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Spot the difference (?)

There’s three articles from 2011 in Psychology Today that hit a chord given past drama and involvement in movements against corporate/community censorship. I’ll quote from them as some people can’t seem to get to the articles, but they’re here for those who can access them:

Why Gender Equality Does Not Always Work in the Bedroom

Do Men Want to Rape? Do Women Want to be Raped?

We Are All Sexually Intolerant

The majority of women have submission fantasies. From classic romanceThe Flame and The Flower to classic erotica The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty to Twilight BDSM fan fiction, submission themes are immensely popular in cross-cultural female erotica. The fact of the matter is that most heterosexual women are wired to find sexual submission arousing–and so are most female mammals.

Even with the qualifier ‘most’ that is going to outrage some people. The idea that behaviours and preferences can have an instinctual or even biological basis seems abhorrent to some. We would not make the same argument about animals but humans are animals which places the rejection of (a degree of) biological determinism and evolutionary psychology within the same ballpark as the Creationist rejection of science on the grounds of ‘I didn’t come from no monkey!’

“I think this is one of the problems we’re having in romance in general right now: our heroes have gotten a little too PC. We’re portraying men the way feminist ideals say they should be—respectful and consensus-building,” muses erotic romance (EroRom) author Angela Knight. “Yet women like bad boys. I suspect that’s because our inner cavewoman knows Doormat Man would become Sabertooth Tiger Lunch in short order. In fact, this may be one reason why EroRom is gaining popularity so fast–writers feel free to write dominant heroes with more of an edge.”

This would explain the sudden, explosive popularity of the excreble Fifty Shades of Grey. Romance doesn’t transgress but erotica does. Bridge the gap and you can have a story that has the freedom to break these taboos and provide something to scratch the itch that some people want. If you’re breaking one taboo then it’s safe to break another. Combine that with the environment we find ourselves in, changed by the anonymity of the internet and the nature of exploding e-reader popularity and we have a way people can be ‘naughty’ without tipping their hand.

In humans, the hormonal vagaries of prenatal development appear to cause a substantial portion of men to be born with active submissive circuitry. These men find sexual submission as arousing—or, quite often, far more arousing—than sexual dominance.

Essentially, according to the article, in humans we are all wired for both dominance and submission. Our sexuality in regards to dom/sub exists along a spectrum. Women tend to get off on submission, men tend to get off on dominance but the neural circuitry for either predilection can occur in either sex. This is, according to the article/book largely down to prenatal development and hormonal exposure which is also linked, in some studies, to the chances of being hetero or homosexual. Again, the idea of these things not being entirely a matter of our choice outrages some people.

We’re all figuring out how to live in the first society in human history where women have such power, independence, and clout. But just as democracy has no effect on our basic taste preferences for sugar and fat, democracy doesn’t affect our basic sexual preferences for domination and submission.

And this cuts, I think, to a lot of the problems we’re having with the interface between feminism (at least the part that isn’t sex positive) and ‘geek culture’, New Atheism an other issues such as erotica publishing. Our desires and instincts change much more slowly than technology and culture and, perhaps, don’t need to change. Rather we need to understand and accept ourselves for what we are and be concious of it. Not to deny it.

The usual position of academic researchers is that female coercion fantasies involve handsome, attractive strangers who aggressively seduce women in a non-violent way, rather than rape them. Some women certainly have these fantasies. But you don’t have to look far on the Internet to find much darker and more violent female fantasies, involving ugly truckers, brutal sex, gang rape, even mutilation. In the Harry Potter fan fiction I read, Draco in particular always seemed to be raping girls. Tracie Egan, who we used in our epigraph, narrates how she paid a male gigalo to enact a forceful rape. During our research, we also encountered women who said they enjoyed role-playing rape—not aggressive seduction. So far, academic politics have prevented sexologists from taking an honest look at the true variety of women’s fantasies.

This is what worries me. How can we pursue a genuine understanding of human nature and sexuality if gender politics, emotion and denialism keep getting in the way? If shame and the fretting about ‘what people will think’ controls us then we have no chance. The media blitz around the suicides of two teenage girls, shamed over their sexual experimentation, also makes me think this isn’t a healthy way to go about things. We shouldn’t be ashamed, again, rather we should be aware.

But here’s something else worth considering—an interesting double standard in sex research. Researchers are in emphatic agreement that female sexual fantasies of rape do not under any circumstances imply that they actually want to be raped. (No argument from us.) On the other hand, what about male sexual fantasies of raping women? In the literature these have long been treated as signs of pathology and as leading indicators of criminal intent. There’s even research on how to eliminate male sexual fantasies of rape (not much effective research, however).

Ah now, this cuts to the quick of it. There is a double standard going on here. Of course we understand that submission or rape fantasies don’t mean the woman genuinely wants to be raped (outlying fringers notwithstanding). So why can that not also be understood when it comes to men? Is it because of this interpretation of men as dominant initiators that makes men’s fantasies seem more threatening? Is it because we see men as instigators that we regard their fantasies as dangerous? Why the double standard?

I don’t know the details of the case but to take an extreme example a New York policeman was taken into custody regarding a plot to kidnap and eat women. When I was working up the idea for Smithfield I did some research and there is a whole subset of fetishists into ‘vore’, cannibalism and so forth, most particularly ‘Dolcett’, a set of rather disturbing cartoons depicting such acts. We even had the case where a donor offered themselves up willingly to be eaten (Germany I believe). I’d argue that they were too unhinged to give meaningful consent, but it’s a good case in point to put before extreme libertarians!

Humans are WEIRD. Gloriously so!

We do think we should allow the maximum possible latitude for others’ private enjoyment of their fantasies through erotica–unless you want someone policing your own.

I’ll just electronically sign my name to that statement right now!

The academic landscape of sexual psychology is charred from ideological warfare, one of the primary reasons the field has progressed so embarrassingly slow. It’s also one reason we believed we could make a contribution: we don’t have any dog in this fight.

From a moral perspective, we have no stake in how the brains of men, women, homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals actually turn out to operate. Whether male homosexuality is caused by genes or by Martian fairy dust makes no difference to their right to same-sex marriage. Whether Mother Nature bestowed men and women with identical brains or the evil demon Kracklefax fashioned female brains from sawdust and male brains from popcorn makes no difference to women’s right to equal opportunity. Whatever our neural wiring, we all have the right to equal justice under law.

OK, that’s a HUGE quote to shove in here, but it is – I feel – an important one. It pretty much describes my position on everything. I don’t care about and don’t believe it makes much of a difference, if any, to political and social issues why or how something is as it is, but I want to know. Just for the sake of knowing.

Several women have written to us insisting that the varieties of dominance porn found on the Internet–drunk porn, hypno porn, sleep porn, spanking porn, exploitation porn, teachers seducing students, coaches seducing cheerleaders (along with the erotica that self-identifies as rape porn)—are “actually rape, by definition. It’s a legal fact.” Ignoring the difficulties in applying legal definitions to works of fiction (“Hamlet, Batman, and Simba the Lion King are murderers, by definition. It’s a legal fact.”), it’s certainly unhelpful to use such a moralizing, ideological label when trying to figure out the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms of sexuality.

In short, this is the same sort of debate territory as ‘God Hates Fags’. You can’t have a useful or productive discussion with people who are operating on a faith belief. Whether it be religious or ideological. Some people can’t get past ‘Porn is wrong!’ or ‘Homosexuality is of the devil!’ and it should be a wake up call for both ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ that their cognitive bias leads their thinking.

Both “definitions” are rooted in fear—an authentic, instinctive, deep-seated fear. Conservatives fear that homosexuals are going to do terrible things to children. Liberals fear that male viewers of dominance porn are going to do terrible things to women. Fortunately, both of these fears can be tested empirically, and the jury is very much in. Gay men are no more likely to be pedophiles than straight men, being exposed to gay people doesn’t make you more likely to be gay, and kids raised by gay couples don’t turn out much different than kids raised by straight couples. And despite intense research efforts—including presidential commissions—studies have failed to demonstrate any link between viewing dominance porn (or porn in general) and the motivation to harm women.

Yet, like the supposed link between violence and videogames, people don’t want to hear it. They ignore meta-studies, cherry pick things that support their position and when the don’t get the results they want, commission more studies until they DO get the answer they want. That simply isn’t science.

If hardcore pretend-rape porn videos or extreme BDSM aren’t making men do bad deeds or treat women worse then the arguments against, say, sexy fantasy art or erotica writing melt away. The problem never seems to be the transgressive fantasy or sexuality itself but rather people’s attitudes to it and I would argue that it is the attitudes we need to change. Not the erotica.

There’s an awful lot of labelling in the academic study of sex. These days, liberal sexologists are worse culprits than the rare conservative ones. Perhaps because it’s easy for them to see the sexual intolerance in labelling homosexuality as “biological error” but difficult to see it in labeling male dominance-themed erotica as “rape porn” or labeling the investigation of differences in male and female desire as “heteronormative.”

I’m a hard-left, egalitarian and I can see this is a problem for the left/liberal bloc. In so many ways they have become what they hate. Judgemental, ideologically driven pricks who will brook no argument or dissent. This is how we end up with a situation where you can both be condemned for even suggesting some people like dominance/rape fantasies (and this isn’t a problem) and meanwhile EL James makes a fucking fortune selling borderline rape and dodgy BDSM to middle class mums around the globe.

It’s a conversation we need to have, a change in attitude. We don’t need vilification. We don’t need witch burnings. It’s shame that’s killing people, not sex or nudity or porn.

People want this kind of stuff and those bold (or naive) enough to provide it for them are going to do well.

There’s a lot of food for thought for Erotica/Romance writers and artists in these articles and if you can read them, I strongly suggest that you do.

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The more I write – and it’s mostly short pieces for the time being – the more I realise I enjoy it and the more I realise that no single genre particularly grabs me and calls me its own. Much as I read SF, Fantasy, Horror, Weird fiction that’s also what I like to write, as well as erotica and comedy pieces and fusions of all these things.

If I’m going to shift my career across more to writing this seems like it might eventually prove to be a problem. People like to shove authors into categories. If I enjoy writing about space and lasers I’ll be judged for writing porn. If I enjoy writing porn I’ll be judged for writing about elves – and so it goes.

The adult stuff I’ve already written may well come back to haunt me but it has been fun to write. I suppose we’ll see but the main thing, at least, is that I don’t give a monkey’s about literary fiction and they’re the most judgemental.

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