Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sex Researchers Discover the Clitoris

As an historian of sex, I surely must open this post with the following delightful quotation from Tom Laqueur’s book Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud:

"In 1559 [...] Columbus—not Christopher but Renaldus—claims to have discovered the clitoris. He tells his 'most gentle reader' that this is 'preeminently the seat of woman’s delight.' Like a penis, 'if you touch it, you will find it rendered a little harder and oblong to such a degree that it shows itself as a sort of male member.' Conquistador of an unknown land, Columbus stakes his claim: 'Since no one has discerned these projections and their workings, if it is permissible to give names to things discovered by me, it should be called the love or sweetness of Venus.' Like Adam, he felt himself entitled to name what he found in nature: a female penis."

I am happy to report that finally—four hundred and fifty years later—sex researchers have rediscovered the clitoris. What am I talking about?

For years now, we’ve been hearing that men on average are sexually target-specific, while women on average are not. In other words, if you show men various kinds of pornography while having a little measuring device strapped to their penises, those penises don’t get hard to every type of pornography; instead, they seem to evince a distinct preference for either men or for women as sexual “targets.” By contrast, if you insert a blood-flow measuring device into women’s vaginas and show them various kinds of porn, well, they appear to become aroused to just about everything sexual—men, women, monkeys, you name it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fetish or Orientation? The Case of Men Wearing Female Masks

This week in his ever-pleasurable Savage Love iPhone app, the internationally-syndicated sex advice columnist Dan Savage reprinted a question from a woman whose boyfriend "enjoys wearing women's clothing and acting like a submissive woman when we have sex." The woman told Dan, "Nothing gets him off more. We have only just started exploring his fetish in the past year because he has been ashamed of it all his life. I have encouraged him so far and now we have a couple hundred dollars' worth of sexy women's clothing that fits him. Last night he asked me if he could wear a latex mask of a woman's face during sex."
As one can see, Dan’s reader termed her boyfriend’s proclivities “his fetish,” but as Dan implied in his response, the boyfriend’s interests may be more like a sexual orientation. What’s the difference? In sex research and in clinical psychology, “fetish” usually refers to an object (like a particular article of clothing) or substance (like latex) that an individual finds particularly sexually arousing. By contrast, a sexual orientation is more about how we are wired to interact (or not) sexually with others.

Out of curiosity, I asked Ray Blanchard, a sex researcher, clinical psychologist, and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, his thoughts on this reader’s boyfriend. Ray and I actually met over the sexual orientation possibly at issue here, namely autogynephilia, when I wrote a history of a controversy over autogynephilia.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Does Monogamy Really Drive Us to Drink?

A recent article by Mara Squicciarini and Jo Swinnen in the journal of the American Association of Wine Economists (and no, I'm not making that up) suggested the answer to that question might be "yes." Wrote the authors: "Historically, we find a correlation between the shift from polygyny to monogamy and the growth of alcohol consumption. Cross-culturally we also find that monogamous societies consume more alcohol than polygynous societies in the pre-industrial world."

Naturally, lots of bloggers picked up the story, delighted (as bloggers almost always are) to be told what they already believed to be true: monogamy is so frustrating it drives us to drink. Implicitly they were suggesting a beer in the hand is not worth two in the bush.

I was curious to know whether this article might actually support the idea that monogamy drives us to drink, so I asked my colleague Raymond Hames, Chair of Anthropology at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, to give it a look-see. Ray seemed the perfect person to ask, since his work is cited in this article, he's studied some of the populations considered, and he's engaged (with a former student) in a major study of polyandry.