Tag Archives: male sexuality

How Atheism May Improve Your Sex Life

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When it comes to improving your sex life, there’s no one way to go about it that works for everyone. Human sexuality is complex, diverse, and exceedingly kinky. What works for one person won’t work for another and may even be detrimental in some cases.

Conversely, there are also variety of ways to undermine or ruin your sex life. That same sexual diversity that helps the human race find novel ways to get intimate with one another can also backfire horribly. Some are minor, in terms of effect, but other forces can have a much greater impact.

That brings me to religion, a topic that tends to inspire the best and worst in people. Like sex, it’s a complex phenomenon that impacts everybody differently. It can inspire great charity and compassion in some. It can just as easily incur greed, exploitation, and outright atrocity.

For those reasons, and plenty more that are too numerous to list, any effort that involves mixing sex with religion is akin to mixing napalm with TNT. I’ve made an effort to discuss both topics in a fair, balanced manner in the past. I feel as though I can only go so far before I totally inflame certain audiences.

I’m still going to try to push the conversation a bit farther. That means taking a few risks and since religion is still such a prominent force in the world, it’s effect on our collective sex lives is unavoidable.

For this particular discussion, want to focus on what happens when religion is removed from the equation. If religion is really that powerful an influence on our lives, and both history and current politics indicate that influence is not entirely trivial, then it stands to reason that the impact of its absence can reveal something about the extent of that influence.

That’s not to say that this is going to be a glowing endorsement of atheism. I prefer to let the data, the logic, and the implications speak for themselves. Since religion is on decline in many parts of the western world, I think exploring the potential impact is critical and even a little urgent.

Information on the sex lives of atheists compared to those who consider themselves religious is somewhat difficult to come by. The act of assessing and measuring someone’s sex lives, as well as the extent of their religiosity, is extremely difficult without the aid of lie detectors or mind-readers. The information we do have, though, does offer some intriguing insights.

Back in 2011, a survey entitled “Sex and Secularism” surveyed approximately 14,500 people revealed that those who identified as religious had less satisfying sex lives than their non-religious counterparts. On top of that, those same religious participants reported a high level of guilt that came along with their sex lives. Given how some religions build their theology around guilt, that shouldn’t be too surprising.

Conversely, those identifying as non-religious didn’t just report better sex lives. They had better sexual education and were more open to discussing sex in general. Everything from personal fantasies to simple tastes was fair game and less affected by guilt. That openness, along with considerably less stigma, was conducive to a more fulfilling sex life.

That effect was more pronounced by those who had once been religious, but had since become atheist. Between the absence of religiously-motivated guilt and the sexual taboos that are often theologically driven, the cumulative effect is pretty striking. This notable quote from the researchers summed it up nicely.

“People who had lost their belief and became atheists reported a significant improvement in sexual satisfaction,” the paper went on to say. Apparently the guilty feelings that religion creates around sex dissipate after a while.

Now, I can already hear the outrage sincerely devout religious crowd on the conclusions of this study. More than a few people who consider themselves religious will claim that their sex lives are superior and they may even have a case to make. Many religions offer a simple, one-size-fits-all approach to sex that is uncomplicated, straightforward, and safer. The fact that it’s also ordained by a divine power is also a factor.

I don’t deny that there are plenty of religious couples out there who have satisfying sex lives. There are probably plenty of atheists out there who have terrible sex lives, as well. However, in order to draw larger conclusions about the impact of religion on sex, we can’t just go by a few anecdotal experiences. We have to step back and see the forest from the trees.

From a psychological and physiological perspective, it makes sense that guilt, religiously-motivated or not, would undermine anyone’s sex life. Guilt has measurable effects on people. It makes it harder to focus. It keeps us from enjoying things. It’s a powerful distraction that makes us feel stress and anxiety. All of these forces can do plenty to undermine your sex life.

In my musings on taboos, I often cite religion as a driving force behind them. Organized religion has made no secret of its intent to regulate, control, or outright exploit human sexuality. There’s plenty of theology, especially among the Abrahamic religions, that imparts divinely-mandated guilt on sex.

In these religious cultures, sex isn’t just some basic biological act that people do for intimacy, procreation, and recreation. It’s subject to all sorts of holy and unholy connotations. The deities involved in these religions aren’t just interested in the kind of sex you’re having. They’ll actually punish you if you do it the wrong way.

That does more than just impart extra guilt for doing anything that strays from what priests, mullahs, monks, and rabbis deem appropriate. It also instills a very rigid family structure, one centered around a specific manifestation of sex that has very little room for fun, kink, and exploration.

That manifestation involves strict gender roles where men do the hard labor and women do the child rearing. The only sex that is sanctioned is the one that involves producing babies who subsequently grow up to be adherents/soldiers/patrons of a particular religion. The fact that type of sexual expression indirectly benefits religious institutions is probably just a coincidence.

The act of enjoying sex for non-procreative purposes would constitute a distraction. A distraction is dangerous in any religion because if people become too distracted, then they pay less attention to the religious institutions and the duties they espouse. As such, it’s in the interest of any successful religion to maintain a strict control over someone’s sex life.

That kind of control is naturally prone to stress. Given how the biological wiring of human sexuality is not conducive to that kind of narrow expression, there’s bound to be temptation. The best way to combat temptation is through stigma and taboo. By hijacking powerful feelings like guilt, it’s possible heavily influence peoples’ sex lives, even if it’s impossible to control them.

It’s akin to putting lead weights on somebody’s limbs and convincing them that the weight is normal. Even if they come to accept that, the weight still skews perceptions and that can only do so much in terms of circumventing basic biology. It also means that when those weights come off, the effect is pretty striking.

Suddenly, the stigma that once kept someone from seeking the sex they desired are gone. The burdens associated with thoughts and feelings that religious institutions deem unholy are lifted. Like any form of stress relief, it can be pretty liberating.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the 2011 survey is conclusive. It has been criticized for being unscientific in some aspects. Some of those criticisms are valid and the researchers concede that, but to the extent the data is consistent with what we understand about how religion can affect our sexuality, it passes some critical filters.

Our sex lives are complicated. Religion, in its many forms, is complicated as well. Regardless of how you feel about one or the other, mixing them is almost certain to compound both. Atheism, like not playing a sport or not having a hobby, simply removes one of those complications.

It’s not a universal fix. It doesn’t subvert other potential issues that may undermine someone’s sex life. There’s plenty more research to be done and religion is still evolving with each passing year, but when it comes to removing divinely-imposed, theologically-driven guilt, atheism stimulates the necessary aspects that make for a satisfying sex life.

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What It Means To “Man Up” And Why It’s Changing (For The Worse)

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It wasn’t that long ago that parents and peers emphasized the importance of “manning up” to young boys. There would come a point in a kid’s life where he was encouraged to do more than just grow up. He was expected to push himself in a unique way, fighting and sacrificing for those who couldn’t. Sometimes, those expectations were unreasonable and a little unhealthy, but it was part of the overall gender dynamic.

That dynamic has been changing a great deal over the past several decades. I’m young enough to have grown up during many of those changes, but old enough to remember the old traditions associated with “manning up.” The sheer breadth of that change has been remarkable, but not entirely in a good way.

For the most part, I was never pushed too hard to man up by others. My friends and family encouraged me to push myself, but never to the point where I felt pressure or anxiety. I often ended up pushing myself, whether it involved going to college or moving out of my parents’ house.

That’s not say I didn’t feel any pressure to “man up” at any point in my life. Beyond my friends and family, I was as vulnerable to expectations surrounding masculinity as anyone. Most of the time, those expectations involved little things like stepping up to fix a problem, helping out those who were physically limited, and enduring pain or discomfort in the name of a particular goal.

Overall, I feel as though these expectations were either healthy or benign. Some of those standards could’ve been gender neural. When you see someone in a wheelchair at the grocery store struggling to get something from a shelf, it’s neither masculine nor feminine to help them. That’s just common courtesy.

In recent years, however, the whole notion of “manning up” has gained new a new complications. Some of them are ideological. Some of them are politically motivated. It’s because of these various nuances that I put the term in quotes because its meaning keeps shifting, gaining and losing connotations year by year. At some point, the term itself may become empty.

In contemplating that meaning, I thought briefly about the connotations that term had back when I was a kid. I doubt my interpretation was definitive, but I like to think it captured the spirit of the term. When someone told me to “man up,” this is what I took it to mean.

  • Grow up and mature
  • Take responsibility and solve your own problems
  • Stop whining and start doing something about it
  • Quit being satisfied with mediocrity and push yourself
  • Be stronger and tougher in difficult situations
  • Work hard and endure for the good of others who can’t

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of these same traits associated with superheroes, as espoused by the comic books I read and the cartoons I watched. They might have colored my perspective on masculinity and “manning up,” but I suspect these ideals were still consistent with healthy masculinity. The fact that characters like Wonder Woman and Storm of the X-men had some of these traits was just a bonus.

Now, as I contemplate the meaning of “manning up” in its current context, those don’t seem to have the same prominence they once did. There are also a new host of expectations surrounding the term that are fueled, in part, by identity politics. Some even conflict with others, which adds even more complications.

To get a feel for those complications, I posed a question on Reddit on what “manning up” meant to them. The response somewhat surprised me. Most wouldn’t have found their way into the comic books or cartoons I consumed as a kid, to say the least. They involved ideas such as this.

  • Checking your privileged and making way for those your kind has oppressed
  • Acknowledging the crimes and guilt of your gender, as a whole
  • Sacrificing any advantage or benefits that being a man might have once conferred
  • Subjecting yourself to greater degradation in the name of greater equality
  • Learning about all the ways men have ruined society and the world
  • Accepting that the things men love are unhealthy, damaging, and detrimental

None of these are very positive traits for those being told to “man up.” It’s basically a less overt way to tell them that them being a man is “problematic,” a term that has also gained one too many complications. It’s a term reserved for those who appear to be benefiting too much from being a man who isn’t subject to the rigors of childbirth, rampant sexism, and a long history of exploitation.

Never mind the fact that no one alive to day is directly responsible for the injustices their ancestors committed. They’re also not responsible for the injustices their particular race, gender, or ethnicity committed. It happened in the past. Yes, parts of that past were horrible, but punishing people in the present doesn’t make it less horrific. If anything, it just tries to fight one injustice with another.

This is where the concept of “manning up” really loses whatever positive connotations it once held. It’s a sentiment that many responders to my Reddit question shared. When they contemplate that term, they interpret as someone telling them that they need to endure, suffer, or overlook a particular aspect of their identity.

A few posters went so far as to say the term can be replaced with “serve my interests” and carry the same meaning. While I don’t entirely agree with that notion, I can understand why it would feel that way. Being a man, I sometimes feel like I’m expected to get to the front of the line when the time comes to sacrifice. I won’t go so far as to say I find it oppressive, but it certainly feels like I’m held to a different standard.

Sometimes, that standard can be unreasonable. That was another common theme of the responses I got. The notion of “manning up” denotes operating in a way to avoid a particular stigma that others wouldn’t incur for the same behavior. It’s not always ideological, but the pressure is there.

A man who is too emotional is considered a sissy and has to “man up.” A woman or even a gay man who does this won’t face that stigma.

A man who is reluctant to sacrifice for the well-being of another group is considered selfish and should “man up.” A woman or another minority who show a similar reluctance can do the same, but won’t face the same stigma.

A man who shows his pain when he’s harassed is told to suck it up and “man up.” A woman or minority who is harassed can expect plenty of supporters who will cheer them on. Even if men are subject to more overall harassment, they don’t get any sympathy. They’re told to “man up” while everyone else is allowed to seek social support without much scrutiny.

This, I feel, is the ultimate tragedy of the concept. A term that once use to reflect certain ideals for men has now become an instrument of ridicule. It’s no longer a lesson for boys to learn. It’s a rhetorical shortcut that allows someone to hold an entire group of people to a different standard, one that requires them to go out of their way for someone else.

I don’t doubt that there are instances where it’s good for society that some people go out of their way to help others. For those who are disabled, elderly, or ill, it’s just more just and compassionate to set a different standard for ourselves. We don’t ask someone who is missing a limb or suffering from ALS to “man up.” We go out of our way to help them.

It’s the extent of those instances, however, that seems to be damaging the notion. It’s no longer sufficient to just have a particular ailment or shortcoming. Just being someone who isn’t a man who can claim some sort of injustice, be it historical or contemporary, is sufficient.

I believe that’s a dangerous precedent for men and women, for that matter. It sends the message that in order for there to be more justice and equality, an entire group of people need to sacrifice to an extent where they have to be the villains. They have to come to the table, surrender unconditionally, and admit they were wrong and they were the cause of the problem.

That may not be sentiment of those telling someone to “man up,” but that’s how it’s being interpreted. It’s less a masculine ideal and more a shaming tactic, one that is more likely to incur a backlash rather than get someone to reconsider their understanding of gender roles.

I still feel like there’s a way to recapture the positive elements of “manning up.” Gender dynamics is one of those concepts that’s always evolving. Sometimes, there’s progress. Sometimes, there are setbacks. At the moment, I think masculinity and femininity are going through some growing pains as they adapt to a changing world. That process is likely to involve plenty of conflicts and controversies along the way.

In the long run, though, I think society will find a healthy balance with respect to “manning up.” I think there’s a way to use that notion to bring out the best in men and women alike. It’ll likely take plenty of work, toil, and sacrifice from everyone involved in gender-driven controversies, but it’s definitely worth doing.

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Masculinity, Mourning, And My Recent Loss

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How is a man supposed to mourn when he’s lost someone he really cares about? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m asking because it’s a question I wish I could answer. It’s also a question that I’ve been struggling with over the past week or so.

Recently, I got the sad news from my father that my grandmother had passed away. I’ve been debating on whether or not I should talk about it on this site. I know people don’t come here to hear about my personal crap. They would much rather talk about upcoming superhero movies, sex robots, and double standards.

However, I’ve since concluded that this is something I need to share, if only to help me cope. Without getting too much into the personal details, this loss really hurt. I was very close to my grandmother. She was a big part of my life for as long as I can remember and just referring to her in the past tense is a strange and distressing feeling, but one I knew I would have to face eventually.

I even knew it was coming sooner rather than later. My grandmother’s death did not catch anyone by surprise. She was in her late 90s and had been dealing with a lot of health problems over the past four years. The past several months have been especially bad, but I still visited her regularly, hoping to boost her spirits.

Now, the idea that I can’t visit her ever again is really hard to process. My grandmother was one of those special individuals whose presence just made everything inherently better. Even with her declining health, she never lost that amazing spirit. She lit up the room and she enriched my life in ways I can never put into words.

Mourning her has proven to be one of the biggest challenges of my adult life. I understand that this is the natural order of things. I know that loved ones eventually die, especially those who lived long, fruitful lives like my grandmother. That doesn’t make it any less painful.

In dealing with it, though, I find myself contemplating things about mourning that I didn’t expect. Some of it involves my own personal issues. Others involve a bigger issue that I feel is worth exploring, even as my current emotional state is so raw.

There are a lot of things I didn’t learn from school, parents, siblings, or peers that I wish I had while growing up. Chief among those things is coping with loss. It’s not that nobody tried to teach me those skills. It’s not like there was a course in it, either. I just never made much effort to learn them. In fact, I feel as though I avoided them outright.

Some of that might just be a result of me being more reserved. Most people who know me can attest that I tend to swallow certain feelings more than others, especially when those feelings come from real emotional anguish. I’ll sob, I’ll shed tears, and I’ll let my voice crack under the strain. I’ll try not to let it go beyond that, though.

It’s not something my family and friends pressure me to do. However, there are times I feel as though that’s what a man is supposed to do. While I don’t like attributing things to gender stereotypes, especially when double standards are involved, this is one instance where I fall right into a specific masculine archetype.

I freely admit that I don’t always express my emotions very well. I’m more inclined to hide them and hold them in. I even try to avoid them, hoping they just go away with time. That may work for some minor emotional upheavals. It doesn’t work quite as well when you’re dealing with a heavy personal loss.

That limited ability to express emotions very well has been really glaring since I got the news. I remember not reacting too strongly, but wishing I could. I remember being at a total loss, but wishing I weren’t. There were so many things I wanted to express and articulate, but couldn’t. I can honestly say that I’ve never been at such a loss before.

At that moment, being a man felt like being shackled to something. It was like trying to cross a river with heavy weights on my ankles. Even when sitting alone in my room with no one to judge me for how much emotion I showed, I still found myself at a loss. I knew I was feeling something hard, but I just didn’t know how to express it.

I’m not saying that inability is entirely attributed to me being a man. I can’t speak for all men, but I can attest on a personal level that I do feel pressure to put on a tough face when confronted with painful emotions. To do otherwise just seems contrary to what it means to be a man and maintain a masculine demeanor.

I know that sounds like I’m blaming my gender for my shortcomings, and maybe I am to some degree, but I find myself wishing that the processing of painful emotions didn’t carry these gender-based standards. Yes, there are some men who are every bit as emotionally expressive as most women, but those kinds of tendencies aren’t encouraged or celebrated. In some cases, they’re scorned.

I don’t blame women or women for that stigma. I get the sense we’re all responsible for propagating those standards, albeit indirectly. The idea that showing certain emotions isn’t manly while not showing enough isn’t womanly feels like an unnecessary burden that we place on ourselves, one I just learned is heavier than most.

While I don’t feel like men are mocked as much for showing their emotions as they were in the past, I still find myself struggling. It’s as though I had the opportunity learn how to deal with these painful feelings when I was growing up, but was pressured to not take advantage of them because doing so would reveal a personal weakness.

As misguided as that sentiment might have been, I’m still responsible for making those choices. I don’t deny that when it comes to knowing how to deal with losses on this level, I’m behind the curve. I’m very lucky that I have so many wonderful family, friends, and relatives who have been there for me every step of the way during this process. I don’t think I could’ve handled this as well as I have without them.

I just wish being a man didn’t make it inherently more difficult. Again, this is just my own experience and I can’t speak for all men. Maybe mine is an anomaly and my limited coping skills have more to do with my own personal issues than my gender. Whatever the case, this loss has revealed a lot about being a man and dealing with emotions.

I’m really going to miss my grandmother. I loved her a great deal and the idea of living life without her in it is still hard to wrap my head around. I intend to push forward, though. I know that’s what she would want. That’s what all our loved ones ultimately want once they’re gone.

Even if they can’t be in our lives anymore, we can still move forward with the strength their love gave us. To all those out there who have suffered a loss, I encourage you to take comfort in that strength. To my grandmother, who I’ll miss dearly, I thank you for showing me just how much strength there is in love.

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When Your Lover Uncovers Your Porn Collection (And What Their Reaction Reveals)

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I talk a lot about taboos, double standards, and various gender quirks. I don’t just do that because it highlights significant disparities among people trying desperately to get along and/or make love to each other. I do it because it offers some fascinating insight into the conflicting mentalities that drive such conflicts.

A lot of those conflicts, however, are on a larger, more impersonal scale. A typical couple, be they heterosexual, homosexual, or something else entirely, can only do so much to impact larger cultural forces that they had no role in choosing, propagating, or subverting.

These forces, from our approach to marriage to the assumptions that guide our understanding of romance, usually only effect individuals and couples indirectly. We’re all somewhat at the mercy of what our culture has built for us and we can only do so much to guide it forward.

However, there are a few lesser-known aspects of that culture that we can influence on a day-to-day basis. One such aspects involves porn and whatever porn collection that you or your significant other might have, be it hidden or not. I’m sure just mentioning it has made certain individual’s tense for various reasons that I won’t state outright.

Regardless of how you or your lover feels about porn, it exists and it exists in a big way. It’s also a huge multi-billion dollar industry. The fact it’s so huge is a telling sign that both you and your lover have probably consumed it at some point. It’s also very likely that anyone claiming that porn is immoral has probably consumed it as well.

Despite this prevalence, porn is still immersed in taboos and quirks. I don’t want to focus too much on those, since I’ve already touched on a few. The ones I want to focus on have to do with how those in a romantic relationship react to it. That reaction, in many ways, goes beyond double standards and reflects something deeper about our concept of relationships as a whole.

Most people probably don’t need much imagination to surmise how their lover would react to their porn collection. Whether or not it’s a secret, there’s this underlying sentiment about someone in a relationship who consumes porn. That sentiment usually manifests in two scenarios. This is the first and probably most basic.

A woman casually walks by her lover’s desk. Their computer screen is open and so are a wide number of files. Curious, she takes a closer look, only to find out that there’s a sizable collection of pornographic videos on the computer. She’s utterly shocked at just how much content there is.

There are videos featuring extreme, hardcore scenes. There are videos featuring bondage, S&M, and various fetishes. When her lover returns, she is outraged. She sees this level of porn consumption as an affront to their relationship and demand that the files be deleted.

This isn’t just a basic thought experiment. This sort of thing does happen in real life. A part of what inspired this article were stories like this one where a woman kicked her husband out of the house after finding some porn on his phone. Granted, her reaction was extreme, but it reflects a similar sentiment.

There are those who, when they find their lover’s porn stash or just part of it, see it as an insult and an affront to their relationship. They see their lover’s desire to seek another sexual outlet as proof that they aren’t enough and their lover isn’t attracted to them anymore. For some, it can be fairly traumatic and for understandable reasons.

Now, I didn’t specify the gender of the person who voiced that outrage like I did in the scenario. I did so because I don’t want to generalize too much. From a purely anecdotal perspective, which is admittedly flawed, women are more angered by their lover’s porn consumption than men.

Again, that’s a generalization. It also says nothing about how homosexual or transgender relationships couples react to porn. I honestly had a hard time finding research to that effect. However, I found plenty that indicated how common porn consumption is among couples and how reserved many are to admit it.

That leads me to the next scenario, which isn’t as common, but is a bit more colorful. It involves a different kind of reaction for a couple that probably has a very different dynamic from the first, but that dynamic is key in understanding the implications.

A man casually walks by his lover’s desk. Their computer screen is open and so are a wide number of files. Curious, he takes a close look and discovers a sizable collection of pornographic videos. For a moment he’s shocked, but then he’s impressed at the sheer breadth of the collection.

There are videos featuring lesbian couples. There are videos featuring bondage, S&M, and various fetishes. When he confronts his lover, it’s awkward and a little funny. However, he’s also genuinely intrigued by this side to his lover and says they should talk about it so as to re-evaluate their outlook on their sex life.

It’s not nearly as dramatic, which is probably why it doesn’t make the news as often. Again, I was vague with the gender dynamics here and I’ll probably get in trouble for saying the person in the scenario was a man. I get it. That’s a general assumption fueled largely by existing cultural expectations.

Men are okay with porn. Women are a bit more sensitive about it. Not everyone is like that. Some women don’t have a problem with porn and even enjoy watching porn themselves. Some men don’t care for porn and are genuinely averse to it. Everybody has their own attitudes towards it.

That said, there is this prevailing sentiment that men are anxious about revealing their porn habits to their significant others and women don’t like the idea that their lover has a sexual outlet other than them. In both cases, there’s an anxiety over what this means for them and the relationship.

To some extent, porn consumption and learning that your lover consumes it undercuts the romantic script that we think we have to follow. Within that script, two people are in love. They only desire one another. They’re only attracted to one another. Anything that might diver that attraction must be a bad thing. Porn does all of that and then some.

In that context, it’s understandable why some would react harshly to their lover’s porn collection. It shatters the romantic ideal they once assumed. Suddenly, their love is not on part with Romeo and Juliet. Their relationship is not some epic romance. The idea that they’re still sexually aroused by other people makes it seem less special and less meaningful.

At the same time, such a reaction has more distressing implications. If someone is  disgusted by the notion that their lover is sexually aroused by something other than them, then that implies they somehow own their lover’s desires. They own their ability to have sex and be intimate. The idea of owning another person to that extent goes beyond love and into the realm of obsession.

In that circumstance, even a stray thought anyone has towards someone other than their lover is an affront. Given the many indications that humans aren’t entirely built for monogamy and the high divorce rate, this is wholly unrealistic and a little scary and it sets unreasonable expectations among couples that are bound to disappoint.

There are, indeed, certain cases where someone’s porn consumption is detrimental to a relationship. However, from a pure numbers perspective, those instances are the exception and not the norm. From a pure betting perspective, there’s a good chance that your current lover or future over consumes porn. How you deal with it will likely reveal the strength and/or weakness of your relationship.

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When Is It Okay To Exchange Sex For Favors?

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In case you missed the title of the article, I’ll ask the question again. When is it okay to exchange sex for favors? It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a serious question about a serious issue in our culture that just so happens to be the premise of one too many porno scenes. I ask the question because I think it’s a lot more relevant now than it has been in recent years.

Concerns about exploitation, harassment, and corruption have never been greater. Some of that is a result of recent scandals. Some of it is a result of ongoing social movements that are a lot more sensitive to gender roles and expectations. Some of it is just a byproduct of living in an era of social media where it’s very hard to keep secrets.

I would argue that the relevance of this question has become even greater in recent years as attitudes towards sex have become more regressive in some areas. Depictions of beautiful women in the media and even beautiful women in video games have become controversial. It has created an atmosphere where everyone is more sensitive to how sexuality is depicted and pursued.

It doesn’t matter that those controversies rely heavily on egregious double standards that make extreme generalizations that can be both hypocritical and damaging. This is the world we live in. If you attempt to use your sexuality and sex appeal to gain favors, then that’s an issue. People have already lost jobs and had their lives destroyed because of it.

It’s understandable on some levels. Most reasonable people will agree that there’s a point where someone seeking a sexual favor from someone else is outright exploitation. There’s a reason why there are laws in place that say an employer can’t demand sex from an employee or risk losing their job.

Most who aren’t in positions of power probably agree that those laws should remain. However, they’re only part of a much more complicated dynamic. Within the context of the innate justice that most people have, there is a line between seeking a sexual favor and outright exploiting someone. It’s just not always clear where that line is.

Take, for instance, the classic casting couch scenario that plays out in so many pornos and Hollywood horror stories.

A beautiful, ambitious actress walks into a room. She badly wants a particular role. She’s willing to do anything to get it, even if it means sleeping with a producer. Being a legal adult, she offers this to the male producer. He accepts. They have sex and she gets the part. The actress furthers her career. The producer gets to have sex with a beautiful woman. Both are satisfied with the outcome.

Now, this particular manifestation of the scenario is probably the least distressing. The woman enters with a willingness to have sex in the name of furthering her career. The man is just as willing to accept her offer. You could even flip the genders and it would still work. Two consenting adults are each seeking something from one another. Sex is just the currency they use and in the end, they both get what they want.

There may still be some who think that scenario is a problem. Some may slut shame the woman for essentially whoring herself to get favorable treatment. Never mind the fact that a willingness to use your body to get favorable treatment is not an issue when it doesn’t involve sex, as every professional athlete can attest. They still see this use of sex to get favors as unfair.

Others may scorn the man for going along with it, using his influence to help the woman’s career in exchange for sex. Again, never mind the fact that being in positions of influence or just having a lot of resources in general will attract those seeking favors. Somehow, using sex as currency is still seen as unfair. Even so, it’s a stretch to say that anyone was exploited in this scenario.

The line may be obscure in that instance, but still clear enough. It’s fairly likely that sort of thing plays out in the real world, both in Hollywood and the business world. Joss Whedon even alluded to it during his own sordid scandal last year. However, it still represents a best case scenario, of sorts.

It doesn’t take too much tweaking to make that same scenario more distressing. Here’s another one that probably occurs fairly often in the world of Hollywood and business. For some, it may be a bit more difficult to discern the line.

A beautiful, ambitious actress walks into a room. She badly wants a particular role that would really help her career, but she wants to earn it on the merits of her skills. She auditions. The producer says she’s good, but so are several other actresses, a few whom have more experience than her. Her chances aren’t great.

Then, after the audition, the producer sits down with her and offers a deal. If she has sex with him, he’ll get her the part. The woman is reluctant, but the man doesn’t push it. He gives her a few hours to decide with the understanding that the offer expires in two hours. The woman agonizes over the decision, but eventually decides to go along with it.

She meets up with the producer. She willingly has sex with him. She doesn’t feel that good about it, but the man does what he promised. He gets her the part. The role really helps her career, just as she hoped. She still didn’t like that she had to sleep with the producer, but she doesn’t regret it. Both she and the man got what they wanted.

I imagine this scenario will generate more uncertainty, arguments, and even a little outrage. To some, the producer in that scenario sexually assaulted that woman, using his power to get her to sleep with him. To others, it may just be a simple case of having to jump through some unpleasant hoops to further your career.

The line in this case is a bit harder to identify. It is very much a quid pro quo exchange, the kind that would definitely result in a sexual harassment case if it occurred between an employer and an employee. However, the woman in this case is not an employee and an audition is not the same as a job. The man just has resources the woman wants for her own benefit. He gives them to her in exchange for something.

The fact the exchange involves sex is where the uncertainty comes in. You could also make the argument that there would be similar concerns if money is involved because that would constitute bribery, but that involves considerably different circumstances. It’s one thing to just pay for an opportunity, which isn’t as taboo, even if it’s unethical in many cases. It’s quite another for someone to offer their body.

On top of that, it’s fairly reasonable to assume there aren’t as many people who have those kinds of resources to bribe someone as there are people willing to have sex. It’s less a matter of legal constraints and more a matter of tangible assets. Most people only have so much money or skill to offer. Sex is one of the few inherently valuable acts that’s essentially built into us as a species.

Even if with those caveats in mind, it’s not entirely clear if there was outright exploitation in that scenario. Yes, the woman was reluctant and didn’t really like that she had to do it. However, she had a chance to refuse and even considered it. In addition, after she made the choice, she got what the producer promised. He delivered on his part. She delivered on hers.

That would change considerably if the man just slept with the woman and didn’t get her the part. In that case, it probably would count as exploitation because he was the only one who got what he wanted and the woman got nothing. Unless the woman got the man to promise on tape that he would get her the part in exchange for sex, she probably would have little recourse.

There are plenty of other distressing scenarios I could list, but I won’t go over the entire spectrum of sexual favors. I present them and the potential complications they incur to add substance to the initial question. Most people agree that exploiting someone for sex is wrong. People are a bit less certain when it involves consenting adults using sex to exchange favors.

It’s a question that covers so many issues, from concerns about prostitution to how we craft marriage laws. No matter how we answer that question, there will be people in this world who have resources and opportunities. There will also be people willing to perform sexual favors in exchange for one or both. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of understanding where the line is now and where it should be in a just and fair world.

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When Regressive Gender Politics Inspire Deviant Sexual Taboos

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Take a moment to think about the many non-criminal, but still deviant behaviors that  society considers taboo. From not tipping the pizza guy to not asking for permission when you borrow your roommate’s toothbrush, there are plenty of behaviors that may not be illegal, but still make us recoil to some extent because they subvert social norms.

Now, consider for a moment that there was a point in time when these behaviors weren’t taboo. For some, you don’t have to go back too far. For others, you may need to go back a century or several, but the point is these taboos didn’t just arise randomly. There were factors that inspired it.

I’ve talked about the origins of taboos before, as well as ways to break them. When it comes to sexual taboos, though, it gets even more complicated, not to mention kinky. It’s one thing for an inane social norm to take on a life of its own. Add a powerful, instinctual drive to the mix and that taboo may gain a few extra lives in the process.

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Few things inspire more elaborate taboos than sex. Anyone familiar with a particular area’s porn consumption understands that to some extent. Sex is such an integral part of life, love, and passion that it’s bound to inspire more than a few taboos. We don’t usually think about where those taboos come from, but there’s usually a catalyst of sorts that inspires them.

I bring all this up because we live in sensitive times where it doesn’t take much to inspire a controversy, especially when it involves a sex scandal. It’s a world where everyone seems downright eager to get outraged about something, be it a sex scandal or something a celebrity wore.

Some of that outrage is built on a foundation of good intentions. Say what you will about the extent of the anti-harassment movement, but the goal is commendable. A world with less harassment, sexual or otherwise, is an objectively better world.

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However, problems arise when that movement becomes a moral panic and few things bring out our collective eccentricities than those. Just ask everyone still worried about Satanic cults operating day care centers. Those same panics can also inspire taboos. They can even turn something that wasn’t a taboo before into something far less mundane.

As I type this, there may be a new taboo forming before our eyes in wake of the anti-harassment movement. I’m not saying it’s official or anything, but the factors are in place and since it involves sex, it’s sure to evoke a wide range of feelings. To illustrate the extent of this emerging taboo, consider the following scenario.

There’s a woman in a room, casually lofting about. A man enters. He’s big, strong, and aggressive. He storms over to the woman, passion and desire in his eyes, and pins her up against the wall. Then, without asking, he kisses her and starts caressing her body. The woman is shocked and overwhelmed, but finds herself kissing back.

Then, after overpowering her with his strength and lust, he strips her naked and has sex with her right then and there. He doesn’t ask for permission. He just does it. He’s aggressive, but passionate. He’s not out to hurt her. He’s just there to take her. When he finishes, he wraps his powerful arms around her and holds her close so she cannot escape and kisses her again in a final act of domination.

This brief, but steamy scenario is a fairly familiar scene. It plays out in countless pornographic narratives, from the most hardcore content you can find on the internet to the erotica/romance novels that I like to write. It was even a big part of a best selling BDSM novel called “50 Shades Of Grey” that I’m sure everyone has heard of by now.

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In the recent past, that might have made a certain crowd a bit uncomfortable, but it wouldn’t have been taboo. Now, many would see this scenario as outright sexual assault and demand that the man be thrown in jail. It wouldn’t even matter if the woman in the scenario said she liked it. In the context of a moral panic, the man is an abuser.

I understand, to some extent, why certain people would feel that way. From an outside perspective, not knowing the thoughts and desires of those involved, it seems pretty distressing. In the past, such concerns would be addressed privately or by police. In the post-privacy world of social media, hash-tags, and professional trolls, it’s much easier for these sorts of matters to gain public scrutiny.

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I know there are still those who say the anti-harassment movement isn’t at the level of a moral panic just yet, but it doesn’t have to be at the same level of the Satanic Panic to inspire taboos. That scenario I described above may not have checked all the necessary boxes before, but it sure does now and that’s going to complicate certain sexual attitudes.

The idea that such a scenario could become taboo didn’t cross my mind until someone on Reddit brought it up. They cited an article from the New York Times where a woman expressed outright dread that she was betraying the anti-harassment movement because she’d enjoyed those kinds of dominating experiences in the past.

In the article, a sex and intimacy therapist and psychologist named Michaela Boehm says that woman’s feelings aren’t deviant. She even goes onto make a statement that probably wouldn’t have been controversial a decade ago, but would certainly spark outrage now.

Many women like to be dominated in bed. “Not in their lifestyle, not in their career, but in the bedroom, many women would like to surrender,” Dr. Boehm said. This may explain why, on Amazon’s list of best-selling erotica — a medium that, unlike pornography, is mostly produced and enjoyed by women — themes of male dominance tend to, well, dominate.

Chances are if a man had said those words, he would be scorned as a modern day monster. Even though a licensed psychologist says there’s nothing wrong or unhealthy about women enjoying those kinds of experiences, the sentiment is there. As such, the roots of the taboo are already in place.

Now, the reasons why a woman may enjoy submissive sexual experiences are many and there is some research behind it, but I won’t go too deep into that issue. I want to focus on what happens when taboo is thrown into the mix. Even if there were no biological factors behind the appeal of that kind of sex, a taboo does plenty to complicate things.

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Think back to that same scenario again. Now, add a few other forces to the mix. It’s not just erotic. It’s dangerous. The man could get into a lot of trouble if word got out and the woman could get into trouble if she admits she enjoys it. If you don’t think that doesn’t add appeal to an experience, then you’ll have a hard time explaining the appeal of skydiving.

Call it the forbidden fruit effect. Call it misattribution of arousal, a real phenomenon where your brain may not know the difference between being in danger and being horny. Whatever biological factors might be behind it, taboo only adds more fuel to the proverbial fire.

Suddenly, this simple manifestation of sex takes on a form of kink that it didn’t have before. Kink, much like skydiving, has appeal because there’s a thrill to it, both in terms of danger and the fact that it’s considered deviant. Add the basic pleasures that come with sex and suddenly, a mundane experience becomes a night with James Bond.

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I doubt that’s what those in the anti-harassment movement intended. It may very well be fine print in the law of proportional backlash that tends to affect major social movements. However, unintended consequences are often the pre-cursor to taboos and it may already be too late for this one.

Sexual attitudes are always evolving and at the moment, they’re evolving in a climate of fear and uncertainty. People are more vigilant with their sex lives and how they interact with women. That’s where practices like the Mike Pence rules comes in. There’s a risk that the way we publicly go about sex is making it difficult for anyone to know what’s acceptable anymore.

Conversely, taboos embrace the danger, the risk, and the utter abnormality of an act. They take something you didn’t once think was a big deal and make it seem like a trill ride at Disneyland. Given the ambiguity surrounding consent and inherent power of the human sex drive, this is one taboo that may be more potent than most.

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Now, that’s not to say that submissive sex is destined to exceed the Satanic Panic in terms of taboo, but the potential is there. History shows that efforts to re-shape attitudes is a messy process. Sometimes, it works beautifully. Sometimes, it fails spectacularly. There are many ways to combat a certain social ill, but making it taboo may end up doing more harm than good.

If you’re still not convinced, go to the nearest theme park and ride a few roller coasters. That should remind you of the kind of forces you’re working with here.

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Circumcised Vs. Uncircumcised Preference (According To Porn Stars)

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When searching for expertise on sensitive issues, sometimes you have to look in unexpected places. For an issue as sensitive as circumcision, an issue that has been in the news more and more these days, we have to look a little harder. There aren’t many sane people willing to learn that much about mutilating male genitals.

I’ve made my attitudes towards circumcision fairly clear already. I admit, I’ve avoided the topic in the past, but find myself more and more interested about it for unexpected reasons. I had no idea that there was an ongoing movement to protest circumcision, nor did I realize the colorful history behind it. Honestly, who knew such a small piece of flesh could generate so much controversy?

There are a lot of aspects about circumcision that are worth discussing, but seeing as how I’m not an expert, I feel woefully unqualified to lead that discussion. There are people and organizations far more qualified and entertaining to dig into the logistics of circumcision. There is one part of the discussion that’s worth having, though, and it involves porn stars.

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I’m sure that got some peoples’ attention now. Depending on the contents of their browser history, they’re familiar with the expertise that porn stars bring to the table on all things related to male genitalia. Given the amount of time they spend dealing with the intricacies of male anatomy, I would further argue their qualifications speak for themselves.

They have experience in terms of frequency, variety, and circumstance. Given the sheer variety of porn that exists, the average porn star is bound to experience more aspects of male anatomy than most ordinary women, even at their most reckless. It’s not just personal for them. It’s their profession.

Porn stars aren’t doctors, even if they frequently play them in elaborate fantasies. However, there’s one important issue related to circumcision that they can probably answer better than any doctor.

Are circumcised penises better for sex than uncircumcised?

Regardless of the medical or cultural implications surrounding circumcision, I think this question is more pressing than most, if only because it’s the most intimate. There are plenty of impassioned arguments about the ethics of circumcising an infant boy without his consent or a full understanding of the impacts. Those arguments are important.

However, when it comes to our intimate personal lives, the stakes are a little bit elevated. Even if there are health and ethical arguments to be made about circumcision, people will pay more attention if their sex lives are involved. Even women will pay attention more because those sex lives often involve them to.

With all that in mind, how exactly do porn stars feel about circumcised penises compared to uncircumcised? Is there really a difference? That’s exactly what Wood Rocket, a channel dedicated to exploring the less explicit aspects of porn stars, asked a group of female porn stars. If there is, they’re in a better position to find out than anyone, including a licensed doctor. This was their response.

Granted, it’s a small sample size, but keep in mind that these women are porn stars. They’ll deal with more penises of every size, shape, and function than most women will deal with in a lifetime. Their sentiment on this carries more weight than most and the specifics of their response are quite revealing.

Beyond their comments about uncircumcised penises and anal sex, there seems to be an underlying sentiment of aesthetics. An uncircumcised penis is more of an anomaly, at least for porn stars in America, where the circumcision rate is significantly higher than the rest of the world. As such, it’s going to evoke different reactions.

One woman describes fucking a circumcised penis as fucking a door knob. Another woman describes an uncircumcised penis as smooth, squishy, probably a few other terms that might prompt some to open a new browser window. If you took those sentiments as an average, though, the main take-away is that these women don’t really mind either way, provided that the man is hygienic and knows how to use it.

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However, it’s the attitudes towards the circumcised penises that I found most revealing. The way these women described it gave the impression that their preference was based primarily on familiarity. They’ve just dealt with circumcised penises more often and, as a result, they’re more comfortable with them.

That seems to reflect the sentiment that a circumcised penis is “normal” whereas an uncircumcised penis is not. It’s worth remembering, though, that this concept “normal” requires that a piece of a man’s anatomy get cut off, usually when he’s a baby. I know normal is kind of a loaded term, but there’s something paradoxical about a kind of normal that requires surgery.

More than anything else, it shows that our attitudes towards circumcision are very much shaped by aesthetics. Even for those who consider themselves ardent individualists, we’re still part of a highly social species. That means public attitudes towards aesthetics matter and, like makeup commercials or lingerie ads, that effects how we see circumcision.

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As it stands right now, an uncircumcised penis is still seen as a novelty or an aberration. That is changing though so chances are, the porn stars of the near future will be dealing with more uncircumcised scene partners. It will be very interesting to learn the preference of those porn stars in the future. I suspect that their attitudes will be different.

Until then, the controversy surrounding circumcision is sure to continue. There will still be medical arguments on top of anecdotal experiences. Since it affects our sex lives, the stakes will continue to be high. For now, though, it’s worth taking into account the sentiments of experienced porn stars. There aren’t many issues where anyone can say that with a straight face. That just goes to show how serious this issue is.

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