Search

A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

Tag

sex

The Clitoris is for Men

Several weeks ago I read a post by an advice columnist who I am not on particularly good terms with and it rankled me. The advisee, a young male, was concerned that he could not bring his female partner to orgasm with penetration. The advice he received was twofold: First, he was shamed for his male supremist desire to bring his partner to orgasm through penetration. Second, he was instructed in the “universal knowledge” that the clitoris is located outside the vagina and is not sufficiently stimulated by penetration and that he was required to provide oral, manual or electrical stimulation directly to his partner’s clitoris if he wanted her to orgasm.

Well, recent and extremely overdue research on the female reproductive anatomy has produced this three dimensional image of the human clitoris

The Internal Clitoris
The complete clitoris as presented on the Museum of Sex (NY) blog. The yellow portion is the clitoris and the blue structures are the bladder (left) and the vagina (right), which leads into the uterus (upper most).

Take a moment to appreciate this image. Exactly where is the clitoris again? It sure appears to me to be inside the female pelvic cavity, wrapping around the urethra and the vagina and extending forward to the mons pubis and backward towards the anus. Just by looking at this image, if you were to ask me if the clitoris was better stimulated by rubbing a finger on the glans clitoris, the tiny little nub sticking out and down on the left side of the image, or by rubbing some phallic object against the inner circle of it by way of the vagina, I’d go vagina every time.

So why was I so upset by the advice given to this young male? Besides it being out of date, it was also advise for a man seeking a goal and completely neglected the woman in question. More specifically, imagine being the owner of such a magnificent and complex organ of sexual satisfaction and imagine never once having been able to wield it properly. Now imagine you have a partner who wants to learn how to help you wield that organ to achieve its full glory, but when he seeks the necessary knowledge on how to do this, he is told that your organ is busted and isn’t actually meant to work that way and he should stop trying. No one once asks you what your opinion in all of this is.

This brief interaction between two men discussing a woman’s body without her input is not a new phenomenon, nor is it an example of bonding behavior we would expect to see only between extreme political conservatives. In fact, this is just one more case of a history of conversations between men for the benefit of men. As far back as I can remember, every storybook character I ever read about was either a woman seeking a husband, or a man. Every historical figure I ever studied was a man, save for the exceptional woman who was noted for her womanhood. In movies, women were the reasons that men became great, but they were never great themselves. God Himself is a man. In my adolescent years I was desperate, as all adolescents are, for a role model. I dove deeper and deeper into the philosophy behind what I was given to study in school, digging for some universal truth about humanity that would validate my existence. What I found was the vastest of empties. I would search in the books that we read for a female character that had positive traits and what I discovered was that in order to emulate these characters I had to be beautiful, and I had to be romantically unattainable. Attainability, was anathema to female success. The only women of virtue in any of my studies were desperately, painfully and permanently alone. It is a wonder I survived adolescence at all.

Modern times, full as they are with sexual freedom and women’s rights, still prove to be no more welcoming of the human female than the histories were. Indeed, even on a subject so intensely personal, so intensely feminine as the existence and nature of the clitoris, women are not even invited in to speak. The clitoris, it seems, exists only for validation of the male ego, and if he wants that ego validated, he better get to it directly and not waste time on pleasuring a woman in the process.

Advertisements

The Differences between Polyamory and Monogamy (part 2)

Monogamy has a long history rooted in social status and political maneuvering. Nomadic humans used marriage as a way to establish family ties that would save lives in times of crisis, specifically food shortages. When technology advanced far enough that people could store their food and wealth and pass it along down the generations, marriage was a way to legitimize the property transfer process. Fast forward thousands of years to Medieval England where the Catholic church struggled with the Anglo kings for political control. At this time it was common for marriages to be made and dissolved between clans as was politically expedient. By declaring marriage a Holy Sacrament, the Catholic church forced all future political contracts to be subjected to its approval. This is where the moral notion of monogamy arose.

Along with its moral imperative, the history of western marriage means monogamy comes with several other assumptions about what it means to be in a relationship. Among these are the notion ownership and control over another human being as well as the idea that being in a relationship with someone somehow prevents others from initiating a similar relationship with that person.

Belief in ownership of another human being leads to behaviors that are hurtful to the person being viewed as property. Traditionally when marrying, a woman became property of her husband. The two became “Man and Wife,” further reducing the woman from the category of a human to the category of being related to a man. To her, the man was her livelihood and just as she was his property, both had reason to defend their relationship against outsiders. Other women become enemies, specifically those who are unwed, because their affection detracts from what is available to the wife. From the perspective of the husband, other men close to his wife pose a threat to their social status because the ability to protect one’s property is part of masculinity, but also because a bastard son screws up the whole inheritance process. Unfortunately because the wife is viewed as an inferior being to the men, and because one woman who is dependent on her husband for sustenance is easy to control than an entire city of strangers, often enforcement of monogamy became a matter of punishing the wife rather than fending off the other men.

Today marriage is less about inheritance and livelihood, but it is still very much about social status and peer respect, and even couples who do not marry, but date within the monogamous framework, operate as though they were practicing for a marriage of the traditional sort. Jealousy is common and is sometimes interpreted as a sign of affection while being cheated on is a source of embarrassment. Society also expects that a monogamous couple in a Long Term Relationship will eventually begin to merge their lives, sharing finances and living spaces even before marriage becomes an explicit topic of discussion. Merely introducing someone as your significant other in any way means that friends and relatives will expect you to know that person’s whereabouts at all times, count you as two people when arranging carpools or parties, and communicate with that person as if they were you. And for many couples, these assumptions are not far off point.

To contrast, the history of polyamory is very different. To begin with, polyamory means many loves. Sometimes this is a fixed number of partners and sometimes it is fluid. I would like to focus on the types of polyamorous relationships that are open in the sense that there is not a predetermined number of partners that commit to each other exclusively. As an official socially acknowledged romantic structure, polyamory has only been observed in a small minority of cultures, notably those without the concept of paternity. Familial ties must necessarily pass through the mother, as does property transfer, and without the notion of paternity, the idea of sexual fidelity holds little value. As a corollary, economic security is also independent of sexual ties and so the choice to become romantically involved, or sexually involved with another human means little in terms of changes to one’s identity or social or economic status.

So polyamory exists inside a culture that has no social framework or historical basis on which to accurately acknowledge romantic partners, and it also lacks the moral imperative that monogamy holds. What this means for polyamorous people actively in polyamorous relationships is that, among other things, they lack the language to describe themselves or their partners. Members of a polyamorous relationship often find they have to explicitly undo the assumptions that others carry about their lives when discussing their partners. One particularly difficult one is the notion of availability. A polyamorous person in an open relationship is never officially unavailable, but declaring the presence of any romantic partner means that potential partners will keep their distance out of respect for the assumed ownership. Attempting to correct this assumption is full of all sorts of social pitfalls including replacing it with a different assumption that one is sexually loose or indiscriminate. It also means that there is no pre-existing commonly accepted template on which to build a relationship and that polyamorous people must negotiate their relationship structure and their boundaries on a case by case basis. Compared to monogamous relationships, polyamorous relationships must essentially build themselves from scratch both internally and externally with every new partner.

Much of the difference between polyamory and monogamy comes from the assumptions made by people, both inside the relationship and out, about the purpose of having a romantic relationship. Much of the rhetoric today praises true love and romance and assumes that the blind pursuit of these virtues will naturally lead to lifelong monogamy. In this paradigm marriage is a natural conclusion of the process of romance and monogamy is self enforcing. Polyamory builds itself on the idea that “true love” may be nurtured between more than one pair of people and as a consequence has no natural conclusion for the results of this love. While monogamists can use their social roadmap to plan their lives, trusting that when things fall apart there is already an infrastructure available to help them back on their feet, polyamorists must carry all the tools to plan and all the tools to recover from failure with them at every step of the way. The result of these differences is that the identity of a monogamist fluctuates with their relationship status while the identity of a polyamorist remains more or less constant.

 

Friends

Visiting my home town for the first time since moving abroad, I got the opportunity to meet with many of my good friends. There was a conference in town — the biggest annual conference in my field — so my mind has been spinning hard at the philosophical level, too. I want to share a few of the life revelations that came to me while spending time with these awesome people.

The first came to me while sitting at one of the fancy designer gourmet restaurants that my city is famous for. My friend, who until recently made her living making lattes and bagels, had come into possession of a gift card and we were determined to milk it for every penny. Our waiter was an absolutely stunning young white man with a backside that threatened the seam of his trousers in a most irresistible fashion. He had movie-star stubble and perfectly shaped eyebrows. Obviously, he was gay.

Towards the end of our meal, I noticed another stunning silhouette. This man was tall and slender and his white shirt nearly glowed against his ebony skin. He was dark, clearly an immigrant and mesmerizingly beautiful. My friend caught me staring and I explained that I simply wanted to know if the view from the front was as good as from behind. Then, as he turned, it dawned on me how incredibly surreal the situation was. Black men? Working in a gourmet fanssy shmanssy restaurant? Sure, he and his colleague were just bus boys, but they were visible in an upscale establishment. Surely this was a sign of social progress.

Alas, no, my friend explained to me. The white gay many was the waiter and the two black men of unidentifiable sexual orientation were bus boys, so clearly the oppression of the black man continues. What followed was a very short and very tense argument between my friend and I. She is a passionate advocate for social justice. I am a passionate advocate for personal happiness. To my friend, all that was visible was the still present discrimination against a social minority. What I saw was a pair of immigrants who happened to be of a similar physical description to a long oppressed social class doing their job in full view of the posh and snobby social majority that is the consumer base of that restaurant. I saw change towards a better world and my friend saw only the vast divide between what is and what could be.

She got angry with me, I think, for being happy. To my friend unless we are all equal there is injustice and injustice is unforgivable. I said to her, “It’s progress! It’s ok to celebrate progress even if there is still a long way to go. Celebrating a little bit of progress is not ceding the victory.” While I was busy feeling proud of myself for having produced one of those lines that, if I ever became famous, would be spun through the inter-memes for generations to come, my friend was busy seething. There are many things that I could say in justifying my position. I believe in rewarding people for doing things right, even if they are still a little, or even a lot wrong. Mostly this is because I have attempted to teach weasels how to do tricks, but also because I believe in being happy. Social justice is a far off goal, if achievable at all. Why would we choose to be angry for our whole lives over the inability to achieve a distant and difficult goal when we could be happy for every miniscule step we make in the right direction? I am not sure. My friend is not an idiot, so I’m sure she has a good reason. I simply cannot fathom it.

Later in my trip I managed to catch up with another friend of mine who is also a wonderful person, but whose life strategies differ from mine on some really raw points. She is stupidly happily married for some ten years or so now. That fact by itself means that we have a lot of divide to bridge in order to be friends, but she is also actively non judgmental of others (of herself, perhaps she is less forgiving), which means that having a big divide on any subject isn’t really a big deal. In the last year or so she has been making serious efforts towards overcoming some of her own personal demons and today, after being abroad for three months, I got to see the first glimmer of progress.

In a short two-hour dinner she dropped so many life revelations on me that I doubt I could list them all if I tried. One, however, stuck out in my mind on account of it being a wholly new perspective for me, and also on account of it being about sex. The vast majority of people, she said, are extremely uncomfortable with sex. Even the “sluts” of the world with partners numbering in the three digits have difficulty with the word “clitoris.” We also talked about a close friend of hers who recently shared a meme, “All a girl ever really wants is one boy to prove they are not all the same.” Later that night as I dosed fitfully in my still present jetlag, I remembered a friend of mine from the men’s forum Measurection. He once lamented that his life’s dream is for someone to look at his naked body and declare his penis to be “hung like a horse,” or something to that effect. As the three thoughts brewed in the background of my red-lining mind, a realization of my own simmered to the top.

I believe that everyone harbors shame. To some extent we all have shame about the physical bodies were are confined to and about the entity that we call our selves. We seek affirmation of our own identity in the love and affection of a partner, but doing so requires vulnerability. We cannot achieve that affirmation without exposing what it is in us that we are ashamed of, and when the partner we choose denies us, they only reaffirm the shame we already carried. Sex is a beautiful and powerful tool to circumvent our existential fears and achieve the total acceptance we crave. What many people don’t know about orgasms is that the truly spectacular ones can only be achieved when the ego is banished from our consciousness, leaving just the raw mindless truth of who we are behind to experience the moment unhindered. It is no wonder, then, that the majority of people in this world are uncomfortable with sex, or that they place as much value as they do on their own social prowess. I guess, in a way, it is also little wonder why I love the topic so much. If you teach some one how to have truly awesome sex, I think it’s impossible for the rest of their lives to remain stagnant and unfulfilled.

On civilization and personal integrity

Yin yoga is the practice of being still amidst discomfort. For several minutes at a time we lie on the ground with our arms, legs, heads propped up in various positions and at various heights. As we wait for the minutes to pass, we yield our bodies to gravity, and our own weight, pressed against the props, puts increasing pressure on our joints, slowly pulling them apart. As the pain and intensity builds, we sink deeper into ourselves, breathing, releasing, and ultimately seeking to experience the sensation in its entirety.

At the end of five minutes or so, the pose is complete and we return the force of will to our muscles. Some poses can be incredibly painful on the way in, others are only painful on the way out. The feeling is similar to when we fall asleep with our arms at an odd angle; upon waking it is as if hundreds of tiny needles are being thrust simultaneously into our flesh. Whatever the sensation, pain or pleasure, relief or loss, when the time arrives we release the pose. This is the practice of Yin Yoga.

In many ways, practicing Yin is like practicing personal integrity. Personal integrity, in another word, honesty, is the art and skill of knowing who we truly are and what we truly desire. It is painful to practice personal integrity because we exist in a society which is bolstered by a civilization, and the notion of civilization itself is to deny our most fundamental desires and instead focus our energy towards an idealization of humanity which seeks to magnify some traits and disguise, or even erase completely, many others.  Civilization is built on the idea that some humans are barbarians, more animals than they are humans, but that others are loftier, closer to God or closer to some other kind of Ideal, in the Platonic sense. Society reveres the lofty and despises the barbarous. Thus in order to achieve success in a civilization, it is necessary that we deny the part of our selves which is animal. The practice of personal integrity is then opposite of civilization. It seeks to acknowledge all of our selves and accept it without reaching towards an ideal or comparing our self with others.

Civilization is important. Society, even without a civilization, is important because humans are profoundly social creatures. We are all connected to each other and need each other to survive. Our connection exists on many levels, too. We have an emotional connection to our parents, particularly to the woman who raises us from infancy whom we come to know as Mother. But we also connect to each other practically. Even the solitary old curmudgeon is connected to his landlord for a place to sleep, his grocer for food… We are all connected to, and rely on, each other for our survival and for our happiness, so we need society. But civilization is also hurtful.

It is not hard to understand that any systematic denial of our rawest and most fundamental desires will ultimately lead to suffering. One of the most human desires that we all have is connection. I might call it love. We crave to love and be loved by others, at least by one other. Love, however, is multifaceted. We can love with our minds, we can love with our hearts and we can love with our bodies. Perhaps there are also other ways to love. Civilization tells us that to love with our minds is acceptable. To love with our hearts is unavoidable, but to love with our bodies is shameful. A woman should love her husband and love her children. If, perhaps, she should fall out of love, the civilized thing to do would be to suppress her own feelings for the sake of the children. The woman who does this loves her family with her mind. She rationalizes love into her life and she makes choices that mimic the choices a loving woman would make. This woman, however, does not love her family with her heart. Civilization expects us to backwards engineer the fruits of love, but it does not care if love itself is actually present.

The divide between a Civilized Man and a human grows even stronger when we consider loving with our bodies. A civilized man loves only one woman and his body is only attuned to and aroused by that one woman alone. All other sexual response is shameful. This includes desire for someone outside of marriage, or more recently outside of long term monogamy, and it includes sexual desire by women. Civilization’s ideal human is male. I believe that part of the reason why men are revered more so than women is because a woman’s body does not permit the systematic denial of humanity that is necessary to rise to the highest peaks of society. She bleeds, she cries, and she births life from inside her own body with even more blood and even more tears. She is frightening and she is terrific and she is a powerful reminder that we are not the ideals that we try so desperately to fit ourselves to, but that we are human, raw and beautiful and helpless to the forces of the universe.

To practice personal integrity therefore is painful. We must acknowledge so many things about our selves that we would rather believe are otherwise. Personal integrity means acknowledging that we are less than the ideal we defined for ourselves. It means acknowledging that our bodies desire things that are not appropriate, or are shameful, and it means accepting those desires as part of who we are. As a consequence, the practice of personal integrity is also the practice of vulnerability. As creatures who are part spirit and part flesh, when we acknowledge the physical side of our existence, we acknowledge that our minds are powerless to control that flesh, and powerless to control the environment within which it operates. All these things are painful and frightening, but they are also rewarding.

As in Yin, personal integrity exposes us to painful realities, but it also provides us relief. As long as we deny parts of who we are, we carry that denial with us, and we also carry the parts that we deny even though they are pushed from our consciousness. But when we take the time and care to experience those parts of us that we deny, fully experiencing without attempting to escape them but instead surrendering fully to the implications of our selves, we are able to release them. Whether we seek to mold our selves into the shape of the ideal, or accept our selves with passive surrender, we are who we are. The civilized ideal, however, is heavy with unfelt emotions and pent up shame while the self which experiences personal integrity experiences every moment exactly as the universe provides it. It is a lighter and freer self.

An Economist’s Critique of How Much Size Matters

Several articles in news media have recently reported on the new “definitive” findings that penis size really does matter. An article published in the National Academy of Sciences claims to have found evidence that females prefer males with larger flaccid penises and that these preferences expressed by cave women are responsible for the abnormally large penis-to-body ratio of the human male among primates.

…or does it? As a general rule I am skeptical of any research that extrapolates modern human behavior onto prehistoric ancestors in an attempt to justify them using evolution. The greatest difficulty is one which anthropologists appreciate keenly, and that is of viewing the evidence without the lens of our own cultural upbringing. As Americans, we have certain values built into our psyche that, try as we might to deny them, influence our every day thinking. For one, Americans are pretty obsessed with size, and bigger is better. The Japanese, on the other hand, value details over gross quantity. For another, Americans have inherited certain beliefs from Victorian England regarding the inherent moral, sexual and physical differences between men and women. While our official position is that men and women are the “same,” except for perhaps body size and genital arrangement, our perception of human behavior rests in a large part on the structure of female frailty and male ruggedness.

In addition to contemporary differences in human behavior and preferences, we are also compelled to view any evidence in its appropriate historical context. We have the difficulty that human preferences have not been stable over the few thousand years for which we have historical records, and in addition to that we have the larger problem of inferring from our historical records what the millions of years of human evolutionary history may have held. The first fossils of homo erectus are claimed to be 1.89 million years ago, while neanderthals did not appear until approximately 200,000 years ago, and disappeared by 30,000 years BC1. So before we claim that a mere sample of a few hundred humans today, representative of less than one tenth of today’s cultures, and known to be only one of many realizations of historical values, can represent all of humanity on a fundamental, evolutionary, existential level, we should perhaps eat a small slice of statistical humble pie.

With a healthy serving of skepticism and a slice of humility for dessert, let us look at what the actual research says about penis size and human evolution.

Abstract

Compelling evidence from many animal taxa indicates that male genitalia are often under postcopulatory sexual selection for characteristics that increase a male’s relative fertilization success. There could, however, also be direct precopulatory female mate choice based on male genital traits. Before clothing, the nonretractable human penis would have been conspicuous to potential mates. This observation has generated suggestions that human penis size partly evolved because of female choice. Here we show, based upon female assessment of digitally projected life-size, computer-generated images, that penis size interacts with body shape and height to determine male sexual attractiveness. Positive linear selection was detected for penis size, but the marginal increase in attractiveness eventually declined with greater penis size (i.e., quadratic selection). Penis size had a stronger effect on attractiveness in taller men than in shorter men. There was a similar increase in the positive effect of penis size on attractiveness with a more masculine body shape (i.e., greater shoulder-to-hip ratio). Surprisingly, larger penis size and greater height had almost equivalent positive effects on male attractiveness. Our results support the hypothesis that female mate choice could have driven the evolution of larger penises in humans. More broadly, our results show that precopulatory sexual selection can play a role in the evolution of genital traits.

Let’s understand what the scientists who carried out this research were trying to do. To begin with, many animals have penises that are in some ways equipped to increase the likelihood that the female they just mated with actually gets pregnant. Some people have suggested that the flared head on the human penis, as compared to the smooth head on a dog’s penis, is designed to scoop out the semen of other males, replacing it with whoever’s penis is in that particular vagina most recently. This “postcopulatory” characteristic affects reproduction regardless of who mates with whom. “Precopulatory” characteristics are ones which would increase the likelihood of a male being able to mate at all.

Some features of the human penis, when viewed in contrast to the penises of other mammals, make more sense when viewed as part of the attraction and wooing part of reproduction than in the actual act of coitus. Motivated by this observation, the researchers designed an experiment  to answer the question of whether or not the modern human penis shape could have been influenced by how females decide who to have sex with.

In any statististical study it is necessary to choose which variables we will measure and which we will ignore. These researchers chose three variables: height, shoulder-to-hip ratio, and flaccid penis size2. Many other factors could play into male attractiveness and female choice, but out of necessity, only a few could be measured in the experiment. The restriction to these three variables may or may not have been benign. With such a small source of variation, it is possible that the women participating in the study were able to perceive what the underlying question was. As a result, they could have hyper focused on penis size, or either of the other two variables, artificially increasing the effect within the experimental setting. Psychologists have long been aware of the ability of framing, or suggesting the goal of the experiment to the participants, to bias the statistical outcomes, and have developed methods like double-blind testing in order to reduce it. With such a simplified, stylized experiment, one must wonder whether or not this effect was properly controlled for.

Without access to the original article (sorry, I don’t have a subscription), I cannot speak to the actual significance levels of the findings. Most news articles reporting on this research don’t mention it at all. They only talk about the relationship between penis size and attractiveness. In any statistical test there is always the possibility that a relationship is found when there is no underlying cause. This is called “spurious correlation” and is simply a feature of random variables: flip a coin enough times and you’ll get a string of 20 heads in a row. This doesn’t mean that heads is suddenly more likely than tails, it’s just a thing that happens. We already have reason to doubt the strength of these findings based on the experimental design, but we can still analyze the findings, temporarily suspending our disbelief.

The first reported relationship is that penis size has a quadratic effect on attractiveness. This means that to a small extent, bigger is better, but eventually it’s not really that much better. To those men and women who are just itching for evidence that a bigger penis is always better, remember that there are downsides to a large penis such as women who plainly refuse to be penetrated by it. So what this article is saying is that as you go from smaller to larger, you consistently appear more attractive, but you may not be improving your chances for better or more satisfying sex. Also consider that twelve-inch flaccid penises were not featured in this experiment, so it could easily be the case that there is a maximally attractive flaccid penis length and that beyond that bigger is definitely worse.

Next, the article reports that having a larger penis was more important for taller men than for shorter men. Another way to report this finding is by saying that proportional penis size matters. It isn’t as flashy as saying that size really does matter, but flashy is not what makes the news. The next two claims state that a more masculine body was associated with greater penis size effect, and that height and penis size had approximately the same size of effect on attractiveness. So it seems to be the case that a large flaccid penis is more of an added bonus than it is a deciding factor. A short man with a pear-shaped body would be out of luck, even if he had a huge wang. As a final note, the article concludes that its findings support the hypothesis of female mate choice as a factor in evolutionary traits — not that bigger is better.

So what can we take away from this research? Certainly it is the case that modern women consider penis dimensions as a feature in male attractiveness. It is also the case that women consider height and other body proportions. We might just conclude that women consider physical features of men that are considered to be attractive as attractive, but not all to the same degree. It’s a pretty watered down conclusion from the overblown “Neanderthal women mated with men with big penises and so size does matter (and see? we knew you small pricked losers were, well, losers)” that the news has been reporting. But the goal of the research was not to say that bigger penises are better. It was motivated by the modern western notion that bigger is better, but it asked an entirely different question. In the end it could not even conclude that penis size was a deciding factor, merely that it enhanced what was already considered generally attractive.

  1. Source for claim on evolution timeline
  2. The abstract uses the word “size” but many articles refer only to length, ignoring girth.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑