I recently read this article on ‘sex’ and ‘normality.’ It was very interesting and I agree with quite a lot of it, as well as the general tone and perspective. Therefore, all that is left for me to do is articulate where I differ from this author. So don’t confuse this for a hatchet-job when I must put too fine a point on such differences. I really want to discuss Hypoactive Sexual Disorder, but will begin by meandering about in adjacent terrain.
First criticism: the author, Stanley Siegel, says that “Definitions of ‘normality’ should have no authority in psychological assessments,” which I disagree with on the face of it, but must also bring up that he simply changes the word to “natural” and does the same thing himself: “monogamous relationships act like ‘cultural cages’ that confine natural sexual desire.” Well, its also “natural” for me to want to tear out the throats of my sexual rivals, so is my “natural” desire in some “cultural cage” that confines it presumably “unnaturally” and “pathologically?” Good thing we have the “cultural cage” of rule-by-law then, isn’t it. People are just entirely incapable of realizing that rules and boundaries often enhance freedom; that free license is often anathema to true liberty; that adhering to rules and fulfilling a culturally prescribed duty is an additional freedom one can exercise, complementing the “natural” desires they often constrain or channel.
The metaphor of the cage is entirely unnecessary. Let me replace it with the metaphor of food. In the US we celebrate many different kinds of cuisine, so is this “cultural cage” “confining” my “natural” desires, or is it channeling them, enhancing them, and allowing me to squeeze every possible amount of fun and pleasure out of my biology? See my point? Let me approach from a different angle, as this one seems to advocate wanton and polymorphous perversity in this context. Mexican food is really just the same few ingredients prepared differently, therefore rendering these ingredients far more interesting and pleasurable through the neat trick of “culture,” but personally, I could eat a good steak burrito every day of my life. What’s wrong with that? When living in Thailand for three years I ate Pahd Si Eu Gai every single day at lunch. I still dream about it. Scrumptious! I avoid the shellfish because it has given me the shits on more than one occasion. Similarly, monogamy is just one damn fine dish and I see no real good reason to try polyamory, BDSM, etc, while seeing plenty of reasons for avoiding them, many of which involving my “natural sexual desires,” like those to feel betrayed, hurt rivals, etc. Besides, those into kinky bondage stuff should have no problem with cages, right? Lol!
This author, perhaps unwittingly, is pathologizing monogamy in an article about the dangers of pathologizing human sexual experience. If we return to my culinary metaphor, let me ask you this: “why not just mash all of those ingredients together in a heap of undifferentiated pulp?” Come on, you must admit that the burrito is simply a phenomenal design; a good trick, even it if does take more effort to prepare than the mash-up.
Second criticism: though pathologizing “deviant” sexual behavior has its dangers, what is the alternative? Telling a patient that his desire to shit on people’s faces is totally normal, ok, and just a symptom of his unique life history and personal specialness? I think not. These adaptations are often “pathological,” meaning that there are far more healthy and less complicated ways of working through various sexual and other abuse than fetishizing things and so forth. After all, presumably the “client” is seeing a “therapist” for some REASON!?! “Ah, I see, Tom…you feel guilty for shitting on the faces of small children…well, let’s work through that guilt so you can proceed with less trepidation.” Is this what he’s advocating? This seems like a case of PC-induced Frontal Lobotomy Syndrome, a disorder that should be added to the DSM!
Furthermore, while Conversion Therapy for gay people is an abomination, this article overlooks the fact that there are plenty of people genuinely confused about their own sexuality and many who believe themselves to be homosexual not for reasons of genetic predisposition, but precisely because of their unique family history and conditioning. That is, they can be converted, which should be preferable to them given 1) the prejudice they will face, 2) the fact that their confusion may be based on abuse and twisted conditioning, 3) their potential desire to have their own biological children, for instance, and 4) the fact that they might actually find heterosexual sex more fulfilling once they work through their issues. People are just so repulsed by the idea of Conversion Therapy that they throw the baby out with the bathwater. But if a rape victim gets off on re-enacting dramatized rape scenarios, suddenly people go “oh, well we might not want to encourage that..there are better ways to work through the trauma.” Perhaps they wouldn’t say this. Perhaps this author would simply say “ok, I’m sensing that you feel shame when you ask your partners to pretend-rape you…lets work through that shame.”
Third criticism: Noting that something is based on social norms and subjective judgments is not some kind of knock-down argument. This is retarded. I have plenty of criticisms to level at the DSM, but to say the following is just tautologous:
It is based largely on social norms, with ‘symptoms’ that all rely on subjective judgements… not value-free, but rather reflect[ing] current normative social expectations.
SO F*$#ING WHAT? What’s wrong with this? Aren’t some social norms better for people than others? Aren’t certain values better for people than others? Aren’t certain “normative social expectations” better than others? Should we just chalk female genital mutilation up to a social norm and call it a day with a glib “different strokes for different folks”? This author is attempting to be the paragon of tolerance and acceptance while absolving himself of needing to ever use his judgement. He is confusing the acceptance one must have in the therapeutic relationship for acceptance that the rest of us should have towards the same people. I accept that I must exercise tolerance towards people, but I do not have to accept them or their behaviors, especially on their terms. You wanna make-out with someone’s ear canal, go for it. Just don’t do it in a public park where I have to watch that shit, and don’t ask me to accept it as perfectly normal and healthy in a conversation. I am allowed to disagree with you; this is something you must both accept and tolerate!
Last criticism: this author is clearly pathologizing monogamy, as when he claims that “solid findings have shown that flagging sexual interests are more likely the result of long term monogamous relationship.” I notice he didn’t link to these “solid findings.” I wonder why?
Hypoactive Sexual Disorder is not the same thing as a loss of sexual passion. So what accounts for the prevalent loss of sexual passion in monogamous relationships then, if not the unnaturalness of monogamy itself? This should be almost painfully freakin obvious, people. Flagging sexual passion results from:
- people failing to continue dating each other, investing, romancing, etc
- not taking care of their bodies (and this includes smoking too much weed ladies! Cotton-Mouth sucks, but Cotton-Vagina is worse! Habitual toking lowers testosterone and thus sex-drive, so put down the pipe and try a different oral fixation, *wink)
- failing to be very creative, take trips together, activate the dopamine system with novelty, etc. You don’t have to try different lovers to discover novelty!
- not having time to make such investments in romance, novelty, physical health, etc. The only sample population we have to really analyze scientifically comes from a particularly stressed, over-worked demographic in a certain recent historical period. (Prior historical periods are confounded by Catholic guilt/prudishness, lack of birth-control, etc.)
Let’s explore number four, the big culprit. We live in a fucked up society and economy that demands long hours of soul-crushing boredom that is hardly conducive to maintaining passion of any kind. Thus, it is far easier to just get hammered on Friday night and get any pleasure or novelty you can than to make responsible choices and investments of time. This article is just pandering to people forced into this lifestyle. It implicitly condones this “social norm” while decrying far healthier ones like monogamy. This baffles me. Exercise your judgement sir! Again, having sound judgement is not the same thing as being judgmental! Women, it will always be easier to just go have a fling with some guy whom you really don’t know and whom you can project all manner of fantasies onto than to invest in yourself, your relationship, and your monogamous partner. But don’t confuse the easy road for the “natural” one or the one worth traveling. The only thing in life that is reliably fulfilling without much effort is a good burrito!
If you will forgive a seeming digression, one that will seem rather inflammatory, let me make some remarks on the effects of feminism. This necessary social movement was supposed to give women the CHOICE to have a career or not, but has resulted in the NECESSITY of their having a career. The purchasing power of the individual just isn’t there anymore, so sorry ladies, you gotta pick up another shift! The feminist with braided pit-hair is now glaring at me saying “but women have a right to pursue their desire to contribute to society and help people just like men!” So you are telling me that helping your husband, your children, and your extended family is just not enough meaning for you? You have to help complete strangers to feel happy and fulfilled? I remain dubious about this. Does nobody see that feminists are essentially promoting a message something like “ladies, if you are not becoming a lawyer or biochemist (or women’s rights activist!), you don’t deserve much respect”? Fuck that. I respect women who put their energy into family and community and don’t have to prove to themselves that they can get a Nobel Prize or hit a home run just like the boys. What’s wrong with that? The truth is that they HAVE TO pursue such a career; they don’t have a choice anymore. Hubby’s teaching salary can barely pay for their lifestyle BEFORE having children!
The author in question reminds us that “Even hormonal decreases during menopause can be overridden when a woman takes a new lover.” True, but why not remind us also that these hormonal decreases can be overridden by a romantic getaway with a woman’s current lover? I clearly smell an agenda here.
If we can return to the food metaphor, why mash up all the ingredients and try every random combination instead of first trying a little sour cream, some pico de gallo, a different kind of tortilla? Why abandon the venerable burrito so hastily? One thing I love about Thai food is that each little street vendor prepares Pahd Si Eu Gai a little differently. Appreciating food doesn’t always have to be about knowing every Thai dish in existence or having some vast range of peculiar predilections. This is often just snobbishness and lack of imagination! So too with sexuality. People tell me “oh, but you haven’t tried this or haven’t tried that…you haven’t lived man!” I call bullshit. Is vaginal intercourse really that boring guys, really? I think not. I love vaginas, so stop pathologizing that as if it were “unnatural”! And when I find one that I like more than others, one that happens to be attached to a person I deeply respect and whose company I enjoy, stop telling me that I’m imposing a “cultural cage” on her by asking for her fidelity in exchange for mine. The truth is that intimacy scares the crap out of us, society doesn’t give us time for much of it, and its a lot easier to mistake wanton promiscuity for courage, while calling everyone else a cowardly prude. I’d ask my critic this: am I just boring, or are you just bored? From my critic’s presumably hedonistic perspective, I’d say it is far better to be the former.
Women, if you are sexually dissatisfied with your partner, choose a better partner instead of blaming the evil and unnatural cultural imposition of monogamy. Better still, blame the economy, politicians, and bankers.