This summer I read Enlightened Sexism by Susan J Douglas. One of the main things I got from the book is a much clearer understanding of what it is feminist women object to when I insist that sex is different for women than it is for men.
What Dr Douglas has taught me is that it’s very easy to present dichotemous thinking about the genders. Example: the Ally McBeal episode wherein the title character’s former boyfriend points at his crotch and says “this makes men stupid,” then points at his heart and says “this makes women stupid.” Men are sex, women are emotion. Men are biology, women are psychology. Men are aggressive, women are passive. Men and women are from different planets. Anyone who’s seen the Bem Gender Inventory knows the drill, and we all know that such dichotomies are bullshit.
Let’s try it this way, instead:
We’re all from the same planet. We’re all made of the same stuff. But it’s just organized a different way, to different ends, for males and females.
Is that better?
This is unambiguously true about our sexual hardware:
ovaries : testes
labia majora : scrotum
glans clitoris : glans penis
urethral sponge : prostate
uterus : uterus masculinus
And so on. See? All the same stuff, just organized in a different way.
But you don’t look at the biological homology of human sexual hardware and say, “See, male and female genitals are the same,” do you? Because they’re not, they’re different! I mean they are the same, but they’re different, right, and it’s utterly crucial that they’re different, or else we couldn’t have the kind of sex we have, couldn’t reproduce the way we do, couldn’t be the species we are!
Is it utterly crucial that they’re the same, too? Nah, that’s evolution being its parsimonious, not to say stingy, self. Of course it’s the same stuff. Fraulein Maria made all the kids’ clothes from the same curtains because that’s what she HAD, not because she really felt all the children should wear matching clothes, you dig? Evolution is like Fraulein Maria.
And given that our parts are the same stuff organized in crucially different ways, does it not follow that the functioning of those organs may be crucially different, as a result of that organization?
Well, it is! Different, I mean. Crucially.
We are equal, or should be, certainly. But we are not the same – except insofar as we are the same (QED) – and, here’s the really, really important bit, and the reason I drone on endlessly about it:
Treating women’s sexuality as though it’s “the same” as men’s, in the social world and in science, results in women feeling broken and ashamed.
As in: We should want sex as much as and in the same way that men do. We should be able to have orgasms the way men do – as quickly, in diverse situations, and through intercourse. Our sexual orientation should be the same. Our responsiveness should be the same. Our fantasies. Our porn. Our feelings about our bodies. I mean, where does it end? You might as well be saying women should have penises.
If you tell a woman all that and then she finds, as 90% of women do, that her sexuality doesn’t work the way a man does, she feels broken, ashamed, and guilty. Because she doesn’t have the psychophysiological equivalent of a penis.
That’s FUCKED UP.
I might insist on this less if I didn’t know what damage gets done when women are taught, by mainstream media and even mainstream medical science, that their “normal” is men’s “normal.” I’ve had clients and students and strangers beyond counting tell me how they’ve suffered, ask questions that positively vibrate with pain and shame, express relief at finally, finally, FINALLY hearing that they’re normal and not damaged or faulty. I know, through the people I teach, what harm it can do to insist that “women and men are alike” sexually.
Now certainly room can be made to treat men more like women, and that will do a world of good for everyone.
But still. It’s different for women.
It’s normal not to have orgasms early in a sexual relationship.
It’s normal for your sexual interest to flatline when you’re depressed or stressed – though it’s also normal, if rarer, for it to increase with depression or stress.
It’s normal not to have orgasms from intercourse.
It’s normal to feel sexual interest in people you admire and care about, regardless of their gender.
It’s normal for your sexuality to change over your menstrual cycle, when you go on hormonal contraception or HRT, when you go through menopause, as you age, and when you have kids.
Men and women (if you’ll excuse the gender dichotomy), we’re not from different planets. We’re made of the same stuff, organized in different ways.
But emphasizing the sameness of the stuff will not create an environment that’s safe and healthy for women’s sexuality. Understanding the differences, their origins, their functions, their variability, that is the true path to knowledge.
That’s what I think anyway.