Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Subtext. Belonging to the crowd.

The Age is a local newspaper that models itself on the left wing Guardian paper in the UK. It readership is considered to be middle class and it pursues an editorial policy that is politically correct. Today it ran an  article titled,  Sex vs Porn.  It deals with the issue of women being "pressured" to perform sexual acts seen in porn movies, particularly anal sex. Now the article itself is of no significance, but the analysing the question posed to the author is instructive as it demonstrates female social processing and the state of modern social mores.
My girlfriends and I were having a chat recently and many of us seem to share the same dilemma: our boyfriends take it for granted that we want to participate in a range of sexual acts, including "back-door" sex. Some of us don't really enjoy this, but we don't know how to tell our partners without seeming uncool, prudish or uptight. Instead, we say nothing and go along with it. How can we let them know we don't want to do this without appearing boring and old-fashioned?
Apparently to this group of women it is preferable to literally endure a "pain in the arse" rather than to appear boring and old-fashioned. This is an illustration of women would rather physically suffer than not belong to the "in" group.  The second point to mention here is that being "old-fashioned", or traditional, is definitely not "in". Note, that even though the "old-fashioned" group are engaging in behaviours that women would like to emulate, i.e no anal sex, women do not want to join the group which is behaving congruently with their desires for fear of social opprobrium. In fact the answer given to the question is textbook example of subliminal female social programming. The bold comments are mine.

The bottom line (pardon the pun) is that all sexual acts are supposed to be pleasurable. Nothing is compulsory, and you certainly should not feel obliged to do something just to keep your partner happy.(Reaffirming that self satisfaction is more important than partner satisfaction. Yay Feminism, but.....)

In our modern "raunch" culture, acts that were once taboo are now considered mainstream.
(Implicitly implying anal sex is mainstream, generating social anxiety in a woman who does not belong to the "mainstream")The accessibility of explicit sexual material causes some people, especially young men, to think that every woman wants to perform like a porn star.

There is nothing wrong with "back-door" penetration, as you describe it, and many women enjoy it.
(Once again implying that it is socially approved and it is enjoyable) But it is not for everybody, and precautions must be taken if it is to be enjoyed.

Whether your lack of interest is due to distaste, discomfort or embarrassment, you need to deal with the situation. Cleis Press has a well-researched Ultimate Guide series of books that offer sensible information about a range of sexual practices. The Melbourne Sexual Health Centre would also be able to advise you, or speak to your doctor. (Implying that there is something "wrong" with the woman for not enjoying it.)

But if you are sure that you will never enjoy it, no matter what techniques are used, you had better talk to your partner. Don't raise the subject when you are making love. Wait for a time when you are getting on well and have the privacy to talk. Tell him that, while you love your sex life and he gives you great pleasure, this is not something that you enjoy. Explain that your objections are not based on prudishness and you do not have sexual hang-ups - you just don't enjoy it.
(It's OK not to do it but....)

It is possible that you might be able to negotiate a mutually satisfying compromise
(Currently the relationship could be in trouble). For example, you might agree that this is something that you might enjoy occasionally, when you are very turned on, (You should try to do it sometimes)but not as a matter of routine. Let him know that you will tell him if this is the case, rather than have him ask you every time. ( Make him happy by initiating it occasionally)

If you definitely never want to go there, tell him. Also tell him what you do enjoy, and see if there are other things you might experiment with that would give you both pleasure. Initiating this conversation might feel awkward, but persevering with something you don't like might spoil your entire sex life. 
(Take home message. Don't do things that make you uncomfortable event though most other mainstream ie "normal"  people are doing it)

Ok, so what the advice column has told our audience is that they shouldn't do anything that makes them uncomfortable,  but  because the act is uncomfortable there may be something wrong with them, as everyone else is doing it and enjoying it . The "advice" is meant to generate fear and social anxiety in a woman for not enjoying anal sex.  Subtle social programming.

10 comments:

Poetry of Flesh said...

I nearly completely disagree with your interpretation.

And, luckily enough, I can apply it to my life right now.

My boyfriend is a rather famous porn director. His last girlfriend (of eight years) is a known anal queen and famous porn star. I don't watch porn videos, I watch them being filmed.

He loves anal sex. If he could go his entire life having anal sex and never once again have regular sex, he would be beyond pleased.

I'm not a fan of anal sex. He knows this, we've talked about it at length.

Reading this article didn't make me feel not part of the masses. It didn't make me feel odd or excluded. I didn't feel like it was pressuring me to perform or to stand up for all of womankind in some anally-focused feminist binge.

I'm already very well aware that the average woman does not enjoy anal sex. I know this because I've had hundreds of female friends in my lifetime and sex is a common topic.

But I do know that I am in a relationship with a very sexual, very active man. And I care for him. Which means I am going to talk to him, talk to his ex, talk to the pornstars that I bump into from time to time, and, together, we'll find a way to regularly engage in it that makes me physically comfortable.

I don't feel uptight about it. I don't feel like a prude. Because I have the knowledge I need, socially and physically, to prevent it, and I've communicated my concerns with my partner. Which is what this article suggested.

Will S. said...

But, Poetry of Flesh, you are generalizing from the anecdotal, as if your personal experience, and those of the subset of the female population that you happen to know, invalidates the general trends discussed in this article. It doesn't. One example, or a couple hundred for that matter, to the contrary, doesn't count for much.

Most women follow the herd. If you and your friends don't, you're outliers.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ POF and Will S.

I agree with Will's comments. You're a bit of an outlier POF. The thing about generalisations is that they are not universalisations. The fact that some women are lesbians does not mean all women are.

There's a fair amount of solid scientific research and anecdotal evidence that backs up my claims. Read through a few of my previous posts if you can be bothered.

Poetry of Flesh said...

Will,

I know. I knew that would be exactly what would be said when I put up personal "evidence", which is why I so rarely do it.

While we are unable to accurate quantify such things, it was more my intent to illustrate a sort of equal ratio being kept. These are (supposedly) average girls in (supposedly) average situations dealing with (supposedly) average men. I am an "extreme" girl in an extreme situation dealing with an extreme man.

I suppose it made more sense to me.

My friends... some of them are outliers. Some of them are average, destined for white suburbia, some of them are spinister prudes. I like to keep a range. They have a willingness to communicate and an ability to not judge other people for their activities or choices that encourages friendship with me.

I do not believe that my experiences invalidate this article, rather, they validate it.

Social P,

I do know that there is research to back up your ideas. There is research to back up any idea on the planet, if performed or intrepreted by the right people. Such is the imperfection of the science of humanities.

That aside, I believe that your interpretation of this article was a stretch, an interpretation to suit your needs. Respectfully, I think this article was a poor choice to support your platform- a platform I do agree with.

It was the interpretation caused my disagreement.

Tom said...

Most women follow the herd. If you and your friends don't, you're outliers.

And you know this because... well, it's obvious in all women you talk to, and see on TV, etc...

Will S, I find your reply to patronizing and to be honest, self-aggrandizing.

Look, we all like to pretend that we're being scientific, but let's face it, any physicist would choke if we tried to call any of the sociology that goes on here science.

I find the discussions here interesting and informative (thank you SP), but I find your dismissal of PoF's experience pretty rich. I'd like to see the experimental data that justifies *your* assertion (performed over a cross-section of subject ages and cultures, of course).

Until that point, I think common courtesy would be to acknowledge that what we have in this blog is essentially a step of two beyond after (highly interesting) dinner conversation rather than to pretend "we're doing science".

Sorry, SP, but Will's response really irked me.

Will S. said...

Yes, I certainly do remember you, Tom.

Frankly, I don't give a crap what you or anyone else thinks of me, or my opinions; hey, that's your privilege.

It has been well established, that many womenfolk think they've mustered a coherent argument when they argue against a certain general finding by saying, "Hey, that's not true, because it doesn't apply to me!" Look around the blogosphere, you'll see many women arguing this way. But it's a fail; it's not a rational argument. The anecdotal does not disprove the general. I don't even care to get into whether or not the original argument is valid; I'm merely pointing out that attempting to argue against it based purely on the personal anecdote (including the "and everyone I know" tacked on for good measure) doesn't pass muster.

SP has shown in several posts how preselection and social processing prefigures in female decision-making, and moreover, he is certainly one to back up his claims with stats. You've been reading him for months or years now, just as I have, so you know this; there's no need for me to go through his archives, and frankly, I can't be bothered.

I don't think suggesting that someone who goes against the herd is a statistical outlier is patronizing; hell, if anything, it could even perhaps be taken as a compliment of sorts, because it means greater independence of thought. But hey, if you want to white-knight for your perceived damsel-in-distress, feel free. (Now who's patronizing, hmmm?)

The Social Pathologist said...

There is research to back up any idea on the planet, if performed or intrepreted by the right people.

We're not deconstructivists here POF.

Science is only meaningful if it points towards an objective reality. A reality that is independent of the observer.

That aside, I believe that your interpretation of this article was a stretch, an interpretation to suit your needs.

Respectfully, wrong again. Look, I'd have nothing to say if the author of the article said, look, if you don't like anal sex your choice is either to tell your boyfriend that you don't like it and get him to stop or put up with it/give in occasionally because it makes your partner happy. There are techniques which you can practice to make it less painful and so on....

But it's the additional stuff which is interesting. The positive tone in which anal sex is projected, the implication that it is an "accepted practice", the implication that there is something "wrong" if it's not working for you. The devil is in the detail.

Great advertising says very little explicitly, it's all done by implication. No fashion magazine explicitly states you have to have a BMI <20 to be attractive, yet that's how women see it. Fashion editorials bemoaning the use of anorexic models are juxtaposed next to images of glamorous anorexic models. Girls get the take home message implicitly. You're free to disagree with my interpretation, but I'm calling it as I see it.

@Tom,

Part of the problem here is that science does this "interpretive" stuff really badly. POF's interpretation of the article is a valid one, but my concern is how a majority of women will view it, not how a religious fundy or a libertine would. I think Will is quite justified in his rebuttal, because I do think POF is an outlier. What I try to do is look at the article from the "average woman's" point of view. I come to this view after years of studying them in order to treat their psychological conditions. A job I do reasonably well.

POF is wrong in assuming that I have some "need"in pushing a particular view. I'm trying to be objective as possible. It pisses off my conservative mates as well, many of them operate within a fixed world view like POF and extrapolate norms from their own experiences and cognitive processes. The feminists claim to speak for all women, they don't, but neither do the fundy's.

I don't mind a bit of argy bargy(heated discussion) but let's keep things reasonably civil and not cross the line.

The Social Pathologist said...

I don't mind a bit of argy bargy(heated discussion) but let's keep things reasonably civil and not cross the line.

Just to clarify any confusion. This wasn't directed particularly towards Tom, it's a general commentator guideline.

Tom said...

The anecdotal does not disprove the general.

My point is that "the general" isn't proof of very much. This isn't physics; the experiments and data that we have is a basically a notch or two above anecdote and is suitable for making interesting conjectures.

To call it "proof", however, is elevating it to an almost laughable extreme, especially to someone who claims to espouse rationality.

(Now who's patronizing, hmmm?)

Standing up for common courtesy is patronizing?

Science is only meaningful if it points towards an objective reality. A reality that is independent of the observer.

Science also demands standards of reproducibility, falsifiability, etc. that make mockery of anything we do or say here.

Now, having said that, I think that your interpretation is certainly a valid one and likely correct. But let's not pretend that you have "proof" that your interpretation is correct. You have evidence to justify your assertion.

I do think POF is an outlier.

You will notice a big difference between your assertion here and Will's. You *think* (and you've backed up with some data and evidence) that PoF is an outlier.

Will's comment, on the other hand, makes it clear that he was in possession of the absolute truth here. Every claim he makes is absolute with no possibility of error, allowing him to dismiss any claim as simple foolishness.

Anyway, I've made my point, such as it is, so I'll drop it. I'm probably over-sensitive to those who use the cover of science to make claims of amazingly non-scientific certainty.

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