The news has whipped itself into a frenzy about the latest headline-grabbing guff from evolutionary psychology: blow jobs cure morning sickness. Specifically, the pregnant woman should swallow the semen of the father of the baby because then she’ll develop a tolerance to his genetic material. That sentence alone is eyebrow-spraining. Delving deeper, it only gets worse.

The research comes from an evolutionary psychologist named Gordon G. Gallup. It is useful to view the morning sickness story in the context of his previous work because a pattern starts to emerge.

Gallup’s career started out fairly promisingly, with him developing a paradigmatic test for recording self-awareness in animals, which has been widely used. He was then the go-to guy for research into what happens when you hypnotise chickens, which is probably far more interesting than it sounds.

Somewhere along the line, though, Gallup lost his way, and moved towards the side of evolutionary psychology which is obsessed with sex and comes to thoroughly bizarre conclusions about both sexes through the use of dodgy science. Many of the studies I’m going to highlight here are paywalled, but you’ll probably shit a brick off the abstract alone if you know anything about science or have ever enjoyed sex.

Gallup became interested in boobs, hypothesising that breast implants were a way for women to advertise their fertility, then never testing this hypothesis because, let’s face it, how the hell would you? He delved into homophobia, suggesting that it was an adaptive response to parents thinking the gays would bum their children into homosexuality. This was tested by getting college students–not actual parents–to fill in questionnaires about hypothetical children, and some of them saying they wouldn’t like their kid to go to a gay paediatrician. When the work was criticised for implying that gays are paedophiles and maybe this was down to “xenophobia” (in the evolutionary sense, rather than the sociological sense; i.e. a fear of strangers), Gallup responded by saying that actually there is a disproportionate number of homosexual paedophiles, so there. Another study of Gallup’s ostensibly showed that women take more care to stop themselves being raped when they are ovulating, by guessing when the participants were ovulating and administering a questionnaire.

None of this encompasses Gallup’s true love though. Shaking off the mantle of being the chicken-hypnosis guy, Gordon G. Gallup is now the semen guy.

Regular readers of this blog might remember the time I went ballistic over a study claiming to show that semen was an antidepressant. That was one of Gallup’s studies. It showcased some almost criminally bad science, which I covered here, and it’s worth reading the whole thing to see just how bad it is. If you can’t be bothered, the tl;dr summary is that vaginally-administered spunk isn’t an antidepressant and there was no way he could have ever shown it with that study. Other miracles of semen, according to Gallup, is that if a man regularly spaffs into the mother of his kids, he’ll be a better dad. Again, Gallup didn’t even bother testing that hypothesis.

After covering his bases in getting semen into women, Gallup turned towards how to keep it there. Readers with penises, did you know that your cock looks like that because it evolved to displace semen of rivals from a vagina? It totally is, because Gallup has some hardcore science to prove it. This paper is open-access and well worth a read if you fancy a laugh. He used two different tests for this hypothesis. In the first set of studies, he bought some dildos and an artificial vagina from a sex shop, mixed up some fake spunk, put it in the rubber fanny, then fucked it with some dildos. He found that the more realistic the dildo, the better it displaced the jizz-mixture. Oh, and the dildos being dildos, they lacked foreskins, which throws an enormous spanner in the works as it means that human cocks would function entirely differently, considering circumcision is a minority practice and didn’t happen while we were evolving.

So he turned his attention to humans. Rather than watching them fuck, he went for a questionnaire, which is distinctly less fun, and proved about as much as his sweaty session with a fleshlight and a dildo. From a survey, he discovered that men fuck their girlfriends harder if they’ve been away for a while, or if they’ve heard their girlfriend was cheating. Passionate reunions and angry hatesex, according to Gallup, are actually just the chap trying to thrust any stray spunk out of his lady-friend.

Which brings us, finally, to the morning sickness research. Having exhaustively researched how to get sperm into a vagina and get it out again, he wondered how best he could get it into a lady’s mouth. His theory is this: morning sickness arises from the woman reacting to having unfamiliar genetic material inside her, i.e. the father’s DNA in the foetus. In order to build up a tolerance, the woman needs greater exposure to the father’s genetic material which means loads and loads of semen, and apparently eating it will totally work.

It’s important to note here that this has never been tested, and, like much of the work we have seen here, it is just a hypothesis presented at a conference, which the media have picked up and ran with, presenting it as SCIENCE. It isn’t. Also, it’s a pretty fucking shitty hypothesis for two major reasons.

First, it goes against the general evolutionary thinking regarding morning sickness: that it’s a way of protecting the foetus from any toxins or bad nutrition by causing anything harmful that has been ingested to be shouted into rainbows. Secondly, and perhaps more crucially, how the hell does Gordon G. Gallup think women get pregnant in the first place? It kind of involves exposure to semen. While a lot of pregnancies may not stem from regular exposure to the same jizz, a lot of them do, and morning sickness affects up to 80% of women. Furthermore, within Gallup’s hypothesis, if it’s just the father’s genetic material the woman needs and it can be got through ingested semen, this can easily be transmitted by any other means, such as lots and lots of snogging to exchange saliva, or touch, or blood rituals, or whatever.

It makes no goddamn sense whatsoever, and I look forward to seeing him try to prove it.

I don’t know if Gordon G. Gallup has dedicated the later part of his career towards discovering escalatingly spurious reasons to insert his semen into women–if so, I think we can expect future studies which show that bukakke makes you immortal–or if he has simply found the recipe for media success: say something silly which dovetails with existing patriarchal prejudice. Either way, I wish he’d stop, and I wish the media would stop gushing with excitement about hypotheses and bad research.


Update: commenter James, who is an experienced midwife and pre-eclampsia researcher has found a cohort study which Gordon G. Gallup obviously hasn’t read. The study looked at recurrence of hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe morning sickness. It found that sickness was less likely to occur in a second pregnancy than in a first. The authors had a large enough sample of women whose second pregnancies were from a different father than the first pregnancy. Comparing recurrence of hyperemesis, it emerged that risk was lower in women whose second pregnancy was by a different father than those who had had two pregnancies from the same father: 11% risk of hyperemesis for those who had changed paternity, versus 16% for those who had not. While this is a cohort study, and therefore low down on the pyramid of evidence, it’s still far better than some dude who had a hypothesis, and provides some evidence to suggest that “unfamiliar semen” is not what causes morning sickness.

Where’s the politics in Julie Bindel?

Note: This makes more sense if you read this first.

What makes some of us uncomfortable with Julie Bindel? Is it because she she feels the urge to dictate who bisexual women are supposed to sleep with?

In today’s post-modern, queer-focused world, political lesbianism is being promoted to bisexual women as the latest regressive trend. This has resulted in sexual liberation, namely feminism, being passed over for repression, where the only thing that matters is a form of outmoded ideological purity. Similarly, heterosexuality is sold to bisexual women as some type of respite from the odious sin of sexual attraction to people of any gender. It is seen as “a phase” or “an abomination”.

It is more ideologically pure to have sex with a woman if you are a bisexual woman, as you are then doing what you are “supposed” to do. Julie Bindel, the most famous “completely wrong” lesbian, has written reams about how bisexual women are actually big blacklegged scabs who are letting down the side, if indeed they exist at all.

Those of us who grew up in a time and context where there was a political analysis of sexuality were able to make a positive choice to be a lesbian. I believed then, and I believe now, that if bisexual women had an ounce of sexual politics, they would stop sleeping with men.

Is Bindel really so set on increasing the pool of available women to sleep with that she is resorting to cheap manipulation.

But many women, all of them called Sarah, believe that Julie Bindel and her ilk have got it all wrong. One study of women called Sarah, which draws on data from over 400 Sarahs, found that all of them think Bindel is wrong, and that bisexual women exist and that’s none of her business.And that’s just the Sarahs. There’s probably some more people who aren’t called Sarah who disagree fundamentally with Bindel.

Whatever our views of alternate sexuality may be, we cannot deny that since the 1970s, women have been coerced and manipulated into political lesbianism under the veil of viable political ideology. They are demanded to become fully available for lesbian sex.

When I write about making a positive choice to fuck who I like, I am accused of letting down the cause. That is nonsense. I personally feel that sexual freedom can and must be a part of feminism, and that includes nobody telling who I can and cannot fuck.

When I write about sexual freedom, the way most people approach sexuality is that they identify as straight, gay or somewhere in between, completely rejecting binary notions of gender. For queer people living under the tyrrany of kyriarchy, choosing to shake off the shackles of the dreaded pincer of hegemonic heterosexuality and oppressive political lesbianism can be a liberatory act.

Those of us who grew up–or are still growing up–with a political analysis of liberty and a rejection of coercion, are able to make the positive choice to express their sexuality in any way they choose. I believe that if human beings had an ounce of politics they would stop reading Julie Bindel.

Nationalism is sexy (for small values of “sexy”)

As London prepares for the Jubilee, it begins to resemble Nuremburg, albeit with a flag with far worse Gestalt than the original. Flags are draped everywhere. Bunting crosses streets, gold-trimmed flags hang vertically from lampposts, windows and police watchtowers. If it’s static, they stick a flag on it. Even if it moves, they’ll probably find a way of bunging a flag on it.

Capitalism and nationalism often make comfortable bedfellows, so it is hardly surprising that manufacturers of cheap tat with a tacky Union Jack on it stand to make a killing. It should also come as no surprise, then, that this flag-waving nationalism is trying is best to find its way into our bedrooms–and, in some cases, our cunts.

Perhaps the guiltiest party in this is Ann Summers, who are still falling over themselves to be the worst sex shop in the observable universe. In their flagship Soho store, posters proudly proclaim they are celebrating “60 YEARS OF GIRLS ON TOP”–a tragic misunderstanding of the difference between The Queen and queening. They encourage customers to put on Jubilee-themed Ann Summers parties, standing to win a bit of wine and a special edition Jubilee vibrator if they take over £200. Their limited edition Jubilee vibrator, incidentally, looks like this. Were it not for the name “Diamante Jubilee Bullet”, one would never know it had anything to do with the Queen. It’s like they had a stock of low-grade bullets and needed to get rid of them by any means necessary.

For the more overtly nationalistically-inclined, Ann Summers offer a Union Jack bullet, which apparently no handbag should be without. I’m glad we’ve cleared up the matter of what the Queen carries in that mysterious clutch of hers, then. Incidentally, I use the term “jack” rather than “flag” not to troll the pedants, but because there are no clear guidelines as to which one to use when the symbol is flying between someone’s thighs.

For the nationalist who prefers better quality vibrators, with more power and the possibility of insertion, I’m afraid I couldn’t find anything. Likewise, I am not aware of the existence of any butt plugs, which means puns about anal nationalism will not be forthcoming. However, for nationalists who find their sex lives enhanced by adornments, there are plenty of options.

First up is the “sexy pout lip transfer“, which turns a minor erogenous zone into something resembling a BNP rally. It’s a niche fetish, but someone’s probably into it. That, however is not a sign of the apocalypse. This is:

For the lucky people who do not know what a vajazzle is, stop reading here. Preserve that beautiful innocence. Basically, a vajazzle involves removal of the pubic hair and replacing it with stick-on gems. In this case, gems celebrating the Queen’s amazing prowess at living for a really long time. This product comes from Lovehoney, who generally sell a mix of low-end fetish wear and mid-range dildos, and I’m thoroughly disappointed in them as their USP is “a bit better than Ann Summers”.

If you want your nationalistic vajazzle slightly less seasonal, never fear. You may also adorn your cunt with these Union Jack hearts, which look frighteningly similar to coasters made by small children.

BUT WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ, you cry? Unfortunately, there don’t seem to any nationalistic products catering to men. Perhaps we really are celebrating 60 years of girls on top?

It’s not all bad, though. For the next round of bread and circuses, the discerning gentleman may like to demonstrate his support for the Motherland with this:

That right there. The Olympic Cock Ring. I would be far more in favour of the Olympics if the opening ceremony consisted of Boris Johnson and four LOCOG representatives getting in to that contraption. Given that the vendors of the product are no longer selling it, I suspect that the Olympic branding lot have issued a swift C&D, and somewhere a designer of patriotic sex toys is rotting in a police cell.

Nationalism and sex. We have moved on slightly, perhaps, since the days of cheesecake girls painted on bombs, but not as much as one might think. It is  sexy-lite which is sold to us draped in flags, the socially acceptable high-street sexy which is more about appearances than pleasure itself. It is the sex of More Magazine rather than anything else.

This Jubilee weekend, why not riot instead?

Update: @MediocreDave has brought to my attention some nationalist-sex I have missed: Zoo Magazine’s “DIAMOND BOOBILEE“. Between the disembodied tits and the fact the headline was clearly written by a six year old, I have three words: Fuck. This. Shit.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance use evolutionary psychology: apparently their opposition isn’t getting laid

The Taxpayers’ Alliance are hardly famed for their intellectual analysis of situations, but this one takes the piss-soaked biscuit.

Those who oppose tax cuts for the rich are apparently suffering from sexual jealousy because the rich people get all of the best women. I am not making this up. Here are some select quotes I could be arsed to type out from page 92 of their latest report:

The successful hunter gatherer knows better than to resist the theft and he still garners some rewards–in terms of gratitude, prestige and sexual affairs–for his success. Among hunter gatherers, even the tiniest inequality is translated into more babies.

It was the still same in early agricultural societies: the man with  with the most corn or cattle had the most wives or concubines. And it is still true today: even in an age of working women, sexual continence and gender equality, the man with the most money still gets more sexual opportunities than the man with the least money. Ask them.

So no wonder we dislike inequality. No wonder we want to tax that money off a Vanderbilt before he grabs all the best women.

Who can really think that when confronted with all the middle-class benefits that flow from the taxpayer? No, at least it’s partly plain old sexual jealousy at the root.

This is actually a report that was actually commissioned and published, and I promise I haven’t just cherry-picked quotes to misrepresent their argument. It actually is that.

Now, it’s hard to begin deconstructing an argument as plainly stupid as this, so let’s all take a break to laugh until we shit ourselves. Once this is done, let’s pop on some clean pants and talk about how risibly wrong the TPA are.

The big glaring elephant in the room is that evolutionary psychology is almost entirely complete bollocks. It is largely speculation based on “these ancient people did this, and we do something similar SO WE EVOLVED IT AND IT’S NATURAL”. It is often used to justify existing inequalities, as it is being applied by the TPA.

The TPA are using the typical evolutionary psychology justification, but with a twist. They are actually more open about their lack of evidence than most evolutionary psychology papers: they suggest “asking” a rich man if he is having more sex than a poor man. I think we can all sing in chorus that the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but seeing as the TPA have decided this is sufficient evidence, I will point out that I have had sex with nine people since the beginning of May and science says that the TPA publish these reports specifically to piss me off because they’re jealous of the sheer quantity of orgasms I have.

To damn the TPA with faint praise, it’s kind of gratifying to see that at least they don’t pretend that the rich are mostly men–in fact, given the wording of the report, it would seem that all of the rich are men. It’s also nice to see that on planet TPA, gender equality exists, presumably because all the women know their place in servicing the super-rich in harems while pointing and laughing at anyone without a diamond-encrusted helicopter.

Now I think about it, the TPA exist in the same dystopian universe as Catherine Hakim.

It’s interesting to note that at no point do the TPA acknowledge that this sex-surplus of the rich might boil down to the fact that they can afford to pay for it. By evolutionary psychology standards, actually, there’s some “evidence” to suggest it’s the most generous men who get the most sex.

So, basically, the TPA have, as always, commissioned a report that is complete and utter fuckwitted bollocks, and the only saving grace is that most people will never be bothered to read through a 400-page report to read this shit.


Hat tip to Political Scrapbook for highlighting this and @MediocreDave for making sure I saw it and kicked off.

Fifty Shades Of Grey is probably shit, Kate Roiphe is wrong, and we need to discuss submission

There has been a lot of guff surrounding ascended Twilight fanfic Fifty Shades of Grey. For those of you living under rocks, this work of “literature” tells the story of Bella Swan Ana Steele, an ordinary high school girl college graduate, who meets the mysterious, brooding vampire businessman Edward Cullen Christian Grey and her world changes forever her world changes forever. The only thing that sets it apart from Twilight is the sex scenes, which are, apparently, terribly-written. Oh, and there’s BDSM. Lots and lots of BDSM. The sex in question, apparently, consists entirely of a dominant Christian and a submissive Ana, as apparently Ana isn’t actually all that into the kinky bits, and just goes along with it because she loves Christian.

I use the word “apparently” a lot here because I absolutely flat-out refuse to read the fucking thing.

Anyway, the entire premise sounds problematic as fuck, and not at all in keeping with the spirit of BDSM.

Enter Kate Roiphe, an alleged academic who once wrote a book about how feminism is spreading a fear of female sexuality, based on an experience she had in 1986. Roiphe has decided to lay out an argument suggesting that women are turned on by submitting to a man because we have too much free will these days and that’s “a burden”. Oh, and that feminists (presumably this same bunch of sex-catastrophisers from 1986, who definitely existed and are definitely the same as all feminists) are against the idea of submission and kink.

For an academic, Roiphe seems strangely coy about referencing any of the “facts” and “studies” which back up her own argument. Here’s a particularly egregious example:

Over the years researchers and psychologists have theorized that women harbor elaborate fantasies about sexual submission because they feel guilty or skittish about claiming responsibility for their own desires [citation needed]: they are more comfortable being wanted than wanting, in other words. But more recent studies [citation needed] show that the women who fantasize about being forced to have sex are actually less prone to guilt than those who don’t. In any event, that theory seems too simple or at least too 19th-century an answer for the modern woman: it is not as much guilt over sex but rather something more basically liberating about being overcome or overpowered.[citation needed]

Perhaps this plethora of unreferenced evidence really does back up her argument, but somehow I doubt it, as Roiphe’s theory seems distinctly unparsimonious.

See, there’s a much easier explanation for the rise in mainstream depictions of female submission in BDSM, and the number of women who admit to entertaining submissive fantasies and/or practice; an explanation that can be summed up in a single word: socialisation.

Let us remember that we inhabit a world wherein the fight for women’s sexual agency is only just beginning. While women are starting to view themselves–and be viewed–as active participants in sex rather than passive to the whims of a man. Heterosexism and patriarchy intersect to provide this set of conditions, and while it is subsiding, we’ve some way to go in overturning this culture. Everyone is socialised in this climate and internalises such beliefs to some extent or another. It is hardly surprising, then, that the first kink to “go mainstream” is one which fits most comfortably with existing attitudes: submissive woman, dominant man (it is worth noting that this set of attitudes equally permeates the kink scene: because I am a woman, I am often automatically assumed to be a sub by men).

So women, when asked about their fantasies–a deeply personal question which is charged with all sorts of social expectations–are far more likely to give the more “socially acceptable” answer. And the mainstream media is bound to crawl all over the things that are a little bit steamy, but close enough to “normal” to comprehend easily.

This is not to say, of course, that these women aren’t really into submission: most probably are, unlike the poor main character in Fifty Shades Of Arse-dripping Fuck-bollocks. What is missing, though, is the acknowledgement of the rainbow of sexuality, of kinks and quirks which are less congruent with heterosexist patriarchy. We have a hell of a long way to go before we get to this point: right now, female submission to men can be a choice, freely chosen, but the rest of the boundless possibilities are less easy to access, experience and even know of their existence. I have experienced precisely this shift myself. I started out subbing to men as it was the only option available. Gradually, with experience and meeting the right people, I evolved and discovered all sorts of delightfully sinful pleasures. This doesn’t dampen my enjoyment of occasionally subbing to men.

Ultimately, the discussion around female submission should not be whether it’s right or wrong: it’s sex, and the only time sex can be wrong is with a lack of enthusiastic consent. Instead, we ought to acknowledge the context and work to build an environment wherein sexual liberation and sexual choice–glorious, abundant choice–is genuinely, completely available.

Abstinence education: better than nothing (with bonus bullshit from the anti-choicers)

Anti-choice news-bender Life News has trumpeted proudly that abstinence education totally works, yo. Using the language of science–and some fancy-looking footnotes (which actually lead to, among other things, a book published by a Mormon abstinence education “research centre”)–Life News claims that abstinence education works.

Well, they’re sort of right. It does work. If taught as an intensive programme compared to reading a few textbooks that are also about abstinence. When tested in a study as full of holes as a colander [not paywalled, and published in a journal I hadn’t heard of].

The participants in the study were ninth-grade pupils in schools in Georgia, a state where abstinence education is already the norm. I’m sure this is a wholly unrelated point, but Georgia also has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the US. Six schools were selected, and parents were asked for consent for their children to participate. Less than 40% of pupils were allowed to participate in the study; among the sample, girls and African Americans were overrepresented demographically. On top of this minor issue is the fact that this means that participants were aware that they were participating in a research study, and had an awareness of whether they were in the intervention or control group. When this happens, results of studies tend to skew somewhat, inflating the positive effect of the intervention.

I am going to give some credit to the authors of the study: they actually made a brave attempt at using a theory to evaluate the intervention: you’d be surprised how many behavioural interventions are atheoretical clusterfucks with a mishmash of things the authors like chucked about willy nilly. Unfortunately, they picked the Theory of Planned Behaviour, which is rather simplistic. And they didn’t even use it that well: they forgot to measure one of the key theoretical constructs (perceived behavioural norms), and threw in a bunch of other measures of things like “hopefulness” which have absolutely nothing to do with the theory.

Perhaps most vitally, though, the authors failed to measure some very important behavioural measures. Sexual behaviour was measured entirely by asking on the questionnaire if participants had “gone all the way” (using those exact words). So there is no way of knowing whether they had been enjoying all of the other rainbow of sexual experience, and whether the participants chose to define what they were doing in such euphemistic terms. Secondly, the authors report that they were not able to measure whether the sex participants were having was safe: this was due to the politics of obtaining participants for the study.

With the measures this royally cocked-up and run in some dodgy circumstances, what can be concluded from the study? Firstly, that there’s a short-term effect of the more intensive abstinence programme, but in the longer-term the effect diminishes. It should be noted that the “long-term” follow-up happened just after the summer holidays, while the “short-term” follow-up happened just before the holidays. So, the effect of a more intensive abstinence programme diminishes in the space of a couple of months. It is worth noting, once again, that this is in comparison to doing nothing different from usual.

With this in mind, it is highly disingenuous–or thoroughly scientifically illiterate–of Life News to dress this study up as evidence that abstinence works. It shows nothing of the kind. It shows that in a study which inherently favours a slightly more intensive approach to teaching abstinence, there’s a slight effect for more intensive teaching of abstince, but that effect fucks off in the space of a summer holiday. And that’s the best they’ve got.

Das erotische Kapital, volume IV: Unfortunate implications

Before I begin to take Hakim’s flimsy arguments to their logical conclusion, I feel like it is only right to provide some balance and say something positive about Honey Money. The book is printed on nice, thick paper which would probably make ideal roach-material or kindling for a small fire. It has a good weight to it, meaning it would also serve as a handy doorstop or a easily-carried weapon for braining enemies while looking suitably innocuous in a police search.

Niceties aside, upon reading Honey Money it becomes apparent that Dr Catherine Hakim has unwittingly created the most horrifying dystopia imaginable. Margaret Atwood should step aside, as Hakim has thoroughly trumped her.

Ultimately, it is a good thing that the central thesis of Honey Money is not rooted in the reality experienced by the vast majority of humankind. Hakim reduces sex to a scarce resource, a thing to be bought, sold and bartered; whether financially or socially. It takes all the sticky, sweaty naked fun out of sex, making it a cold, clinical transaction. An individual’s appreciation of another’s beauty becomes a power relation: the beholder beholden to the beheld. It leaves men as desperate consumers, utilising the assets they have to maybe, just maybe, have a go on someone’s tits; they are no longer agents, but end users.

As for women, what path is there? For the young and the beautiful, there is the quest for ultimate power: through prostitution and flirting, they may become rich, and then marry so they need never work again, provided they pump out a few kids, because their fertility is also a very important asset. In Hakim’s universe, erotic capital equates to empowerment, to true women’s liberation. This power is hinged on something fleeting: erotic capital is highest in youth, and as a woman’s looks fade, so, too, must any power she has accrued. This transient moment of glory is hardly a hook on which to hang one’s life.

The queer, the non-binary identified, the disabled, the old, all are swept away in Hakim’s world. There is nothing for them, for they are ugly. This is a world of heterosexual power struggle, and there is no place for them. Furthermore, there can be no place for them: almost all of the evidence Hakim presents focuses on those who are naturally beautiful, rather than those with the economic capital to buy erotic capital (which still leaves swathes of the population unable to “enter the market”). Without meaning to Godwin, Hakim is not the first to conceptualise a world where the tall, genetically-blessed people are encouraged to breed, while leaving everyone else out in the cold. It has never ended well.

It is a horrible vision of a horrible world, and that one person believes this could be a desirable state of affairs is a terrifying notion. Fortunately, many are unconvinced: the book has been largely poorly received, even by customer reviewers on Amazon. Not everyone is so critical, though: almost immediately after publishing Volume I, this comment appeared. Perhaps they are attempting to disingenuously capitalise on a poorly-argued thesis, or perhaps they are genuinely convinced. Either way, I hope in writing this series, I have killed the book once and for all.

Honey Money presents a nasty idea, poorly argued. It must not gain traction.

Das erotische Kapital:

On the obscenity of everyday life

Today in the UK, a person stands trial for distributing allegedly “obscene” DVDs. These DVDs contain scenes of fisting, watersports and some fairly hardcore BDSM activities, which are considered to be “obscene”. Now, these activities are perfectly legal to watch if you happen to be in the same room as the participants with their consent, but it is, for some strange reason, possibly illegal under British law to represent them on film. The outcome of the trial will therefore be very interesting–if the DVDs are deemed “not obscene”, this opens up an avenue for porn to contain such activities.

What is deemed “obscene” and “not obscene” is a thorny issue, and appears to be defined arbitrarily. In the current obscenity trial, one of the contentious issues is that the “four finger” rule was violated–usually, porn sticks to insertion of only four fingers to avoid the legal trouble full fisting entails. Likewise, the British Board of Film Classification has deemed films depicting female ejaculation to be problematic, ludicrously believing that squirting is the same as urine and is therefore subject to the same censorship as watersports.

It is curious to note that what is considered to be prosecutable under the Obscene Publications Act appears to be entirely content of a sexual nature. ObscenityLawyer lists the following:

·“sadomasochistic material which goes beyond trifling and transient infliction of injury”
 ·“torture with instruments”
 ·“bondage (especially where gags are used with no apparent means of withdrawing consent)”
 ·“activities involving perversion or degradation (such as drinking urine, urination[…] on to the body…)”

This demonstrates our peculiar hang-up about sex. If one literally interprets the word “obscene“, it can be taken to mean “repulsive by reason of crass disregard of moral and ethical principles” or “disgusting to the senses”.

Here, I can count dozens of instances of things which I perceive to be obscene: indeed, half of day-to-day life appears obscene. There is the egregious the egregious, such as newspapers running a vast colour photograph of Gaddafi’s bloody corpse on their front page or triggering videos advising women not to get into an unbooked minicab or they will be raped horribly. Then there’s the low-level, less visible stuff which is dictionary-definition obscene nonetheless: consider that we have a government whose goal appears to be to tear the welfare state to pieces and redistribute the shreds to their rich mates. Consider rape culture, street harassment, the trivialising of violence against women. All crassly disregard moral and ethical principles, and all are utterly repugnant.

Yet none of this considered obscene, at least not by law. The law–and I again thank ObscenityLawyer’s brilliant post on the issue for this–states that the material must be likely to “deprave or corrupt”. This ambiguous definition is steeped in society’s aversion to sex but not violence. Therefore, a picture of a murdered man may be run on the front page of a newspaper where a big dripping cunt may not. Therefore, Michael Gove may cheerfully quietly privatise state education  and the papers will report it as though he is doing good humanitarian work, while had he had a fist up his bottom most people would cry obscenity.

Yet the low-level stuff, the morally and ethical disregard can and does deprave and corrupt. It seeps into our vocabulary: suddenly “choice” becomes anything but, and basic right for every person to live in dignity becomes seen as a dirty word. It cannot be prosecuted because the legal system is a part of the same obscenity: for example, is it not obscene that it took 18 years to convict two (of more murderers) for a racially-motivated crime, while children participating in poverty riots were convicted in days?

The system looks at obscenity in porn through the lens of the acts itself, but here is nothing inherently obscene about consenting adults fucking on film, no matter what kinds of sex to which they are consenting. Yet we may critique things which are obscene–is there coercion and a lack of consent in some porn? Does some porn convey misogynistic attitudes? These instances are real obscenities.

So much of society is riddled with genuinely repugnant content, everywhere we look. And it’s far worse than a bit of fisting.

Female orgasms and cheating risk: in which evolutionary psychology actually tests a hypothesis

Regular readers will know that a particular bugbear of mine is evolutionary psychology and its persistent habit of throwing out hypotheses without ever bothering testing them. Hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen. I found an instance where they test a hypothesis.

The study, “DO WOMEN PRETEND TO ORGASM TO RETAIN A MATE” is rooted in the “sperm selection” hypothesis of female orgasm–that women have orgasms so their wombs act as a kind of jizz-hoover, and they’re more likely to have an orgasm when having sex with a man with good genes. Following from this, men evolved interest in women’s sexual pleasure so that they can be sure their lady-friend is keeping the little deposited parcel of spunk. Women might therefore fake orgasms in order to keep a man interested and stop him from straying. Now, there’s a lot of assumptions in there, building on the sperm-sucking uterus idea. Can this possibly translate into decent research?

In short, not really. What came out of all of this hypothesising was something which can kindly be described as shaky.

The participants were a reasonably decent sample of college-age women, all of whom had been in a committed heterosexual relationship for more than six months. Participants were asked two questions to assess their perceived likelihood of their partner cheating, and filled in a 104-item survey of “mate retention behaviours” such as calling to check where the partner is, dressing nicely to retain interest and holding hands to when other women are around. I have no idea why the poor participants were subjected to a 104-item questionnaire when there’s one which does the job for the far less tedious 38 items. Pretending orgasms was measured by two questions: “During sexual intercourse with your current partner, have you ever pretended you were more sexually excited than you really were?” and “During sexual intercourse with your current partner, have you ever pretended you were having an orgasm when you really weren’t?”

Astute, observant people may notice a problem with the measurement of faking orgasms here. So could a seven year-old. The first question does not measure faking orgasms at all. Despite this rather obvious point, the authors insist on averaging together scores on not faking orgasms with scores on faking orgasms throughout the study. This is further compounded by each item being measured on a ten-point scale ranging from “definitely not” to “definitely yes”. The authors insist on referring to this score as “frequency of pretending orgasms”, but there is absolutely no measure of time in here. It is more a measure of how sure the survey respondent is that they have done this.

Because of this silly wording of the question, I would expect most of the respondents to the survey to reply with either a very low number if they had not faked orgasms, or a large number if they had. Unfortunately, I will never know if I’m right here, as the authors opted not to publish the mean and measure of spread for the responses to this question. In fact, they’re rather shy about providing a lot of this rather useful information.

After gathering some questionable data, the authors proceeded to performing what the scientific community call a metric fuckton of correlation analyses. When someone does a lot of the same sort of analysis on a big data set, they are likely to get a significant result based on chance alone, unless they adjust for this, which the authors didn’t. Furthermore, if the data isn’t continuous, e.g bunched up at the edges like the orgasm-faking data probably was, you can’t really do a correlation analysis on it. It is possible that that’s why they averaged faking-orgasm data with a behaviour that was not faking orgasms–to smooth it out somewhat and make it more continuous.

The authors pulled out the big guns and decided to do mediation analysis to see whether mate retention behaviours, faking orgasms and perceived infidelity risk correlated in a way where they influenced each other. I will spare you the dry statistical details, but they used a method called Baron and Kenny which is awful, awful, awful and can’t show what it says it shows.

Of course, the press has crawled all over this tripe and gone with the authors’ intepretation of their dodgy, dodgy findings. We women fake orgasms so our men won’t stray. Isn’t that sweet in an adorable lady-neurosis way?

Let us imagine, for a second, that the entire study wasn’t completely FUBAR. They properly measured frequency of women faking orgasms, they accounted for statistical problems, and it emerged, solidly, that perceived risk of cheating correlated with faking orgasms.

It still wouldn’t show that women fake orgasms to hold on to a partner, as it’s a correlation. Nowhere have I seen an alternative possibility explored: that women perceive a greater risk of cheating when their partner is crap in bed, or there’s some sort of sexual incompatability which means they feel the need to pretend. Or, more plausibly, the relationships where there is a high perceived risk of cheating and sex that is so unsatisfying as to necessitate faking orgasms are probably ones which are somewhat broken anyway, and the two factors have a common cause which was not measured in the study.

Essentially, female orgasms probably aren’t a method for holding on to a man. It also doesn’t strike me as particularly plausible that the sole reason female sexual pleasure evolved was to more efficiently funnel semen where it needs to be in the first place. What we have here is a study which is flawed from top to bottom, yet the media springs on it as it confirms societal expectations of women: that we want nothing more than to hold on to a man, and our orgasms are important only for making babies.

These tired tropes are trotted out time and time again, repeated without criticism. Most are, with scrutiny, utter rubbish.

Magic numbers

Let me start with a pop cultural mathematical axiom: the rule of three. In order to best calculate the number of people a man has slept with, divide the figure he gives by three. For a woman, multiply the figure she gives by three. Essentially, people lie about their magic number. And there are gender differences in the format of this lie.

It seems that science has uncovered some truth behind the notion. In this [unfortunately paywalled] study, the researchers made gender differences in sexual behaviour disappear using a nifty trick: the bogus pipeline methodology. In bogus pipeline studies, participants are linked up to something they are told is an infallible lie detector machine. This method has been widely used in psychology studies and seems to be consistent with the truth–for example, in drug studies, it correlates with physical measures of drug usage. A similar method was used in The Wire in the famous photocopier scene.

Thinking that a magical machine could whether they were lying, suddenly participants were far more willing to be honest about their magic numbers and other aspects of sexual behaviour. Contrary to societal expectations, there were no gender differences. Magic numbers and other experiences were the same.

It was not quite as dramatic as the rule of three would predict, but the results were clear: men say they have had sex with more people; women,  fewer.

The rule of three states that this effect takes place because women don’t want to seem like sluts, while men want to seem like players, and this was largely similar to the conclusions the authors of the study drew: people exaggerate or downplay their level of sexual experience due to expectations of their gender. In general, our societal expectations of sex and sexuality is that sex is something men want and women put up with to maintain a relationship. Throw in a hefty dose of slut-shaming levelled at women and it’s easy to see why people might feel a little uncomfortable with being truthful about the sex they have been having.

On a personal level, I hate it when someone asks my magic number, because I honestly don’t know an exact total. I’ve never really bothered counting.

What exactly ‘counts’ anyway? In order to calculate one’s magic number, one needs to define sex somehow. Some consider sex with a man to count if it involves a penis penetrating something: this is heteronormative and phenomenally narrow. Sex can be mindblowing without any dick-in-a-hole contact. And what of sex between two women? There is still a pervasive view in the mainstream thar it’s not really sex, and if it is, what makes it become sex? The answer here, when I’ve asked, is generally ‘oral sex counts’. Once again, creativity is lost.

And what of group sex? Sometimes you can share a profound connection with another person, without ever touching each other.

In short, it is remarkably difficult to quantify ‘what counts’ after any shift away from the monogamous, heteronormative model of sex. So even if I wanted to, I couldn’t count my number of sexual partners.

When asked, it is almost always by heterosexual men. Often I decline to comment as it’s not a particularly polite question and its answer should be of no consequence. Sometimes, when pushed, I lie, pulling an imaginary figure out of thin air just to make the conversation stop. Only once when directly asked did I honestly answer: I don’t know. Only once was I asked by someone I felt could handle the truth.

I still can’t understand the fixation with the reducing an individual wealth of fucking and fingering and frotting and filth into a bare, basic number. It’s so much more than that.

And yet, heteronormativity adopts this approach and people share imaginary figures they think someone else wants to hear. Can we not just abandon the nonsensical concept entirely?