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When Women Wanted Sex Much More Than Men
March 31, 2013 10:58 AM   Subscribe


 
Women must be convinced, persuaded, even forced into “giving it up,” because the prospect of sex just isn’t that appealing on its own, say popular stereotypes. Sex for women is usually a somewhat distasteful but necessary act that must be performed to win approval, financial support, or to maintain a stable relationship. And since women are not slaves to their desires like men, they are responsible for ensuring that they aren’t “taken advantage of.”

This writer hasn't seen much porn, methinks.
posted by chavenet at 11:07 AM on March 31, 2013


Womens’ supposed greater sex drive was an argument for their inferiority, but once the assumption became reversed, no one argued that mens’ lustfulness was a sign of a fundamental irrationality that should preclude them from business and politics. Rather than a handicap, a large sexual appetite was positive once it came to be seen as a characteristic of men. Women, being passionless, supposedly lacked the drive and ambition to succeed.

Funny how that works.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:08 AM on March 31, 2013 [65 favorites]


And yet for most of Western history, from ancient Greece to beginning of the nineteenth century, women were assumed to be the sex-crazed porn fiends of their day.

I think a lot of it was men trying to deflect blame for their own behavior. But I would be very happy if society at large would acknowledge that just about everyone, regardless of gender, likes sex a lot and there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by spaltavian at 11:08 AM on March 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


From the last paragraph: Yet even with all this switching-around, some things have stayed suspiciously the same. When women were sexual, their proper place was in the home as caregivers and mothers. When women became passionless, their proper place was still in the home as caregivers and mothers. Isn’t it funny how that works? Gender roles gain their power from the fact that they appear natural and eternal. By looking to the past, we can draw aside this veil and see these categories for what they are--made by people, and able to be changed by people

Isn't she showing through this examination of the past that those gender roles are not so easily changed by people? Gender characteristics she shows to be interchangeable and quickly manipulable by people, but in the end the gendered roles of homemaker and breadwinner are upheld.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 11:11 AM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Since men are unable to restrain themselves, women must keep their skirts long, stay away from alcohol, refrain from flirting."

Sorry, but this kind of attitude existed long before the 18th century. I think there's a certain amount of selective quotation going on.

It is true, however, that Aristotle taught that women needed to come to orgasm in order to produce a child, so up through the middle ages, female sexuality was looked upon positively, if only for procreative purposes.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 11:14 AM on March 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


This also describes Mrs. Roper.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:19 AM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


This also describes Mrs. Roper.


And Lana the neighbor.
posted by discopolo at 11:38 AM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is true, however, that Aristotle taught that women needed to come to orgasm in order to produce a child, so up through the middle ages, female sexuality was looked upon positively, if only for procreative purposes.

I have read so as well, and since the role of male orgasm and ejaculation in procreation was figured out early on, Aristotle deduced that a corresponding female orgasm must also be necessary. This had an unfortunate side effect, though -- I understand that for huge times in the Middle Ages that guilty verdicts in rape trials could be overturned if the woman turned out to be pregnant, because that meant she had been a willing participant.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:42 AM on March 31, 2013 [6 favorites]


When Women Wanted Sex Much More Than Men

Right after the men were done?
posted by srboisvert at 11:45 AM on March 31, 2013 [19 favorites]


Love how the article starts with what is essentially a just-so story about why this marriage broke up. In fact, if this account is to believed, the marriage break-up is way more complicated and the end result of years of abuse.

And let's be clear -- having kids in the 1600s wasn't just a nice-to-have. It was an economic necessity. Mary Mattock wasn't a horn dog. She was likely an abused woman seeking help, both socially and economically. Stories like this enforce the notion that history is nothing more than stupid people doing strange things. Instead of, you know, the story of humans. Humans that were, in the 1600s, just as smart as we are today, if perhaps ignorant of certain aspects of germ theory and the sexual peccadillos of sociology undergrads.

So, this notion that if only we could return to our "natural" selves all things will clear up ... yeah ... bullshit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:47 AM on March 31, 2013 [23 favorites]


I understand that for huge times in the Middle Ages that guilty verdicts in rape trials could be overturned if the woman turned out to be pregnant, because that meant she had been a willing participant.

Maybe this is the at the root of Rep. Todd Akin's idea that pregnancies can't be the result of rape. Or maybe that's giving him too much credit.
posted by JHarris at 11:56 AM on March 31, 2013


If you read Eva C. Keul's wonderful Reign of the Phallus, I don't think you'll have any trouble seeing that in ancient Greece, this view was one of the pillars of a rape culture so pervasive and extreme that no one in it could even recognize its existence.
posted by jamjam at 11:56 AM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wonder if Alexander's army spread that thinking plus the honour=female chastity up and down the rest of the large landmass on this blue planet?
posted by infini at 12:21 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


> but once the assumption became reversed, no one argued that mens’ lustfulness was a sign of a fundamental irrationality ... Rather than a handicap, a large sexual appetite was positive once it came to be seen as a characteristic of men.

Funny how that works.


If men could get pregnant, abortion clinics would be like Starbucks. There would be two on every block and four in every airport, and the morning after pill would come in different flavors like sea salt and cool ranch.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:35 PM on March 31, 2013 [21 favorites]


Bullshit. Look at the behavior of gay men vs. gay women.
posted by bookman117 at 12:36 PM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yes, because gay men and gay women are completely immune from cultural preconceptions and their behavior is always sui generis.
posted by Scattercat at 12:41 PM on March 31, 2013 [34 favorites]


Rather than a handicap, a large sexual appetite was positive once it came to be seen as a characteristic of men.

Uh, not really. Or at least it isn't so currently. I suppose there may have been some time in the past when it was so. But not now.

Fact is that that in this--as in so many cases--there are many conflicting views. There is simply nothing like a cultural consensus that a large sexual appetite is good, period. Some people look for it in a sexual partner. But it simply isn't represented as some kind of virtue. Perhaps a healthy sexual appetite is represented as good, but that's different. and I'm not even sure that that is so. I don't think anyone any longer thinks that a big sexual appetite is something to be ashamed of...but that's different.. But it certainly isn't revered as some kind of important and unqalified good. The way that, say, sexual openness is represented as an important good.

The simple whatever-men-have-is-represented-as-good story just doesn't fly. It's a cheap and inaccurate move. Yes, there's some tendency to regard that which is male as better than that which is female. But that just doesn't happen invariably.

Later in the piece it's even suggested that representing men as incompetent is a kind of sexism against women because it's an insidious attempt to get them to do more housework. Which it isn't. At all. Men get represented as incompetent in places like sitcoms and commercials, and they get represented as silly and incompetent in ways that simply can't be construed as conferring any significant advantage on them. They get represented in this humorous way because they're the group that's comparatively advantaged, and that's who it's ok to make fun of (now). This is perfectly analogous to the fact that it's more acceptable to make fun of white people. Portraying white people as awkward and goofy doesn't confer any advantage to them. It's just that they're a ripe and acceptable target for humor. Same thing with men.

I really find this kind of reaching irritating. Hell, in this case the real explanation even turns out to be one that, say, feminists ought to be perfectly happy about. There's no need to push that dopey line that anything that's associated with men is automatically represented as good.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 12:43 PM on March 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


Bullshit. Look at the behavior of gay men vs. gay women.

Do you mean 'look at the most commonly presented stereotypes about the behavior of gay men and women'? Because I know some horny-ass lesbians and some very demure gay men.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:53 PM on March 31, 2013 [23 favorites]


This writer hasn't seen much porn, methinks.

Actually, that's part of the myth. The myth admits that yes, there are women who do like sex - but they're "naughty" or "bad" or "nasty" or otherwise counter to the norm. A woman who dared like sex, or dared have it, also had "a bad reputation" along with it. So yeah, the women in traditional porn sexed it up a lot, but the point is, you didn't see the same women in porn then happily welcomed in church or the PTA meeting the next day.

And pointing out that this is an article that deals in stereotypes rather than absolutes. Reality is, of course, wildly different and much more diverse.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:32 PM on March 31, 2013 [8 favorites]


Bullshit. Look at the behavior of gay men vs. gay women.
Yes, quite. Look at it now, and then compare Plato to Sappho.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:41 PM on March 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


(Not that I'm arguing Plato was actually having less sex than Sappho -- I have no idea. But the author's thesis is about mythology, not actual behavior.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:56 PM on March 31, 2013


Who is profit more important to, management or shareholders?

And his response was simply Yes.

"Yes." What is that yes? It has to be more important to one than the other! That is how we are educated to classify information. Upon hierarchies and constructs.

Thus, you can imagine how much fun this conversation was. "Who enjoys sex more, men or women? It's men right? Everything seems to indicate that men need sex more and women use it to control men. Is that right?"

His eyes smiled, as they did. "Yes. That's right." But he wasn't talking about who enjoyed it more. He was just talking about sex. As in, Yes, sex is right.

To which you wanted to shout and scream. What? What was right???

And he would laugh, as if it has been some kind of imminently amusing joke. "Ha Ha! Who enjoys sex more... ha ha! Who do you think?" and he would laugh.

Because it's a stupid question. Okay, okay. Who enjoys oxygen more? Men or women? and he would laugh. Wait, wait, who enjoys water more, tuna or dolphins? and he would laugh so heartily. Okay, you're right. Who enjoys slavery more? People who were forced into it? or people who were born into it? No, no, you tell me! Tell me what kind of slaves are happier. Oh, really, they're both unhappy?

He loved laughing at these questions, for they are just broken when it comes to logic. In fact, they ignore the fundamental construct of our experience as individuals.

So I'll agree with him.

Who enjoys sex more? he said.

I don't know, who?

Well, obviously the people who are having it! They obviously enjoy it more than the people that do not have sex! You don't need a university degree to figure THAT one out...


In memorial: He Would Have Laughed
posted by nickrussell at 2:22 PM on March 31, 2013 [12 favorites]


Please don't destroy my illusions. Otherwise I will be forced to contemplate the possibility that I never got laid much simply because I'm vastly unattractive rather than because women don't like sex.
posted by Decani at 4:23 PM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


What is the average number of sex partners a gay man has in a lifetime?
Ignoring AIDS's impact on promiscuity, the Diggs study occurred when homosexuality was far more repressed by society, so perhaps the people identifying as gay cared more then. And maybe promiscuity simply has an enormous variance.

Also, there were tighter links between sexual activity and child raising in ancient cultures, if only due to inferior birth control. So female behavior described as wanton might be women looking for mid to long-term partners. Women weren't permitted many roles besides wife and mother. So surely some felt the need to try a bit harder after their initial plays for a husband all failed.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:28 PM on March 31, 2013


It's easier for men to think women don't want sex in general than to accept that women don't want to have sex with a guy who is bad at sex. And it's somehow impossible for a lot of men to imagine that they are doing something wrong than to just accuse their wives or girlfriends of not liking sex rather than consider they aren't good at making their wives or girlfriends feel good.
posted by discopolo at 4:30 PM on March 31, 2013 [21 favorites]


This article was so irritating I couldn't finish reading it because of all the assumptions it made about conventional wisdom and what everyone thinks/knows. Anyone who's made it through high school and been awake in their lit classes (better still, read any of the works) should know that for every stereotype of a sex-crazed man, there's one of a sex-crazed woman, often to hilarious effect. Chaucer. Shakespeare. Molière. The Bible. The Greek myths are a bit more biased in favour of randy men rather than women, but still the deity of love was a woman - not just because she was on a pedestal, either. I could go on but I think I'd be belaboring the point.

I do think that promiscuity in women has usually been stigmatised more than promiscuity in men, but it's not because either men or women didn't like sex, or weren't thought to like sex.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:51 PM on March 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


Rather than a handicap, a large sexual appetite was positive once it came to be seen as a characteristic of men.

Makes me think of people like Kellogg and Graham who spear-headed anti-lust campaigns for both men and women.
posted by melissam at 5:10 PM on March 31, 2013


the Diggs study occurred when homosexuality was far more repressed by society

A 2009 Australian study found that "gay men have, on average had a much greater number of sexual partners than their lesbian counterparts."
posted by shivohum at 5:21 PM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


This post seems to have wander into a gay and lesbian perspective.
To get back to the original post: the 'proof" that we are offered seem always to come from male writezrs , and ian classic period (greek and roman) bohys often took the place of women), and then the Christian period, where we know the bible tgells us about wanton Eve, who must be kept under guard lest she tempt man.

I find it difficult to believe that so biological a thing as sexuality had a major shift because of some cultural thing. In sum, where is the solid evidence that women were more pronouncedly sexual than men other than statement(wish fulfillment? ) by male writers
posted by Postroad at 6:14 PM on March 31, 2013


it's even suggested that representing men as incompetent is a kind of sexism against women because it's an insidious attempt to get them to do more housework. Which it isn't. At all. Men get represented as incompetent in places like sitcoms and commercials, and they get represented as silly and incompetent in ways that simply can't be construed as conferring any significant advantage on them. They get represented in this humorous way because they're the group that's comparatively advantaged, and that's who it's ok to make fun of (now).

You've got two things confused.

In commercials, the message is, "Your husband is lazy / incompetent so you won't be getting any help from him. The only help you're going to get is if you buy our product."

It's in real life that when men say, "I'm clueless about changing diapers, or cooking, or cleaning bathrooms" that it's a passive-agressive way of saying, "This is women's work and I shouldn't have to do it."

(Although the ubiquity of the the second one is probably partly responsible for the fact that commercials use it as well.)
posted by straight at 6:51 PM on March 31, 2013 [12 favorites]


Oh man I wish I had these beliefs back when I was an undergrad at an engineering school. It would have given a wonderful tinge of righteous purity to the misogyny! :-D
posted by zscore at 7:28 PM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know who I like having sex with? Anyone who likes having sex. Anyone. All y'all.

Call me! NOW!
posted by Splunge at 8:31 PM on March 31, 2013


I have trouble understanding the perspective of anyone who has spent any significant time with lesbians and with gay men who believes lesbians, as a group, have anywhere near the amount of sex that gay men, as a group, have. Culture or biology, I can't comment, but we dykes are just not getting anywhere like that kind of action. Sigh.
posted by latkes at 8:58 PM on March 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


latkes: Number of partners isn't equivalent to number of sexual encounters. It is perfectly possible for lesbians to have sex as often as gay men while having vastly fewer partners. If instead of having sex with one partner 100 times, you had sex with 100 partners one time, you're still having the same amount of sex.
posted by zug at 9:24 PM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wonder if Alexander's army spread that thinking plus the honour=female chastity up and down the rest of the large landmass on this blue planet?

Hellenization? I'm not sure why you would think that, those ideas were around before he got there.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:01 PM on March 31, 2013


It's perfectly possible, but in my experience, it is not perfectly true. Obviously there are individual exceptions.
posted by latkes at 10:50 PM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Culture or biology, I can't comment, but we dykes are just not getting anywhere like that kind of action. Sigh.

Well, yeah, but it's also observably the case that lots of lesbians wish they were having more sex but don't know how to bring it about. I think this is less an issue of culture-as-psychology than culture-as-technology, ie we lack the institutions necessary to engineer more sexual encounters while feeling safe.

Of course, there are definite culture-as-psychology issues going on too. For example, lesbians tend to come out later than gay men. This is both caused by differing attitudes towards sex - women have less expectations of enjoying heterosexuality, so it takes longer for them to work out that something is wrong - and causes differing attitudes towards sex - women who come out at 25 have already learned to act like straight women and sit around waiting for someone to approach them. Also, lesbians have to deal every day with the fact that our desire is treated as unreal, unthreatening, less sexual than that involving 'real' sexuality. It always creeps me out when men are OK with their bi girlfriends sleeping with women, but not men; the only way you get somewhere like that is by regarding desire between women as always fundamentally insignificant. And that's even before you start talking about the way gay men's oppression and self-hate sometimes ends up playing out as dangerous and risk-taking sexual behaviour. I don't think you can read off these behaviours to get to 'pure' maleness and femaleness without a lot of qualifiers.
posted by Acheman at 1:48 AM on April 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


At my age, I've discovered the solution to this problem. Much younger men than you imagined. Demi Moore had the right idea.
posted by infini at 1:51 AM on April 1, 2013


I agree with the point of this article, have many times read evidence pointing to the same conclusion. None of which changes the fact that this is a terribly written article that doesn't back up anything it says, contradicts itself and is full of unsupported gender generalizations that would make any hack comedian blush, even if they point in the reverse direction.
posted by msalt at 2:57 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


On latkes' point: I learned the phrase "lesbian bed death" from Bechdel's "Dykes to Watch Out For." Is she wrong, too? How many observations from actual lesbians are we going to ignore here?
posted by msalt at 2:59 AM on April 1, 2013


On 'bed death': I am reluctant to perpetuate this concept as I suspect part of it is a self-perpetuating memetic hazard. However, it does seem to be the case that most couples have problems maintaining the same frequency of sex as time goes by. Gay male couples have an established tradition of staying together while fucking other people, which is arguably the most painless way to deal with this phenomenon. Straight couples often blame children, or each other, or old age, or a combination. Lesbians decide it is a special punishment doled out upon them for being lesbian. I'm not sure gender is the biggest determinant of these differing approaches.
posted by Acheman at 3:39 AM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Studies by Blumstein and Schwartz suggest that lesbian couples have less frequent sex than gay male couples and heterosexual couples. No studies have yet suggested that lesbians have equal or more sex than other couples.

PDF
posted by Human Flesh at 5:18 AM on April 1, 2013


t always creeps me out when men are OK with their bi girlfriends sleeping with women, but not men; the only way you get somewhere like that is by regarding desire between women as always fundamentally insignificant.

I don't think it's necessarily the case of considering female sexuality to be lesser. I am a lot less okay with a girlfriend sleeping with another guy than if she slept with another woman, but I'd also be a lot less okay with a boyfriend sleeping with a woman than another man.

I think that at least part of it has to do with the fear that they'd leave me and start a family with the other person - that would hurt a lot worse than just sleeping around. I think the other part is that there is less of an expectation of monogamy in gay relationships - I mean if a guy I was dating used the excuse "but he was sooo cute" I could kind of empathize with that, and I'd apply the same to a lesbian encounter, but if I try to do the same with a heterosexual relationship, I run into a wall of mental razorwire. I feel like the message that sleeping around in a heterosexual relationship is something you Do Not Do has been hammered into my head quite strongly.

Just my personal feelings on the matter, not sure how broadly it applies.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:30 AM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It always creeps me out when men are OK with their bi girlfriends sleeping with women, but not men; the only way you get somewhere like that is by regarding desire between women as always fundamentally insignificant.

there are probably as many views on this as there are people. i came to think that it had to do with the replicability of the experience and desire. that a man feels threatened when another man is present, for a new man is replacing the existing man. when a woman (for example) sleeps with another woman, the new woman is not replacing the man, for that experience in inherently very different. it would be a bit silly for a man to attempt to compete with a woman, in terms of sexual offer to a partner – however in the case of same-gender, competition is built into the situation.
posted by nickrussell at 6:01 AM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Studies by Blumstein and Schwartz

The study which doesn't cite any sources past 1986? And seemed mostly based on studies done in the 1970s? As it was published in 1990, it's not exactly the best paper to turn to when discussing the contemporary lesbian experience. (Because the experience at a certain point in time and place is all we're going to get from these kind of studies - obviously sexual behavior never exists in a vacuum, and it would be impossible to find any kind of universal truth.)

According to a much newer study, also published by the IPG, there is a "small but significant difference (p < 0.05) in sexual frequency" between women in relationships with other women and women in relationships with men. In both cases, the couples had sex on average about once a week.

No studies have yet suggested that lesbians have equal or more sex than other couples.

Oh, really? I haven't actually read all the studies on the subject myself, so I can't immediately dispute your claim there, but I think there's more than a suggestion that lesbians are having as much sex as other couples.

For example, the study cited above shows that lesbians have very nearly as much sex as other couples, and that:

Lesbians reported significantly fewer sexual problems than heterosexual women (p<0.02), including fewer orgasm problems (p<0.03), less trouble lubricating (p<0.003), less pain with vaginal entry (p<0.005) and, interestingly, less sexual guilt (p<0.03) despite the stigma attached to lesbianism.

Looking more closely at women in current relationships, and again controlling for relationship duration, 90% of the WWs [women in relationships with women] reported that they 'usually orgasm', as compared to 73% of the WMs [women in relationships with men] (p<0.005). WWs also spent more time on a typical sexual encounter (30-60 minutes compared to more than 10-30 minutes for WMs (p>0.000)


And, going back to the "no studies" thing above - this is not even getting into how frequency is regarded as a very phallocentric measure. Because depending on how we define sex, I definitely don't think there's any basis for the claim that lesbians don't have as much of it as other couples.
posted by harujion at 6:19 AM on April 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It always creeps me out when men are OK with their bi girlfriends sleeping with women, but not men;

I guess I just figured that this was because of pregnancy, and maybe also higher STD risk. Also, men kill each other over romantic triangles not rarely.
posted by msalt at 8:20 AM on April 1, 2013


I'm having trouble modelling how the social constructionists view neuroendocrinology research. Do they dismiss it as a pseudoscience? Do they think that their behaviour wouldn't change if they took androgens?
posted by Human Flesh at 10:30 AM on April 1, 2013


the only way you get somewhere like that is by regarding desire between women as always fundamentally insignificant.

Not to belabor the point too much, but I think that's a fairly uncharitable reading of that situation, at least the times I've seen it come up. I think you're correct that to many people, having their partner mess around with someone of the same gender on the side is a lot less threatening than someone of the opposite (i.e. their) gender, but I don't think it's necessarily because of an inherent lack of respect for female sexuality: I think the bigger issue is that it's easier to rationalize a partner's same-sex attraction as something that they can't get in a heterosexual partnership, and thus it's not something that the hetero partner is doing wrong.

That said, despite all the technological solutions that we've applied to the problem, I think it's widely perceived that there are somewhat higher stakes when it comes to heterosexual sex encounters than gay ones, because you have the issue of pregnancy. (Which exists in addition to the emotional and STI risks that you also get with a same-sex encounter.) If, just to use your example of a heterosexual couple where the female half is bi and goes out with another woman, that happens, one thing you can be sure of is that nobody is going to get knocked up accidentally. That's a risk, or at least something that needs to be thought about and mitigated against, if the third partner is male.

My feeling has always been though that as birth control gets better and more widely available (assuming, of course, that it continues to) and continues to split procreation away from sexuality, and our culture accepts those as completely separate activities, then you'll see the 'threateningness gap' decrease, because the issue will mostly be emotional and perhaps STI issues rather than pregnancy. But in cultural terms we've only had really good, reliable, easily available birth control for a couple of generations, so it's not realistic to imagine that potentially-procreative and non-procreative sexual behaviors will be on the same footing yet. But we can certainly measure progress by how closely they're perceived.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:05 AM on April 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm having trouble modelling how the social constructionists view neuroendocrinology research. Do they dismiss it as a pseudoscience? Do they think that their behaviour wouldn't change if they took androgens?
Human Flesh

Can you explain what exactly you mean? Maybe some examples?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:52 AM on April 1, 2013


It seems that some people are uncomfortable with biological accounts of sexually dimorphic behaviour in humans. The are a number of studies that link hormones with sexual behaviour. How do people reconcile that? Do most of them just ignore neuroendocrinology? Have you read any counter-arguments?
posted by Human Flesh at 1:34 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


*dons social constructionist hat*

No, neuroendocrinology is cool. So is the way humans start small, for birthing convenience, and then get bigger over time. Neither stops me from looking at the social construction of gender, nor the social construction of childhood.

If asked to name my favorite neuroendocrinologist, I would have to say Martha McClintock. I am especially fond of her work on downward causation.

*takes off social constructionist hat, stares at it*

It's possible what you have in mind when you say 'social constructionist' is a hat so sleek and conical that no one actually wears it.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:13 PM on April 1, 2013


Thinking women don't want sex as much as men do saves the vast majority of men from having to confront the possibility that women do want a lot of sex, only not with them.
posted by jamjam at 6:09 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's possible what you have in mind when you say 'social constructionist' is a hat so sleek and conical that no one actually wears it.

What should we call people who are averse to the idea that hormones influence sexually dimorphic behaviours in humans?
posted by Human Flesh at 6:21 PM on April 1, 2013


Skeptics?
People who are jaded from seeing such accounts done badly, and consequently maybe a little trigger-happy when it comes to shooting them down?
Ladies and gentlemen, mesdames et messieurs?
It would help if we knew their names, or other facts about them.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:10 PM on April 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm also confused because the abstracts to which you link do not describe hormones as contributing to behavioral dimorphism.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:03 PM on April 1, 2013


They show a relationship between hormones and behaviour.
posted by Human Flesh at 8:42 PM on April 1, 2013




The above abstract says it derives its claims from "many different studies". Since the article is paywalled I can't be sure what proportion involved Westerners prior to the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The abstract also says it derives its claim from "many different ... measures". It actually lists nine items. The first six describe the sort of topic (spontaneous thoughts about sex, etc.) about which self-recognized and self-reported data is especially likely to vary depending on sociocultural milieu. The last three items describe personal behavioral choices (sacrifices made for sex, etc.) that seem especially likely to be influenced by how one perceives one's role in one's sociocultural milieu.

Don't get me wrong -- it's very striking that they've found so much uniformity. But it's unclear whether this uniformity is a testament to biological dimorphism or to sociocultural patterning.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:43 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


[These abstracted articles, one from 1978 and one from 1987,] show a relationship between hormones and behaviour.

Let's unpack that, and let's especially look at how the studies' findings differ from popular cultural stereotypes. You're probably interested in this too, since it shows us we can access a level of reality beyond mere social constructs.

In popular culture, testosterone gets construed as a kind of 'essence of manliness'. It's named after testicles! It's prescribed to trans men! The average man has way way more testosterone than the average woman! Also, low testosterone is a cause of low sex drive. Real manly men have high sex drives. QED. But these articles show us a more intriguing picture of testosterone.

The 1978 study compared women with high baseline testosterone to women with low baseline testosterone. Women in the first group were more likely to rate themselves highly for "degree of sexual gratification (responsivity)". So far so good for popular culture: women with high testosterone are more into sex! I.e., more like men!

However, the study also found that women in the high-testosterone group mostly had more "ability to form good interpersonal relationships". Such ability isn't generally designated 'male' by popular culture.

This people-skills aspect of testosterone might contribute to the study's other findings, which had correlated certain measures of testosterone not only to couples' having more frequent sex, but also to their being more frequently on the same page as to whether to have sex or not.

A subsequent 1987 study sought to replicate the 1978 finding that "Intercourse frequency, while not related to either partner's average testosterone levels, was related to wives' testosterone levels at their ovulatory peaks." The 1987 study's authors report: "We conclude that female midcycle total testosterone or free testosterone is indexing some unobserved event that affects the frequency of intercourse of couples. We speculate that this event affects the motivation of females, which influences the set point of the compromise frequency characteristic of couples."

So in their view, testosterone isn't exactly what's causing more frequent sex; it's a side-effect of something else, and that something else is what's causing more frequent sex.

All this suggests people are quite right to be skeptical of popular culture's simplistic claims. Huzzah for studies of hormones and behavior!
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:08 PM on April 2, 2013


This is interesting to learn, feral_goldfish, since I wondered about spikes in attractability as my hormone patterns changed due to dropping oestrogen levels at my age.
posted by infini at 12:29 PM on April 2, 2013


feral goldfish: Maybe I'm missing a nuance from your interesting report, but wouldn't this hypothesis fit your facts and support the conventional stereotype?

To wit, higher testosterone in wives increased their sex drive to closer to the (average) man's, leading "also to their being more frequently on the same page as to whether to have sex or not".

Simply because the wives felt less pressured and the men felt less rejected, they fought less and got along better, hence they had a better interpersonal relationship. ?
posted by msalt at 5:05 PM on April 2, 2013


It's easier for men to think women don't want sex in general than to accept that women don't want to have sex with a guy who is bad at sex. And it's somehow impossible for a lot of men to imagine that they are doing something wrong than to just accuse their wives or girlfriends of not liking sex rather than consider they aren't good at making their wives or girlfriends feel good.
posted by discopolo at 12:30 AM on April 1


Yeah but that doesn't apply to me because I'm really good at sex. I'll bet.

With due apologies to Emo Philips.
posted by Decani at 5:49 PM on April 2, 2013


higher testosterone in wives increased their sex drive to closer to the (average) man's, leading "also to their being more frequently on the same page as to whether to have sex or not". Simply because the wives felt less pressured and the men felt less rejected, they fought less and got along better, hence they had a better interpersonal relationship. ?

As msalt suggests, various nuances make this hypothesis not work so well. For one thing, a wife was more likely to be on the same page as her husband if his testosterone levels were HIGHER than those of other men in the study, and thus MORE discrepant from the average woman's.

It's unclear how the researchers measured wives' "ability to form good interpersonal relationships", since the article is paywalled; but the abstract does mention that "Each subject was interviewed individually .... Interviews were rated independently by two psychiatrists".
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:44 PM on April 2, 2013


It would also be interesting to see if the total amount of sex was correlated to couples getting along better (assuming that relative desire is at least roughly equal), or was correlated with "ability to form good interpersonal relationships."

And of course, what direction does the causality arrow point? If you're simply correlating "ability to form good interpersonal relationships" (ie not being an asshole) with the amount of sex you have, or the success of your marriage, testosterone might be a red herring.

Finally, it's possible that testosterone has different effects in men and women, or has different effects in either after a certain threshhold, or that sex itself (via pheremones, perhaps?) changes the effect of these hormones, any of which would blow this hypothesis to bits.
posted by msalt at 6:58 AM on April 3, 2013


Ideally, all sex just blows everything to bits, hypothesis or no, yes?
posted by infini at 9:45 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


So in their view, testosterone isn't exactly what's causing more frequent sex; it's a side-effect of something else, and that something else is what's causing more frequent sex.

That 'something else' isn't culture given that the cultural influence is controlled for while hormone levels fluctuate. That doesn't mean that culture can't mediate sexual dimorphism. However, a cursory glance at behavioural endocrinology literature will show that culture isn't the only thing that mediates sexual dimorphism.

True, free testosterone isn't the whole story. The organisational effects of the hormonal environment of the foetus will influence behaviour as well.

The popular belief that men and women are different only because they are socialised differently is not well supported by empirical research. Androgens play an important role in shaping behaviour. Men and women differ in their exposure to various hormones. Hormonal differences can predict behavioural differences.

Women with low libido: correlation of decreased androgen levels with female sexual function index.

Sexual behavior in lesbian and heterosexual women: relations with menstrual cycle phase and partner availability.

Sex Differences in the Human Brain

Effect of androgens on the brain and other organs during development and aging

Hormones and Sexual Differentiation

The role of testosterone in sexuality and paraphilia--a neurobiological approach. Part I: testosterone and sexuality

Gonadal Hormones and Sexual Differentiation of Human Brain and Behavior

Decreased free testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEA-S) levels in women with decreased libido

Female sexual behavior: Fluctuations during the menstrual cycle

Human Studies of Behavioral Effects of Androgens and Estrogens

Decreased free testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEA-S) levels in women with decreased libido.

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia. II: Gender-related behavior and attitudes in female salt-wasting and simple-virilizing patients.

Sexual Behavior and Stress Among Lesbians and Heterosexual Women

Hormones and Sexual Differentiation

Testosterone therapy in women: a review

Serum androgen levels in healthy premenopausal women with and without sexual dysfunction: Part B: Reduced serum androgen levels in healthy premenopausal women with complaints of sexual dysfunction
posted by Human Flesh at 9:03 AM on April 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


But it's unclear whether this uniformity is a testament to biological dimorphism or to sociocultural patterning.

But given that sociocultural patterning, at least in Western cultures where I assume most of the studies originate, emphasizes male sexuality and sex drive while de-emphasizing or actively discouraging female sexuality and sex drive, if the self-reported data shows uniformity between men and women that should make the results more striking rather than less.

I.e., if there was absolutely uniform sex drive between men and women, given prevalent attitudes towards male vs female sexuality, we would expect to see men be more open about their sex drive and associated behaviors, and women less so. If there's anything approaching parity it certainly suggests a lack of biological difference in underlying sex drive, and certainly doesn't rule out a higher female sex drive that's being overcompensated for via social discouragement.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:14 AM on April 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


That seems like a bit of a circular argument. You're simply asserting that culture causes differences in sex drive, not androgens, even though studies don't support that. And your reason is that because culture discourages female drive, results showing no difference prove there IS a difference because women already have to overcome the effect of social pressure (that you're trying to prove).
posted by msalt at 10:03 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, all these journal articles paint a compelling picture that "the male sex drive is stronger than the female sex drive". There is no shortage of low level behavior has important learned components in mammals though, ala otters swimming. I'd expect any complex mating behavior falls under this category, but even our own sexual desires require some cognitive interpretation, selection, repression, etc.

So why not socialize women to behave more like men sexually? Or even socialize everyone to behave more like gay men? At minimum, we could ditch the "male hero rescues damsel in distress" mythology for "damsel jumps hot guy she likes and after they negotiate a relationship" stories.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:02 AM on April 8, 2013


The nature vs. nurture argument has been going on since the 1800's as it is, I doubt we'll settle it in this thread.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on April 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's nearly as simple as saying that society socializes women to NOT be sexual. On the contrary, media (at all levels, including TV ads for 6 year olds and books for junior high girls) socialize women to be highly sexual, a lot more than men.

The social pressure you're talking about is much more common in private, not on TV etc. And it's changing. You could make a strong case that the classic double standard is much diminished, and/or that there is still pressure for men to be virile, but much less pressure for women not to be sexual.

[And of course this whole discussion ignores the reality that the risks of casual sex are simply higher for women, from pregnancy to disease to violence. That's a form of pressure that's inevitable and perhaps even appropriate; perhaps it's a reason for such androgenic differences in sex drive as may exist.]
posted by msalt at 8:59 AM on April 8, 2013


Back to the original topic, the interesting change historically is that men were traditionally considered more moral and controlled (in an era where unbridled aggression was much more accepted), and now -- at a time when simple fistfights between men are felonies -- men are seen as the primal, wild id and women are the controlled moral agents.

I have no idea what's behind that change, but I think that it is the cause of the changes described, more than any actual change in libidos (though these perceptions themselves might well affect people's libidos as well.)
posted by msalt at 9:08 AM on April 8, 2013


The nature vs. nurture argument has been going on since the 1800's as it is, I doubt we'll settle it in this thread.


You are right. As with climate change, there are people who choose to ignore large amounts of evidence.
posted by Human Flesh at 4:52 AM on April 16, 2013


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