Aug 162010

I listened to the Skeptically Speaking interview with Sex at Dawn author Christopher Ryan.

I haven’t read the book yet – neither the local library nor the academic consortium of libraries I can access has a copy yet, and I generally don’t buy books before I’ve read them. So I’ll read it when a library gets it.

Dr Ryan did an interview at Lemondrop, in which he says, “No creature needs to be threatened with death to act in accord with its own nature,” the implication being that monogamy is not in our “nature.” Which triggered a wide range of “uh-oh’s” for me.

So I had a listen to the Skeptically Speaking interview, hoping to learn more about what I was in for with the book. In it, he said that the goal of the book is to refute the standard narrative:

The standard narrative is that there’s an essential exchange at the heart of female-male relations that breaks down to the female is trading sexual fidelity for goods and services from the man.

(Honestly, I had no idea that that was the “standard narrative.” I’m too far removed from the mainstream to know. If he’s referring to stuff like the “dual mating strategy” of women, geez, I had no idea that was the standard narrative! I suppose it could be. Is it?)

One the one hand, it’s exciting a mainstream book directly challenging Buss &co, with their “men want young, fertile virgins/women want rich, older, sexually skilled men” misunderstanding of sexuality; and at the same time, I’m worried about the sloppiness of reasoning I notice in the interviews.

Like, he talked about the cost-benefit analysis as though it was literally ECONOMIC, rather than metabolic. All evolutionary game theory can sound like economy if you think about it badly… but surely that’s a byproduct of the interview format, simplifying for a non-scientist audience. Right?

And he didn’t talk about phenotypic plasticity, not even when he was offered the opportunity on a platter, in the form of a question about sex tourism with women as customers. Hmm.

God, he didn’t talk about attachment at all. Not even when he talked about love. Not even when he talked about jealousy! No, but he described a culture in which jealousy was made out to be a source of shame, made culturally ridiculous to think that just because your special friend was sleeping with someone else, they might not be your special friend anymore. But he did not then repeat his assertion from Lemondrop that we don’t need to be threatened in order to do something in our nature…

What I mean is that jealousy, like non-monogamy, is extremely prevalent in human society; it is “natural,” for good or ill. And in this case, as in so many, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

But maybe he wasn’t given a chance to clarify that jealousy and its companion, possessive love, are as nearly universal and just as “natural” as non-monogamy. Maybe the book is much clearer that, in the same way one needn’t consider oneself a bad person simply because one has or is tempted to have extra-dyadic sex, one also needn’t consider oneself a bad person simply because one is jealous.

But surely it’s the fault of the interview format that it sounded like he was saying there is one “natural” sexual culture for humans, rather than a range of potential that adapts to the environment.

Like, he described the “healthy” hunter-gatherer diet and lifestyle, saying that when you look at that lifestyle “you see in many different respects the healthiest way for human beings to live.”

But then he says that people who haven’t read the book think it promotes one particular sexual lifestyle yet, “We’re not advocating any particular approach to [sex].”

Oh? That’s not what you just did? Phew. Cos that’s kind of what it sounded like you were doing. It’s a relief to know you’re only implying it in interviews and not in the book. (??)

Maybe he’s just saying provocative things, challenging people’s ideas about monogamy and jealousy and “normal” sex in order to convince people to buy the book. Sadly, all this strategy does for me is make me dread reading it.

So I’ll read it with an eye out for (1) attachment; (2) game theory; (3) phenotypic plasticity; and (4) moral claims (with “moral” potentially dressed up as “healthy”). And some other nerdier stuff, too, about targets of selection, individual versus group-level behavior, etc.

Should you read it?

I’m gonna say that if you’re looking for a book about the evolution of human sexuality, stick with Dixson, who’s been doing superb work for decades, and Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s Mother Nature.

And I’m gonna say that if you’re looking for a book about how non-monogamy works, stick with The Ethical Slut, still the standard after all these years.

Aug 152010

I’m in the throes of a Q&A. In this case the Q is, “I want to try X. How do I ask my partner for that?” But the A? I’m stuck.

I mean, the only appropriate answer is a patient, “Well, what is it that’s preventing you from asking?” to which the inevitable response is some variation on “Fear of rejection and judgment. Ultimately, abandonment and learning that, in confirmation of my worst fears, I really *am* unlovable after all.”

And what do you say to that? “You want X. You’re afraid that, in asking for X, you’ll lose Y. What can you ask for, and how can you ask, in a way that minimizes your fears?” And then you hope you’ve triggered some creative, self-reflective thinking.

I could go on and on, very boringly and tritely, about how our culture makes us hate our bodies in general and our sexualities in particular; I could talk about shame and guilt. I could lecture endlessly about communication skills, self-esteem and self-acceptance, the value of honesty, the importance – indeed the art – of hearing “no” without taking it personally.

But in the end, the answer to, “How do I ask my partner to…?” is “You just suck it up and ask.”

I’ve rarely struggled, myself, with asking for what I need or want – indeed, quite the opposite. I had to learn how to ask gently, starting with the good news, framing the question so that my partner felt like a hero, and asking for things in increments, so they could get used to new ideas.

It was never me who couldn’t ask; but I’ve had partners who wouldn’t. And there’s the rub. I think my frustration and helplessness with this question comes from my own history of having to beg partners please to just fucking tell me what they need, what they want, what they fear, what they expect.

So I was thinking: maybe – maybe – the way to motivate people to ask for what they want is not to help them manage their fear (i.e., reduce the perception of not-so-good consequences related to asking) as described above, but instead to explicate how much their partner suffers when they DON’T ask (i.e., INCREASE the perception of not-so-good consequences related to NOT asking).

Ask for what you want, I could say, because NOT asking for what you want is dishonest, selfish, and emotionally destructive. Ask, because not asking causes your partner constantly to worry about whether or not you’re getting what you need, and that constant worry erodes their patience and their happiness. Is that what you want? You’d rather nurse your fear and fill your partner with frustration and anxiety, than suck up your fear, ask for what you want, and free your partner to love you unencumbered by irrational guilt that they can’t read your mind?

Ask because not asking plants seeds of relational disintegration. Ask because you love them and want them to be happy. Ask, or you will always be alone.


Maybe not.

Aug 142010

Here is a handjob tip that causes people’s eyes to widen and their heads to tilt thoughtfully to one side.

As I’ve mentioned before, the shaft of the penis extends deep inside a man’s body. Much can be done with this fact.

So why not do this: once he’s got his erection, lay him on his back, lube up your hands, and start the clock. What I mean is, using upward strokes and alternating hands (right, left, right, left), point his cock toward his chin. Bend it right down so it’s nearly parallel to his body.

Then rotate, point it toward his shoulder (right, left, right left – go slow, be fairly firm),

then toward his hip bone (right left…), there you go, well done,

then to a 90° angle, toward his hip, then down toward his thigh, then straight down toward his feet, and around again up the other side.

Like his body is a clock face and you’re rotating the “big hand” around 12 hours. Gradually. With upward (as in, from base of penis to head of penis) strokes, alternating hands. And plenty of lube.

Feel free to include some wrist-twisting, if you feel it’s appropriate.

What this does is bend the shaft where it meets his body. This feels very interesting and good. You may notice that he’s particularly sensitive or responsive pointing in one direction or another. Tuck that information away for future use.

A slightly advanced technique, for those who feel they’ve mastered the basics: don’t grip the shaft in your fist, like you’re gonna lead a marching band with it; instead, allow the palm of your hand, your thenar eminence to be the primary source of contact, and curl your palm around the head of the penis, just resting your fingertips over the frenulum, which is exquisitely sensitive to light touch. While’s he’s rotated toward your right, it’s the right hand you’ll do this with; toward your left, your left hand. But you’re alternating hands, yeah, so when your opposite hand strokes upward, it’ll be an entirely different sensation – with the palm of your hand against the frenulum instead.

When you’re using this technique, use the hand that’s not stroking to press the shaft, near the base of the penis, in the desired direction. The combined sensation of the deep-touch bending and the light-touch stroking is very lovely and fine.

You can also try using your hands and your mouth. It’s a particularly excellent strategy for folks interested in preventing choking: you vastly decrease the risk of accidentally getting him too close to the back of your throat if he’s not pointing out, perpendicular to his body, but rather pointing down to his toes or flat against his belly or over to one side.

A further benefit of the “pointing toward his toes” position is that you can look up at him quite easily. Which is a pleasant and friendly-like thing to do.

So there’s a little something for you, to make your weekend move along with a bit of a swing.

(What has this got to do with Beckett? Well. If you do it right, it’ll seem surreal, and also he’ll feel like he’s about to meet Jesus. But mostly I just thought it was an entertaining [if elitist] title.)

Aug 132010

I got Sexual Selection and the Origins of Human Mating Systems by Alan Dixson (author of the incomparable Primate Sexuality) from interlibrary loan yesterday.

Oh. Oh my. I mean, I am just having nergasm after nerdgasm with this book.

Do I love it because Dixson spends so many paragraphs explaining the shortcomings of Baker and Bellis (see especially pp. 74-76), as I have not had sufficient motivation to be bothered to do (though I have scorned them)?

Or is it because he brushes aside the “wishful thinking” (p. 36) theorizing of the same male evolutionary psychologists that I have been exhausted and frustrated by?

Do I love it because Dixson is so careful to remember that western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic (WEIRD) culture is radically and profoundly different from the environment of evolutionary adaptedness?

Or do I love it because I learned from it, after 15 years as a sex educator, that in fact there IS a male homologue to the uterus (see p. 77)?

Answer: Yes.

This book discusses everything important known to date about the evolutionary antecedents of human sexual systems, without any of the condescending, unscholarly dickweedery that turns evolutionary psychology into a punchline.

If you read nothing else in the book, go to page 185 and read the 10 “highly questionable findings and views which have been reported and cited during the last two decades.” (Three of them – that’s 30% of the most egregious bullshit in the field of the evolution of human sexuality – are Baker and Bellis’s work.)

But perhaps the best part of the book is the handful of paragraphs on pp. 120-122, in which Dixson dismantles, clearly and cleverly, the bunkum about women have a “dual mating strategy.” This particular load of claptrap has been a bugbear of mine for years and years, but I’ve never before seen such a precise and tidy explanation of the shortcomings of both the theory and the reasoning behind it.

The theory itself goes rather like this: because women have different preferences, different “attractiveness ratings,” for different male characteristics depending on their menstrual phase (masculine faces and different MHCs at ovulation, less masculine faces and similar MHC near menstruation), women have evolved a dual strategy to get a genetic father and also a separate parenting father. Someone to provide genes and someone else to provide… well… everything else. A short-term strategy and a long-term strategy.

Dixson, in his understated way, says

I suggest instead that there has been a regrettable tendency for some workers in this field to over-interpret the results of studies where women are asked to express preferences for masculine traits in relations to hypothetical long-term versus short-term mating strategies.

He offers three “drawbacks” to this dual mating hypothesis, which I’ll summarize briefly here, but do go read it in full if you’re interested in this kind of thing!

(1) There isn’t any compelling evidence that the “preferences” that change with the menstrual cycle have any impact on behavior. Changes in women’s sexuality across the menstrual cycle are “situation dependent and subtle by comparison with effects of the ovarian cycle upon sexual behavior in most mammals.” Just because something can be measured in an experiment doesn’t mean it has any impact on real life behavior and decision-making.

(2) Universally, people fall in love; and almost as universally they form dyads – partnerships with a single other person that last over multiple years. These partnerships are known significantly to improve the survival rate of offspring. Given, additionally, the role of jealousy in love, and the concomitant mate-guarding behaviors, a woman takes a greater risk in threatening the dyad so crucial to her offsprings’ survival than in having offspring fathered by a man good enough to be her long-term partner.

(3) The risk of pre-eclampsia “decreases with the duration of a woman’s sexual relationship with her partner.” If she has sex with someone else, the risk of pre-eclampsia “is greatly increased should she conceive as a result.”

Dixson’s alternative hypothesis is simply that the preference for masculine traits is “part of selective mechanisms for primary (i.e., long-term) mate choices.”

I find the first and third argument particularly compelling – the second would seem to be a good target for theoretical evolutionary biology to tackle from a mathematical perspective. They’re all open to empirical investigation. I agree with Dixson that we’re likely to find no significant difference in “cuckolding” behavior around ovulation among naturally cycling women, in any culture. I don’t know if we’ll find a difference in pre-eclampsia among women whose pregnancies are fathered not by their long-term partner.

If you’re interested in the evolution of human sexuality, THIS is the book to read. I’ve already incorporated it into the readings for my fall semester class.

Aug 122010

In the biological world, “asexual” means a species that reproduces by cloning or some other means that doesn’t require combining DNA with a conspecific. Some species – like komodo dragons – can reproduce both sexually and asexually.

In humans, though, asexuality is more like a sexual orientation, and it’s quite possibly the most complex and heterogeneous sexual orientation that humans experience. Individual experience of asexuality varies from aversion to plain old lack of interest to highly contextual desire, and it has complex interactions with affection, friendships, partnerships, and love.

It’s also ill-understood, understudied, and, in my experience, the most maligned and disrespected sexual orientation. While gay men in particular face disgust from bigots, asexuals face simple, blunt disbelief from everyone, even people who would self-identify as sex positive – as though people who are not interested in or even actively aversive to sex can’t also be sex positive. But they can; indeed, the asexual folks I’ve met tend to be the most tolerant of sexual diversity of all.

Or as though asexual folks are just afraid of their sexuality or just don’t know what they want. Which… I mean jesus, how would you feel if you told someone the kind of thing you were or weren’t sexually interested in, and they were like, “well, you’re just AFRAID of sex” or “You’re just repressed.”

It’s fuckin’ rude and it pisses me off to see it, especially (I confess) when it comes from someone who identifies as gay, bi, fluid, queer, etc. Asexuals should be welcomed and embraced as part of the rainbow of sexual diversity.

Some folks are making a documentary about asexuality and they’re looking for funding (I’ve mentioned it before). They’ve got a week left to raise about $3,000. Here:

I contributed, and when the film is made I’ll buy a copy of the DVD for my campus. I’d feel terribly proud of a couple of you all helped get them to their goal.

Equal rights are not fully realized without equal respect. Here’s to making the world safe for ALL sexualities.

Aug 112010

I decided to do some posts about parental investment when my pathological curiosity motivated me to investigate the reproductive lives of sticklebacks.

I’m start with peacocks because they’re the classic example. They troubled Darwin – what possible survival function could be served by that MASSIVE train? – and his solution, sexual selection, was never as widely regarded as natural selection. But oh, it should be. If natural selection is “survival of the fittest,” then sexual selection is “reproduction of the fittest.” And reproduction is more important than survival; reproduction is survival into next generation, which is what really matters, evolutionarily.

In Darwin’s terms, sexual selection consisted of male intrasexual competition and female intersexual choice: males beating or showing each other up, and female picking the ones they’re willing to mate with, based on that display.

Research now shows that in peacocks male competition and female choice results in more and fitter offspring, because males have evolved trains that accurately advertise their fitness, and females have evolved mechanisms to detect and prefer particularly fit trains.

Males compete with each other to win access to the females; and the females pick the males they want.

Let’s just take a minute here to appreciate Darwin. The VISION required to generate the idea of sexual selection… I mean, for a Victorian gentleman to suggest female choice of sex partner as a crucial element of reproduction… to SEE the dynamics underlying the behavior that, prima fascia, seems otherwise senseless and easily (trivially) explained by the theories like “God made birds and flowers beautiful for humans to enjoy”… I mean, holy jesus god. If it doesn’t make you tremble to realize of the POWER of his INSIGHT, well then… then you’re not me. It’s on par with Newton inventing calculus.

But this dynamic – male competition and female choice – is not how it works for many species; indeed, it’s not how it works for humans.

Why not?

Parental investment is a big piece of the answer. The social functions of sex are another, but we’ll leave that for later.

Parental investment was first theorized by another holy-shit genius, Robert L. Trivers. Its first publication, “Parental investment and sexual selection” in Sexual selection and the descent of man, post-dated Darwin’s (The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex) by fully 100 years.

(I’m skipping a whole lot of history of science, and simplifying the science itself. See the remarkably readable The Ant and the Peacock for more.)

Parental investment, very briefly: time and energy and food and everything else a parent gives an offspring, they’re all limited resources; your goal as an organism is to maximize your resource-to-offspring ratio. You want to invest as little as possible while still successfully producing offspring that survive to reproductive age. Your ultimate goal is to be a grandparent or die trying. Literally.

In peafowl, sperm is the only investment the peacock makes in reproduction. The peahen gestates, lays, and incubates the egg, then raises the peachicks. So the female invests a great deal, you see, in parenting. Peacocks, in contrast, invest almost nothing – biological spare change, really. Parental investment. Dig? (I looked and looked for any suggestion that peacocks invest in parenting and found none; can anyone find any?)

What a peacock put his energy into instead is growing this massive metabolic hog of a train, which puts him at risk for predation and also reduces his immune functioning. It’s a GIANT cost. But he can’t afford not to invest in it because successfully persuading a female to allow him to fertilize her eggs is his one and only gateway into the next generation.

So. The more different the parental investment between the sexes, the more different the mating strategies between the sexes. Peacocks represent quite an thorough example of dimorphism in the service of parental investment and sexual selection.

The intrasexual competition/intersexual choice dichotomy is where we’re we’re starting in this occasional series of posts about parental investment and how it shapes sexual systems.

Wait til we get to the part where I say that sex is a parenting behavior in humans. People sometimes feel like that’s creepy but there is nothing more interesting to me!

Aug 092010

Independent on Sunday Pink List identifies the “101 most influential gay and lesbian” (NB: not bisexual, not transgender, not queer) “people in Britain today.” Stephen Lovely Fry comes in third on the list.

One can’t deny Mr Fry makes gay people look good. Hell, he makes people look good. Aliens from another planet, witnessing Mr Fry as an example of our species, would get a vastly better impression of us than we deserve.

The list also includes a “Rogues Gallery” of people the Independent doesn’t like. Mr Fry blogs about the list and the Gallery, particularly the Roguifying of Louie Spence:

(I’d like to take this opportunity to note that Mr Spence appears to be a spirited adult, high energy, high intensity, high persistence, high sensitivity. He’s also an extrovert. The classic entertainer temperament.)

So what’s the problem? He “perpetuates a stereotype.” Here is not Mr Fry but rather Mr Fry quoting his friend Mr Kim Harris:

[H]ow quickly these cowardly, self-oppressed, social-climbing McCarthyites forget where they come from. If I remember rightly, the whole Gay Lib thing wasn’t engineered by “real” men at all. It wasn’t sponsored by marines or scaffolders or rugby players. It was ignited by…ah, yes: drag queens[...] They should remember Diversity. They should remember Tolerance. They should remember that in evincing a distaste for effeminacy they’re simply making an exhibition of their own misogyny.

Mr Fry himself says:

By singling out Louie Spence for lofty disapproval, by sneering at his “mincing” they are turning their back on, dissociating themselves from, insulting and demeaning a fine man and whole way of being. An authentic, strong, charming and loveable person, every bit as “courageous” as the others on the list, certainly more courageous than me, Louie deserves respect and support, not insult and derision. Do they want people like him not to count, do they see him as being guilty of a choice in his manner and his demeanour, just as homophobes everywhere accuse all gay people of choosing their sexuality and preferences? How dare they of all people dismiss a gay man in a few contemptuous, bigoted phrases because he doesn’t fit the “type” that they think a gay man should exemplify?

And (my favorite part):

The IoS panel who chose to scorn Louie owe him an apology, and they owe an apology to all like him. There was a time when polari and Julian and Sandy and limp-wristed mincing and winking innuendo were all that came between a certain kind of gay man and his pride, his self-respect and his ability to hold his head high in a hostile world. Read Quentin Crisp’s The Naked Civil Servant or watch John Hurt’s glorious portrayal. It is not the only way for a gay man to be, no one is saying it should be, but it is a wholly proper and acceptable manner (not to mention an often loveable and witty one) and to see it traduced with superiority by the very people who should be supporting and endorsing it sickens me.

Did I mention that Mr Fry makes us all look good?

Finally, for your edificiation, a scene from “Naked Civil Servant” that moves me to tears every time. “I learnt many years ago the golden rule of my life…”

(Keep watching after the courtroom scene to see an instance of the very same queen-bashing perpetrated by the IoS.)

There is no right or wrong way to be gay or straight or bi or fluid or queer. There is no right or wrong way to live in your sexual self. I share Mr Fry and Mr Harris’s sentiments: until our celebration of sexual “diversity” genuinely celebrates diversity, rather than perpetuating patriarchal limits of social acceptability, we haven’t really accepted sexual minorities into the mainstream. Equal rights are not fully realized without equal respect.

Aug 082010

It’s a long story how this came up yesterday, but look, if you have a friend who’s had a crush on someone for a long time, don’t, for the love of god, give them this advice:

“Just tell him how you feel.”

(I’m gonna use a masculine pronoun there for simplicity. I don’t intend to imply anything. It could be any pronoun.)

It is very occasionally the case that two people can have crushes on each other and not know about it. That is the one and only case when it’s a good idea to “just tell him how you feel.” Because he’ll be tickled pink and you’ll instantly move in together and adopt five dogs. That’s nice.

But unless you’ve got BOTH people coming to you to moan about how the other person doesn’t even know they’re alive, “Just tell him how you feel” might be the worst possible advice you could give a friend, unless your desired outcome is that your friend should feel some combination of humiliated, rejected, led on, or strung out.

What makes it bad advice?

First of all, if it were that easy, your friend would have done it already. There must be some important reason why they haven’t; barring simple problems like the crush-object is in a relationship or is demonstrably uninterested, the usual reason is fear of rejection. Your “Tell him how you feel” advice doesn’t help with that.

Second, what would they actually SAY, anyway? “I really like you; I’ve really liked you for a long time”? Creepy.

The absolute honest truth? That “I have a crush on you but I’ve been too afraid that you’ll reject me to say anything about it”?

Good. So your friend cuts open their ribcage, digs into their bleeding chest cavity, scoops out their still-beating heart, hands it over to the crush object, and says, “Here is my still beating heart. Please be nice to me.” Good plan. Good advice. NO!

Of all the things they could say to the crush object, telling him what they feel is just about the most risky option.

Third reason it’s bad advice: what options does the crush object have when confronted with the truth? Assuming they do not also have a crush (see above), they’ll probably be nice but reserved, because generally people are nice and appreciate the risk the other person has taken.

Even if the crush object is marginally interested and agrees to go out with your friend, it’s an invidious position to be in because the crush object and your friend both perceive themselves to be in unequal positions. Your friend is invested. The crush object is not. That STARTS the relationship with an emotional imbalance that makes it difficult to be getting on with.

I am not advocating cowardice or inaction, not by any means. Your friend should definitely DO SOMETHING.

But if your friend is going to do something, don’t we all want them to do something that might actually result in their getting to go out with their crush object? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

GOOD advice isn’t advice at all, but rather offers your friend an opportunity to think through what the barriers are. You can help.

Step 1. Brainstorm. Make a list of a grillion possible options, from “nothing at all” or “move to Zimbabwe,” to “strip naked, present yourself before them and say, ‘Fill me with your little babies,’ a la Emma Thompson in ‘Peters Friends’.” Include lots of genuinely impossible things and lots of marginally impossible things. The idea is to be creative and also silly.

Step 2. Narrow down the options to a handful that your friend might consider doing. Then for each, do a decisional balance: What are the good things about this option? What are the not so good things? What could I do the GET the good things and minimize the not so good things?

Step 3. Based on that, make a plan. A plan grounded in the principles of harm reduction, designed to maximize the perceived likelihood of the desired outcome, with reduction of risk to tolerable levels.

NB: Do not do this while drinking anything more than one or two alcoholic beverages. The result will not likely be practicable.

That’s good advice giving. That’s helping your friend find a way to move the crush forward without doing something destined to result in pain. If nothing else, your friend’s confidence in the plan they’ve chosen will improve the likelihood of a good outcome.

It will probably not result in a plan YOU would advise, but then you’re not the one handing over your still-beating heart.

EDIT: Apparently some of you haven’t seen Peter’s Friends!!

Aug 072010

The latest from David Mitchell – on the topic of marketing tactics – is not about sex, but, as ever, it made ME think of sex. (What doesn’t?) Specifically, sex science:

Hiding a product’s weaknesses in plain sight… really takes balls. You’ve got to believe that the problem is so bad, so crucial, that your only recourse is to pretend it’s deliberate.

I read this and instantly thought, “Yes! That’s what I think when I read evolutionary psychological theories written by men about why men are unfaithful and deceitful, why they rape, and why they beat children.”

“It was selected for. It’s an adaptive trait,” they tell us.


Is it the only recourse to pretend that what’s worst about men is deliberate, o best beloved? When you could be both more logical and more interesting to try a hypothesis involving behavioral phenotypic plasticity?

Bad science is committed by both men and women, no question. Yet I do find that the overwhelming majority of the embarrassingly bad ev psych I’ve read has been written by men, and I turn to the female thinkers for the antidote. When I’m exhausted by David Buss, I turn to Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. When I can’t cope with Thorndike anymore, I turn to Lisa Lloyd.

And just for the record: the claims that rape and child abuse are adaptive traits selected for by natural selection? They are nonsense. Okay.

That’s all.

My shortest blog post ever. A simple point, but important. I can’t cope with science as apologism.

Aug 072010

You know what no man has ever asked me?

No man has EVER asked me how to be better at penile-vaginal intercourse.

People do ask me all the time how to make sure a woman has an orgasm during intercourse, and I talk about positions and vibrators and maybe not sweating lack of orgasm with intercourse. Fine. Nice. Good. But a woman’s orgasm with intercourse is really more about her plumbing than it is about his technique.

Why, my dears, does no one ask how to be superb at intercourse in and of itself, without worrying about orgasm? Guys, all of you out there with penises who like putting those penises in a vagina: don’t you want her to adore having you inside her? Don’t you want to miss you when you’re not there? Don’t you want her to be just a little bit addicted to your dick? Don’t you?

Maybe you don’t realize that it’s possible to be better or worse at it.

Well, it is. It is possible to be bad or mediocre at intercourse, and it’s possible to be superb at it. Regardless of the measurements of your penis.


Well I’ve been thinking about it and it’s clear to me now that the worst intercourse is that which incuriously pursues your own pleasure without trying something a bit different to see if your partner maybe prefers that. That will typically be the straight in-out at a steady but gradually accelerating rhythm, until you’re jackrabbiting into the vagina, utterly oblivious to the REST of your partner’s body, and bam.

Half the women reading this are now nodding in sympathetic memory.

Good intercourse requires much the same skill used to achieve simultaneous orgasm. Control and attention. And a large and fluent repertoire of techniques.

Control. Teach yourself to maintain a high level of arousal without ejaculating. If you can stay pretty darn aroused for half an hour, that’s a good start. An hour is better.

You can increase your control by practicing the stop-start technique – get aroused, let your arousal diminish, increase again, diminish again… it’s like a technique you use to train yourself to have an hour-long orgasm.

Control is important because in order to be excellent at intercourse, you have to be able to manage your own arousal easily, so that you can focus most of your attention on your partner.

Attention. The quality of the attention you pay to your partner directly relates to the quality of the sex you share. That’s why I wrote the post about how to tell if she’s faking – because it requires paying loving attention to her arousal. Go read that post for details about what to pay attention to. Here I’ll just summarize by saying: breath, muscle tension, facial expression.

Pay attention. Try different things and pay attention to how her whole body responds to it.

Technique. Speed. Rhythm. Depth. Angle of penetration. These are the building blocks of the penetration repertoire. Because every vagina is different, and every vagina changes a lot, I can’t say, “here’s what to do.” I can only say, “Here’s what to try, and PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR PARTNER.”

Very broadly speaking, you’ll tend to want to start slow and get faster, but that’s far from being a (pardon the pun) hard and fast rule. Slow is something too few men try.

Rhythm… look, the steady in-out just isn’t enough. If she’s orgasmic with penetration, that’ll be useful when she’s approaching climax. But try widely varying your thrusting so that there’s no reliable rhythm. It may interest you to know that some of the highest end vibrators have a “random” setting so that she never quite knows what she’s going to get. A few slow strokes, some sudden fast strokes, a tender, slow slow slow slow thrust… No rhythm. Watch her face, feel the tension in her body. It is more than okay to try to make her a little cross-eyed with lust.

Or: try maybe just a few strokes – 4 or 5 – in one position, change positions (by which I mean pull out all the way, turn her over or whatever) and do a few more strokes, change positions again, a few more strokes. And keep paying attention to her. The idea is to make her feel wanted in every way and slightly controlled. Needless to say, an environment of great trust and affection is required to make this work.

Depth becomes a variable once she’s very, very, very aroused. The outer 1/3 of the vagina is the only part that’s particularly sensitive; the rest of the vagina really doesn’t have much sensation. However, when a woman is highly aroused, deep penetration provides stimulation around the cervix. With high levels of arousal some women enjoy it when their partner bumps into their cervix, others find it painful.

The way to increase a woman’s pleasure with intercourse is to add stimulation of the clitoris; I think the most unobstrusive way to do that by changing the angle of penetration. Tilt your hips up (if you’re over her) so that your pubic bone presses against hers. That way, when you thrust, you’re rocking against her clit. Which, let’s be clear, will feel good for her. It’ll give you more shallow penetration. Suck it up, my friend. Because the vagina doesn’t much notice penetration beyond the outer third (see above), depth matters less than angle.

Because you’ll be paying attention to your partner, I don’t need to tell you where the g-spot is (*cough* anterior wall of the vagina *cough*); you’ll find it easily enough because you’ll try different angles of penetration and discover what she likes best. (Not all women are particularly wired for g-spot stimulation.)

A few other things:

  • Globally speaking, women like whole-body contact.
  • It’s nice that you like to look at her, but lots of women would rather be held than looked at.
  • Also, kissing during intercourse is not only permitted but encouraged. Slow, soft, attentive kissing as well as
  • And be sure to pay attention to her whole body, not just her vagina. Her vagina can’t tell you whether or not she likes it; lubrication is not a reliable indicator of arousal.

To conclude: Every vagina is different, and every vagina is different each time you enter it. Buddha tells us you never step into the same river twice; well, you never penetrate the same vagina twice. Over time, you learn the moods of a vagina. It is not simple; it’s sensitive to environmental conditions, sometimes it’s temperamental. Have I mentioned that you have to pay attention?

Not all women are into intercourse or ever will be. But if you’ve got a partner who digs fucking, really, invest some effort into being excellent at it. I hope this is helpful in that endeavor.