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Feminist Current

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Feminist Current was founded by Meghan Murphy, a freelance writer and journalist who has been actively engaged in the feminist blogging community since 2010 and has been producing feminist radio since 2007. Meghan is from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, holds a Masters degree in Women's Studies from Simon Fraser University and is completing a graduate degree at the University of British Columbia's School of Journalism. You can find more of her writing in Ms. Magazine, Herizons Magazine, The Tyee, Megaphone Magazine, Good, and at rabble.ca.

Horny men, desperate women, and hookup culture: How evolutionary psychology and Margaret Wente get most things wrong

| November 13, 2012

Margaret Wente is doing her part to contribute to the desperately needed canon of writing that encourages women to live in fear of growing old, man-free. These kind of pieces have been coming out on a regular basis for some time now. Notably, Susan Faludi addressed ye old ‘man shortage’ scare in her 1991 book, Backlash. Let’s keep that ball rolling, though, eh?

“The men are disappearing! Find one! FIND ONNNNE!” is a patriarchal favorite because it ensures women remain insecure and in competition with one another and allows men to grow old minus the sad, lonely, spinster trope attached to their bachelorhood.

In her recent piece at The Globe and Mail, ‘Why won’t guys grow up? Sexual economics“, Wente laments the apparently disappeared and “old-fashioned custom known as dating”, now replaced with ‘hookup culture’.

Hookup culture became part of popular lexicon recently due, in part, to Hanna Rosin’s discussion of the phenomenon in her book, The End of Men. While Rosin argues that hookup culture empowers women, comparing it to a new sexual liberation wherein young, Western, middle class, heterosexual college girls can now LIKE MAGIC have promiscuous sex without shame, Wente sees something else. That is, a “scarcity of men.” EEK.

Wente sees a dangerous, dangerous world wherein men don’t need to ‘buy the cow because they can get the milk for free’ (apologies and double-yucks for that phrase) and, instead, are free to have tons of uncommitted sex — which is bad for women because then there is no incentive for these young men to marry them (because of the whole free milk thing, remember?)…

Wente argues that this happens, in part, because men like sex more than women do. She says everyone knows but ignores this universal truth and then cites a “famous psychology experiment in which female research assistants were sent out across campus to approach attractive males and ask if they wanted to have sex that night.” Unsurprisingly, most (75%) of the males asked said ‘yes’ to the sex, whereas when the experiment was reversed, and women were asked, they all said ‘no’.

So there are a couple of things missing from this conversation. Namely, there is no universal anything. Not all men desire sex more than all women. Secondly, it is far, FAR, safer for a man to go home with a strange woman he meets at the bar than it is for a woman to. Being in a position of power is likely to increase one’s ability (and the ability of one’s genitals) to roam freely throughout this world. A man simply doesn’t face the same repercussions a woman might  were she to take a strange man home from the bar, both in terms of physical safety as well as social repercussions (feeling ashamed, being labelled a slut, etc.).

In fact, many studies that set about to prove that men are ‘naturally’ more into sex than women or aren’t biologically wired for monogamy are often, like the one mentioned above, based on shoddy research. Several of these stereotypes, popular with evolutionary psychology types, were debunked last year in a paper by Terri Conley, called Women, Men and the Bedroom.

When she looked into the commonly accepted idea that men want to have sex with as many women as possible, whereas women naturally want less, what she found was unreliable data due to researchers ignoring social factors.

Because men are socialized to believe they are sex-crazed (so that would be — all together now! — a SOCIAL, rather than biological factor), when questioned by researchers, men will often lie about their ‘number’. Ergo, one study, done in 2003 found “… that if you trick research participants into believing that they are hooked up to a lie-detector test, men report the same number of sexual partners as women.

Whoops!

In the end, the majority of men (and women) said they wanted only one sexual partner at any given time. Not a harem. One.

Conley also looked into the 1989 study referenced by Wente and found that it’s more likely that the women who were being propositioned by random men, rather than simply not being into sex, assumed that the sex being offered wasn’t going to be any good. She writes: “Women accepted fewer casual-sex offers from men than vice versa because male proposers were perceived to have relatively poorer sexual capabilities.”

From personal experience I can tell you that the vast majority of one-night stands are boringsville when compared with sexual encounters with someone you feel comfortable with, trust, and who is familiar with best practices re: getting you off. I’m not saying one-night stands are necessarily ‘bad’, but orgasm-wise, they seem to be less promising than long-term relationships.

Conley actually found research to back this up via a study done in 2009 which showed that “women reached orgasm only about a third as much as men during first-time hookups… But in committed relationships, women has orgasms 79 percent as often as men.”

The thing about women and orgasms, it would seem, is that when we are with partners who actually care about our sexual pleasure, we have many, many more orgasms than we might have with some douche we take home from the bar. Based on my own scientific research, having taken home several to many douches from bars as well as having spent several to many years in long-term relationships, I can vouch for this NOW SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN FACT.

So even if it were true that men want sex more than women do because of their man-wiring, studies like the one cited by Wente fail to prove that.

Wente is right that, in the past, women had to withhold sex in order to gain a certain kind of power (that wasn’t really power at all,  it was just the only way a woman could function in society), gained by marrying. Because women weren’t allowed to have things like jobs and bank accounts and property, their only option, in the past, was to marry a man. And yes, for the most part, it was expected that women wait until after the ceremony to ‘reward’ men with sex.

Aside from the fact that it’s probably a good thing for female sexuality not to be treated as some kind of prize or as a thing men are meant to try to ‘get’ from women and that I doubt that all this waiting till after the wedding day to have sex is the best way for women to have pleasurable sexual experiences, by assuming heterosexual marriage is an innately ‘good’ thing that everyone wants, Wente places undeserved value on women’s withholding of sex:

"In my parents’ generation, the only way for a 22-year-old guy to have a lot of sex was to get married. Today, plenty of 22-year-olds can get all the sex they want for the cost of a pack of condoms."

Now *gasp* men have no incentive to marry. Second wave feminism and the sexual revolution, according to Wente, gave women “something they really wanted (access to careers and money)” and gave men “something they really wanted (more sex).”

Not only have women been tricked into thinking that it’s ok to ‘give the milk away for free’ (I’m sorry, I really promise to never use that phrase again after this post) BUT we also, stupidly, think it’s ok to wait to marry! Sorry oldies! Bad news. Wente points out that we’re all delusional and won’t have the same choices, man-wise, at 35 or 40 that we had at 25.

So. Here are some stupid things:

1) Why are we assuming all women want to marry?

2) The only reason it might matter if we wait until 35 or 40 to settle down with a man (if we are so inclined to settle down with a man) is that it might be slightly more difficult to get pregnant and (you may want to sit down for this one) pregnancy isn’t the end all be all for all women.

Generalizations about what all women should or do want aside, here’s the thing about marriage: it guarantees you nothing. It doesn’t guarantee security, happiness, or someone to wipe your ass when you’re old. Also, FACT: about half of marriages end in divorce and those who marry young are more likely to divorce than those who marry later in life.

The fact that the younger folks marry the more likely they are to divorce makes a lot of sense even if there weren’t research behind those stats. If I married my first love, who I met when I was 21, I would either have been divorced oh, about five or ten years ago, or I would be married to someone who I had absolutely nothing in common with aside from both being really big fans of 2001 hip hop hits such as Area Codes and Izzo, which are both really good songs, but alas, not enough to sustain a life-long commitment.

So all this fear mongering around the idea that if we let men have too much sex they won’t marry us sad-sack ladies strikes me as a huge, misguided, waste of time.

Hookup culture isn’t necessarily ‘good’ for women, as JA Martino discussed in a post back in September, but neither is marriage necessarily ‘good’ for women. Marriage happens to be a place where women end up doing all sorts of free labour in the home, raising babies and doing an unequal amount of housework, and is also a place where domestic abuse happens. If women are marrying later in life (or not marrying at all), maybe that’s actually a good thing.

If we put aside the assumption that marriage is either a ‘good’ thing or something we necessarily want in life (which we most certainly should do), then what is the big fear? That women will end up alone? Which happens anyway? When half of us get divorced in our 40s?

Meh. Find something else to worry about, Wente. The less women are inclined to build their lives around finding a man to marry them, the better. The less women feel they have to depend on a man for their happiness, the less likely we are to end up trapped in unequal or abusive relationships. The less pressure women feel to find a man to marry them before it’s ‘too late’, the less likely they are to settle for someone who may well be a douchebag. And the longer we wait to settle down into monogamy for the long-haul (if we indeed choose to), the more likely it is that we will choose someone we are actually compatible with.

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