Dr J's Sex Facts

Fun sex facts and accurate information from a clinical sexologist for a hotter and more fulfilling sex life.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Sexual Continuum, Part 2

“When authorities warn you of the sinfulness of sex,
there is an important lesson to be learned.
Do not have sex with the authorities.”

Matt Groening, Life in Hell

Welcome New Readers!

You may find this blog a bit different from others because my intention is to be both entertaining and educational. Each new post is based on information presented in the previous one; so to get the maximum benefit, I recommend you begin with the introductory post from the August archive and read forward from there.

Many of us spend an endless amount of time worrying about whether we’re “normal.” This is to be expected as the result of living in a culture such as ours with very narrow, restrictive and confining definitions about sexuality: anyone deemed by society at large as being outside the “normal” box is considered strange, perverse, and even (gasp!) sick. The fact is that people don’t actually come with a factory-installed, one-size-fits-all sexual “operating system.” Some of us are MACs, and some of us are PCs. Most of us have within ourselves the ability to be flexible (even if we haven’t yet explored that option or even admitted that possibility to ourselves), especially when we mature and are less concerned with conforming to societal norms. Don’t assume everyone is like you. Humans are DIVERSE. It’s what makes us unique. Here’s an analogy: although right-handedness is clearly more common than left-handedness, it’s equally OK to be right-handed, left-handed or ambidextrous. But watch out for people who can do things with their feet. (Just kidding.)

The Kinsey research team introduced us to the concept of the sexual continuum and discovered that sexual orientation can fluctuate during our lives. (Remember the pizza survey from my last post? ) As we observe sexual behaviors over an entire lifespan, we see that many people show a tendency to move up and down on that continuum, opening themselves to experimentation with different acts, positions and even partners of different genders. Keep in mind that we are all quite capable of eroticizing a wide variety of things to a greater or lesser extent.

Interestingly, the current research shows that women’s sexual orientation is even more flexible than that of men (just as with gender roles). Women seem to be more relaxed about their sexual feelings regarding other women—regardless of whether they self-define as gay, straight or bisexual. This attitude may be due, in part, to society’s perception that women’s sexuality is somehow less important than men’s. For instance, it’s generally much less acceptable by society at large for a man to have sex with another man (even once), than for a woman to have sex with another woman (which is generally considered to be hot). Yet, men can often be flexible too in SOME situations (although most aren’t comfortable discussing it). For instance, a man who self-identifies as straight will quite often engage in same-sex behavior while in prison, before cheerfully returning to women upon release, without a backward look. Now THAT’s flexibility!

It’s important to remember that sexuality is fluid: one can’t predict the future. You could be blithely walking down the street tomorrow and fall madly in love with a person who just happens to fall outside your “normal” sexual parameter. Hey, it happens. The movie “The Crying Game” is an excellent exploration of this phenomenon.

We’ve already discussed several historical reasons for our often narrow definitions of sexuality, but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s no such thing as “natural” or “unnatural.” Our very notion of what is “natural” and “unnatural” is an 18th century concept based on limited (and biased) observations of “nature,” e.g., what animals do. Contemporary scientific research reveals that even animals exhibit behaviors that are sexually diverse; and while most procreate (evolution selects for this), many also interact sexually with their same sex. Who knew? Besides, humans do many things other animals don’t (write, fly airplanes, surf the Internet, etc.), so to assert that humans should act sexually like other animals because it’s “natural” turns out to be based on a fallacy.

Today’s message from your Doc is: Relax and stop worrying about fitting in. Once you discover your true sexual self, cherish it. Don’t allow others to define your sexuality, because that actually gives them the ability to take it away from you. Your sexual self is a very precious and unique part of you which requires proper care and nurturing throughout your life.

The Doc is in for your questions and comments. I’d love to hear from you. Y’all write back now, hear?

With Pleasure,

Dr. J

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Sexual Continuum: Beyond Labels

“The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.”
Dr. Alfred Kinsey

Welcome New Readers!

You may find this blog a bit different from others because my intention is to be both entertaining and educational. Each new post is based on information presented in the previous one; so to get the maximum benefit, I recommend you begin with the introductory post from the August archive and read forward from there.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you like pizza? We’re all familiar with the idea of a scale—also known as a continuum— and how it can be applied when we ask people to rate how they feel about something like pizza. Of course our real feelings are often a bit more complex than the extremes of “love” and “hate.” Only by looking at all the degrees in between those extremes can we begin to understand the complexity of a subject.

For instance, if we want to understand the “pizza orientation” of a roomful of people, we wouldn’t simply ask, “How many people love pizza so much they’d eat it every day if they could?” Followed by: “Now how many people hate pizza so much they’d NEVER eat it unless they were starving?” And we’d certainly never label the first group “Pizzaphiles” and the second group “Pizzaphobes” because that would imply that there’s something wrong with either loving or hating pizza, when, in fact, that’s not the case.

So far, we’ve only discovered the two extremes of the pizza continuum and not the whole picture of the group’s pizza orientation. To accomplish that, we’d need to fill in those degrees, finding out how many like pizza enough to eat it weekly, daily, sometimes, almost never, etc. NOW we’d have a pretty good idea about peoples’ pizza orientation.

Again, we recognize the complexity of our human condition regarding thousands of activities. So if it’s true about pizza, then why is it that we insist on painting people into a corner and giving them judgmental labels when it comes to sex?

If we apply this continuum concept to sexual activities, we quickly discover there’s a rich complexity in human sexual behavior, and we’re not limited by a “one size fits all” operating system. For instance, if we survey that same roomful of people about sex, we might ask: “How many of you find that dressing your partner in sexy clothes is critical to getting you aroused?” And maybe a few people would raise their hands. Then we’d ask: “How many of you aren’t at all turned on by the idea of dressing your partner in sexy clothes?” And another few might raise their hands. But if we then ask the group to fill in the middle of the equation, we’d soon find that some people are slightly turned on by clothes, some are moderately turned on, and some are very turned on. Again, this gives us a much more accurate picture and demonstrates that sexuality, like pizza, isn’t an “either/or” proposition.

Unfortunately, many professionals in the past have misunderstood the complexity inherent in sexual behavior, not realizing that the labels they’ve come up with can actually stigmatize those who don’t conform to what they perceive as the traditional heterosexual p-v model of sex.

Sexologists have discovered that we all eroticize things to a greater or lesser extent; there’s a sexual continuum that allows for all these acts, preferences and orientations. Sexuality is fluid: it’s always a process—but not necessarily a fixed process. In the real world, when it comes to sex, most of us don’t fall squarely at either of the extreme ends of the continuum. And to be honest, those who do are just fine, as long as they feel they have options available to them so they don’t feel limited. Problems only arise when people feel stigmatized by unscientific judgmental labels like “voyeur,” “exhibitionist,” etc., or when we feel our sexual needs are too narrow.

Whatever you eroticize—whether it’s a hippopotamus in a tutu or a tall blonde Norwegian with an overbite—there’s no sexological evidence that these personal preferences are in any way pathological or harmful. (It goes without saying we’re discussing consensual sex, not violence.) Of course, at some point, whatever our erotic orientation, many of us might decide we’d like to broaden the scope of our erotic repertoire and discover whether we’re open to the possibility of other turn-ons as well (what fun!).

It’s important that we move beyond labels so we can all integrate sex as a positive force in our lives. Remember that each one of us has something to contribute to the rich mixture of erotic experience, because sexuality is as diverse as humanity—and diversity is a very good thing!

As always, the doc is in, and I welcome your questions and comments.

With Pleasure,

Dr. J

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Celebrate Spring!

We're just a bit late for Solstice and Passover, right on time for Easter and slightly early for Earth Day. At this time each year, I like to take a few minutes to reflect on what these celebrations have meant to various peoples on our planet. It's a time of renewal and optimism, so enjoy!

The Doc is entertaining this week: On Sunday, family and friends will be joining us in the garden for food, drink and merriment (a theme of mine). Lots to do in preparation, so back to work.

See you next week with more sex.

With Pleasure,

Dr J