Biology, social conditioning, sex and pain

29 Jan

(Originally posted to the Community forum at MyMedia)

So.

#MeToo.

Women talking for a few weeks (perhaps just over a month?*) about their experiences with different levels of sexual violence/assault/harassment.

Lo and behold, to most women’s sorrow, yet utter lack of surprise, it turns out the most of the women we know have suffered some sort of sexual violence, and sometimes several different kinds, sometimes more than once over the course of their lives, sometimes at the hands of several different men.

And the natural response, from #notallmen, is to express their dismay that all this outpouring of female suffering…will make their dating lives harder.

That men will become afraid of dating, because “accusations of sexual abuse/domestic partner violence ruin lives!” (I can off the top of my head name at least an even dozen of male celebrities whose professional lives have suffered NO HARM, regardless of how many people bring receipts–hello, Woody Allen, Johnny Depp, Chris Brown, Casey Affleck, Donald Trump, Floyd Maywather, Kobe Bryant, Azis Ansari, Mike Tyson, James Franco, Al Franken, Joel Kramer, Kevin Spacey).

That mostly women accuse men to ‘gain something’ or ‘for revenge’ (the ultimate whine on that vein: Larry Nassar’s letter to the sentencing judge quoting ‘hell hath no fury’).

And, the icing on the WTAF cake: that women should consider/understand/learn about how men cannot control themselves because ‘biology.’ That this is ‘just how men are.’ The pseudo grown up version of ‘boys will be boys,’ if you will.

So, let’s talk biology, social conditioning, and pain.
(Yes, again, because there are still people denying reality when it makes them uncomfortable, or asks them to take responsibility for how the culture we live in privileges them and their feelings over those of about half the population of the world.)

…we might also, provisionally, and just as a thought experiment, accept that biology — or “nature” — coexists with history and sometimes replicates the lopsided biases of its time.

This is certainly true of medicine. Back in the 17th century, the conventional wisdom was that women were the ones with the rampant, undisciplined sexual appetites. That things have changed doesn’t mean they’re necessarily better. These days, a man can walk out of his doctor’s office with a prescription for Viagra based on little but a self-report, but it still takes a woman, on average, 9.28 years of suffering to be diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition caused by endometrial tissue growing outside the uterus. By that time, many find that not just sex but everyday existence has become a life-deforming challenge. That’s a blunt biological reality if ever there was one.

Or, since sex is the subject here, what about how our society’s scientific community has treated female dyspareunia — the severe physical pain some women experience during sex — vs. erectile dysfunction (which, while lamentable, is not painful)? PubMed has 393 clinical trials studying dyspareunia. Vaginismus? 10. Vulvodynia? 43.

Erectile dysfunction? 1,954.

That’s right: PubMed has almost five times as many clinical trials on male sexual pleasure as it has on female sexual pain. And why? Because we live in a culture that sees female pain as normal and male pleasure as a right.

This is especially true where sex is concerned. Faking an orgasm achieves all kinds of things: It can encourage the man to finish, which means the pain (if you’re having it) can finally stop. It makes him feel good and spares his feelings. If being a good lover means making the other person feel good, then you’ve excelled on that front too. Total win.

We’re so blind to pain being the giant missing term in our sexual discussions that ABC News’ epic 2004 “American Sex Survey,” which includes an amazing 67 questions, never once mentions it. It doesn’t even show up as a possible reason for orgasm-faking.

In a world where women are co-equal partners in sexual pleasure, of course it makes sense to expect that a woman would leave the moment something was done to her that she didn’t like.

That is not the world we live in.

In the real world, the very first lesson the typical woman learns about what to expect from sex is that losing her virginity is going to hurt. She’s supposed to grit her teeth and get through it. Think about how that initiation into sex might thwart your ability to recognize “discomfort” as something that’s not supposed to happen. When sex keeps hurting long after virginity is lost, as it did for many of my friends, many a woman assumes she’s the one with the problem. And, well, if you were supposed to grit your teeth and get through it the first time, why not the second? At what point does sex magically transform from enduring someone doing something to you that you don’t like — but remember: everyone agrees you’re supposed to tolerate it — to the mutually pleasurable experience everyone else seems to think it is?

We don’t really have a language for that amazingly complicated transition because we don’t think about the biological realities of sex from the woman’s side.

(source–and go read the whole damn thing)

~ * ~

* To be clear, the hashtag is much older, but it was started by a black woman, so it didn’t get that much traction outside black female twitter until a white woman used it.

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6 Responses to “Biology, social conditioning, sex and pain”

  1. KeiraSoleore 29/01/2018 at 11:49 AM #

    “Because we live in a culture that sees female pain as normal and male pleasure as a right.”

    THIS! 😦

    • azteclady 29/01/2018 at 12:14 PM #

      And we still need to teach men–and many women!–that that view of the world is not just wrong/unfair, but harmful to everyone, including all men.

    • azteclady 29/01/2018 at 11:00 PM #

      Right?

  2. Art Kaufmann 29/01/2018 at 4:18 PM #

    One of the (formerly) more rational conservative pundits, Andrew Sullivan, weighed in and stepped right into it. Andrew is gay and his thesis was “it’s not about women, guys do this to each other.” The whole essay was a very long-winded way of saying “boys will be boys.”

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