We’re Not “Bad at Sex,” But We Sure Are Bad at Teaching It – The Lies That People WITHOUT Autism Live By
In Parts 1 and 2 of this series we looked at the special considerations individuals on the autism spectrum have for sex and sexuality. However, on the subject of healthy sexuality, the autism universe and the neurotypical world collide. Basically: we’re bad at teaching sex to everyone.
Despite our economic advantages as Americans, sex has always been a topic we’ve struggled with. While we may never reach the emotional health of the Dutch or the French on this subject, we struggle far more than our relative privilege warrants. Herein, the struggles of people with disabilities are mere extensions of a larger, American problem.
Part of the issue regards getting off to a bad start. Four hundred years ago our first settlers had left a sexually-repressive England for the very reason that, for them…it wasn’t sexually repressive enough. They were called “Puritans,” remember, who believed in Puritanism, a way of life that journalist H. L. Mencken referred to as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
Thereafter we somewhat mirrored our European lookalikes, including up to the industrial revolution, wherein the pressure for couples to marry both emerged and gained the stronghold it still maintains today. However, fidelity back then was not a staple of the marriage contract. Males were allowed to roam freely so long as the heterosexuals did not encroach upon “good” women whose reputations often dictated whether they lived or died. LGBTQ folks made arrangements in dangerous secrecy, and straight women, unlike their straight male counterparts, faced social and financial ruin for sexual contact outside the marriage. Only later, starting in the post-World War I era, did we see pressure for true monogamy among both heterosexual partners (a concept we seem to be backing off from in this era). It began as a backlash against widespread venereal diseases and after World War II became more of a cultural norm rather than strategic choice. And after the pill’s emergence in the 1960s, thus decoupling sex from the fear of reproduction, pretty much all marginalized and unmarginalized groups began their real pushes down the path toward sexual transparency.
There’ve been thousands of contradictions along the way, some of which today act as elephants in the bathtub. For example, we argue incessantly about what sexual education should look like in the schools. But doesn’t our very (worthy) desire for a diversified society herein bite us on the rear end? When we accept people of differing faiths and cultures into public education, we are therein allowing the conservative factions of almost every major religion – many of whom preach against pre-marital sex (especially for women), are stringently homophobic by design, and who often oppose most forms of birth control. This is another reason why school classes reframed as “health,” “violence prevention,” or “self-esteem” curricula might win more approval from the conservative crowd.
We could go on and on. The list I give will feel incomplete – but it is a smattering to get you started on your way to finding more falsehoods on your own.
You have to be “in the mood” in order for mutually satisfying sex to happen.
Nonsense. Sexual contact – i.e. friction upon, or the touching of the clitoris or frenulum (the penis head’s sensitive underside) stimulates a biological/sexual reaction. Now, while informed consent justifiably causes individuals to say “no” to sex, it’s also safe to assume that many couples refrain from sexual activity or foreplay because there is no wet vagina or hard erection preceding the act. And given all of the anxiety-reducing emotional benefits that come with sexual release, we can then surmise that we cheat ourselves out of oodles of mental health by so refraining. In addition to the benefits of increased sexual activity, and according to celebrated author Esther Perel, progressive marriage counselors actually now advise couples to have sex when they’re mad at each other as a way to dissipate the tension so as to more easily find and resolve the core disagreement. Lift a finger, folks.
Men like sex more than women.
Sadly, many women (and men) – even baby boomer and Generation X feminists – still agree with this because they have been culturally conditioned to do so. Throughout history, women have been encouraged to suppress their erotic thoughts, desires, and histories (today referred to as “slut shaming”), yet biology alone proves to us that this notion is just not true. If women can not only have multiple orgasms (compared to the male capacity for one), but also have orgasms ranging from 30 to 60 seconds in length, it is not physically possible for males to enjoy sexual activity more than women. They may enjoy it in different manifestations based on the functions of dissimilar genitalia, but if you had to pick which biology “likes sex” more, the female libido crushes its male counterpart when it comes to physical pleasure.
Lifelong monogamy is natural.
Thanks to primatologists like Frans de Waal and books like Sex at Dawn, we now know this culturally-cherished value of modern society to be false.
Back in the stone age, we weren’t nuclear families, and we weren’t brutally watching neighboring families starve if they weren’t as good as us at providing food. It actually now appears that we were quite civilized in our hunter-gatherer days in that we roamed the earth in communities numbering 30-300, and everyone slept together. Now, this was not the porn fantasy that some of us might initially imagine. It was a practice that solved two potentially destabilizing problems, the first of which was uncertain paternity. Life back then was treacherous, and adult male hunters got killed fairly frequently. Well, if no one knew who a child’s father was, then the whole community would care for the child, especially the males. If they knew that there was a chance the child was theirs, then of course they would be so inclined to protect the offspring, and this only made the women more motivated to sleep with many men in the community. This was the real “it takes a village to raise a child” approach. Sex at Dawn authors Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan even argue that when we mysteriously feel closeness to a child we have just met, that said impulse’s origin lies in this pre-history. It should also be noted (and the book does) that these were also real relationships, not hookups (the latter being a very modern creation). These were all people who grew up together, knew each other very well, and depended on one another for survival.
The second reason for this practice was that, during hunter-gatherer days, people were constantly on the move. To claim ownership of any possession – including a person and their fidelity – was regarded as impractical, based on the weight of that possession. So back then, no one experienced the desire to carry physical possessions, nor did they experience this magical thing we call jealousy. This all changed when the human race discovered agriculture, owned land, and stopped roaming. One could therefore hypothesize that the reason we have wars between nations, why men fight, and why we all have bad attitudes toward sex isn’t rooted in organized religion, and it isn’t rooted in porn. Herein, everything can be comically, and tragically, blamed on farming.
(By the way, this does not imply that monogamous relationships can’t be successful. But if a couple can acknowledge that their biology is working against their cultural mores, rather than with them, they have a much better chance of succeeding at never sleeping with someone else.)
Stronger laws against sex work help the men and women who work in the profession.
Nothing further from the truth. As shown in Part 2 of this series, most women in this field are not trafficking victims, they are single mothers (and sometimes undocumented immigrants), and when we take away their ability to be upfront about what they do, we endanger their lives.
When they are allowed to screen customers through websites like Backpage.com, many customers have to either meet them at a coffee shop prior, or provide credit card information – all of which can be traced back to the “John/Jane,” or purchaser of a sex worker’s wares. When customers don’t have to provide this, and sex-for-money activities are driven back into street corners and pickups in cars, the chances for assaults on sex workers increase (as the purchasers have less, if any, accountability). Who benefits from the enforcement of these laws (because it certainly isn’t the now-endangered sex workers)? To a smaller extent, it’s the aforementioned “Johns” or “Janes” who wish to hurt sex workers and remain anonymous; but to the larger extent it’s law enforcement budgets. Law enforcement wants us to believe that this isn’t “the oldest profession.” It wants us to believe that there is a way to eradicate prostitution, and it does so to make money, and to reinforce our sickness that cheers when such websites like Backpage or Rentboy are taken down.
Whenever we drive anything underground through illegality, we endanger the participants because we take away accountability. New Zealand, for instance, is the only country on earth where both the selling and the purchasing of sex work is legal. It is no coincidence that they are amongst a handful of countries that have the lowest levels of sexual assault. Regulating (rather than outlawing) this field would cost less, both in dollars and human suffering.
Men and women don’t want to be objectified in the bedroom.
Sometimes this is true, but very often any gender, of any orientation, deeply wishes to be objectified, or enjoys being objectified in the bedroom. With sex we often embrace the opportunity to reject the personas we wear to get by in our day jobs, appearances, and in parenting. We wish instead to sometimes completely take charge, or sometimes completely submit. It’s outside the bedroom where we don’t want to be, and should never be objectified.
All sex research can be believed.
Unfortunately, if the first-person narratives of sexual lives are held hostage by a culture that discourages transparency, then our first-person accounts can’t be trusted. This especially applies to women in a still “slut shaming” world. And to illustrate this point, there’s a study by Terri Fisher and Michele Alexander as relayed in Sex at Dawn, that found that a large pool of heterosexual men reported having more sex than an equally-large pool of heterosexual women…despite the fact that this is a mathematical impossibility.
While it pretended to look at the number of encounters, the study really looked at the shame felt by women in honestly communicating their sexual selves. Taking large groups of heterosexual women who were similar in age (under 25) and who were all current college students, it created three groups, asked the same questions of all the groups, but under different testing conditions. One of the questions was: “How many men have you slept with in your life?”
In condition #1 the subjects were asked to verbally convey answers to the question, and they were told that researchers outside the room would hear the answer and record it. In condition #2 they could write their answer on a piece of paper that would preserve their anonymity. In condition #3, all were hooked up by electrodes – that were really fake – and told falsely that they were connected to a lie detector, or polygraph machine. The results are telling:
Romance is dying and this is a bad thing.
Well, romance actually is dying, but the myth is that it’s a bad thing. The death of romance is a good thing. Romance, we have to remember, is rife with non-verbal communication, like winks and nods, that we spectrumfolk often don’t pick up. Most of what we call romance too, is misogynous, Victorian horseshit. Dating these days is becoming so much more about saving time through text, like politely written, and elaborate profiles on dating apps, or shocking and rudely-written demands for penis size on hookup apps.
Through this transition to more direct and clear questions and answers, it’s not just people on the spectrum who benefit – the rest of the world also benefits by becoming better communicators amongst themselves.
header image: “psyche revived by cupid’s kiss,” joe desousa / flickr