More Sexy Science

Time for another round of Spot The Shoddy Science Reporting!  This time with bonus points for catching on to the sexist slant before I tell you what it is!  Put on your lab goggles and rubber gloves, and let’s get down to it!  Bonus points will also be awarded for finding erotic applications for those goggles and gloves after the experiment, so keep that in mind.

Here’s an intriguing bit from io9 suggesting that sexually aroused women are less disgusted by things than their non-horny counterparts.  That makes sense to all my female readers, right?  I’ll bet the lot of you do all sorts of things in the moment that you would never dream of doing in regular old non-sexy life.  I sure do!  You may remember from our last installment that after I’d read the article in question and what I could find of the original studies I found one proposition interesting but needed more information and the other one to be highly suspect. This one is reporting on one single study and lucky for me it’s available in full.

If you trotted off to those links and read them you can just scroll down to the part where I share personal stories, because you just saw the glaringly obvious (and sexist!  Don’t forget sexist!) error.  For anyone who just doesn’t have the time and would rather hear me rant, stay right here!  As much as I tend to enjoy io9 I have to call them out on this piece of crap.  Look what they did!  They included a link to the study they’re reporting on right in the article (making my search much easier) and then wrote about it in a way that makes it look like they never bothered to read it.

This particular study was indeed meant to measure whether sexually aroused women would have less of a disgust reaction to a set of tasks, both sexual and non-sexual.  It makes sense, as I noted and as io9 mentions, that this would be true since sex often involves things that would normally be gross, like bodily fluids.

I might be able to excuse the picture io9 chose to illustrate this story, except that it feeds into the flawed attitude they present.  It shows a conventionally attractive woman looking up between a man’s legs with an expression that would suggest she’s not entirely enthusiastic about what she’s seeing.  We’ve all been there, sure – that moment when your hook-up for the evening disrobes and you’re kind of “meh” about it.  I’m pretty sure this is not exclusive to women, by the way.  Paired with the article though, it reads like a “how to get that hot chick to overlook the fact that you’re a schlub so you can hook up with her anyway” image.  It’s because the article itself not only focuses on women, but mentions twice that this research is only about women.  Which is technically true if you only look at this study, but you know what you find if you DO look at this study?  The one that was so helpfully linked?  Multiple studies have found the exact same correlation in men.  It’s right there in the introduction, people!  And it’s repeated in the discussion section.  Yes, these researchers were interested in conducting this study with women, not because they’re a bunch of dudebros, but because no one had thought to see if women have the same arousal/disgust patterns as men.  Looks like they do, but saying “women actually function in similar ways to men in some situations” is less exciting than saying “we’ve figured some shit out about those mysterious women!  Maybe now we can all get laid!”

Looking at the actual study, which is indeed interesting and looks solid, the basic idea seems to be that women who are sexually aroused have less of a disgust response – just like men.  Is anyone surprised?  Anyone?  No?  Okay, then.

Personal story time! I have a higher disgust threshold than a lot of people because of my job.  I see lots of gross things.  What is interesting is that handling things other people might find disgusting in a professional setting requires the exact opposite of the diminished squick factor that’s been measured in people who are sexually aroused – it’s all based on clinical detachment.  This is something anyone who works with bodily fluids, sick people, injured people, or dead people knows all about, since it’s an ability we develop that lets us focus on the job at hand without being disturbed by anything we have to see or do in the process.  It’s also a mindset that is worlds apart from the one this study is looking at, since “clinical detachment” is not something you want to feel during sexy time.*  All that aside, I do think that I tend not to be as bothered by “gross” things as most people in any situation, so my personal measure of how disgusting something is is probably a bit skewed.

To get back to the study, one Really Incredibly Useful Thing that the io9 article actually does touch on is that women who have been labeled as having “sexual dysfunction” may just not be turned on enough for their disgust response to be overcome.  I can see where this would turn into a vicious cycle for some people, since women who have been socialized not to be open and honest with their sexual feelings and needs might just push past their lack of ardor or ignore it, and end up having unpleasant or boring or even painful sex.  This would bring a negative association to sex, so it would be even harder for them to feel aroused next time, and so on.  I’m sure this happens, because I’ve been through it in the past.  Never again.

Finally, the fact that the disgust response exists in humans in the first place is mainly to avoid disease.  This right here is important in light of the study, for men and women, because it drives home the fact that setting your own boundaries and discussing them before anything exciting happens is the best way to go.  This can be even more important for kinky people, since certain kinks involve higher risk.  I’ve had people with higher-risk kinks try to spring them on me during play, and that is NOT ACCEPTABLE, EVER.  The vanilla equivalent is a dude making out with a girl until she’s really turned on and then trying to have sex without a condom.**  Also NOT ACCEPTABLE, EVER.

The big message here is that your body can trick you into doing things that are more risky which you’d never do if you weren’t aroused.  This is useful for men and women to understand, since being aware of it can be a tool to protect yourself and make sure to negotiate things before they turn crucial.  Putting your own safety measures in place beforehand is also a good way to ensure that the rightful anxiety that can come up when you don’t feel safe won’t be an issue, so you can enjoy all the nasty things your diminished disgust response allows you to do.  And if you run into anyone who does try to take advantage of your arousal state, that person sucks and you should run far, far away.




* I’m sure there are people out there who are all about some medical play who would be even more into it if the person working on them displayed this attitude.  But in general, it’s not something that should be brought into the bedroom.




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