Thursday, October 13, 2005

Promiscuity is Not Androgynous

I want to start with a private exchange that I had with Annie at Ambivablog (see the link at left). She wrote:

Basically I think women are less-than-half empowered sexually and emotionally, which is a dangerous place to be. They're pretending to be tough and enjoy sex for its own sake "like men" … but it's very brittle and fragile: they are really trying to buy love with it, which is a losing proposition. I think a lot of abortions are casualties in this desperate game. Girls and women need to hold themselves in much higher regard; the sensible "no" can only follow from that naturally.

I agree with this entirely. Men and women as a group are not the same now in their desire for uncommitted sex. Some people hope that that is merely a socially constructed difference, and someday free women will be just as promiscuous and conscience-free as men are – though why anyone would think such a state of affairs would make for a better society is beyond me. Myself, I want to see men – even single young men – be caring and responsible about sex.

In any case, I think we have strong sociobiological reasons to think that men and women are quite different in their attitudes toward uncommitted sex. They always have been different, and they always will be.

Usually at this point I need to make the Sociological Concession: what I have just said is true of the group, though some individuals within each group do deviate from the norm. However, fascinating research by Syracuse University anthropologist John Townsend, reported in Steven Rhoads’ Taking Sex Differences Seriously, suggests that even women who are trying to be promiscuous without conscience “just like a man,” find it almost impossible to do. He interviewed a group of women students, both undergraduates and medical students, who were unusually pro-sex. They had lots of sex, with lots of men. They believed in their heads that sex was just a fun physical pleasure from which they should not require or expect emotional commitment. And yet, their hearts would not cooperate. They found that they couldn’t just do it like a man and think nothing of him in the morning. They tried to talk themselves out of having feelings for the men they had sex with, and especially from hoping that he had feelings for them. They were using sex to get love, as the proverb said, despite their strong commitment to an androgynous ideology. They thought they were “pro-sex” (a strange term for the belief that sex doesn’t mean anything), but were still really “pro-love.” And a good thing, too, I say.

The nymphomaniac woman is a male fantasy. Even the happy slut seems to be a male fantasy. I think that connecting sex with love is a deep and hopeful instinct. Rather than trying to stomp it out with an ideology of androgynous promiscuity, we would do better to try to curb male promiscuity by showing how much it hurts women, and children, and, ultimately, men themselves.


ancho and lefty said...

I think these are good points.

Your assertion that "connecting sex with love is a deep and hopeful instinct" is really well-put (although I don't know if it's instinct, how about a cultural response?)and captures perhaps the most important gender difference in men and women about what sex means.

It helps explain why many women simply can't play the promiscuity game, even if they can legitimize it logically. Emotionally, there is too much at stake.

Gruntled said...

Do women connect sex with love out of instinct, or out of a culturally constructed response? This, I think, is the crucial "sex vs. gender" argument. Sociologists and anthropologists are conditioned to believe that all our reactions are culturally constructed responses. I have found that thinking critically about whether everything really is a cultural construct is liberating.