Friday, November 30, 2012

You can lead a horse to water.*


A while ago, Roissy linked to a study which showed that disgust seems to be diminished when people are sexually aroused. The study was part authored by Charmaine Borg, who is a researcher with an interest in sexual dysfunction. Her main area of interest seems to be in trying to elucidate the mechanisms of vaginismus and dyspareunia in the hope of find an effective treatment for the conditions.  Her research findings suggest that these two conditions are strongly linked to the disgust response. Apparently, there has been very little research into the disgust mechanism, so she is really paving some new ground. However if some of her preliminary finds are anything to go by, I feel that her research will have profound implications in our understanding of intersexual dynamics. Particularly the traditionalist understanding of sexual interaction.

The traditonalist "romantic" model of sexual interaction saw sex activity as an endpoint after a period of escalating romantic involvement. Essentially, a man "niced" his way into a woman's pants. Having sex for purely "physical" reasons was seen as a form of debased behaviour and hence aspects the sexual dynamic which emphasised a partners physical characteristics were downplayed or censured amongst polite society. There was a strong anti-carnal nature to our understanding of sexual love. Keep that thought.

Back to Ms Borg's research.

More interesting than her disgust study is this one, which is hot of the presses (Only have the abstract). In this experiment, women were divided into two groups; those who had positive emotional associations with sex and those who didn't. Explicitly erotic images were then shown to both groups of women whilst they underwent functional MRI scanning. The interesting finding in this study was than in both groups of women, brain activation patterns akin to that seen in disgust were activated, with the strongest activation being in those who were sex negative. The authors felt that a woman's sexual memory modulated the disgust response. In other words, women with a good experience of sex were able to modulate their disgust response more effectively than those with negative memory.

This is actually a groundbreaking experiment on two levels. Firstly, it seems to demonstrate a  default disgust-mediated inhibitory mechanism to female sexuality. Unlike men, who are good-to-go,  women it appears are in a "switched-off " mode through a disgust mediated mechanism. It's this default hard-wired bias which probably explains why there is no equivalent to the raw-sex-gay-bar scene amongst women.  All other things being equal, women are wired to find raw-anonymous-sex disgusting.

Secondly, the research seems to provide evidence to support Baumeister's erotic plasticity hypothesis by demonstrating that modulation of disgust response is possible. In fact, Borg et al have done some research which hints at cultural factors also being able to modulate this response. In this small study, Borg was able to demonstrate a link between conservative moral values and sexual dysfunction. If you encourage prudery you're going to get asexual women, as sexual puritanism re-enforces the disgust response.


Now, this research is interesting in how it intersects with traditional conceptions of sexuality and marriage.

Traditional conceptions of love placed a strong emphasis on romantic love and de-emphasised the carnal nature of the sexual dynamic. Christian writers placed particular emphasis on duties towards each other and of the need to render the marital debt owed to each other. Wives were told to submit to their husbands.  Fair enough.

But what happens when a good Christian wife, out of wifely duty, has sex with a husband she finds unarousing? Her "hard wired" neural circuitry is bound to find the experience disgusting. (Aspergoids: she has no choice in the matter).  If she does it enough times, a conditioned response sets in and the wife is involuntarily put off sex. Add a puritanical cultural environment, and you have a great mechanism for killing off sexual intimacy and encouraging extra marital liaisons. Who would have thought?

For those who are interested, an appropriate Victorian cautionary tale.

*I know it's not a horse but I liked the picture.

24 comments:

modernguy said...

Oh no! You mean all those wives in the past weren't necessarily wild about their peasant husbands, or coal mining husbands, or fisherman husbands, or factory working husbands with bald heads and pot bellies? You mean they didn't have a chance to pick them out of a group of competing puas laying on suave negs about their shoes? How did we survive this long.

Next you're going to tell us that those guys never really liked slaving away all their lives in crummy jobs and might have enjoyed themselves more if they were living the single life "spinning plates" well into middle age. What other revelations might we unearth here!

Anonymous said...

More interesting than her disgust study is this one, which is hot of the presses (Only have the abstract).

Full paper.

B.B.

Igniss said...

While it's true that disgust as a natural incentive / disincentive can't be overcome, making it futile to try to shame or force women into fucking guys they are not aroused by, let's not get too crazy here. The real issue is that the threshold for disgust (or rather, the threshold for being aroused enough for the woman to suppress that innate disgust) is so high nowadays because women have too high opinions of themselves and have had all natural constraints on their behavior removed.

In other words, research like this might make what is happening today natural, but it sure doesn't make it right.

Thursday said...

All other things being equal, women are wired to find raw-anonymous-sex disgusting.

Though with the right music, a bit of alcohol, and a guy with game, girls will have sex in the club bathroom.

Most good guys would be shocked at how quickly at least some women will have sex. You can go from meet to sex in 30 min to an hour. With a reasonably cute girl.

thewomanandthedragon said...

If you encourage prudery you're going to get asexual women, as sexual puritanism re-enforces the disgust response.

I agree, prudery is the wrong thing to encourage. All those ladies with their Marital Chastity ideas are doing themselves a disservice, as well as sinning.

However, I don't see prudery as being the same as following Biblical morality when it comes to sex. There is no reason why a wife cannot render her marital duty by being a freaky slut for her husband only.

Furthermore, even if she does not feel attracted to her husband, ought she not to provide sexual satisfaction for him? If she has no duty to do this regardless of how she feels, then what is he supposed to do? Of course he ought to make himself as attractive as possible to her, but even if her libido is stuck in the off position, this does not allow a Christian woman to disobey 1 Corinthians 7:5. Is a Christian man just supposed to suck it up and live a sexless life?

-sunshinemary

asdf said...

What if society raising male status raised wives sexual attraction for them. Then it's not a matter of doing something you don't like.

Anonymous said...

LOL! Comments are gold, esp. modernguy.

Well clearly we need to explain "nymphomaniacs" and the extreme end of the "slut" scale. Perhaps these women have little or no "disgust" response.

Still, I agree that this potentially very groundbreaking research.

Clarence

Brendan said...

Though with the right music, a bit of alcohol, and a guy with game, girls will have sex in the club bathroom.

Most good guys would be shocked at how quickly at least some women will have sex. You can go from meet to sex in 30 min to an hour. With a reasonably cute girl.


That's because (1) she's aroused (i.e., Game) and (2) the alcohol inhibits natural responses in a variety of areas, probably including this one.

The OP makes sense to me, SP, although it bodes ill. Most guys are going to be below the disgust threshold by default -- probably always were and always will be. This is the pareto principle again, here, at work when it comes to female arousal.

Sure, it's possible to argue, as Marcotte has (strange bedfellows for you, no, SP?), that men just need to "be more attractive". But that isn't going to happen across the board, nor *can* it. Most guys are bog-standard average and not sexy arousing man-meat, and never will be. Allowing female arousal patterns to determine the length and quality of relationships is a long walk in the dark, on the broader scale, for society as a whole.

It's interesting, however, that in the American Upper Middles (UMC), there appears to be a different selection criteria taking place (lots of assortative mating based on education, income, career, goals, etc. with men who are decidedly unsexy and not hot or arousing in the least), and these are the folks who are staying married at the highest rate of any social segment. Below that, women are marrying men based on hotness, and getting divorced. Doesn't really surprise me, frankly.

Johnycomelately said...

Interesting post, fits in with personal anecdotal observations.

The girls I have known who were the most open to sex had some experience with molestation or lived in low socio economic and promiscuous single parent households. Earlier exposure to sex may reduce the discust response.

On the other hand, most of the unmarried women I know over 35 with very low numbers tended to have a very conservative upbringing and were very prudish.

Höllenhund said...

"Sure, it's possible to argue, as Marcotte has (strange bedfellows for you, no, SP?), that men just need to "be more attractive"."

Not strange at all, Brendan. Both of them share a very deep-rooted contempt of average men, which happens to be the main driving force of both feminism and traditionalism.

Toad said...

Add a puritanical cultural environment, and you have a great mechanism for killing off sexual intimacy and encouraging extra marital liaisons.

Hence the large amounts of adultry and low birthrates in the 1800s.

Toad said...

modernguy said...
factory working husbands with bald heads and pot bellies?

There weren't very many pot bellies back then, especially amongst the poor.

They also wore hats all the time.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Igniss

The real issue is that the threshold for disgust (or rather, the threshold for being aroused enough for the woman to suppress that innate disgust) is so high nowadays because women have too high opinions of themselves and have had all natural constraints on their behavior removed.


There is an alternative explanation. Perhaps male standards are a bit low? When women are free to choose, they choose what they like. When they're not free to chose, they don't.

@Thursday.

JFK's seduction of Mimi Alford involved taking her up to Jackie's bedroom and simply taking off all her clothes. Zero to sex in literally 30 seconds.

But if I walked up to some random girl and with no prep simply said "how about it", it's pretty unlikely that I'd be successful.

@thewomanandthedragon.

There is a difference between prudery and modesty but devil lays in where to draw the line.

@asdf

Status raising only goes so far. Once the living together starts, personal qualities matter.

@Clarence

Nympho's sexual motivations are totally different. Many of these women are profoundly depressed and feel unloved. They equate sex=love and have sex in order to feel love. Having a man have sex with them, is a validation of sorts; in that they possess at least something in themselves which others find attractive. I've only ever had to treat one, she was a very tragic case.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Brendan

Most guys are going to be below the disgust threshold by default -- probably always were and always will be.

I don't know Brendan. Personally, I think our (Anglosphere) culture drops the ball when it comes to societal expectations of appearance and behaviour. It really does seem to be OK to let yourself go.

Could you imagine Petraeus's wife looking like she does if she was the wife of a French or Italian minister?

I personally think that there's a lot of room for improvement in the appearance or behaviour of men and women, especially in the Anglosphere. But before that happens there has to be the expectation. That can only come about through cultural change.

@Johnny

When you take any human parameter you're going to find a wide degree of variation.

@Hollenhund

Both of them share a very deep-rooted contempt of average men

Putting words in my mouth again. This is not an misogynistic blog.
So you're at the wrong place.

@Toad

"Hence the large amounts of adultry and low birthrates in the 1800s."

Making babies is a poor metric of sexual frequency within marriage and capacity to commit adultery is a function of external factors as well. Adultery was harshly punished in the past an this kept the practice in check. But it would be a mistake to think that the absence of adultery is the same as the absence of a desire to take on a new partner.

This is why social conservatives were blindsided by the social revolution in the sixties. When social constraints were removed from divorce, guess what happened?
Suddenly what appeared to be a healthy institution began to rot rapidly. Love wasn't holding the marriages together, social pressure was. Sure, you might want to live in a loveless marriage and think the form of marriage is more important than the well being of the participants but that is not my view.

If you want to strengthen marriage then is not just a matter of hitting people with big sticks if they want out, but its also about encouraging the carrots that keep them together.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Brendan

Women of the upper middle class tend to evaluate their partners across a host of variables, and simply by being members of the upper middle class have an ability to exercise self interested self control. This effect dissipates at the lower, more bovine levels, where hindbrain instinct governs all.

Still I know a lot of middle class marriages which are sexless to the consternation of the man. I get the feeling that a lot of them would stray if given the option, but fortunately many are beta so options do not present themselves.

@Thewomanandthedragon.

Is a Christian man just supposed to suck it up and live a sexless life?

The Bible's pretty clear about what spouses ought to do when their opposite is sexually interested. But here's the rub. The more times a woman has "dutiful sex" the more she will form an unpleasant association with the sexual act. No man, who loves his wife, wants her to become a simple semen receptacle in which to relieve himself in. What he wants is a woman who "wants to" not "has to".

Pity sex is a pretty degrading thing for a man.

modernguy said...

There is an alternative explanation. Perhaps male standards are a bit low? When women are free to choose, they choose what they like. When they're not free to chose, they don't.

There are only so many women to go around. Most men when it comes down to it will gladly take an average woman, most women will hold out until the last moment, or even until it's too late to settle for the average man. Arguing that men should be chasing the carrot that women hold in front of their faces in the hope that they'll choose them is a recipe for failure. As long as women are this free to chose, they belong to the top twenty percent of men by status and the poachers using game.

Anonymous said...

You may be straying here. It is just as easy to hypothesize that the duty would reduce disgust and condition an effective positive response. In fact I'd argue this outcome more likely ("I did the good thing!" ... "I did the good thing!" ... "I did the good thing!"

- GKChesterton

The Social Pathologist said...

@modernguy

There are only so many women to go around.

Uhmmm.....No. The Demographics refute you.

There are in fact more women than men over the age of 20. It's the same in most countries were female babies aren't aborted. No, I what I imagine you're complaining about is that there aren't enough 8+'s to go around.

Arguing that men should be chasing the carrot that women hold in front of their faces in the hope that they'll choose them is a recipe for failure.

You know, women have been doing this for years. Women have recognised the reality of kereogamy and catered to it. It's only the feminists who use your line of argument.

Women do all sorts of things to make themselves attractive to men. Dieting, make up, plastic surgery etc. It's been a pretty successful strategy.

@GKC

duty would reduce disgust and condition

It may to a degree, but you're not going to get a woman actively looking for sex with her husband if the best its ever going to be is a chore.

modernguy said...

Women outnumber men? By how much, maybe 1 or 2 percent? It's not 1 or 2 percent of men who are forced to wait out the game until the women are done riding the carousel and feel ready to settle down with them, it's a much higher percentage for whom a one or two percent demographic advantage does nothing. And all that that additional make up has done for women is lead them to believe that they are much hotter and more justified in chasing the 10 to 20 percent of alphas that they really want, until they sober up as they approach middle age.

modernguy said...

Incidentally don't you find it puzzling that with all the work women are putting into being attractive that they have such a hard time with men? Is there such a dearth of good men? No, there isn't, I know plenty, and most of them got very little action, not because they weren't decent but because the women were not looking for good men, they were looking for exiting men.

modernguy said...

You know, women have been doing this for years. Women have recognised the reality of kereogamy and catered to it.

By the way, catering to men's desires is what women should be doing. What would you want them do instead, work on cold fusion?

GK Chesterton said...

@SP,

"A chore"

True enough. I don't mean to undermine your premise but merely propose that the opposite is just as convincing.

A woman who views the sexual relationship with her husband as a divine service though is likely one to keep around forever. In this I can't help but always think of Mrs. Duggar of high-child count fame. She is not stunning but obviously takes her role very seriously. Anyone who didn't rate her very highly on MMV should be drug out into the street and shot in the knee.

Of course the article also illustrates the wonderful effects of moderate alcohol consumption in marriages. Moderate consumption in males reduces libido. Moderate consumption in females reduces inhibitions. Lo! The two meet in the middle. Christianity and God win again.

The Social Pathologist said...

@modernguy

Good and exciting are not mutually exclusive.

@GKC

No problem.
Do agree about the alcohol though.

Höllenhund said...

"Putting words in my mouth again."

No. Your contempt towards the average man has been palpable in your recent posts. If you cannot see that, you're deluding yourself.