communicate that, I often still feel just as strongly sexy as I did 150 lbs ago. No, my knees are not as springy and I can’t do gymnastic things, but we can have a very satisfying sex life regardless of my weight because it’s not a problem for him. Fatist comments from those who would find my body gross and disgusting cannot be applied to every person or every partner. Not everyone shares the all too common bigotry against fat people. Maybe those who think they aren’t having sex because their wives have gotten fat should be looking at their own attitudes…
Having been molested is also not, in itself a bar to having a real sex life. Yes, there is MUCH to overcome. I was molested and I had to do a lot of work in my head before I could accept that this thing that my body wanted, yeah, it was not only okay, it was beautiful, not dirty. Some 40% of children who have been sexually abused feel physical pleasure, any CLUE what kind of GUILT that causes?! It is not easy, but it is possible. Healing is possible. A real life is possible. Look at it this way: some perv took your innocence, and your choice in the matter, but you don’t have to give that jerk the rest of your happiness for the rest of your life.
Another common thread seems to be that women don’t want to be touched. And I went through that, particularly after nursing and attachment parenting three children for over a decade. I felt like a walking milk bar, NOT a sex machine. This is not to run down nursing, which I loved doing and would do again. It’s to say that sometimes a person can get “all touched out.” But there are two situations that I experienced that made me pause. First, i took Depo Provera for a couple of years for birth control. It depresses sex drive and it demolished mine. What’s more, it made me literally recoil with revulsion when my very much loved husband even hugged me. Second, when I hit a very early peri-menopause, I started feeling the same sort of thing. Don’t touch me! The common element in both cases is progesterone. After I started using a bio-identical progesterone cream, not only did the feelings of revulsion fade, but I started to get my own drive back. Someone said that men’s sex drive is all about hormones, well so is women’s and by God believe me, some of the WEIRDEST stuff is really about hormones! Don’t suffer, ladies. Its not you. It’s not him. It’s peri-menopause.
Finally, I won’t say Dh and I have the perfect sex life. He’s an evening person. I’m a morning person. We’re both tired with raising kids. We go through dry spells where it’s once every other month and we BOTH go crazy but never at exactly the same time to match. I’m ill and that never helps. And we don’t communicate near as well as I’d like. But somehow, we make it work. We don’t shut each other out and play stupid power games. We do try to learn new techniques and do new things in bed. After 15 years, we’re still working it out. And that’s the key, I think. You work it out. When you stop working it out, that’s when the dry spell becomes the desert.
I remember in my early 20s in the mid-1970s, the peak of 2nd-wave feminism, becoming thoroughly indoctrinated in the politics of radical feminism. Convinced of the evils of male chauvinism and patriarchal domination, I refused all symbols of female objectification, off with the bra, short skirt and high heels; lipstick, mascara, eyeliner—in the trashcan. There was no reason to smile—only to be seen as docile and available, pandering to the male ego. I refused to be the object of male desire. My dancing, sportive body was not for male ogling. My interest in yoga, tai chi, tae kwan doe and vegetarianism was practiced to remain healthy, based on a “my body/my self” attitude.
An unrepentant radical feminist, imagine the shock when an equally radical feminist friend confided to me that she was a “whore in bed” what a betrayal, what a contradiction. How can a true feminist acquiesce to the objectifying sexual whims of her man? Uncompromising in my refusal to be desired, I insisted on remaining non-sexy. In my late twenties I began to travel internationally. I encountered other cultural codes, cultural signs, cultural readings. I realized that my notions of femininity-masculinity, desire, even “sexy” were, in fact, cultural constructs. Nonetheless, I continued to hold on to my radical feminist beliefs, I refused to marry, as I viewed it as an institution of patriarchal domination. My partner offered sexy lingerie, short skirts, French films with intriguing sensual love stories, candlelight dinners, but I remained skeptical, rejecting the seductions that were surely meant to make me an object of his masculinist desire. But why this refusal? Yes he wanted to act out his fantasies but he was inviting me, encouraging me, seducing me to act out my own—whatever they may be. I would hear nothing of it. Even when we finally married, I continued to see any sign of constructed femininity as objectification—I refused to shave my legs, my pubic hair beyond the bikini line—and of course no bikinis. The belly dance attire and music that he bought remained in the closet. During a vacation to Paris, while other couples–of all ages–kissed and caressed on metros, benches and along the quays of the Seine, I rebuffed the outward display of affection by my husband.
And then it gradually changed. No sudden revelation. But I recall moments here and there. A young feminist friend in her mid-twenties, I now in my late forties, stated she liked wearing her four-inch f***-me heels. I was shocked (remember my being similarly shocked some twenty-five years before?) I began to take notice of my tendencies of mutual exclusiveness—either I am a feminist or a (fill in the blank of all the feminist incorrectness). I realized that in my second wave radical feminism I became a prude. I paid more attention to the less rigid, more embracing third wave feminism of the nineties, of international feminisms that rejected western and especially American feminisms so focused on male domination and objectification. I paid more attention to my numerous books on other cultures and expressions of femininity and sexuality, I re-evaluated my experiences while traveling. I began to shed those self-imposed attitudes towards the notion of female objectification that I had, perhaps, interpreted in a very narrow way. To the delight of my husband, I got that belly-dancing outfit out of the closet and turned on the music. I got that “play” lotion off the shelf and put on that sexy playsuit. I shave my pubic hair in fun shapes. I enthusiastically respond to the surprise visit to the shower and sensual massage at the kitchen sink while I wash the dishes and even initiate it on the carpet while he does the vacuuming—oh how much fun chores can be!
I now have my own feminist discourse on being the object of his desire and the subject of my own pleasure and we are both enjoying it immensely.
— Confessions of a feminist