Tag Archives: sex in society

Closing The Orgasm Gap With Lingerie


There are a lot of things that divide men and women these days. There’s the anti-harassment movement, representation in media, and people who get too much of their romantic advice from Hugh Grant movies. I’ve written about a few of these issues and even I admit, there are times when it feels like there’s no way to bridge the divide between genders.

While there is no magic wand we can wave that’ll create perfect gender equality, there are a few small things we can do to alleviate the hostility between men and women. They won’t solve problems like female representation in the tech industry or male pay disparities in the porn industry, but they will help us get along just a little bit easier.

On simple, but critical effort that both genders can do to help the situation involves the orgasm gap. Yes, this is going to be another article about orgasms, but in a serious way. The orgasm gap is a very serious issue, as I’ve highlighted before. How can the genders possibly get along when one side is taking more trips to O-Town than the other?

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The factors behind the orgasm gap are many, including forces such as cultural attitudes, poor understandings of anatomy, and lackluster effort. However, I don’t want to bemoan the extent of problem. Instead, I want to focus on the solutions. That usually gets people more excited about this very serious issue, among other things.

There are, indeed, small things that men and women can do on a personal level to close that orgasm gap. However, where those things fall short, technology and sexy innovations can help fill the void. Sex toys are an obvious possible solution and I’ve even singled a few out for praise.

Unfortunately, not everyone is comfortable using a sex toy or even talking about sex toys, in general. I understand and respect that. Some of these issues are not easy to talk about, to say the least. That’s why those serious about closing the orgasm gap have to get a bit more subtle.

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That’s where companies like Lorals come in, which hope to do for women receiving oral sex what Michael Jordan did for sneakers. Much like the Ta-Ta towels, they hope to take something simple that most people are already comfortable with and use it to facilitate an intimate act that could help close that gap that hinders the shared joy of both genders.

I’m singling Lorals out because their approach is unique, as well as subtle. Rather than use sex toys, which often have to be ordered discretely and sometimes require a quick clearing of one’s browser history, this company is reinventing lingerie in the name of closing the orgasm gap. I’ll give everyone a moment to wipe the tears of joy from their eyes.

This is brilliant on Lorals part because lingerie operates in a rare gray area, in terms of sexual accessories. Yes, it’s sexy, but it’s the kind of sexy you can buy on Amazon or at Walmart without much concern for scrutiny. People may look at you oddly if you walk out of a store with bag of dildos, but if you have a bag of sexy lingerie, they’ll probably smile because they know someone’s having a good night.

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Melanie Cristol, the founder of the company, is using that unique comfort we have with lingerie and tweaking the design so that it doesn’t just look sexy. It makes the act of stimulating a woman’s lady parts, whether by touch or tongue, a lot easier and enjoyable. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer who favors all form of sexy stimulation, I wholly support such an effort.

How it does this is simple, but deceptively cunning. Instead of the traditional fabric used in lingerie, Lorals uses thinner materials like latex to allow for easier stimulation. It’s like a condom, but disguised like lingerie. James Bond himself would be impressed and a little turned on by such cunning.

In an interview with Fast Company, Ms. Cristol offered some insight into the product and the purpose behind it.

The new product she’s invented–called Lorals–is lingerie made from thin latex similar to the material used in condoms.

It is designed to feel luxurious against the skin, but is so thin and stretchy that it allows for oral and finger penetration.

Even if you’re not that impressed by something that emphasizes a woman receiving oral sex, there’s another reason why she and Lorals took this approach. It may seem like just having special lingerie wouldn’t do much to improve our sex lives, but if you know the specifics of the orgasm gap, you’ll understand why she’s attacking it this way.

Ms. Cristol is aware of those specifics more than most. Rather than belabor studies or providing impromptu anatomy lessons on female physiology, I’ll let her explain why lingerie that facilitates oral sex is a key tool in battling the orgasm gap.

One study conducted by the author of the The Sex Diaries found that 81% of women orgasm during oral sex, which is about three times more often than during intercourse. But in a survey Cristol conducted, she discovered that 80% of women turn down oral sex when they wanted to say yes. “Women turn down oral sex for many different reasons,” she says. “They might be concerned that they haven’t showered yet, have just come back from the gym, or are on the tail end of their period. They might be worried about how their sexual partner feels about tastes and scents.”

Men, on the other hand, appear to be less inhibited. They are two times as likely to receive oral sex as women, according to the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality
With Lorals, Cristol wanted to create a product that would help women overcome some of their self-consciousness. Lorals are black and designed to look like any other sexy lingerie, but they are disposable.
The idea would be for a woman to have the undies on hand, and be able to put them on right before the act of oral sex. Of course, this means adding another step to the process of sexual activity, but Cristol believes it should be fairly easy to introduce this new behavior into the process.

After reading that, I hope others will join me in applauding Ms. Cristol’s efforts. She wants to expand the script that men and women use in approaching sex. There is, indeed, an imbalance when it comes to technique and tendencies with sexual activity. There’s an understandable eagerness when it comes to men receiving oral sex, but a frustrating hesitation with women receiving it from men.

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Some of that comes back to our sexual attitudes, which are always evolving. However, rather than simply wait for those attitudes to mature to the point where the joys of oral sex are perfectly equal, this unique brand of lingerie should help accelerate the process.

I don’t doubt that, like the Ta-Ta Towels,  Lorals has a long road ahead of it in order to carve a place for itself within our collective sex lives. Condoms, vibrators, dildos, and traditional lingerie have all had go to through a maturation process before they became an acceptable addition to our sexual arsenal.

With this new brand of lingerie, though, the incentives are definitely there because they can directly contribute to our effort at closing the orgasm gap. If this product gains sufficient popularity, then lovers will be more inclined to equitably share in the range of sex acts that get them to O-Town and back.

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This new brand of lingerie won’t entirely close the orgasm gap, but it does have the potential to make a dent. When it comes to narrowing that gap, every bit counts. There are all sorts of gender-driven conflicts in this world, but if we can at least make it so no gender need worry about who is getting more orgasm than the other, then I believe we’ll all find it easier to get along with one another.


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Why Sex Addiction (Probably) Doesn’t Exist


When it comes to human psychology, addiction is like quantum physics in that few understand it and Hollywood constantly gets it wrong. I know I say it a lot on this blog, but it’s worth belaboring. People are complicated. One person may watch “Star Wars” and think it’s the greatest piece of cinema of all time. Another may watch it and say it has no redeeming values.

That’s an important context to consider when discussing topics of addiction, which affects a significant portion of the human population. According to Addiction Center, there are approximately 20.6 million people over the age of 12 struggling with an addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 200,000 people have died since 1999 from prescription drug abuse alone.

Addiction is a serious issue. I know people who have struggled with addiction. I think everybody knows someone in their lives, be they a friend or relative, who has struggled with an addiction of some sorts. Addiction is real and there’s actual biology behind it. As such, it stands to reason that the rising instance of sexual addiction is real.

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Before I scrutinize this sexy, yet unsexy phenomenon, I need to preface this by acknowledging that our collective understanding of these issues is still developing. What we consider a psychological dysfunction today may end up just being a healthy variation within the diversity of human thought. That’s why homosexuality is no longer considered a disease.

That context is important to establish because the term “sex addict” has been thrown around a lot lately. It’s not quite on the level of “fake news” or “soy boy,” but it has been cropping up, especially in wake of the recent scandals in Hollywood. Both Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey claimed to be sex addicts after their scandals.

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Needless to say, not everybody buys that excuse. Given my propensity to bemoan excuses, I count myself among them. These men claiming that sex addiction caused their deplorable behavior comes off as a pitiful attempt to gain sympathy, trying to paint themselves as sick. It also assumes a lot about the complex nature of addiction.

It’s true that we can become addicted to damn near anything, but it’s not just a matter of one particular activity flooding the pleasure centers of our brain more than others. Alcoholics don’t get the same orgasmic release from a cold beer that a sex addict gets from a quickie in the shower. There are other psychological forces behind it.

Since we can’t yet read the minds of an individual person, we have only a cursory understanding of those forces. However, there is an established criteria for addiction within a medical context. The American Psychiatric Association, describes addiction as follows:

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will causes problems.

At the same time, it establishes a clear difference between just being addicted to a certain activity, like sex, eating, or playing World of Warcraft for 29 hours straight, and the addiction caused by drugs. They don’t even call it addiction. They have a more official label called Substance Use Disorder. Their description of this condition is a lot scarier than just someone who has more orgasms than most.

People with a substance use disorder have distorted thinking, behavior and body functions. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the drug. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control.

These substances can cause harmful changes in how the brain functions. These changes can last long after the immediate effects of the drug — the intoxication. Intoxication is the intense pleasure, calm, increased senses or a high caused by the drug. Intoxication symptoms are different for each substance.

I bring up this distinction because more than one person has described sex like a drug. In doing so, it’s easier to accept that those claiming to suffer from sex addiction have a real ailment. Sex is a powerful drive that evokes pleasure that some brain scans have compared to heroin. Does it not stand to reason that sex addicts are in the same boat as heroin addicts?

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The short answer is no. Sex addicts and heroin addicts are as different from one another as an arm-wrestling contest and an underground fight club. Addiction to heroin has a strict criteria for diagnosis. Sex addiction doesn’t meet that criteria in that alleged addicts don’t respond the same way that those suffering from Substance Use Disorder respond.

According to research done by UCLA, the reactions of those claiming porn addiction did not mirror those addicted to other activities like drinking, smoking, etc. Within that same research, it was also uncovered that sex addiction lacks one of the most important features of an addiction, namely that of diminished response from the pleasure centers of the brain.

That’s key because one of the most damaging factors of an addiction is that over time, the addictive behavior doesn’t light up the pleasure centers of the brain like it used to. That’s why alcoholics need more alcohol and crack addicts need more crack to get the same high. Brain scans show that in drug abuse. They don’t show it in sex addiction.

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In fact, the conclusions of the researchers on sex addiction were somewhat mundane. According to the data gathered from the brains and experiences of real people, the idea of sex addiction is nothing more than having a high sex drive and poor impulse control. That’s not an addiction. That’s a personality quirk. If anything, the very term “sex addiction” undermines the suffering of real addicts.

I know those conclusions is not going to convince those who genuinely believe that they’re struggling with sex addiction. I don’t doubt that these people are struggling and it’s negatively impacting their lives, their families, and their relationships. However, I believe putting it in the same category as drug abuse only skews our understanding of addiction and sexuality.

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Some people are really just a lot hornier than others. In the same way some people have a bigger appetite for food, some have a bigger appetite for sex. Unlike food, though, those suffering from eating disorders don’t blame the entire concept of food. There are often other psychological factors behind it.

Sex also has another complication that food and eating don’t. Our culture has an established set of sexual norms that idealize some forms of sexuality and shame others. Even though we’ve accepted more diversity in recent decades, we still idealize monogamous romances where those involved only have sex to make babies or explore the kind of passion reserved for a scene in “Titanic.”

As a result, anything that deviates from that narrative, be they an open relationship or just wanting to hump for the sake of humping, is subject to scorn or shaming. I’ve noted the flaws in this sort of narrative before, but on a much larger scale, it creates a situation where certain manifestations of sex become less a variation and more a disease.

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Like homosexuality, though, treating those variations as flawed or damaged doesn’t make them go away. It’s possible for a drug addict to get treatment to repair the damage those drugs have done to their bodies and minds. It’s not possible to complete reshape and remold someone’s baseline sexual desires without causing serious damage.

To really get an idea of how this can motivate self-professed sex addicts to engage in such erratic behaviors, imagine for a moment that you’re a heterosexual person in a world where only homosexuality is accepted. As such, you’re expected to enter a homosexual relationship with someone and remain in that relationship indefinitely.

That means you have to ignore or temper your basic sexual desires in order to operate in that society without shame or scrutiny. You have to pretend that the relationship you’re in is sufficient when you know it’s not. Since you can’t turn off your brain or your basic desires, it’s going to mess with your mind and inspire erratic behavior.

It’s for that reason that sex addiction, as it’s currently understood, probably doesn’t exist. I say probably because, as I pointed out earlier, our understanding of sexuality, psychology, and the human experience is still limited. For now, though, our conclusions are fairly simple. You’re not an addict. You’re just really horny and you live in a society that doesn’t afford you the opportunities to explore those feelings.

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Why Prostitution Is Illegal And Why It Shouldn’t Remain Illegal


When it comes to matters of sex, there are usually two components. One involves passion, emotion, and intimate connection. That’s the romantic side of the equation, the one often glorified in my novels and in centuries worth of romantic media. That side is rarely controversial. In a perfect world, the primary purpose of sex would be to celebrate that connection and propagate the human species. That’s it.

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, we don’t live in a perfect world. That’s why the second component exists. That’s the economic side of sex, the one that involves utilizing sex as a means of exchanging value. That value doesn’t always involve money, resources, or vengeance for a bitter ex-lover. However, the nature of that value is what gives this form of sex greater taboo.

It’s because we glorify the romantic aspects of sex that the idea of treating it like any other exchange makes some people feel uncomfortable. The idea that the intimate act we do with the love of our life in a candle-lit bedroom in Paris is no different from a couple of strangers having a quickie in a gas station bathroom on the Jersey Turnpike just doesn’t sit well.

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It’s that sentiment that has kept prostitution and sex work of all kinds illegal in most of the developed world. It’s also why efforts to change the legal status of sex work often encounters strong opposition. It’s not just from the uptight Puritanical crowd who are against anything that feels to good. Even those within secular organizations oppose it.

Prostitution, sex work, or whatever you want to call it has a long, colorful history. It has always had a place in every society in some form or another. It’s in the bible, it’s in the ancient world, and it has found a way to thrive even in the most repressive of eras. Wherever there are resources to be exchanged or just a large collection of horny individuals, prostitution finds a way. It’s kind of like life itself.

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It’s for that reason that making prostitution illegal and keeping it illegal seems both asinine and futile. It’s one of those issues that has too many forces from both sides of the political spectrum working against it to ever change. Considering the growing concerns over our current approach to sex, it’s an issue that deserves greater scrutiny.

While efforts to regulate or prohibit prostitution are nothing new, the reasons for doing have changed. For most of human history, the reasons were entirely pragmatic. In the days before modern medicine, unregulated prostitution could lead to outbreaks of deadly diseases. Some of those diseases were so debilitating that it’s entirely understandable that many would adopt a very prohibition-centered approach.

As with other prohibitions though, the effects only went so far. Despite all the health risks and moral considerations, there seemed to be this unspoken understanding that prostitution is inevitable. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, a man who had a very narrow view of sin, is said to have said this about prostitution.

“Prostitution is like a sewer in a palace. Take away the sewer and you will fill the palace with pollution.”

Older societies might not have had access nearly as much knowledge as we do today, but they did notice one thing. A society full of horny people with no outlet for all that sexual energy is not a stable one. We even see evidence of that today. Even with the risk of disease in an era before modern medicine, those societies understood that.

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It wasn’t really until the early 20th century that the western world really made a push for prohibition. It coincided with other social purity movements that fought for the prohibition of alcohol, gambling, and anything else you can do in Las Vegas on a weekend. It had less to do with pragmatics and more to do with a moral resurgence fueled by religion and political zeal.

While that movement eventually conceded that prohibition of alcohol was fruitless, the anti-prostitution laws they inspired still lingers. As it stands, prostitution is illegal in most of the United States, except for a few places in Nevada. In Europe, there’s a messy patchwork of legality that ranges from fully legal, to quasi-legal, to outright illegal.

Regardless of what the laws say, prostitution exists and will continue to exist. The only thing that changes are the reasons for combating it. Most people these days won’t get into a moral debate about whether two consenting adults having sex is immoral, even if they’re not married. They will, however, show great concern about exploration and subjugation.

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Today, anti-prostitution attitudes are shaped largely by concerns over human trafficking, a crime that is horrible on too many levels to list. Whether by coincidence or agenda, prostitution is so closely tied to human trafficking that the two are sometimes used interchangeably. Considering how human trafficking often involves more than just sex, that’s not a fair comparison.

Fair or not, it’s that underlying concern that ensures attitudes about prostitution remain predominantly negative. It certainly doesn’t help that many of the victims of human trafficking are mostly disadvantaged women, whose suffering has become a much larger issue in recent years.

While nobody doubts the awful nature of human trafficking and the exploitation of innocent women, it still undercuts the very understanding that many societies in the past either accepted or learned the hard way. A society without a sexual outlet is not a stable one.

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Whether you’re concerned about the effects of “toxic masculinity” or people developing unhealthy attitudes about sex in general, the attitudes the fuel the prohibition are the same sentiments that keep people from exploring their sexuality. If their desire to just have sex for the sake of sex is seen as a flaw, then that’s going to cause problems. As I’ve noted before, treating sexual desires as a disease rarely works out.

There’s no doubt that there are those who become prostitutes out of desperation, just as there are people who work in fast food restaurants out of desperation. There are also those who freely choose to become prostitutes and even enjoy their work. Ironically, laws prohibiting prostitution hurts both by relegating it to the criminal underworld.

Treating prostitution as a crime seriously undermines the impact of real crimes. It’s not like murder, theft, or violence. These are activities that actively harm other individuals and involve someone going out of their way to subvert someone else’s will or property. Prostitution, namely the kind that involves two consenting adults, involves no such subversion.

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However, by making it illegal, it ensures that there will be criminal elements involves. Criminal elements, by default, involve the kind of violence, theft, and deviance that supporters of prohibition cite. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the worst kind. It’s like shooting yourself in the foot to protest gun violence.

That’s not to say there’s no hope for reforming our attitudes surrounding prostitution. There are branches of sex-positive feminism out there that support recognizing sex work as actual work. Back in 2016, Amnesty International even adopted an official position stating that the decriminalization of prostitution is critical to the pursuit of human rights.

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While society is probably a long way from full legalization, at least until sex robots are perfected, the attitudes that keep it illegal may end up being more harmful in the long run. The late, great George Carlin said it best with a simple, succinct, and naturally hilarious question.

“I don’t understand why prostitution is illegal. Selling is legal, fucking is legal. So why isn’t it legal to sell fucking?”

The fact that such insightful logic is so funny also makes it kind of frustrating. It’s almost tragic, to some extent, that we insist on complicating what should be a very simple concept. Not every sex act can be an act of passion, just as not every act of passion need be a sex act.

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If society is going to develop healthier attitudes towards sex, then we’re need to give people the ability and opportunities to explore. Prostitution, whatever our attitudes may be, will likely be part of that effort. Any effort to eliminate it completely is doomed to fail. That’s why it’s called the world’s oldest profession.

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Is Netflix To Blame For Decreasing Sexual Activity?


For most of human history, society regularly concerned itself with how much sex people were having. It wasn’t always just a matter of people having too much sex. The collective forces of religion, government, culture, and social norms all worked together to encourage people have the “right” kind of sex.

I put “right” in quotation marks because the whole concept of there being a “right kind of sex” is asinine to begin with. The concept only exists to the extent that it reflects the genuine, pragmatic concerns of previous societies about maintaining a growing population in the face of constant war, famine, plague, and whatever other forces were conspiring to wipe out the human race.

Pragmatic or not, the amount of sex that people have is still a concern and probably always will be to some extent. Unlike 99 percent of human history, though, having enough sex to make enough babies to keep the species going is no longer an issue. If anything, having too many babies is a larger concern.

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It’s within this unprecedented situation, one in which the human race has made so much progress and dominated the world so completely, that we’re also facing a growing issue. People are having less sex. According to the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, overall sexual activity has been declining since the mid-2000s.

The rate of decline is even more significant among the younger demographics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the amount of sexually active teenagers declined from 47 percent in 2005 to 41 percent in 2015. Considering that at least half of the teenage population was sexually active throughout the 90s, that is not a trivial decline.

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I’ve talked a bit about this decline in sex. Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, it’s one of those trends I need to keep up. I’ve posed a number of potential explanations. I’ve explored the possibility that society is becoming more sexually uptight. I’ve also talked about how the ongoing anti-harassment movement may impact our sex lives.

However, there may be an even more powerful force at work that’s hindering our collective ability to get frisky, especially among youth. For once, it has nothing to do with religion, government initiatives, or hashtag movements. In fact, this force may be more powerful than all those forces combined. It has a name and it’s one we know well: Netflix.

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This actually might be one instance where I don’t need to present a long, detailed explanation about how something affects our sex lives, our culture, and our society as a whole. There’s no need to employ caveman logic or scrutinize agendas. I think most competent can probably look at these trends in sexuality and readily accept that Netflix might very well be a factor.

I admit when I first heard it, I thought it made too much sense. I first saw it in an article in Politico that I thought was an Onion spoof. Apparently, it’s a serious story entitled “Too Much Netflix, Not Enough Chill: Why Young Americans Are Having Less Sex.” Granted, a lot of it is lumping correlation without digging into the causation, but it does make some pretty compelling points.

Dating has fallen precipitously in recent years, at least among teens, as smartphones and screens have become more popular. In the past 10 years, the share of high school seniors who reported ever going out on dates fell from about 70 percent to approximately 55 percent. We don’t have data for dating among adults, but “socializing offline” is down among them, too. For all the talk about young adults’ “Netflix and chilling,” many young men and women may end up just bingeing on Netflix, not chilling.

Within those points, however, is a growing sentiment in which people opting for Netflix is more a reaction than a provocation. The article spends a lot of time breaking down other ongoing trends, including a few from the anti-harassment movement. It’s not that people want to cut themselves off from intimacy, but the risks of getting intimate are greater, albeit not for the same reasons that we had in the past.

These days, young people are less concerned about being branded with a scarlet letter or challenging the sexual norms of our uptight ancestors. However, they are concerned about navigating an ever-changing social landscape that seems to disparage horny men and horny women.

For full-grown adults, it’s already pretty dangerous, as Aziz Ansari found out recently. For inexperienced teenagers, it’s probably even more terrifying. The article even highlighted a few of the notable pitfalls that are likely discouraging young people from putting themselves out there.

One is that in an era where concerns about sexual consent are becoming more salient, false allegations of sexual assault or rape may become more likely to proliferate, driven partly by a lack of clarity about how to define consent in sexual encounters that are often ambiguous and alcohol-fueled. Think of the fraternity accused of gang rape in the retracted Rolling Stone story about the University of Virginia. Or the bizarre charges made by Columbia University’s “mattress girl,” Emma Sulkowicz, against her former friend and lover, Paul Nungesser. Or the sexual assault charges lodged against Alphonso Baity that led to his expulsion from the University of Findlay, despite the fact that multiple witnesses were willing to testify that he engaged in consensual sex with his accuser. Or the successful cases that have been brought by men thrown out of college for alleged sexual assaults. Such allegations can do untold harm to the reputations and lives of many parties—mostly men—who engaged in what seemed to them to be consensual sex.

This is where Netflix comes in, almost by accent. In the past, it was a lot harder to stay entertained and content while also suppressing sexual urges. Why else would chastity belts have been a thing? When there wasn’t much entertainment beyond books and games, it was only a matter of time before those basic urges caught up with people.

Netflix does something that even the strongest chastity belt can never hope to do. It actually succeeds in keeping people distracted and content so that those base desires can’t occupy our thoughts. When there are so many amazing shows, from “Bojack Horsemen” to “Travelers” to “House of Cards” to “Stranger Things,” who has time for sex?

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I write that only half-jokingly because, while it’s not possible to completely overwrite our base desires, it’s still possible to distract us. Human beings are, from a biological standpoint, pretty easy to distract. In the era of the internet and streaming media, it has never been easier to forget about the fact that you’re not having sex.

Add on top of that the growing risks with just attempting to get sex, thanks to concerns about harassment and assault, and Netflix suddenly seems like the path of least resistance. You won’t get accused of assault or harassment by staying home and watching Netflix. You also won’t get pregnant or a nasty disease, either. Add the inherent entertainment of the content and even I can’t deny the appeal.

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Now, it’s still doubtful that Netflix and others like it are the primary reason for the decline in sexual activity. As anyone familiar with logical fallacies will tell you, correlation does not equal causation. However, when scrutinized within the context of evolving sexual attitudes, the deficiencies of the past, and basic incentives, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that Netflix is a factor.

That trend, like all trends, is likely to change over time. It’s impossible to predict how our sex lives will change in the next few years, especially as emerging technologies start to affect sex and society at large. For now, there are a lot of factors affecting our sex lives. Netflix is just one, but as someone who is a big fan of “Bojack Horsemen” and “Stranger Things,” I think it’s more powerful than we think.

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Aziz Ansari: A Case Study Of He Said/She Said And Impossible Justice


Ordinarily, I prefer to wait until an ongoing scandal involving a celebrity dies down before I comment on it. In my experience, it takes time for the full story to emerge. Most of the time, a more complete story tends to render any premature comments moot. John Carpenter recently provided a notable example of why such prudence is important.

That said, there are times when patience is also moot because the narrative follows an all too familiar pattern. It becomes so predictable that you can practically set your watch to it. Over the past several months, especially since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, we’ve seen that pattern play out in all sorts of disheartening ways. That’s why I’m opting not to wait on offering comments on Aziz Ansari.

By now, everybody with an internet connection, a social media feed, and a predilection for celebrity meltdowns knows the story. Aziz Ansari is the latest case of the Weinstein Effect. His name has officially been added to the growing list of male celebrities being accused of sexual misconduct.

The story first broke on Babe.net where a 23-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer calling herself Grace, which isn’t her real name, told a very distressing story about a night she had with Ansari. That story reads like a bad date, but still echoes with some of the same themes that Harvey Weinstein has helped make infamous. Naturally, this story is already striking a chord with the ongoing anti-harassment movement.

The way Grace tells it, she got into a situation that she lost control over and Ansari took advantage of that situation. I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. They’re just too unsexy, even for an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

Before I even attempt to comment, it’s worth pointing out that Grace said herself that she confronted Ansari about this privately. On the surface, it seemed like a terrible example of miscommunication and mixed messages. According to the article, this was the exchange.

Grace: I just want to take this moment to make you aware of [your] behavior and how uneasy it made me.

Ansari: Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.

If this had occurred several years ago, that probably would’ve been the end of it. The incident would’ve been a nasty experience for Grace and an uncomfortable memory for Ansari, but it probably wouldn’t have made the news, outside a few disreputable tabloids. Since powerful men harassing women has become a far greater issue, though, this is now national news.

It’s already generating the kind of divisive arguments that have been cropping up since the Weinstein scandal. Supporters of the anti-harassment movement are siding with Grace, accepting her story as another example of powerful men exploiting women. Opponents, including a few celebrities, are saying this movement is going too far and devolving into a man-hating witch-hunt.

Neither side is going to convince the other they’re wrong. Both sides have plenty of rhetoric to make their point. When I look at this story, though, I see far greater forces at work. I also see a devolving situation that is doing more to divide people in lieu of addressing real issues surrounding men, women, consent, and harassment.

When you read over Grace’s story and then read the statement Aziz Ansari issued in response, there’s one inescapable fact. It’s impossible to vindicate or disprove either version of the story. It is very much a classic he said/she said ordeal. She said he assaulted her. He said everything they did was consensual. There’s no way to be certain.

Sure, there’s a distinct possibility that one of them is lying. Everyone, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, is prone to lying. There have been documented incidents of women falsely accusing men. There have been men who have lied and gotten away with sexual misconduct. However, without knowing more details about the incident, it’s not possible to truly know.

Me being a guy who places a lot of faith in people, I suspect that both Grace and Ansari believe they’re telling the truth. I believe that if you hooked them up to a perfect lie detector, it would verify that both of them believe their respective stories with all their hearts.

This sounds like an impossible position until you remember that our memories are not very reliable, especially when it comes to unpleasant memories. Beyond simply not remembering the details of a terrible situation, our brains are wired to avoid the kind of mental discomfort that comes with enduring or committing a sexual assault at all costs, even if that means mis-remembering the truth.

It’s because of this that the he said/she said nature of stories like this is difficult to process. It creates a scenario that’s different from most other crimes and injustices. There’s no dead body. There’s no lost or damaged property. There’s nothing tangible to highlight the crime or misdeed. There are only two conflicting stories. As a result, it leads to a situation of impossible justice.

Even if everything Grace described happened exactly as she said it did, there’s no way to prove it in a courtroom or even a civil case. Even if Ansari is one-hundred percent innocent and is the victim of an elaborate extortion plot, there’s no way to prove that either, absent a confession or new information.

In both instances, there’s an injustice being committed. Since humans are wired with an innate sense of justice that shows even when we’re infants, that situation is untenable in our collective minds. People hear a terrible story like Grace’s and that inner justice system goes into overdrive.

Since we don’t have the time, energy, or even the capabilities to gather all the facts, we’re left relying on a certain degree of prejudice. This is where the impossible justice of he said/she said gets real ugly and this scandal with Ansari demonstrates it. When people start relying on prejudices, it tends to bring out the worst in humanity.

For those who believe our culture is full of entitled, misogynistic men who see women only as objects to be owned, then their prejudices will be reinforced by this story. For those who believe the movement against sexual misconduct is going too far and all men are being demonized, this story does the same.

That’s greatest tragedy of an impossible justice. It gives certain people the anecdotal evidence they need to further their agenda. It also gives those who stand against that agenda even more incentive to fight back. In the end, it only serves to heighten hostilities and intensify the rhetoric.

At a time when men and women are increasingly divided, especially in matters pertaining to sex and intimacy, this sort of story really drives us in all the wrong directions. It frames all men as sleazy pigs who jump at any opportunity to harass a woman. It frames all women as victims who must fight back against everyone and everything attacking them, real or imagined.

For me, personally, this story makes me sick to my stomach because it’s one of those stories that’s perfect for pushing an agenda, but not for pursuing justice. If what happened to Grace is true, then I’m in favor of having Ansari face justice for his misdeeds. I say that as someone who has been a fan of his comedy and his work on “Parks and Recreation.”

As it stands, though, there’s not enough evidence beyond the he said/she said dynamic to convict anyone of a crime. Absent that kind of justice, people are filling in the blanks with whatever gender-driven prejudices they want to strengthen.

In my personal opinion, which may put me at odds with both sides, I believe that there’s a third version of this story between Grace and Ansari that is closer to the truth. In that version, Ansari isn’t a total gentleman and Grace isn’t a hapless victim either. It’s just an experience that becomes awkward and unpleasant for them, the memories of which later get conflated and influenced by outside sources.

In the end, it’s still impossible to know for sure. Short of high-definition video, unambiguous audio, and an ability to read the exact thoughts of both Grace and Ansari during those moments when they were together, we can’t know how consensual or hostile the situation was between them. It messes with our desire for justice, especially when it comes to how men treat women.

In seeking that justice, though, it’s important to remember that there are instances where the truth isn’t just elusive. It’s physically impossible to ascertain. In those instances, trying to fill that uncertainty with agendas will only lead to more injustice in the long run for everyone.


Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society

How Men Are Set Up To Fail With Women

When it comes to seeking love and sex, I kind of need to be on top of things. I’m trying to get into the business of writing sexy romance novels. I’ve got another novel coming out in a couple months and a couple manuscripts I hope to submit to my publisher very soon. If I want to tell quality romance stories with the right amount of sex appeal, I need to know about the dynamics of these intimate processes.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot harder than it sounds and few people who aren’t billionaire rock stars/supermodels would contest that. Finding love and finding sex aren’t always mutually exclusive, but they tend to be linked for reasons I don’t think require much explanation. Humans are a sexual, passionate species. Ideally, we should make the process of seeking those experiences clear, efficient, and understandable.

I’ll give everyone a moment to stop laughing because I know we’re a long way from that ideal. In some respects, we’re doing the exact opposite. We’re actually making it harder on ourselves to find love, sex, and everything in between and I’m not just talking about the effects of recent sex scandals. We’ve gotten to a point where men and women aren’t just on the same page. They’re not even reading the same book.

This brings me to a recent article from Cracked.com. I know they’ve been hit or miss lately. Between their poor understanding of what makes someone a pervert and their knack for complicating ideas of consent, they’ve had a bit of a regressive streak lately. They’ve been less focused on humor and more focused on pushing the kind of everything-is-sexist agenda that is rarely funny.

This time, however, they’ve managed to step back from that agenda and offer some insight into the other side of that equation. Yes, women do face their share of challenges in pursuing love and sex with men. Sifting through the crop of potential partners, trying to figure out who one wants something meaningful and who just wants a quick romp, is frustrating and the source of nearly every romantic comedy ever made.

However, the other side of that struggle with the men, has its own set of challenges and our culture does plenty to add to the difficulty. Since I am a man and I’m familiar with some of these challenges, I feel it’s worth talking about. I’m also glad Cracked.com took the time to write something like this. For those interested, here’s the link:

Five Ways Society Trains Men To Expect Sex From Women

This is one of those articles that will likely generate plenty of discussions among feminists, MRAs, egalitarians, and romance fans, like myself. There are some parts of it that still come off as overly-gendered preaching. However, I think the article presents the situation in a way where those discussions need not involve threats or insults to each other’s mothers. Then again, this is the internet.

Chief among the arguments that this article makes involves how our culture, from movies to TV shows to comic books, gives the impression that good men have do things a certain way to get love and sex from women. However, those things rarely involve the kind of work, strength, and achievements that women and men alike find attractive.

Instead, sitcoms and romantic comedies constantly feed men the idea that just being meek, passive, and constantly friend-zoned will eventually earn them their dream girl. At no point is there any effort to actually find out what that dream girl actually wants in a lover because that just wouldn’t make for a good romance movie, even if it makes total sense. The article puts it even more succinctly.

The idea that women will eventually find their lengthy secret crushes cute if they cling to them is an anxiety-reducing godsend. So they keep waiting and waiting for the “right” time. But that time never comes, because their life isn’t being written by a hack. So they get bitter and frustrated, because they don’t just feel rejected; they feel ripped off, like they were owed love, but it was somehow denied them.

It’s basically an extension of the old “nice guys finish last” diatribe that I’ve criticized before. I admit that even I bought into that growing up and my lack of romantic interest from other women is testament to how flawed this concept is. It also says something that my favorite romantic movie, “Crazy/Beautiful,” does not follow that trope.

It gets even worse than that, though. Beyond presenting a false understanding that good men have to be meek to get the girl, there’s also this weird/unhealthy idea that every romantic pursuit has to be its own epic narrative. In the same way people erroneously believe they’re the hero of their own story, they believe they’re one of the lovable nerds in “The Big Bang Theory” who ends up with the cute girl.

Never mind the fact that some of the romance in that show may be very unhealthy, there’s a sense that sex and romance has to fit into this narrative or it’s a total failure. There’s no room for more mundane notions that a guy just asks a girl out, she says no, and they get on with their lives. That story just seems wrong and doesn’t fit the epic love story/sexual conquest that men build up in their minds.

This is where it gets really soul-crushing for men looking for that kind of romance and sex that bad Julia Roberts movies are made of. For men who try to play by those rules, being the meek and lovable underdog that they think will get them love and sex, what happens when it fails? What happens when Leonard Hofsteader doesn’t get the girl and ends up alone, heartbroken, and frustrated?

It can be pretty traumatic and the article points that out, giving the impression that men have no room for error. If they fail to get the love and sex they seek by playing by the rules laid out in every romantic comedy ever made, then they will die poor and lonely.

So Nice Guys see countless stories wherein women vent about creepy encounters they’ve had with men who interrupted their days, and it freaks them out. That venting is understandable — I’d be angry too if I was constantly getting harassed about my chiseled good looks while trying to run errands. But Nice Guys end up under the impression that every encounter ends in either a sweeping success or a reminder of why mace was invented. They think there’s no margin for error, because there’s a constant fear that failure will end in loneliness and humiliation. There’s a brutal contradiction. Nice Guys are told that they need to meet new people, but also that if they fuck up even a tiny bit, they will be mocked.

This is also where some of the gender disparities really show, especially from the male end of the equation. That’s because within this epic romance narrative that men think they’re part of, there’s one component that amplifies the tension between gender. It has to do with who decides the when, where, how, and why of love and sex.

Even within a society where women are vulnerable to various forms of sexual misconduct, they are still very much the sexual and romantic gatekeepers, as the article calls it. In that narrative, the women are the ones who decide whether or not anyone has any sex. The women are the ones who decide whether or not a relationship ensues. It’s not like sex and romance have any cooperative elements, right?

That last part was meant to be sarcasm, but it’s no laughing matter in the context of the narrative that men think they have to follow. So much of it is built on the idea that women are the final decision-makers. It’s an idea that frustrates men and is rarely acknowledged by women, creating the kind of inequality in a relationship that is rarely healthy.

It’s a component that does more than just set men up for heartbreak and women up for frustration. It can be downright unsexy when it comes together. The article puts it better than I ever could.

So while many men from generations past thought that the female orgasm was a myth and that a clitoris was an African insect, most Nice Guys readily accept that a woman’s sexual satisfaction is important. But in getting that message across, we’ve accidentally started telling men that while it’s wrong to try to seduce women in most situations, when sex does happen, you’d better be goddamn incredible at it.

Think about the disconnect in that dynamic. Since women are the sexual gatekeepers, men can’t readily seduce a woman without coming off as a creep or a Biff Tannen wannabe. Even when they do get the go-ahead for sex, if they don’t satisfy the woman with the prowess of Wilt Chamberlin on crack, then they’ve failed.

Considering sex, like anything in life, takes practice and cooperation, this kind of imbalance is bound to make for some less-than-romantic situations that’ll leave everyone involved unsatisfied. Men, particularly, build up all these expectations around what they think movies, TV shows, and bad porno says is important and grade themselves on that steep curve.

It’s not too hard to imagine why men get so frustrated and women are so disappointed, which only serves to heighten the hostilities between genders. Real life simply doesn’t play out the same way that movies, sitcoms, or sexy romance novels do. If they did, then there would be no appeal to those things in the first place.

That’s probably the most important take-away from this article. Yes, there are still parts where it tacitly mentions the ongoing sex scandals that make men groan, but the message is fairly concise. The way we’re going about finding love and sex is exceedingly imbalanced. It’s making men and women despise each other far more than they should.

Being the optimist I am, at heart, I believe that our inherent desire for love and sex will gradually change this narrative. Men and women, as hostile as they can be to one another, still seek love and the toe-curling pleasure that comes with making it. It may take time and more frustration, but we’ll find a way to go about it. Genuine love and great sex is worth it.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Social Context Versus “Toxic” Behaviors: Why The Difference Matters (A Lot)

There’s a fairly well-known set of experiments involving rats and cocaine. It’s a strange, yet revealing combination. In the initial experiment, a rat in a cage was given the choice between cocaine and food. Not surprisingly, especially for someone who has ever tried cocaine, the rat chose cocaine to the point of killing itself.

That experiment, which took place in the 1960s and 1970s, helped establish the idea that those who use cocaine would be so damaged, so addicted, and so utterly gone that they would rather take the drug than survive. It was pretty scary stuff and it helped inspire harsher anti-drug policies in the 1980s.

However, that experiment came into question in 1981 when a professor named Bruce Alexander re-did the experiment, but with one critical change. He didn’t isolate the rats in a cage. He put them in a colorful, positive environment with other rats that came to be known as “rat park.” The results weren’t nearly as scary.

As it turns out, when placed in a better environment with more social support, the rats didn’t become irreversibly damaged cocaine addicts. In fact, even when offered much more addictive drugs like morphine, the rats didn’t imbibe in illicit, drug-fueled bliss nearly as much as their caged counterparts.

I bring up this experiment because it illustrates an important point about behavior and social creatures. Context and social setting matters. It matters a lot. Put someone in a cage, strip them of any social support, and isolate them from the world and they’re bound to endure some pretty toxic effects. That’s a big reason why solitary confinement is considered torture.

That brings me back to the inherently flawed idea of “toxic masculinity,” a term I’ve gone on record as saying should be buried in the deepest, darkest pit of our collective lexicon. I don’t want to re-hash or belabor any of the points I’ve already made about toxic masculinity. I’ll just note that some of the rhetoric surrounding it is distressingly similar to what anti-drug zealots used when demonizing cocaine.

Think, for a moment, about some of the negative traits associated with toxic masculinity. They include, but aren’t restricted to, stuff like:

  • Suppression of emotions
  • Being prone to violence
  • Increases in aggression
  • Associations with abhorrent sexual behavior

Then, look at the traits associated with cocaine addiction and note some of the parallels. In each case, there’s a direct association between these traits and a tangible, unambiguous cause. In one case, it’s a drug. In the other, it’s just being a man and associating with masculinity. Like the rats in that first experiment, though, there’s no context or social circumstances to consider.

That begs an intriguing, but important question, especially to those who still want to use “toxic masculinity” as a catch-all for certain behaviors. Is it really the nature of masculinity itself that’s behind these toxic behaviors or is it the social circumstances within the society?

That’s not a question anyone, especially not aspiring erotica/romance writers, can definitively answer. I don’t doubt it has been asked in other ways. It might even have been studied to some extent, but since it involves the complex machinations of the human psyche, definitive answers are hard to come by.

Even without the results of those studies, is it really that hard to contemplate the possibility that circumstances may effect how masculinity and femininity manifest? The rat park experiments alone hint at a fairly significant impact. Given the orders of magnitude in difference between rat and human brains, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that impact is substantial.

While we can’t run the kinds of experiments that Bruce Alexander did in 1981, we can assess the current status of masculinity within our culture. It may vary from region to region, but in terms of modern western culture, there are a number of traits that we’ve come to associate with masculinity.

It tends to manifest most distinctly in our standard models of romance, which puts men in situations where they have to be competitive, aggressive, cunning, and determined to get the kind of emotional and sexual satisfaction they want. Even when they do, those same situations make them just as inclined to seek other outlets of satisfaction.

Furthermore, men have to navigate these situations with the added baggage of being biologically wired to seek social, romantic, and sexual connections. Women have this wiring too, but the circumstances for them are different in that the culture has different expectations. Moreover, there’s no concept of “toxic femininity” to color their feminine traits as inherently negative.

What this means is the men are entering these circumstances pre-programmed to be very horny, very lonely, and in need of various forms of fulfillment. Being men, they’re expected to go out and get it while women are expected to just let it come to them. Now, I get that this is a gross oversimplification that obscures the overall gender dynamics, but in terms of the overall culture, these are the circumstances.

To illustrate the inherent issues with those circumstance, here’s a scenario that should help paint a picture of the male predicament. Again, it’s a gross oversimplification that I’m sure will offend more than a few people, but still reflects an important point.

Man: Hello, ma’am. I’m lonely and horny. How do I go about getting sex, love, and social support?

Woman: First of all, the fact that you just admitted you’re horny is disgusting. Women being horny, that’s beautiful and erotic. Men being horny is not, so you’re already a pig in my mind.

Man: What? Why? That’s not fair.

Woman: Don’t interrupt me! Talking down to a woman is rude and sexist. It’s basically the first step towards harassment and abuse. Raising your voice to a woman, showing any kind of dominance, is just perpetuating an oppressive gender stereotype that has no place in the current year.

Man: Okay. I’m sorry about that. So how do I go about it then?

Woman: You’re still talking over me. You’re getting dangerously close to harassing me and since you’re a man, everyone will believe me if I accuse you. So choose your words very carefully because if any woman feels upset by what you say or do, even if it’s unintentional, we can accuse you of being an abuser and ruin your life.

Man: Well, I’d like to avoid that at all costs.

Woman: Then, you’ll have to play by our rules. You’ll have to respect every choice a woman makes and take her side in every argument. Disagree with us or go against us and we’ll label you a sexist, misogynist pig. Then, you’ll never find love, sex, or any kind of social support.

Man: Wow. That almost sounds risky. I might just be better off watching porn and masturbating by myself.

Woman: Now, you’re just making it worse. For one, watching porn or admiring female bodies in any capacity is insulting, demeaning, and objectifying.

Man: But I’m attracted to beautiful women. Is that bad?

Woman: It’s awful! You’re contributing to unhealthy beauty standards that not every woman can hope to achieve. You’re part of a much larger problem in society that forces women to meet obligations that are difficult, inconvenient, or outright impossible. That makes you an accomplice to all the crimes ever committed against women.

Man: But I’ve never attacked, hurt, or insulted a woman in my entire life.

Woman: That doesn’t matter. Since men have gotten away with too many crimes in the past, you have to be the one to pay the price in the present. That means you have to carry the guilt of men you’ve never met for crimes and attitudes you had no part in creating. If you go against this in any way, then you’re an even bigger sexist misogynist.

Man: I don’t want that. I don’t want that at all. I guess I’ll have to find some other way to masturbate.

Woman: You’re still making it worse. You see, women can masturbate because it’s sexy and erotic. Men can’t. It’s just disgusting for reasons that neither of us can change. If any women finds out you’ve ever masturbated or paid for sex in any capacity, then they’ll think you’re a creep and a loser. They won’t even look at you, let alone want to be with you.

Man: But that’s not fair! I can’t turn off my desires.

Woman: That’s too bad. You’ll just have to suppress them while you jump through all the elaborate hoops a woman demands in the meantime. Just remember that even if you jump through all those hoops and do everything they ask, they still reserve the right to not have sex with you or love you in the way you want. That’s their choice and you can’t do anything about it.

Man: So what am I supposed to do? This is making me kind of frustrated and angry.

Woman: That’s not my problem. You either play by these arbitrary rules or we cut you off socially, sexually, and romantically. Try to change any of these rules and that just makes you the biggest misogynist of them all.

I’ll stop there and give everyone a moment to fume. Take all the time you need. It’s not the first time I’ve crafted a scenario with some pretty distressing monologues.

If you can get past the outrage, then try and take a moment to reflect on the circumstances in the scenario. Men are in a situation where the path to the kind of sexual, emotional, and social fulfillment that all social species seek is full of potential pitfalls.

Since those obstacles have gotten a lot more treacherous lately, it’s even harder for men to actively seek the very things that make them healthy and fulfilled. It’s akin to forcing the rats from the cocaine experiment back in the cage and demanding that they not succumb to the detrimental effects.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that women didn’t create these circumstances. There’s no feminist conspiracy any more than there’s a nefarious patriarchal conspiracy. In fact, some of these circumstances stem from traditions men have promoted, like the whole obsession with female purity and the concept of slut-shaming. Men have done more than their part to create and exacerbate these circumstances.

As it stands, though, the circumstances for men are such that frustration, anger, and isolation are almost inescapable. Unless you’re very rich and very well-connected, you’ve got a lot of hazards to navigate. Slip up and you’ll be labeled a creep, a misogynist, or worse. Even if that doesn’t put you in a literal cage, it’ll make you feel like you’re in one. At that point, is it really that surprising when a person’s behavior comes off as toxic?

With these circumstances in mind, the concept of “toxic masculinity” becomes even more asinine because it utterly ignores this context. Absent that context, it can only ever damage whatever harmony men and women have. Given how sensitive we’ve become to scandals and sexism, we can’t afford to do much more damage and expect either gender to come out better.


Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality