Tag Archives: female sexuality

In Defense Of Hook-Up Culture (To A Point)

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There are certain cultural phenomena that are difficult to defend. Things like big businesses, the NFL, or the current president come to mind. However, some of those things are attacked, denigrated, or hated for misguided reasons. It’s not always the case that they should be defended, but there are times when a little balance is needed.

When it comes to a topic that’s easy to criticize, hook-up culture has a bigger target than most and that target has only grown in recent years. It’s one of those issues that has fronts for both the unceasing war on horny women and the escalating war on horny men. To defend it means fighting a two-front war, which has historically been a bad idea.

I’m still going to try, though, and not because I think hook-up culture in its current state deserves to be defended. There are certain aspects about that state that I find flawed, some of which I’ve discussed before. Even so, I do believe some aspects of hook-up culture should be defended. I still intend to pick my battles very carefully, though.

At the moment, hook-up culture has been getting attacked on multiple fronts. It used to be that only cantankerous old people whined about young people having more sex than what priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks deem appropriate. These people saw hook-up culture as antithetical to the idealized nuclear family model that was glorified in every 50s sitcom.

Most people, these days, don’t take that kind of whining seriously. However, a new attack on hook-up culture is actually coming from other young people and otherwise educated people that are smart enough to recognize why those idealized 50s sitcoms were pure fantasy. Instead, they’re attacking hook-up culture as some inherently toxic manifestation that’s destroying men and women alike.

Make no mistake. This attack isn’t restricted to extreme conservatives who see hook-up culture as an affront to traditional values or liberals who see it as a tool of oppression that’s inherently objectifying. It’s not even restricted to man-hating feminists who think cat-calling constitutes assault or women-hating men who see every woman is a gold-digger who wants to ruin his life.

The attack runs deeper than that. Taken all together, these attacks reflects a sentiment that isn’t always hostile to sex, but treats it the same way most people treat a phobia. Regardless of political or agenda affiliation, sex from the attackers is almost always in a context of anxiety, fear, and hyper-vigilance. That phobia manifests in different ways.

If you’re a conservative traditionalist, hook-up culture evokes a fear that anything other than the nuclear family will destroy society and hurt those who participate.

If you’re a liberal progressive, hook-up culture evokes the fear that men will exploit women, using them for their own selfish reasons and subsequently contributing to their continued oppression.

To some extent, I can understand those fears. However, like most phobias that don’t involve spiders, those fear are not justified. They also reflect some very unhealthy attitudes about sex, intimacy, and romance in general.

Some of those attitudes play out in the sensationalized headlines surrounding hook-up culture. In these stories, it’s often portrayed as callous, bland, and overtly hedonistic. People aren’t getting together to fall in love, get married, and make babies. They’re just having sex the same way they would scratch an itch.

For some people, that’s unnerving, especially if they have children above the age of consent. There may even be a twinge of jealousy in that these young people are enjoying the kind of fun that older people didn’t get to experience when they were that age. While I suspect that’s a factor, I don’t think it’s the root cause.

Beyond the cause, though, the attitudes feed the sex-phobic sentiments whenever there’s news that hook-up culture may be harmful. There has been research on the topic and while the American Psychological Association does not draw any sweeping conclusions, it does take the position that hook-up culture is often prone to complications.

Chief among those complications, which also provokes the sentiments of the liberal progressive crowd, are the instances in which people regret hooking up. This is especially sensitive for women. In one study, over 75 percent of the women who’d hooked up with someone regretted it.

For some, it was just an unsatisfying experience. For others, it was somewhat traumatizing. This has become especially taboo since the recent scandal with Aziz Ansari in which the line between regret and misconduct is difficult to see. If you have an agenda, though, confirmation bias will allow you to see these situations as either misogynistic assault or man-hating extortion.

That’s what I find particularly dangerous/revealing about these attacks on hook-up culture. It’s so easy to find instances where people have a bad experience with it or are negatively affected by it. By singling these instances out, whether it’s mental health issues or part of a major celebrity scandal, every side can point to hook-up culture to justify their various sexual anxieties.

It probably doesn’t help that these anxieties may very well contribute to the ongoing orgasm gap between men and women. It also doesn’t help that trends in social media have made hook-up culture even easier to pursue than ever before. By nearly every measure, hook-up culture has little way of defending itself.

This is where I come in and I’m already bracing myself for the criticism.

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When I take a step back and look at the intent of hook-up culture instead of the anecdotes surrounding it, I do see something that’s worth defending. I’m not going to discount the negative impact it might have on some people, but I think the sentiment behind hook-up culture deserves more merit.

To highlight that merit, I need only ask a few questions. I doubt I’ll get honest answers from everyone, but at least consider them when contemplating hook-up culture.

Is it possible that hook-up culture reflects some of the inherent flaws with our traditional approaches towards seeking love and sex?

Is it possible that those engaged in hook-up culture are actually looking for some casual intimacy and NOT just hedonistic indulgence?

Is it possible that men prefer hook-up culture because they don’t want to jump through all the hoops of a relationship to get the intimacy and sexual release they desire?

Is it possible that women prefer hook-up culture because they just want to enjoy the toe-curling pleasure that comes with basic sexual intimacy?

Is it possible that some people just want to explore their sexuality without committing too much of their time, energy, and life to a relationship?

None of the questions above are rhetorical or factious in any way. They’re serious, honest questions that I think need to be asked when assessing the issues surrounding hook-up culture.

Regardless of whether or not hook-up culture exists, people are going to get horny. People are going to want to express their sexual desires. There’s no way to stop that. Religion, government, and culture has tried desperately over the years, some going to more extremes than others. All have failed.

This is what I think it hook-up culture’s best defense. It reflects and acknowledges the inherent need of people to express and explore their sexual desires without navigating the myriad of legal, social, and cultural rituals associated with it. In some respects, that reveals the inherent shortcomings in those rituals themselves.

I don’t doubt there are risks associated with hook-up culture. Disease and unwanted pregnancy are at the top of that list, along with instances of exploitation and assault. Focusing on those outcomes is like calling Eddie Murphy’s entire career a failure just because he stared in “Pluto Nash.”

There is a larger context to consider. Remember that study about people regretting their hook-ups? Well, science is rarely that definitive when it comes to matters of human psychology and sexuality. Later studies reveal that the extent of that regret isn’t very strong. It turns out that, like paying to see “Pluto Nash,” we tend to get over it. Most functioning human beings do.

Those same studies also make clear that the quality of the hook-up matters. If someone hooks up with someone for sex, but the sex isn’t satisfying, then of course there’s going to be some regret and anxiety later on. That’s what happens whenever our expectations aren’t met. Just ask anyone who got excited about the Jacksonville Jaguars’ failed Super Bowl guarantee.

This is where the extent of my defense of hook-up culture ends. While I think the various criticisms and anxieties about it are unwarranted, it does carry some baggage that makes all those unpleasant anecdotes so common.

Hook-up culture, in its current form, has all sorts of heavy expectations surrounding it. Whether it’s people actively engaged in it or those observing it from the outside, there’s this sense that hook-up culture is this non-stop party where everyone is enjoying the Caligula-style orgy and nobody leaves unsatisfied. That’s just not how human sexuality works.

Human beings are a passionate, social species. When hook-up culture becomes too dispassionate, which can happen, then it ceases to be a healthy expression of human sexuality. In that context, it’s basically glorified masturbation. As a romance fan and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I can’t get behind that sort of callousness.

However, I think the attacks on hook-up culture are more misguided than hook-up culture itself. Men are seeing it as an agenda that beautiful women are exploiting. Women are seeing it as an agenda that misogynistic men are exploiting. Liberals and conservatives are seeing it as an affront to everything they deem good and moral. In attacking it, though, they all reveal their own sexual anxieties.

If our collective sexual attitudes are to improve, along with our overall satisfaction, we need to confront these anxieties. Hook-up culture isn’t going away because people wanting to enjoy sex with fewer strings is not going away. We can either learn from it or fight it, with the understanding that fighting it rarely ends well for either side.

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Natural Contraceptive App Blamed For Unplanned Pregnancies (As Expected)

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There’s no question that advances in contraception have had a profound impact on our society. Some applaud it. Some resent it. Either way, there’s no uninventing it. Contraception, be it male or female, is a big part of our society and further advances promise to have an even bigger impact.

I’ve talked about the future of contraception before, as well as the potential impacts of those advances. There are a lot of things in development, as I write this, that men and women alike should get excited about. Between better IUDs and more birth control options for men, we’re quickly entering an age where we have unprecedented control over our fertility.

It’s for that very reason that it’s necessary to take a step back and remind ourselves of the existing flaws we have with the current state of contraception. There’s a reason why those advances I mentioned are in development to begin with. What we have now is pretty good, relative to older, more archaic forms of birth control. However, there are a few shortcomings that tend to lead to dramatic, albeit predictable failures.

One of those shortcomings/failures made the news recently and left several dozen women very disappointed, to say the least. According to a story from TheVerge, a recently-developed contraceptive app called Natural Cycles is being blamed for 37 unwanted pregnancies. Anyone who knows anything about pregnancy, female biology, and nature in general probably isn’t surprised.

That’s because the app in question basically made something like this inevitable. According to the article, the Natural Cycles app is supposed to help women who rely on more natural family planning methods. In terms of the actual process, these are the basics:

The app uses an algorithm and measures factors like temperature to determine the period when a woman may be fertile. It’s a popular alternative to hormonal contraceptives like the pill because it lacks side effects.

It’s pretty basic, but the principle makes sense on paper and isn’t based on radically new ideas. The concept of a woman tracking her fertility to determine the times of month when she’s most likely to conceive a child is fairly well-known. It’s most commonly called the “Rhythm Method” and according to the Mayo Clinic, it takes a lot of preparation.

To use this method, a woman needs actively track her menstrual cycle, accurately determine the parts of that cycle where she’s most fertile, and plan her sexual activity around those time-frames. It takes a great deal of physical awareness, as well as a certain measure of discipline, which some people are better at than others.

The Natural Cycles app is supposed to supplement those principles by aiding in that tracking process. It even tries to provide the woman with more data so that she has a better understanding of her body while tracking her cycle. In theory, having perfect knowledge of her biology will ensure a woman knows when she is or isn’t fertile.

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It’s that exact theory, however, that makes this news about a surge in unplanned pregnancies so unsurprising. There’s a good reason why this sort of approach to contraception is rarely practiced by anyone other than committed couples and is often discouraged as a general form of contraception.

As with so many other theories, the actual practice of the method doesn’t always work in the real world. That’s because the real world is a lot more chaotic, varied, and unpredictable than concepts on a piece of paper. That applies even more to human biology, male and female.

Now, the appeal of natural family planning like the one Natural Cycles promotes is undeniable. You don’t need to take a pill. You don’t need to have something inserted into your body. Plus, it gives you a chance to really know and understand the workings of your body. For both sexual health and general health, that’s has many benefits.

Unfortunately, the human body is not known for being that transparent. It does not come equipped with a USB port or a wireless interface that provides us with accurate, real-time data about our insides, although that’s one advancement science is working on. Absent that data, natural family planning, even with the aid of Natural Cycles, is going to be either incomplete or flawed.

I don’t doubt that the use of Natural Cycles helps in the process, but there’s a good reason why the same Mayo Clinic that so thoroughly lays out the process of natural family planning also identifies it as one of the least reliable forms of contraception. This is what they had to say about the risks associated with this method.

Using the rhythm method as a form of birth control doesn’t pose any direct risks. However, it’s considered one of the least effective forms of birth control. How well the rhythm method works varies between couples. In general, as many as 24 out of 100 women who use natural family planning for birth control become pregnant the first year. Also, the rhythm method doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections.

Given this information, the fact that some of those using the Natural Cycles app ended up pregnant should surprise no one. The shortcomings of natural family planning are well known and, for the moment, no app is capable of circumventing those shortcomings.

It’s not just that even the most basic activities of the human body are so difficult to quantify and track. Doing so and trying to plan around it assumes all those involved behave with perfect discipline. While I still believe that most human beings are inherently good at heart, I don’t doubt that human beings can also be erratic, irrational, and just plain stupid at times.

There will be moments when a woman misjudges or mistimes her fertility over the course of her cycle. There will also be moments when the passions between a woman and her lover will override whatever discipline they had promised to exercise during that time of the month. Even when people aren’t stupid, they can be overwhelmed by a moment.

That’s the ultimate flaw of natural planning and apps like Natural Cycles. It’s not just prone to human error. It relies on the absence of human error in order to work perfectly. That’s not just flaw. Those are unreasonable expectations that no population of healthy human beings can hope to meet.

It’s sad that several dozen women had to learn this the hard way, even if the outcome was fairly predictable. If nothing else, it should remind us just how much work we need to do on improving contraception, women’s health, and our overall understanding of our biology.

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Why Treating Sexuality As A Disease (Always) Fails

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It wasn’t too long ago that discussions about reparative therapy, also known as gay conversion therapy, became more a joke than a serious concept. Going back to Michele Bachman’s failed presidential bid in 2012, and all the assorted jokes about her husband, who ran a religion-based therapy center, I think it’s safe to say that this issue has run its course and for good reason.

There was once a time when attempting to change someone’s sexuality into whatever society deemed acceptable was a serious pursuit. Even Sigmund Freud contributed to that effort, going so far as to claim that homosexuality could be cured through hypnosis. Seeing as how hypnotists are more likely to work in Las Vegas stage shows instead of clinics, it should be obvious how wrong he was.

As it stands, reparative therapy is rejected and discouraged by nearly every legitimate psychological and therapeutic organization on the planet. There are still those who claim that’s just part of the larger gay agenda, but those claims don’t deserve to be taken seriously. Whenever that many organizations to agree that something is so ineffective and harmful, it’s usually a pretty clear sign that there’s something wrong with it.

For the rest of the population that doesn’t buy into homophobic conspiracy theories, the issue is resolved. While there’s still a lot we don’t understand about human sexuality, our current understanding offers a fairly concise conclusion. It’s not possible to completely change or radically reorient someone’s sexuality.

So in light this widely-accepted conclusion, any subsequent efforts to radically alter someone’s sexuality through archaic tactics that involve shame, guilt, and pseudo-spiritual bunk should be just as asinine. The keyword there is it should be. Even though reparative therapy is roundly condemned, the spirit of that therapy continues, albeit with a different target.

This time, the targets aren’t homosexuals or some other sexual minority. Instead, the scope is bigger and more extensive than even defunct anti-gay ministries could ever hope to achieve. It’s taking aim at sexuality, as a whole, particularly that of men. While it doesn’t have an official title, the tactics are distressingly similar.

I’m reluctant to put a label on it because I’d rather not throw around blanket terms for an issue this vast. Much of it stems from those opposing everything associated with “toxic masculinity,” a term I’ve already condemned.

From sex scandals to advertising to representations in major movies, the obstacle is the same. A particular brand of male sexuality that caters to straight men seeking the company of beautiful women for basic, shallow reasons isn’t just falling out of favor. It’s seen as corrupt, part of some grand patriarchal conspiracy.

It’s so corrupt that some, such as Joss Whedon, describe it like a disease. Men who simply have these desires are somehow flawed and need to either be educated or scorned. It’s not quite at the level that homosexuals endured in the past, but the common themes are still there.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it began. Some might point to the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the catalyst that turned the public against the whims of horny men, but I think it goes back further than that, even past the 2016 Presidential Election. The concept of criticizing men’s preference to admire beautiful women isn’t new. The extent of that criticism, however, is unprecedented and still growing.

Regardless of how it began, either through vocal critics of breast depictions in video games or protesting sexy advertising, it’s a major movement now. It has popular hashtags and the backing of powerful media outlets. If you’re a straight man who enjoys admiring beautiful women, then congratulations. You’re the source of all the problems in our current sexual landscape.

Given the intensity of the rhetoric in the movement, it’s not just about protesting the injustices perpetrated by men in positions of power who freely exploited that power. It’s attacking certain manifestations of sexuality as a whole, deeming them “problematic” to the point where it’s practically pathologized. That’s how we end up with asinine terms like “toxic masculinity.”

It’s for that reason that the parallels between the long-debunked ideas of reparative therapy and ongoing condemnations of male sexuality are all the more disturbing. Stories about LGBT youth who survived reparative therapy, and not all of them do, tend to tell similar stories. The so-called therapy they get usually involves the following:

  • Excessive condemnation and shaming of certain desires
  • Attributing certain sexual desires with negative connotations
  • Demanding frequent confessions of guilt for past misdeeds, real or imagined
  • Demanding complete dissociation from a previous lifestyle
  • Attributing desires and feelings to disease or an unhealthy state of being
  • Attacking or subverting someone’s identity in an effort to re-shape it
  • Conditioning someone to associate natural feelings with negative sentiments

To anyone who has been keeping track of how men have been criticized for their attitudes towards some of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, these methods should sound painfully familiar. It’s also worth noting that these are methods that the American Psychological Association deems harmful and even dangerous.

Now, I want to be careful with my rhetoric here because I don’t want to imply that straight men who enjoy looking at beautiful women in bikinis are suffering to the same extent LGBT people suffered in these faux-therapeutic settings. That’s not the point I’m trying to make here. I’m just trying to highlight the extent to which the approaches are similar, even if they’re not the same.

It’s one thing to punish actual misconduct. It’s quite another to attack the underlying desires of an entire group. Men looking at beautiful women is now a symptom of objectification, patriarchy, and misogyny. Conversely, women looking at beautiful men is a major Hollywood movie starting Channing Tatum. See the difference?

That difference matters because treating those attitudes as diseases is every bit as misguided as treating homosexuality or transgenderism as a disease. It would be akin to referring to all homosexuality as “toxic sexuality” instead of a simple variation among the vast spectrum that is human sexuality.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues with certain attitudes men have towards sexuality. There are plenty of issues about women’s attitudes as well. However, the fact that the current culture, empowered by social media and selective biases, treats those attitudes the same way reparative therapy treats homosexuality is both revealing and distressing.

The negative impacts of those methods are well-documented, both in terms of harm and ineffectiveness. Relentlessly shaming people for their sexuality, be they straight men or gay women, is pretty damaging. It doesn’t take a licensed therapist to know that conditioning someone to hate their own desires will seriously affect their mental health.

There are many lessons to learn from the failures of reparative therapy. For one, it revealed just how powerful sexual and romantic desire can be in a person. It can also reflect how lonely it can be when those feelings are deemed defective, toxic, or deviant by a society, at large. Countless LGBT individuals have suffered because of these misguided efforts. More will suffer if those lessons aren’t heeded.

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More Women Are Watching Porn (And Why That’s A Good Thing)

I don’t often talk about the porn industry on this blog. I know that sounds like an oversight, but it’s a deliberate oversight. In my experience, porn is just one of those things that either bothers certain people to no end or is just shrugged off by everyone else.

We know it exists. We know it’s a big business that has always existed, to some extent. Sure, it’s controversial. Some still try to fight it, but to date, nobody has ever won that fight and the sheer amount of porn that exists is proof of that.

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, who also happens to be a straight man with an internet connection, I’m very much aware of porn, the industry that makes it, and the consumer base that fuels it. While erotica novels aren’t quite as taboo as porn, it does have many similarities. “50 Shades of Grey” proved those similarities aren’t that subtle.

In addition, those same trends can also reflect evolving attitudes towards sex, sexuality, and how people treat intimacy. One might be forgiven for thinking that everything involving sex, intimacy, and how we consume erotic content is devolving into chaos. However, in the midst of all these unsexy trends, I’d like to offer some news that should further complicate the evolving sexual landscape.

According to recent data released by PornHub, also known as the most popular porn site on the internet, 2017 saw the biggest surge in porn consumption came from women. More specifically, the search term “porn for women” increased in popularity by 359 percent. Even if you’re terrible at math, you understand that’s a significant increase.

It’s an increase that the porn industry is noticing, among others. They kind of have to notice it because women still make up half the population last I checked. Even though catering to mostly men has helped make porn a multi-billion dollar industry, it still has room to grow and women are the key, just not in the way the industry is used to.

Whether it’s due to the impact of “50 Shades of Grey” or the impact that feminism has had over the past few decades, more women are consuming porn than ever. Granted, that could just be because more women are willing to admit it, but the data is there. This is happening, regardless of what men or other women say about it.

The type of porn they’re consuming is also noteworthy, if only because their patterns of consumption are different from those of men. According to Vice.com, the type of porn women search for varies in terms of theme and genre. They’re not wildly different from men, but it does highlight some differences in terms of the erotic content both genders pursue.

While I’d love to talk more about the types of adult content women are seeking, if only to highlight how I can work that content into my novels, there’s a particular detail to this story that I want to highlight. I have a feeling it’ll be controversial for some. I’m willing to take that risk because I think this is worth saying.

More women consuming porn is a GOOD thing for both genders.

Take a moment to finish rolling your eyes. I understand that sounds exactly like something a man who regularly writes about sex robots and sex-positive superheroes would say. That doesn’t make the statement any less valid.

While I won’t claim that trends in women consuming porn are all good, as the breadth of human nature is far too broad for a claim that bold, I strongly believe that this is one of those trends where the positives outweigh the negatives. It’s not just because it shows women are more comfortable exploring sexy things. I actually think the positives run much deeper than that.

That’s because in recent years, the porn industry has only ever made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Between the recent spike in porn stars committing suicide and uptight politicians declaring it a public health crisis, it’s safe to say that porn has a public image problem, to put it mildly. However, I think the foundation of that problem goes beyond the explicit content behind it.

To illustrate that, it’s necessary to point out an unusual quirk in the effects of porn on men compared to women. There have been plenty of studies on how porn affects men. Some of it documents negative effects while others reveal positive or no effects. For women, though, the effects are considerably different.

It often occurs whenever there’s a correlation between a negative consequence, like broken relationships and porn consumption. Whenever that correlation exists for men, it rarely occurs to the same extent, if at all, for women. That means that even if there are harmful effects of porn consumption, it does not affect women as much as men.

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To further complicate those insights, as often tends to happen in sexually-charged issues, research has shown that couples who watch porn together are either not negatively affected or enjoy greater levels of satisfaction. That means when it comes to the effects of porn, context and attitudes matters. I’ve mentioned the importance of context when it comes to assessing masculinity. It seems to apply even more to porn.

That’s why I believe women consuming more of it is a good thing, in terms of evolving that context. Unlike other hobbies, porn is unique in that it involves sex and sex often other people. When only one part of that equation is consuming the content, then that content is going to skew in the direction of those consumers. That’s just basic economics.

In this case, those skewed economics can have unpleasant consequences. To those who claim porn creates unrealistic expectations about sex, this is why that occurs. When the consumer base is so narrow, it’s going to become unbalanced. We saw that in the disparity of contraceptive development. Porn did the same.

Over time, that has the effect of narrowing the appeal of the content. To those not consuming that, it takes on a strange, if not taboo context. In the past, this has been reflected by women seeing men’s consumption of porn as creepy or perverse. It’s not unlike how comic books used to be seen as something for kids. Then, they evolved to capture a wider audience.

With women entering the consumer base, the porn industry has a chance to change that narrative. If women are watching more porn, then it becomes less taboo. On top of that, it expands the industry. I’ve talked before about how taboos fade or die off. One of the most potent ways taboos falter is when there are economic forces working against it.

In a sense, the best way for women to make the porn that men consume more equitable is to consume it themselves. By giving the industry a powerful incentive to balance out the content, they create the necessary incentives for producers to make the kind of erotic content that both gets them off and spices things up with their lover. It’s ironic that this is how to make the porn industry friendlier to women, but it’s also somewhat fitting.

As it stands, women’s taste in porn are still evolving and the industry is still figuring it out. However, there are a number of sites out there looking to tap this once overlooked market. In wake of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, there’s even a new sub-genre of porn called ethically produced porn. Think of it as fair-trade coffee for sex.

Regardless of how some feel about the porn industry, in general, or women entering a consumer base once dominated by men, their presence will have an impact. That impact may make some uncomfortable or upset at first, but I believe in the long term, it’ll be a net positive.

We’re entering a world where it’s not taboo for a woman to say she enjoys watching porn. It’s also a world where men don’t have to be as ashamed or secretive about their own porn consumption. I think when those respective taboos fade, it’ll be easier for men and women to have honest conversations about what they like, what turns them on, and everything in between.

Sure, it’ll be awkward. Men and women talking about their respective porn consumption is bound to cause more than a few stressful conversations. However, if the end result is a more open and honest understanding of our sex lives, then I honestly say that extra awkwardness is worth it.

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The Devastation Of Alienation On Our Sexuality (Among Other Things)

When I was growing up, the concept of alienation only applied to grunge rock, heavy metal, and whatever other media disaffected youth used to voice their dissatisfaction with the world around them. Being such a miserable teenager myself, I thought I understood that sentiment to some extent. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that there’s a lot more to it.

Alienation has been in the news a lot lately, but it’s not one of those annoying contemporary buzzwords like “toxic masculinity.” It’s actually a term with a dictionary definition, which also has some philosophical backbone that goes back centuries. Like most philosophical terms, though, it has undergone some revisions over the years.

Rather than get into the long, tedious path the idea of alienation has taken, I want to apply it to our current situation. In addition, I’m going to analyze alienation the same way I often do with superhero comics in that I’m going to apply it to sexuality. I doubt that’ll surprise long-time readers of this blog, but I also doubt it’ll surprise anyone who has observed recent societal trends in how we approach sex in society.

Without question, there is a sense of alienation going on in our collective sex lives. While it doesn’t affect everybody, especially the billionaire rock star/celebrity crowd, it does affect some people more than others. I imagine I’ll upset or offend some people by identifying parts of that crowd, but I need to take that chance to make my point.

The basics of alienation are simple. According to Dictionary.com, the definition is as follows:

  • The act of alienatingor of causing someone to become indifferent or hostile.
  • The state of being alienatedwithdrawn, or isolated from the world, through indifference or disaffection.
  • The act of turning away, transferring, or diverting.

Within the scope of this definition, you probably know someone who has experienced this type of feeling. At the very least, you knew someone growing up who just felt left out of everything and went out of their way to detach themselves from the rest of society.

Their reasons for doing this vary. Some have serious mental health issues. Others are driven to alienation by economic factors like poverty. Some even go so far as to say that our modern form of capitalism is an inherently alienating force. The entire premise of “Fight Club” actually revolves around that idea, as so wonderfully articulated by the folks at Wisecrack.

With respect to sexuality, though, alienation is a bit trickier. So much attention has been placed on how powerful men solicit sex from beautiful women or how women struggle to maintain some semblance of sexual freedom that it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. Being both a man and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m going to make an effort.

I don’t doubt for a second that alienation affects the sexuality of all genders. Sex, especially if you’re not having the kind that fulfills your needs and desires, can be pretty alienating. We humans are wired to want, seek, and enjoy sex. Given the crude and clunky nature of biology, in general, it’s bound to get distressing and disorienting.

For centuries, women were more prone to sexual alienation than men. That’s because, until relatively recently, their sexual choices were made for them. They didn’t get to choose their spouse. They didn’t get to live their own lives or explore their sexuality with a variety of partners. In fact, doing so might actually be detrimental to their safety.

When you have no choices and much of your life is controlled by others, it’s easy to feel alienated. You have no agency, control, or freedom to even know what you want sexually. That led to a lot of unsatisfied, desperate women.

Conversely, men weren’t just allowed to fool around on their spouses. In fact, it was kind of expected. In that respect, not having a mistress might actually be alienating. Men who loved their wives too much were even criticized.

Then, in the late 20th century and into the 21st century, the pendulum swung in the other direction. The women’s rights movements and the rise of modern feminism gave women more control of their sexuality. For the most part, modern women can explore their sexuality and enjoy a level of sexual freedom once reserved for aristocratic men with a legion of mistresses.

By and large, this has been a good thing. In fact, greater gender equality with respect to sexuality might actually be more conducive to our caveman brains. The sexual practices of Bonobo apes are a testament to that. However, in some respects, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that the alienating forces are hitting another group.

I’ve mentioned it before and it seems to be an ongoing trend. With the rise of third-wave feminism and political correctness, all the evil and ills of the world are attributed to horny men seeking sex from beautiful women. It’s very much a double standard that seems to be intensifying with each passing year.

Whereas a man trying to seek sex with multiple women are more likely to be seen as a misogynist pig, women seeking sex are seen as empowered. Sure, there’s still slut-shaming, but a good chunk of that actually comes from other women. It’s almost paradoxical in the sense that a woman will be criticized, no matter how much or how little she decides to exercise her sexual freedom.

That too can be alienating, but those same women can take comfort in the knowledge that they’re the sexual gatekeepers. They’re the ones who give the consent. They’re the ones who decide whether a man is getting sex. If the man has a problem with that choice, then he can be subject to serious consequences, even if he misinterprets the message.

The recent surge of sex scandals and the growing emphasis on consent has put a lot more pressure on men, especially those who aren’t rich, well-connected, or attractive. In terms of raw numbers, that represents the vast majority of men, myself included. Some call it the 80/20 rule of dating, but I prefer to think of it as a greater alienation complex.

By that, I mean the existing standards and methods for men seeking love, sex, and intimacy make most men prone to a sense of alienation. I won’t say it’s as bad as it was for Victorian Era women, but alienation is difficult for anyone, regardless of time, circumstance, or gender.

The situation for men is akin to playing a game in which you know other players cheat and/or have inherent advantages, but there’s nothing you can do about it. On top of that, the standards are so high and the margin for error is so low that, from a distance, it seems impossible. It creates this distressing sentiment that you will never find the love or intimacy you seek.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve looked in the mirror on some mornings and felt that way, especially in my awkward, acne-laden teen years. I like to think I’ve gotten better over the years because I’ve worked on myself, gotten into shape, and made myself more attractive to the opposite sex. However, I understand that there are plenty of men who struggle to do that or don’t have the same opportunities.

For them, the alienation is almost unavoidable. They see the marketplace for love and sex, but don’t see any opportunities. Sure, they can still play the game, but it would be like a toddler trying to win a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. It just doesn’t seem worth it.

Within the current system, the structures in place ensure that there will always be a sizable chunk of men who are left out of the sexual landscape. They’re not the only ones either. Women who are either unattractive or not inclined to play by the evolving rules of that landscape will be just as isolated. So long as those standards are so rigid, there will be a lot of sexually unsatisfied people in this world.

From a pragmatic standpoint, our current approach to sexuality fails the Stanhope Principle. Society cannot function or progress with such a system. Any system that has such large groups of people feeling alienated and left out is inherently unstable. Karl Marx, however you feel about him and his ideas, made that obvious years ago.

For now, we can only do so much to adapt the current system. The sexual alienation that people feel will continue to evolve, for better and for worse, in accord with major trends. If history is any guide, though, the sexual landscape will continue to change. Whether or not that’ll mitigate or intensify the alienation remains to be seen.

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Pro Life, The Sanctity Of Life, And The (Literal) Value Of Life

People participate in the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington

As a general principle, I limit my discussions on abortion to a maximum of three per year with zero still being the preferred amount. Last year, I wrote a couple articles about it, but that was it. I tried to make clear on both occasions that while I don’t deny the seriousness of this issue, I generally have little to contribute.

It’s not just because I’m a man and will never need an abortion. Pretty much all the arguments surrounding abortion are intractable. Like debating creationism, there’s no way to convince someone who is set in their opinions to change them. You’d have a better chance convincing someone the sky is green, Mars is made of cheese, and “The Emoji Movie” wasn’t terrible.

All that said, abortion is still a serious issue that is evolving before our eyes both culturally and legally. This is one of those issues that affects everybody, either directly or indirectly. Regardless of whether you’re a baby, an old man, or an aspiring erotica/romance writer, abortion’s reach is vast because it involves life, sex, family, and the propagation of our species. The stakes can’t get much higher than that.

Even with those stakes, the only reason I’m talking about it now is because I live less than two hours away from Washington DC. When there’s a major protest, I generally know about it before it starts trending on social media. The latest gathering was the annual March For Life protest, a demonstration dedicated to decrying the ills of abortion and supporting “pro-life” legislation.

Now, I put “pro-life” in quotes for a reason that I hope will make sense in a bit. I’ve already criticized that term because there are those who use it to hide the fact that they care more about maintaining consequences for those who have more sex than churches, mosques, and synagogues prefer. I don’t intend to belabor that argument, but it is somewhat related to the point I want to make.

Having seen plenty of these protests, I notice a common theme that is at the forefront of the “pro-life” movement, but is rarely scrutinized. That’s the whole concept of the “sanctity of life.” I put that in quotes too for the same reasons I hope are obvious by the end of this article. Unlike the anti-sex crowd, this concept is central to the overall movement.

Beyond the intractable belief that life begins at conception and abortion is the taking of a life, the idea that there’s an inherent value to all life, regardless of what stage it’s at or how it affects the life of the mother bearing it. Without there being substantial value, then the whole arguments about when life even begins becomes meaningless.

I’m not going to make the argument that life has no value or that life, in general, should be devalued. I’m of the belief that we only get one life to live and that makes it valuable to some extent. However, I do want to take a minute to try and quantify that value, if only to provide some context to the “pro-life” movement.

I’m not first one to try this. The late, great George Carlin dug into this issue with more candor and brilliance than I or anyone else ever could in 1996. He dared to ask this question in a way that still came off as funny, yet insightful.

“Only living people care about it, so the whole thing grows out of a completely biased point of view. It’s a self-serving, man-made bullshit story. It’s one of these things we tell ourselves so we’ll feel noble. Life is sacred, makes you feel noble.

Well let me ask you this, if everything that ever lived is dead, and everything alive is going to die, where does the sacred part come in? I’m having trouble with that. Because even with the stuff we preach about the sanctity of life, we don’t practice it.”

It may sound cynical, but it’s relevant if the “pro-life” movement is to have any logical and moral validity to it. If it’s going to ascribe a high value to life, then that value can’t be too vague. There has to be some part of it that translates into real, tangible value. Without that, “pro-life” arguments are just empty rhetoric wrapped in inflamed emotions.

So in order to give that value to life, I want to pose a couple questions to the “pro-life” crowd. I don’t expect anyone to answer, but I think it’s important to put this question out there to put context into the anti-abortion arguments that seem so intractable.

“If you truly believe abortion is murder and want to save the lives of unborn children, are you willing to pay women to carry their unwanted children to term?”

That’s a simple yes/no question that shouldn’t be too hard to answer. I have a feeling many answers will be quick and brash, as most are in highly emotional debates. I expect the phrase “personal responsibility” to get thrown around a lot. That seems to be a catch-all word that conveniently provides an excuse to not help someone in a bad situation.

I’ll set aside the issues with that concept for now and ask the second question. This is where it gets more specific.

“How much are you willing to pay someone to not get an abortion and carry a child to term?”

I expect more variation with this question. I also expect more vitriol because I’m basically asking someone to put a price on a human life. I understand that very thought makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Nobody likes to think of themselves, a loved one, or a child as having some sort of number attached to it.

Then again, we don’t seem to mind that when we get our social security numbers, our addresses, or our paychecks. Like it or not, we’re all ascribed some amount of numeric value at some point in our lives. That doesn’t mean some lives are inherently more valuable than others, but it highlights the fact that we can and do link life to numbers.

Now, in order to help out those who may struggle with this question, allow me to do some simple math that should help make this question more palatable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 652,639 legal induced abortions in the year 2014. In addition, the average total cost for pre-natal care according to the Kaiser Family Foundation is approximately $2,000. Since that’s only for healthy babies, let’s make it $2,500 to account for complications.

Now, multiply 652,693 by $2,500 and we get $1,631,732,500. For the sake of redundancy and accounting for other possible complications, let’s round that up to a total of $1.7 billion. So for $1.7 billion, you could conceivably cover the cost of pre-natal care to every woman seeking an abortion. For that price, there could’ve been zero abortions in 2014.

With that number in mind, would you be willing to pay that price? I know $1.7 billion seems like a lot, but in terms of the US economy, it’s pennies. The size of the US economy is measured in trillions these days. Even with respect to government spending, the defense budget alone in 2014 was $614 billion. A sum of $1.7 billion barely would’ve registered.

Even if you’re against the idea of the government spending money, on principle, that kind of money is out there in the private sector. According to OpenSecrets.org, the pharmaceutical companies alone spent over $3.7 billion in lobbying over a 10-year span.

Even religious organizations have money to spend on this issue. Back in 2015, CNN reported that the vehemently anti-abortion Vatican had over $8 billion in assets. That’s just one denomination, too. According to the Giving USA Foundation, churches received over $114 billion in tax-free charitable donations in 2014. Given that sum, is $1.7 billion really that much?

It gets even better than that, though. Abortion, as a whole, is on the decline. That means it would be even cheaper to pay the price to stop all abortions in 2018. Abortion still happens, though, and if you genuinely think abortion is murder, then there’s just one more question.

“If you’re NOT willing to pay any price to stop all abortion, then how can you say life is sacred and has intrinsic value?”

I understand that sounds like a loaded question after overly simplifying the issue. I concede that if stopping all abortions were as easy as writing a check for $1.7 billion, somebody would’ve done it by now. It’s not that easy an issue. Abortion wouldn’t be such a hot-button issue if it were.

What I’m trying to get at here is that a general unwillingness to put any tangible value on life essentially undermines the arguments of the “pro-life” movement. We’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a smart phone and more than five bucks for a latte. What does it say about someone’s stance on abortion if they say life is sacred, but won’t put up any actual money for the lives they’re trying to preserve?

The March For Life demonstration, as well as most anti-abortion demonstrations, didn’t stress measures like encouraging women to carry a child to term, lowering the cost of pre-natal care, or improving contraception access so that abortions aren’t necessary. Most of it centered on favoring legislation that would make abortion more difficult to obtain.

Never mind the fact that such legislation often has some fairly detrimental effects on women’s health, as John Oliver highlighted a couple years ago. That effort doesn’t vindicate the arguments of the “pro-life” movement, nor does it even accomplish their stated goals. It’s basically a way to claim they’re winning the debate and, as I’ve pointed out before, winning a debate isn’t the same as being right.

I feel like I’ve already talked enough about abortion for one day/month/year. If I want to make one point with this article on abortion and the March For Life protest, as a whole, it’s being “pro-life” and promoting the inherent value of life is a great emotional argument. However, if there’s no substance behind that argument, then it’s not a movement that can logically sustain itself in the long run.

Now, do you understand why I put “pro-life” in quotes?

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The Limited Appeal Of Male Sex Robots (For Now)

bionic4

Whenever I talk about sex robots, it’s usually within a particular context from a particular perspective. Being a straight man and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, it’s a perspective I feel more qualified to explore than most. Even so, I don’t deny that in the evolving world of sex robots, there are many perspectives to consider.

There will likely be many more in the years to come. Sex robots, and the potential impact they’ll have on society, is becoming more and more relevant as the technology evolves. Make no mistake. That technology will evolve rapidly because there is an established demand. It’s the same demand that fuels the thriving sex industry. People are horny and they’re willing to pay money to satisfy that horniness.

While I hope to do my part with my sexy novels, I understand there’s no substitute for something akin to a sex robot. A sex robot won’t just tell you a sexy story in the erotic voice of Pamela Anderson, Scarlett Johansson, or Morgan Freeman, if that’s what you’re into. In its perfected form, it’ll allow users to physically act out their sexual desires in whatever way they find satisfying.

We’re still a long way away from that form, but there has been progress in recent years and I have reported on it while also exploring the implications. As advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality become more refined, I’m sure I’ll have more to report. I’m sure there are many horny men out there who are already imagining how they’ll customize their own sex robot.

However, in discussing the future of sex robots and the various implications of their advancement, there is one perspective I’ve negated. That’s from those whose ideal form of a sex robot does not involve breast size, butt shapes, or a voice that sounds like Taylor Swift. Yes, I’m referring to male sex robots.

While they don’t make the news nearly as often, nor do they spark the same concerns in terms of societal impact, they will likely be part of any future society in which sex robots are a thing. They’ll be there in the future for the same reason that male prostitutes are here in the present. There’s still a demand, even if the consumer base is different.

Just like there are with female sex robots, there are people actively developing male sex robots that cater to women and gay men. In fact, much of that development is coming from the same companies. Realbotix, who made headlines last year when they debuted a prototype female sex robot, is just one of them. Recently, they confirmed that they’re working on a male sex robot too.

The particulars are unclear, but still plenty sexy to those women and gay men who are intrigued by the idea of a sexy robot lover. According to Realbotix CEO, Matt McMullen, this male sex robot will be customizable, allowing users to select various body shapes and sizes. That, unsurprisingly, includes the intricate details of the robot penis.

The technology is a lot closer than most people think. Bionic penises are already real. Like early smartphones and LASIK eye surgery, though, they’re in a nascent stage. In time, they’ll become more functional. It probably won’t be too long before most artificial penises are more effective than any natural penis. I’ll give every man who ever felt insecure about their man parts a moment to stop trembling.

Even with such promising advances, it’ll take more than putting a bionic penis on an attractive male body to create a functional sex robot. Even with all the sexy possibilities, the demand and interest in male sex robots is nowhere near what it is for female sex robots. According to the Daily Mail, the current market for sex robots is around 95 percent straight men. That is not a trivial disparity.

Even so, five percent is more than zero and every market changes, especially those relating to sex appeal. However, male sex robots have not generated the same conversations as their female counterparts. Whereas female sex robots have already inspired dystopian visions among feminists and a memorable episode of “Rick and Morty,” male sex robots haven’t generated any such visions.

Sure, there are some who worry that male sex robots could make men obsolete, but those worries haven’t translated into more robust conversations. Some of that may just be because the market is so limited for male sex robots at the moment. The reason for this might not be obvious for women who still find the concept of sex robots creepy, but it makes sense to any man who has struggled to find love.

The best example of this involves the current disparities in online dating. I’ve mentioned it before when talking about my own struggles to find love. As it stands, online dating works wonderfully if you’re a marginally attractive woman. The sheer volume of men searching for love grossly outnumbers the number of women doing the same.

Whether you’re using eHarmony or Tinder, being a woman means having a distinct mathematical advantage. When using these services, women basically have their pick of the litter. Even outside the online world, the number of horny men vastly outnumbers the number of available women. That’s why there are so many more female prostitutes compared to men.

It’s because of those raw numbers that the demand for a male sex robot isn’t that strong. Sure, there might be a few women who are intrigued by the concept. Some may even be turned on by it. For the moment, though, it’s not much more than a novelty. If a woman wants sex, it’s probably easier and cheaper for them to use Tinder.

For that reason, it’s likely that male sex robots probably won’t advance as quickly as their female counterparts. They may even lag for a while, especially if sex robots remain an expensive luxury. However, that limited appeal won’t stay limited.

I’m certain of this for the same reason I’m certain that female sex robots will change the overall sexual landscape. We’re already in some fairly sensitive times, with respect to gender-driven conflicts. Ongoing issues surrounding ideas of consent, concerns over sexual harassment, and widening double standards that negatively impact one gender over the other may end up accelerating the adoption of sex robots.

At some point, the math that favors attractive women won’t be as favorable. If there aren’t as many men seeking their company, thanks to sex robots, then what are they to do? Those women will still seek the same intimacy and connection that all human beings crave. They’ll still want more than just the basic release that a cheap sex toy may offer.

It’s one of the few things both genders share, regardless of whatever double standards divide us. Regardless of our ability to meet are most basic needs, we still seek something deeper. A beautiful woman with unlimited access to handsome men with the abs of David Beckham is still going to crave something greater.

A sex robot may not be the same as the kind of love I often write about in my novels, but when combined with artificial intelligence, it has the potential to create that connection that goes beyond the physical acts of sex. That connection has just as much appeal to women as it does to men. It will just take more time for one type of appeal to catch up with the other.

Now, as I write this, I concede that my perspective on this matter is skewed. I’m not a woman, nor do I claim to know how most women feel about the prospects of male sex robots. It could very well be the case that there’s more demand than most people think. Perhaps, this is one of those cases where we don’t know because we don’t bother to ask.

If there are any female readers willing to provide some insight, I’d love to hear about it. I imagine with companies like Realbotix making major investments in sex robots of all types, we’ll be asking more and more of these questions in the coming years. Some of those questions may not be as sexy as we prefer, but they’re still worth asking.

As it stands, the economics of sex robots will remain consistent with existing circumstances for men and women. For now, there are a lot of unsatisfied men out there. Once sex robots enter the picture, that’ll change a lot aspects about society, including those affecting unsatisfied women. Those changes will probably come sooner than expected, but that’s exactly why they’re worth contemplating now.

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