Science of Sex: The Women of Sexology

December 30th, 2017

Welcome to the tenth installment in a feature on Of Sex and Love: Science of Sex. In this monthly segment, I discuss the science of sexuality in an easy-to-digest format that’s accessible to the casual reader. I will also follow up with some extended reading material for people who want to know more about the subject of each post.

I try to update Science of Sex every second Saturday of the month, so check back soon.  This month’s incredibly late Science of Sex post is a departure from previous posts, but it’s one that I hope you will enjoy.

Science of Sex Women of Sexolofy

While the last few months I’ve posted about what is happening in the science of sex, I decided to depart just a bit this month and discuss the who of science and sex. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the women who researched and studied, taught, and fought for our sexuality. I do this not to minimize what efforts of men but to maximize the efforts of women who were all too often overlooked — and sometimes still are. We’ve all heard of Kinsey and Grafenberg and Bancroft and Janssen. Now, I’d like to introduce you to some lesser-known names!

Marie Bonaparte

You’ll more often hear Bonaparte listed as a French princess, which she was, but she was also a psychoanalyst and friend of Freud. After growing tired of her inability to orgasm, Bonaparte took matters into her own hands. It’s to her credit that we have the rule of thumb (albeit, this was unknown to me until earlier this year, so women’s voices still need to be promoted!). After consulting with hundreds of women, Marie suggested that the reason that so many women were anorgasmic wasn’t because of what was in their heads: it was because of what was between their legs.

The rule of thumb states that if the distance between a woman’s clitoris and vaginal opening is more than the length from the tip of thumb to the first knuckle (around 2.5cm), a woman is unlikely to achieve orgasm through intercourse because the clit won’t be stimulated.

Virginia Johnson

You’ve likely heard of Virginia Johnson’s work if you’re interested in sex research, but her name always followers her partner and husband, William Masters. Together, the pair discovered different stages of arousal, that women could achieve multiple orgasms and that flexibility of a vagina when it comes to penetration. Johnson contributed to something great, but it wasn’t perfect. Early research with Masters encouraged conversion of gays, which Johnson didn’t approve.

Johnson seems a complicated woman, and neither her professional and personal relationship with Masters is no less complex. But who knows what we would know without her?

Lisa Diamond

Lisa Diamond examined the fluidity of woman’s sexuality, which she published under the name Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Diamond’s research supports the idea that many women experience a sexual fluidity that may not be properly addressed by existing labels. Lisa Diamond also suggest that a woman’s sexuality has more variables, including menstruation, than a man’s.

April Burns

April Burns surveyed girls and young women to discover their attitudes and behavior toward sex. The result is sometimes frustrating and disappointing (a comparison between oral sex and performing a chore or taking a test was common) but always enlightening (oral sex is one way in which these girls felt empowered in their sexual encounters — perhaps the only way). Burns has also examined the relationship that young women of color have with sex.

Debby Herbenick

It wasn’t until I read Girls and Sex that I realized how many women defined good sex as sex that was simply without pain. I guess I had been fortunate.  This knowledge comes from the results of several studies that Debby Herbernick has contributed to. Of particular note is the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, the most extensive sexual survey of recent years, Herbernick and her team at Indiana University released results in 2009 and 2012 that offered a look into modern bedrooms, just like Kinsey or Johnson had done decades prior.

Katherine Bement Davis

Davis was the superintendent of a woman’s prison and used her network to survey women about topics such as sexual orientation and desire. Although she isn’t often credited for her work and it took the world a while to accept the results, Davis was a proponent of both the idea that homosexuality in women wasn’t pathological and that women had sexual desires much the same as men.

Evelyn Hooker

Evelyn Hooker worked with the gay community to perform psychological evaluations in an attempt to remove the stigma of homosexuality as a mental illness or insanity. In the end, she surveyed two groups of people, one gay and one straight, and produced results that were virtually indistinguishable from one another.

Celia Mosher

Mosher was studying sex well before Kinsey, and it even earned her the moniker of the “sex scholar.” Mosher was responsible for a Victorian sex survey, the earliest of its type. Unfortunately, the results of the survey weren’t published until after her death. The results showed that women were not ready to admit that their sexual desires were nonexistent or abnormal.

Lori Brotto

More recently, Lori Brotto has studied the disconnect that women often experience between mental and physical arousal. Brotto’s research suggests that the way that women multitask and tend to be detached from their bodies contributes to this. Brotto suggests mindfulness as one possible solution. However, Brotto’s research also indicates that in the sexual moment, men and women experience fewer differences in desire than most people believe. Another myth Brotto is helping to dispel is how much testosterone affects a woman’s desire.

Sari van Anders

Van Anders has also looked into the role of testosterone and arousal, finding only an indirect link. She has researched responsive desire in women and the interplay between thoughts and desire. The van Anders lab frequently tackles topics about sex, women, feminism, gender, and diversity, going so far as to research how to perform feminist research.

Marie Stopes

Stopes not only penned the first sex manual in England, but she also opened the country’s first reproductive health clinic in 1921, she used it to gather data about contraception. Her clinic inspired others and eventually led to the Family Planning Association.  The Marie Stopes Foundation still promotes access to contraception around the world and continues research into abortion.

 

Emily Nagoski

Emily Nagoski has done a ton to educate the world about sexual desire, especially as experienced by women, as well as risk and sexual behavior. Hers is the book that introduced me (and many others!) to the dual-control model of sexual desire and is also responsible for me finally coming to understand my body’s stress response cycle. I’ve referenced it countless times since reading it.

Do yourself a favor, boys and girls, and read Come As You Are. Nagoski’s blog, The Dirty Normal, contains helpful entries and comics to further illustrate these concepts.

Beverly Whipple

Finally, we have a name with which many of you may already be familiar. Whipple has orchestrated over 170 studies into sexuality, the best known of which may be on the G-spot. A paper she helped write on the topic in 1981 was the first publication to use the G-spot, which she named in honor of Dr. Gränfenberg, who had earlier studied it. Her studies have also found how food affects the G-spot, “diets heavy in spicy chilies may block the naturally occurring analgesic affect of the G-spot, therefore causing childbirth to be more painful,” women who can think themselves to orgasm and those suffering from persistent genital arousal disorder.

Whipple has received many well-deserved awards and commendations for her work, which covers myriad angles of sexual response.

One of the things that I love about nearly all these women was their attention on women’s sexuality. When men wouldn’t take it seriously, women took up arms to shed light on the subject.

This list is by no means comprehensive. There are those whose work has been overlooked, is still in the process, or are simply unknown to me. I relish the thought of learning about more women researching the field of sexuality, so please leave comments with anyone who should be added to this list!

Further Reading

Several books I’ve read provided me with information for this post, and I’d like to recommend them in addition to the usual articles and studies that I post. They include Bonk by Mary Roach, Girls and Sex. I’d also recommend checking out Masters of Sex; although, I haven’t had a chance to read it.

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If #NotAllMen Are “Bad,” Stop Acting Like You Are

May 27th, 2014

I have a problem with the #NotAllMen hashtag and misogynistic assholes. I plan to tackle these issues, perhaps not so succinctly, in this post.

First, #NotAllMen. It’s the trending topic that started when men wanted to point out that not all men are rapists. It’s true, according to numbers. According to numbers, however, it’s also true that most rapists are men and most victims are women.

The problem with #NotAllMen is it always comes across as “but I’m not a rapist.” Congratulations. Do you want a cookie? Not being a rapist isn’t good. It’s neutral. And you don’t get an award for being a human being who doesn’t hurt other human beings. This should be something we expect as society.

It’s the bare minimum you should be when it comes to not subscribing to sexism and rape culture. In fact, you can be “not a rapist” and absolutely be a douchebag.  Men don’t even disagree with this point. After discussing this with a guy friend, he said that he wants to point out that #NotAllMen are rapists or sexist because he isn’t, because he is personally offended to be associated with them. On the one hand, being repulsed by rapists or the idea that someone could think you are one is good. It shows a moral compass. On the other hand, that behavior brings the discussion back around to men. If there’s one thing that human rights advocates and feminists have been fighting to say, it’s not about you, men. It’s not about you. You are not the victim.

It’s also not about men who are victim to predatory women. Yes, this happens. Yes, it’s awful. No, this is not the forum to discuss it. Because that isn’t a result of system-wide hatred and objectification of men — but the idea that a man shouldn’t be so “weak” to become a woman’s victim is a result of misogyny.

And if pointing out that systematic hatred for and objectification of women hurts your feelings, I am okay with it if it also helps put an end to the societal constructs and beliefs that treat women as less than human. Because your hurt feelings don’t even fall on the scale of terror when rape and murder make that scale.  Think big picture. Do your hurt feelings pale in comparison to rape? I can live in a world where men are offended by this means women are safe.

Does defending yourself take attention away from the problem — a system that, at best, leaves women uncomfortable and worried about their safety for their entire lives? A system that, in reality, results in 1 in 8 women being a victim of rape in their lifetime and that fails to enact justice for rapists, some of whom are even able to continually harass their victims until their victims have to change their lives because they live in a world that does not protect them. Women live in a world where we are told to deal with harassment and abuse and then questioned as to what we did to cause it rather than a world that tells men not to harass or abuse women.

But maybe you’re not an abuser or a harasser. You’re a nice guy. At best, you’re #NotAllMen and you treat women as human beings and not objects. You are someone who everyone may describe as a nice guy. However, you’re still not helping to fix the problem. Ignoring the problem is the same as letting the problem persist.

What do I think men can and should do to help defeat rape culture?

  • Don’t advertise that you’re not a rapist. Simply be a decent human being whom others, especially women, can trust. You can build trust by not raping.
  • Don’t make rape/non-consent jokes. Call out inappropriate jokes whether it’s from your peers or a talk show host. Remember, in a room with 8 women, one of them is likely a victim or will be a victim. Your jokes could be triggering them again and again.
  • Skip catcalling women. Forgo objectification in general, whether it’s online, in person or during a discussion with your buddies.  Recognize that women are not there to look good for you. No one owes you that. Measure women on the merits of their character and skills, not their appearance. View women as complete human brings who do not just exist to get you something (sex, popularity, a cup of coffee).
  • Teach your sons not to rape. Do not teach your daughters that a certain aspect of dressing means they are “asking” for rape. Do not “slut shame” women for the way they dress, which has nothing to do with their sexual activity. Ditch the words “slut” and “whore.” You might even do away with “bitch.” On that note, do not judge women who are sexually active or celibate. Whether a woman chooses to have sex or not, she does not deserve to be a victim of harassment or rape.
  • Call out men who describe women who don’t want them as “bitches” or any other negative label. Explain to men that rejection is okay. Not every woman will be interested. This is a part of life. No one is entitled to another person’s affection or body. Let men know that they should leave women be who do not return their interest.
  • Engage in conversations about behavior that may actually contribute to rape culture even if that is not your intent. Let women express themselves without going on the defensive.

Because subtle versions of all these things mean you still subscribe to rape culture and misogynistic views. Even if you’re just mimicking things you’ve heard, you’re contributing to the problem. If you let other people around you do these things, you are actively part of rape culture. I know many men — and even women — who are so immersed in these things that they don’t realize how entrenched it is in society. Just because you don’t see it or even think about it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

The problem is that while most men don’t think about these things, haven’t even considered them, no woman is ever allowed to not think about them. It might not be all men who are a danger to women, but all men need to hear the message until all men are on board and, then, when a woman is victim of violence or harassment, we’ll know it was because of one unwell person. Not a person who was taught these things every day of his life and just treating women in a way that society taught him was acceptable.

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There’s Nothing True About True Love

December 24th, 2013

A while back I had signed into Facebook and an image popped up in my feed. I wish I had saved it, but I didn’t. It annoyed me but I figured that I would forget about it. I didn’t.

The image said something along the lines of

Ladies, just because he makes you feel that way doesn’t mean that he’s the one.

I take issue with this for so many fucking reasons.

I do not believe in true love, but the idea of true love is based on the belief that out of 7 billion other people on this planet, one of them is right for you. Perfectly so. No one else is. This true love complements you in every way. No one else can. If there is only one, true love, then it stands to assume that only one person should be able to do and say the things that make you feel love in that special way. If other people can do that, how can anyone believe in the concept of “the one.” There obviously is more than one when that’s the case.

You cannot have it both ways. These ideas do not go hand in hand. In fact, they are mutually exclusive. If there is only one true love and you’re supposed to know it, to feel it in the pit of your stomach and the marrow of your bones, then anything that confuses you or masquerades as true love only discredits the idea.

Finally, I am offended as a woman and a feminist. It’s not just that the text assumes this oxymoron is true, it assumes that women, somehow, are not able to realize that this is a fact. It’s targeted as women giving some sort of impression that it’s not okay for us to make what other people are poor choices in relationships. Of course, the same behavior in men is perfectly acceptable. It’s the same old double standard. A man sleeps with tons of women that he meets on adult dating website UpForIt, even if those women are poor choices for whatever reason, it’s okay. Boys will be boys. But women? No, we’re not allowed to make mistakes, even if those  actions are only what others consider to be mistakes.

What’s wrong with spending time with someone who makes you feel good temporarily just because you’re a woman? Can we not be adults who make our own decisions? Why is this anyone else’s business?

Not only does this assume that true love is real, it assume that this is can be our one and only goal. No thank you, silly meme creators of Tumblr and Facebook. You do not know my wants. You cannot possibly imagine the vastness that is the human experience or the complexity of emotions and desires.

I know it’s a silly thing to be so frustrated with, but the very premise just rubbed me the wrong way.

 

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This Week on Tumblr

June 20th, 2013

And this post about why boys will be boys is bullshit:

This is so brilliant. We learn things from socialization process. What our parents, friends and peers do, media and all. I think perhaps rape is because parents think boys will be boys, they bully, fight and destroy things, it’s their characteristics so they don’t bother to stop them. But it manifests in them, knowing or unknowingly, they will just think, because I’m a boy and boys tend to do these, so it doesn’t matter even if the girl hates it, says no, because I’m a boy.

Also, I want a sex toy like the one below. Sadly, it’s just a design concept.

Sex toy design concept

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“Yes Means Anal” and other Internet WTFuckery

November 8th, 2010

Aka “Sometimes Ignorance Truly is Bliss.”

One o the awesome things about being a sex toy reviewer/sex blogger is that I have learned a lot about sex positivity, equality acceptance and, by association, feminism. The problem with knowledge is that, while it is a powerful tool, it’s also damned depressing to see how far behind some folks are.

So when I see this article about how a fraternity at Yale thought it was kosher to chant “No means yes; yes means anal,” I wanted to punch someone. And when I read the response from Yale Daily News about the “histrionics” of those who were appalled at this behaviour, I myself was appalled.

WTF, yo.

But is that all?

No, that is not all.

Bill O’reilly, that “lovable scamp” (read: dimwitted ox) has this advice to gays:

That’s my advice to all homosexuals, whether they’re in the Boy Scouts, or in the Army or in high school: Shut up, don’t tell anybody what you do, your life will be a lot easier.

Fox news: whatever you’re doing, it scares me.

And now back to your regular programming. Actually, just kidding. Still in transit and without my computer and didn’t pack all my stuff to review in my luggage because clothes and cat food were more important.

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