Aug 262011
 

If I were going to design a system for people to create and build long-term, monogamous relationships, I would emphatically NOT build the system that is currently in place.

I mean, let’s think about how it works. Take a typical example:

You meet a stranger. Or say a friend sets you up with a friend of theirs. And say you like the person; say they like you. Say you’ve got “spark,” that instantaneous, irreplicable sense of connection, which feels so good, so right, but is probably borne of your neuroses established in the first four years of your life meshing with their neuroses, also established in the first four years of their life.

And so you see each other again. You get to know each other better. Say you’re cautious – you’ve had your heart broken and you’re keen to avoid a painful ending – and you’re self-aware, so you have a sense of what works for you and what doesn’t. So you gently explore the terrain, poking around for indications that this person might replicate some past bad experiences and for other indications that they might have what you know you need.

And say all signs point to yes – or all the signs you’re willing to pay attention to point to yes; any signs pointing to no are quietly disregarded, as the brain chemistry of attachment hijacks your reasoning and tells you yes more this now yes.

Say you fall in love. Say you feel you have all the information you need (or want) in order to decide that this time, this one, it’s as good as you could ever need it to be, and then some.

Say you commit.

And you spend loads of time with the person. You integrate them into your social circles and your family. You adjust your life to create space for them, and you learn the things they need you to learn in order to interact with them peaceably and joyfully.

And then.

Say it turns out there is some basic incompatibility between you that your love-juiced brain was too soggy to notice. Say circumstances change in a way that brings out some not-so-good dynamics between you.

Or worse! Some of the hardest failures of relationships are the product not of basic inadequacies in either partner or even in the inherent dynamics between the partners, but of the impact of external forces influencing those dynamics. Like water transitioning to ice or steam as the temperature changes. You think your relationship is water, but when the environment changes sufficiently, all of a sudden it’s ice.

Look: the longer you are together, the more invested you are, the more you have to lose if it turns out there’s something wrong. As years of life twine together, it becomes more and more difficult to disengage from an uncool situation. And at the same time, you can’t really know whether or not a situation is uncool until you spend time in it.

No, it’s a terrible system for selecting a person who’ll make a good long-term partner. It’s so complex, with so many variables and so much elasticity as to be borderline chaotic. It’s a terrible system.

And I’ll be there is any number of readers out there in long-term relationships who have, at one point or another, looked at their partner and thought to themselves, “Why you?”

And there are two answers:

(1) Because you participated in this terrible system, whose function is to bond people together; and

(2) None of the flaws in each person or the relationship are bad enough to counterveil the emotional and temporal investment you’ve already made.

Because the system that GETS you together has only coincidental relationship to the system that KEEPS you together.

This is one of the many places where our evolutionary heritage is just utterly at odds with contemporary culture. The system in place (in our psychobiology) was just not designed for the purpose to which it is being put. And a lot of people are very confused as a result.

David Schnarch says that marriage is a crucible of personal growth; it’s not about choosing the right partner, it’s about making the right choices with that partner. Given baseline affection and some basic relationship skills, any couple can have a solid, long-lasting relationship.

So my best relationship advice: find someone you fall in love with who falls in love with you. Try real hard (with SCIENCE). Value the wellbeing of the individuals in the relationship over the wellbeing of the relationship per se. Okay.

Aug 252011
 

So you guys! Did you read about how @feministhulk went to the school where I work?

I am FRICKIN’ STOKED about this.

Now, full disclosure, I do not personally think Judith Butler is quite the shit that the social constructivists in the audience might, I don’t really buy the argument that biological sex is socially constructed, and I actually think the gender binary is a perfect reasonable way to think about human life on earth, as long as you bear in mind the extent to which biology is both messy and not inherently meaningful.

But! I am all about some joyfully expressed feminism, which is something I suck at and something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I started the blog. ‘Member like year ago when I talked about feminism and the nerd voice? Funny and feminist is the pinnacle of genius to me.

The thing is, I’ve been learning that people need and seek out information, but they get addicted to entertainment! They go BACK for entertainment. And feministhulk is perfect as entertainment that communicates with breathtaking clarity about patriarchy and oppression, specifically because the character uses words like “patriarchy” and “oppression” in a silly, self-reflexive, self-deprecatory voice.

In other words, the “Hulk” voice is a kind of nerd voice. And that kind of voice is absolutely CRUCIAL to engaging people in this kind of communication. Feministhulk is important because it promotes justice at the same time as it pokes fun at people like me, who lose their sense of humor when they get intense about things like justice. Feministhulk makes the concept of justice safe and friendly.

Now, something a bit more practical: because I now spend multiple hours of each day talking to someone who writes a comic and puts pithy things on t-shirts for a living, my appreciation of @feministhulk has expanded beyond funny-feminist love into full-fledged thoughtfulness about merchandise.

There should be feministhulk t-shirts. I’d wear one, wouldn’t you? Green, with an all-caps declaration of solidarity? And there should be buttons. And stickers! And, hell, an action figure.

Jessica Lawson is a grad student and a new mom, both of which mean she’s got way too much of an actual life to think about these things, so I’m putting it out there: I think somebody should help Ms Lawson out. Make some cool stuff and split the profit with her 50/50, wouldja?

(One can’t help hoping that a book deal has already been offered, right?)

Aug 242011
 

So, the good news is that there’s actual evidence of bisexuality in men, as measured by physiological response to erotic stimuli. This is good news because the myth of bi men as “gay men not ready to come out” and bi women as “straight girls with a wild side” persists, and it’s time to put it to rest.

(I actually did a Q and A back in Indiana with the GLBT student group on campus, and one kid said, “I think that when gays are more accepted, there won’t be anyone who identifies as bisexual.” To which I replied, “I think that when gays are more accepted, hardly anyone will identify as either gay or straight and most of us will just be fluid or bi- or pan- or omni-sexual.”)

The irritating news is that apparently the community of bisexual men is responding to the evidence in a stupid way – at least according to the New York Times.

“It’s insulting,” says one guy in the NYT article. Another person says, “Researchers want to fit bi attraction into a little box — you have to be exactly the same, attracted to men and women, and you’re bisexual.”

Yeah… researchers want to fit it into a box; it’s not that the way to measure stuff is to standardize it. It’s not that operationalizing a variable necessarily means simplifying it (anyone who has taken high school physics knows about the role of the frictionless, spherical cow). It’s that researchers WANT to reduce sexual orientation to psychophysiology, they WANT clusters of homogeneous people, researchers believe that actually all people in a particular category are just alike. Yeah.

What?!

Did Kinsey have to deal with this? He pursued his interviews with the explicit goal of SHOWING THE WORLD what diversity existed. Did people say, “It’s insulting that he thinks you can conclude something about sexuality just by asking a lot of people a lot of questions”?

I agree that the world shouldn’t need evidence that something someone says about their internal experience – e.g., “I am turned on by people with penises and by people with vaginas,” or “I feel attraction to people without reference to their gender expression” – is true. But the world is incredibly ordinary, insofar as it tends to believe that anything that isn’t true about its own sexuality must either be a lie or pathology; any other conclusion is apt to make the world feel there is something wrong with ITSELF, and the world will simply not have that.

Therefore we find something plausible (if limiting and flawed) to measure – in this case, genital response – to show that, look, here are folks who get tumescent in response to boys AND girls. There are other folks who only get tumescent to one or the other, so it’s important that some respond to both. And thus the world is forced to acknowledge that yes indeed, there must be bisexuals.

Because bisexuals face discrimination at least as much from gays and lesbians as from straights. They violate the simple black-and-white clarity of sexual orientation and thus threaten the importantly simple message of the gay community to the straight community: “We’re just like you, only we love people with the same bodies as ourselves.” Bisexuals make it seem like all bets are off, there are no rules, it’s not simple.

And it’s NOT simple.

But before we can talk about that productively in the public sphere, we have to agree that bisexuality EXISTS, and we need to do it in a way that people will buy. Hence psychophysiology. If we could do it affordably with fMRI and produce pretty pictures of colorful brains, we would, because people fucking LOVE that shit and they’ll believe anything with a brain magnet involved.

There’s an episode of “This American Life” called 81 Words about the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. My students listen to it when I teach about sexual orientation. Why? Because it’s a story of how science interacts with social movements, and how social movements reject the science (and the scientists) trying to support their cause.

Sometimes I wonder if the dichotomy between science and political movements isn’t as great as the dichotomy between science and religion.

Aug 232011
 

A mildly sadistic friend of mine posted this on my Facebook wall:

It could piss me off if I let it. The idea that this dude might be taken seriously as a candidate for president is either laughable or COMPLETELY FUCKING TERRIFYING, and for my own mental health I simply MUST choose to laugh. I took the 2004 election very seriously and it nearly killed me. I’m not exaggerating. When Kerry conceded, my knees failed, I collapsed on the couch and started oozing fluids from every orifice on my face. It was exactly like that scene in “Transamerica” where Felicity Huffman loses her shit and sobs, gasping like she’s been socked in the gut, with drool hanging like stalactites from her wide-open mouth. I spent three weeks after the election unable to taste food or write complete sentences or sleep more than 4 hours in a row. I lost almost 15 pounds. (“Emily, you look great! How’d you do it?” “Stress and depression.” “…Oh.”)

So for my own wellbeing, I’m allowing myself to experience this video as I would a quiz show where I, a member of the viewing audience, know the answer, and the person on the show is fumbling and stumbling and guessing and flubbing. Meanwhile I’m shouting the answer* tauntingly at the screen and calculating how many washer-drier combos I would be winning if I were on the show.

If I viewed it as a Q&A with a guy who stood a chance at being President, I’d throw my computer out the window and then bash it to pieces with a sledgehammer. I’d rage and sob and scream. I would spend an awful lot of time with my computer away at tech support and an awful lot of money on therapy and antidepressants if I were paying serious attention to the primaries. So I’m ignoring them as best I can, and viewing what I can’t avoid with the detachment of a Buddhist.

And that is how a sex nerd copes with Republican primaries. Ignorance and detached humor.

I must add, if he had played this for the laughs it got:

“I’m just gonna tell you from my own personal life, abstinence works.”

I might have found myself actually liking Perry, if for nothing else, for his comfort with his own lack of sexual appeal. Self-awareness is a good trait in a candidate.

Alas, he failed to notice the humor. He probably also failed to note that he could very well be conflating “not having intercourse” with “not having a vagina.” Nothing beats being male for making sure you don’t get pregnant, so here’s a sex nerd top sex tip: if you’re going to choose abstinence as your pregnancy prevention strategy, choose a back-up method like not having a vagina and uterus, just in case you accidentally have sex.

*Teaching abstinence doesn’t work to prevent pregnancy and STIs for a large number of reasons, but one important and rarely appreciated reason is that abstinence as a harm reduction strategy has the highest failure rate of any method – very approximately 50%. People just SUCK at using abstinence. You think they’re bad at using condoms? You should see them try not to have sex!

Aug 222011
 

For the first time in YEARS someone has asked me about poop, in more than just a curious-about-the-fetish way.

So this person who emailed me has a friend who pooped during penetration – not anal penetration, vaginal penetration – and they’re worried it might happen to them. How common is it? How does it happen? How can it be prevented?

Here is what I said:

There aren’t any actual data (that I know of) about how frequently this happens, but I can tell you that in 15 years as a sex educator, you’re the first person I’ve heard from who actually KNOWS someone whom this happened to. It’s pretty rare.

It’s also simple to prevent. Most of the time you have no feces at all in your rectum – it only moves through when you have a bowel movement. But if your diet isn’t great and you have hard little pieces of poop instead of the big soft ones of a person who eats enough fiber, those little pieces can hang out in the rectum until the next bowel movement. So, prevention? Eat plenty of fiber and yet yourself some big soft poop!

But it’s almost never necessary to prevent it. The sphincter muscle at the mouth of the anus is connected to the sphincter muscles of the vagina and urethra. With high levels of arousal, the muscle that connects (the pelvic diphragm) them LIFTS (this is part of the reason you hold your breath near orgasm); at orgasm, they all pulse together, which, under ordinary circumstances, I would say would make it MORE difficult to poop, because the sphincter muscle is closing off really intensely.

But sometimes, rarely, the flux of the muscles of sphincters and the internal muscles, in combination with the mechanics of penetration, may (again, rarely), result in the expulsion of feces.

To sum up: very rare, mechanically difficult to do, and easy to prevent.

All of this is assuming that what your friend experienced was basically just a little bit of poop, just what was left in the rectum. If you’re talking about a full-blown bowel movement, I can only suggest that there might be something more serious happening and she should talk to a doctor.

Bodies are strange, sticky, things, and all the parts are really astonishingly adjacent to each other. I was pleased to read in the questioner’s email that the partner of the person who pooped was TOTALLY CHILL about it, laughing and saying, “I guess I fucked the shit out of you!” Which is awesome and exactly what I would hope for.

(Secretly hoping this will generate a flurry of comments about times when it happened to readers or friends of readers or friends of friends of readers…)

Aug 182011
 

So. I recently made fun of the advice that playing hard to get will help attract a romantic partner.

And it is stupid advice.

But it’s so ubiquitous, so often repeated, so habitually believed, that one can’t help wondering if there isn’t maybe SOMETHING to it.

My opinion is that it’s a problem of correlation not being causation, and also of attachment styles.

Correlation problem first:

The first “stage” in attachment to another person (in real life, nothing ever happens in stages, this is just a convenient simplification) is proximity seeking. You want to be NEAR the object of attachment, and when you are near them you engage in various attachment behaviors like eye contact and physical affection.

So there are certainly times when one person gets into proximity seeking mode and the other person, whose attachment mechanism is not engaged, doesn’t respond. And since you’re looking for reasons WHY they’re not responding and you notice that you have this overwhelming urge to be near them, some advice-giving friend recognizes the chasing dynamics and tells you not to obey this urge. Let them come to you. Which is FUCKING HARD, because your whole biology wants to move toward them!

So theory 1: people misconstrue the failure of their proximity seeking behavior to engage the attachment mechanism in their target as CAUSAL. And it probably isn’t. Your desire for proximity probably just doesn’t register as important to someone who is not experiencing any attachment motivation.

But sometimes it might be causal, which brings me to theory 2, related to attachment styles:

Some people have avoidant attachment styles, which means that they learned early in their lives to deal with the potential that a loved one might not come back when they needed them by not getting close to anyone. (Anxious attachment style people deal with that potential by clinging all the harder to their loved one. Securely attached people have learned to trust that if an attachment object goes away, they’ll come back if they’re needed.)

So if the object of your proximity seeking has an avoidant attachment style, they are more likely to respond to your attachment behaviors by creating distance. THE WORST thing you can do at that point is try to close the distance, as your biology will tell you to do. Avoidant folks need space.

My last reading of the research told me that men are no more likely than women to have an avoidant attachment style, despite cultural stereotypes. In general about a quarter of people have avoidant styles, a quarter have anxious styles, and about half have a secure attachment style, no gender difference. So clearly this second theory will only be true in a minority of cases. All the same, I wrote a post about “making” someone want you when they’re a person who needs lots of space.

Still, I think it’s more common for an object of proximity seeking just doesn’t have their attachment mechanism engaged – i.e., they’re not interested.

Can you make someone interested? Meh. Maybe.

What I call “spark” – that instant, important emotional connection between two people – can happen the second you lay eyes on each other or it can happen years into a friendship. It’s made of all kinds of things, most of them well out of reach by the conscious mind; it’s governed not by reason or by superficial attractions like clothes or hair or flirting, but by foundational elements of your emotional lives. Something about the person who has engaged your interest rings a bell deep in your psychology, probably because they reproduce some aspect of the relationship you observed between/among your adult caregivers.

Really the only thing that can reliably work is for you to LIKE the other person genuinely, and for you to stay over your own emotional center of gravity. Which will be challenging, because you want to poke them and jump up and down waving your hands saying, “NOTICE ME!” until they do. That may get attention, but it’s unlikely to ring the “spark” bell. If anything can do that, it’s simply time and a loving presence.

Unless you want to manipulate the person. You could do that. But I’m not going to be the one to tell you how.

Aug 172011
 

Apparently this is what happens when you start sending email to your favorite sandwich. Gmail wants you to be afraid. Yesterday it was this:

Why Men Lose Attraction
10 Dangerous Mistakes Women Make That Ruin A Potential Relationship

OHMYGOD WHATAMIDOINGWRONG THATWILLMAKETHEEUPHAMISM LEAVEME?!?!

Girls who feel things will always be alone

*sigh*

People have emailed and commented and tweeted me about these ads, so I know there are lots of you seeing these. To save you the nausea of clicking on the link, I found out what the 10 Mistakes are. Here ya go:

MISTAKE #1: Betting Your Love Life On His “Potential”. So okay, so this isn’t untrue; it isn’t a gendered thing, but whatever – people sometimes view potential partners are projects, fixer-uppers, when really they ought to be respected and cared for just as they are. Fair enough.

MISTAKE #2: Assuming You “Get” Men & Their Psychology Men are different from women [sic]. Well. Men and women are different – their bodies are different in important ways, they’re trained from birth to follow different social rules, yeah they’re different. And it can be difficult to understand the world from a point of view so different from your own, so okay. God knows there are plenty of men who look at the world of women and feel mystified. Sure. Okay.

MISTAKE #3: Pretending To Be Something For A Man. Genuineness is one of Carl Rogers’s Core Conditions. But wait, when you read the description of that mistake, it turns out that’s not actually what he’s talking about here. He’s talking about how doing stuff to flatter a guy – for example, having sex with him – lowers your value in his eyes because of supply and demand: if you are available, he won’t want you, and if you seem unavailable, he will want you. No, we’re not talking about genuineness here, we’re talking about Which Game to Play. Viz., Don’t want him too much.

MISTAKE #4: Sharing How You “Feel” Too Early With Him. Okay see, now we’re getting the stuff that just pisses me off. Can I ask why “feel” is in “quotation marks,” like feelings are a euphamism for something else? In fact when you read the explanation, it turns out that “feelings” are a euphamism for “neediness.” When you talk about how you “feel,” he experiences that as “clinging.” It makes him feel like he’s in a relationship or something, I think.

MISTAKE #5: Misreading The Important “Signals” That Men Send, and no he doesn’t tell you what those signals are. You have to sign up to find that out. SOMEONE has to pay for all those google ads, and it might as well be you, since you’re the one suffering from men’s inability to use words instead of signals.

MISTAKE #6: Relying On Your Natural Ability To Judge A Man’s Character. Men are sending signals, we are told (again). And you might think you know what they mean, but you don’t. Because you’re a woman. And no, we are not told what the signals are because, again, someone needs to pay for the google ads.

MISTAKE #7: Expecting A Relationship To Make You Happy. This is another “don’t be too clingy and dependent” thing. You can’t expect a man to take care of you.

MISTAKE #8: Trying To “Convince” Him To Like You Or Love You. This one at least he concedes that both men and women do.

MISTAKE #9: Not Knowing What To Do In Each Type Of Situation – and I swear to god this is how this section ends: “If you don’t know what to do in each situation, you’ll probably screw it up… and LOSE EVERYTHING.”

EVERYTHING. Your house. Your job. Your dog. They’ll rescind your degree. Your family will disown you.

E V E R Y T H I N G.

MISTAKE #10: Not Getting Help. From a man. Obviously. So that he can pay for his google ads.

Right, so there you have it. What you’re doing wrong. You want him too much, you’re too available, you’re too interested, and you’re misreading his “signals.” Because adult humans communicate through “signals,” rather than language.

Anyway.

I confess my strongest reaction to all this is, “I give WAY better relationship advice. I should post manipulative, fear-based google ads and inveigle money out of people for my far superior (not to mention genuinely expert) advice.”

I don’t mean it, though. The audience for those ads is not the audience I want; I want the people who can recognize the misogyny in such advice without even having to click the link. Those folks – YOU folks – have all the same fears of being alone forever, but you can recognize bullshit. The 10 Mistakes are for people who drink Bud Light and like it. My relationship advice – of which I’ll be giving more over the coming days and weeks, since it’s coming up so often – is for people who drink stout, IPA, and nut brown ales.

Now I want a beer at 11am, which is bad, particularly as I happen to be on antibiotics.

Aug 162011
 

It was pointed out to me that in my jealousy post of more than a year ago, I said I’d write a post for the non-jealous partner. I never did. So here:

If you’re partner to someone who is jealous, start by reading the jealousy post above.

And then memorize this sentence:

The process of becoming an adult is the process of taking on responsibility for meeting your own needs.

Now then. Your partner is jealous because of some combination of insecurity and lack of trust. It is NOT YOUR JOB to MAKE your partner secure or trusting, but you do HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY to provide a safe, stable environment in which your partner may develop those qualities. It’s like if someone is sick: they’ll heal faster in a clean, comfortable, safe place than they will in a dangerous, dirty place, right? You create the environment in which past hurts (which gave rise to insecurity and lack of trust) can heal.

But if healing doesn’t happen, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT because it was never your job in the first place.

Let’s deal with trust first. Are you trustworthy? I’m going to assume yes, if you care enough to read a blog post about how to support a jealous partner. But if not, kindly cut your partner loose before you hurt them even more. Okay.

If you’re trustworthy, your next question is likely, how can I make my partner trust me?

Answer: you can’t make anyone do anything (see above). You can prove through your actions that you are trustworthy, creating that safe environment I described.

Negotiate with your partner when they’re feeling untrusting; find small ways that you can validate your trustworthiness: call when you say you will, show up when you say you will, do the thing you said you would, be the consistent, honest, reliable person you are.

So that’s trust.

Now, the insecurity.

Listen very closely: nothing you can say or do will fill in the hole in your partner’s self-image. Nothing. Nothing. No matter how many times you say, “I love you” or “You’re beautiful” or “I’m yours forever,” you’ll never be able make them feel worthy of you. That feeling of worthiness can ONLY come from inside themselves.

Again, it’s not your job (it’s not even possible!) for you to make your partner feel confident about themselves. You do, however, have an opportunity that you may choose to take, to create an environment where self-worth grows.

In what kind of environment does self-worth grow? In an environment of unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and respect.

Accentuate the positive. John Gottman’s research said aim for 5 good things for every not-so-good thing. I’ve written about that here and here.

Avoid criticism. There are some important rules about when to give criticism and when not to. You’ll find most of them in the handy book How to Hug a Porcupine. If it’s something that can’t be changed, no criticism. If it’s something that doesn’t matter, no criticism. If it’s something that isn’t your business, no criticism. (Caring does not make it your business.) There are other rules about how to give criticism, I’ll go into those another time.

And DON’T OVERFUNCTION. Overfunctioning is when one person in the relationship takes responsibility for the other person’s stuff, because that other person has fewer emotional, intellectual, financial, or other resources available to manage it. The result of this is to create an UNDERfunctioner, someone who is living below their potential; they’re being prevented from maximizing their personhood by a partner who tries to “help,” which only prevents the other person from growing.

When you’re a highly competent person who cares about someone in distress, it’s hard not to take on responsibility for their problems. It’s hard to watch a person you love suffer. And the jealous partner WILL suffer. They will sit at home, on the front porch, chain smoking and petrified, while you hang out with your friends. That is just how it is. And your partner will “tolerate pain for growth,” because that is what grown ups do in relationships. (This is David Schnarch, if you want to learn more. I’ll post about it at some point, I’m sure; I mentioned it briefly once.)

And you will not call to make sure they’re okay; you will not come home earlier than you agreed, just to minimize their suffering; you will not say, “Are you sure? Because I can just stay in tonight if you need me to.” You will respect your partner’s personhood enough to allow them to stay over their own emotional center of gravity. You will allow them to hurt sometimes.

In this way – and ONLY in this way – will they learn that they are capable of tolerating separation, that they are strong and worthwhile. Only in this way will they begin to see in themselves what you see in them.

It is HARD being the partner of a jealous person, particularly if that person wants to make you responsible for their feelings. Respect them enough not to accept that responsibility.

The process of becoming an adult is the process of taking on responsibility for meeting your own needs. Allow your partner to be an adult. You have an opportunity, not a responsibility; if they can’t accept responsibility for their own feelings, then they are not ready to be in an adult, loving relationship.

I am, like, SO harsh. Sorry.

Aug 152011
 

Emailing my euphemism last night, gmail showed me this ad:

Is He A Cheater?
1) Search His Email Address Fast.
2) See Hidden Pics & Profiles Now!

I’ve written an entire post about jealousy and any number of posts about attachment, including attachment styles, stages of attachment, and breaking up. But I’ve never written a post about infidelity. Indeed, I’ve only mentioned it once, in passing, while describing the nature of love and joy.

So when I saw the ad, I thought, “I should write a post about infidelity.”

But I find it difficult to feel invested in such a subject; I just can’t get on the moral outrage train that seems to be so popular, and a calm explanation of infidelity doesn’t meet the needs of people who are worried about it.

Like this: People cheat for a nearly infinite range of reasons, all of which boil down to the fact that monogamy is incredibly hard. Well-intentioned, loving people cheat; so do manipulative liars. The infidelity is not what matters; what matters is how you and your partner deal with such events, potential or real.

See? True, but so different from what you want to hear that it just CAN’T be of any use to you.

People want to know, “How do I find out if my partner is cheating?”

And I’m struck by the ad’s encouragement to STALK to your partner. Worried your partner might have violated your trust? Then violate their trust! Think your partner might be a fundamentally corrupt human being? Then engage in equally corrupt behavior from the moral high ground of The Betrayed Lover! It’s okay to sneak around behind your partner’s back if you think they might be sneaking around behind yours.

Eurgh.

There is still a post to be written about the paradoxical truth that one of the main things we give and receive in relationships is permission to be free from the relationship. I’ll write it soon. In the meantime, the answer to the question, “how do I found out if they’re cheating” is:

There is no foolproof ‘sign.’ And really, if you had something that felt like ‘evidence,’ what would you do then? Confront them with it? Because presenting them with this supposed evidence might increase the chance that they’d tell the truth about it? Dude, if you can’t trust that your partner will tell the truth without being presented with evidence, there is already something more important wrong with your relationship than a little extra-dyadic sex. Your relationship lacks trust and it lacks communication skills. Go read some of the posts above, especially the jealousy post.

Aug 142011
 

I have talked on and on and on and, indeed, on about the medicalization of women’s sexual dysfunction.

I have also gone on and on and on about stuff that can actually help women increase their desire, most of which has to do with increasing understanding of how sex works and improving your relationship with your body. Medication isn’t the solution because there is no drug that can improve your relationship, which is the most common cause of “female sexual dysfunction.”

(All those links to other posts? They should be giving the impression that this here is a dead horse; you can’t medicate women’s sexuality because you can’t medicate the context in which sensations are perceived. Period.)

Okay, so The New View linked to this article about the development of The Subjective Sexual Arousal Scale for Men.

This seems to be to be a cynical and devilish (yet irritatingly clever) attempt to turn the arguments against pink viagra against themselves.

See, because low desire in women is not measurable in any objective way, pharmaceutical research has relied on subjective measures of a woman’s experience. When you study erectile dysfunction drugs, you study erections, which are nice and objectifiable and also fairly represent the man’s experience of desire, whereas a woman’s physiology just doesn’t necessarily match her experience of desire. So you measure experience. Technically, this is fair enough – your outcome measure should be something that pretty closely tracks the mechanism you’re trying to influence.

So yes, technically it’s fair enough, and that’s why it’s superficially reasonable to do the same with men. But in practice… how can you MEDICATE a person’s perception of a sexual experience, which boils down to their OPINION about whether or not it was satisfying?

Subjective experience – particularly subjective experience of distress and dysfunction – is shaped so much by culturally crafted expectations about how sex is supposed to work that people may (and often do!) believe they are broken when in fact they are fine.

And now they are applying the same logical-sounding but ultimately useless reasoning and assessment to men.

I’m all for expanding our understanding of men’s sexuality as a subjective experience, absolutely! But the idea of targeting subjective experience for medical intervention is the OPPOSITE of what we should be doing!

If we allow subjective experience to be medicalized, then the pharmaceutical with have a deep financial interest in making sure we all believe we are broken and that a medication will fix us, when in reality neither of those things is true.

So. That would be bad. In the quest for healthy, functional sexuality, asking how a person FEELS about their sexual experience is absolutely crucial to understanding their experience. But we can’t make feeling dissatisfied a diagnosis, or someone somewhere will make a giant profit making sure you always feel bad, so that you can pay them to make you feel better.