5 Bizarre Ways the Brain Links Sex With Shame
How shameful is your sex life? More or less than you're comfortable with? What about your fantasy life? As is patently obvious, I have severe sexual dysfunctions that amuse me to no end, so recently I thought to wrap up some of you, my readers, in my own depravity by way of a sex survey and see if there's anything we can learn about sex, fantasy, and shame together in a friendly yet uncomfortable way. Does everyone feel the same way about their sexuality and sexual past? Surely not, but there must be some interesting similarities men and women share among their fantasies and reactions to them. If not, this'll be a way short article, and maybe all the ensuing paragraphs are just rants I wrote about the shoddy state of modern snack foods. When is someone going to invent a beer-filled Hot Pocket, for God's sake?
Looks like someone ate the insides once already!
Toward the end of 2012, a curious article was published online, in various media outlets, about how sexual arousal suppresses disgust. Just hearing the words "arousal" and "disgust" was more than enough to get my attention, and the article was pretty fascinating, and also, if we're being honest with ourselves, oddly obvious. You will do things and say things in the heat of the moment that you probably are not cool with when you're riding on a city bus, or attending Mass.
The gist of the article was that, statistically speaking, there is a correlation between arousal and your willingness to do things you would otherwise deem gross. Sexually gross. Regular gross was statistically irrelevant, but sexually gross was a big deal. This no doubt explains why Gene Simmons has a sex life at all.
Imagine looking at this while you're naked and aroused.
So what does that mean, anyway? In the test, it meant women who were sexually aroused were more willing to put their hands in a bucket of used condoms than women who were not aroused, and, speaking as a currently not-aroused man, that's pretty gross and disturbingly creative. Good job, scientists! But obviously, for the purposes of my article, I couldn't very well carry a bucket of used jimmy hats around to see if any of you wanted a feel. Instead, I wrote a little survey, and about 90 people replied, which is a pretty decent number, I suppose. The survey asked your opinion on a number of different sexual fantasies ranging from what I felt was pretty commonplace to what was pretty insane. (Fact: Almost none of you are into bestiality. Or at least very few of you admitted it. The ASPCA thanks you.) And then I asked you about shame. Have you ever had a sexual experience you were ashamed of? What was it, and why? Let's learn some stuff together.
In the survey I wrote, I asked participants to rank 13 fantasies on a scale of 1 to 5. I was very vague on purpose, and just gave a one- or two-word description of the fantasy and let people have at it. Of the fantasies listed, the clear-cut winner for the nearly 50 women who answered was being dominated. About a quarter of ladies chose that as their No. 1 fantasy. On the opposite end of the spectrum? Bestiality! Man, no one likes the idea of humping a dog, with just about half of women ranking that as the least arousing. In fairness, that number should be higher, but for any survey in which people ranked more than one thing as least arousing, I chose the one they mentioned first. Is that scientific? Hell if I know.
The results for men were surprisingly similar to those for women. The No. 1 man fantasy was a threesome. At this point, you're probably saying, "Felix, let me bake you a nice quiche," to which I say thank you. But then you may also say, "Of course poor, predictable men want a threesome. Silly, obvious men." To that I say "Ha!" As it happens, women had threesomes ranked as No. 2, just behind domination and ranking as the top fantasy for about one-fifth of surveys, whereas it was top for one-fourth of men. And also, dog humping ranked at the bottom. This instills in me a sense of wellness, because I'd be weirded out if I had too many dog humpers as readers. I have a few, don't get me wrong, I just feel better knowing it's a minority. And that's not me being judgmental, I just feel like maybe you'd all team up and there could be some kind of Felix Clay zoophile club out there and it'd ruin my chances of running for mayor one day.
So now we know what turns women on. What would cause them shame? If you think this article is heading toward a curious expose of dog sex, I can let you know that's not the case. As it happens, there's a very weird link between shame and fantasy, but not the one you think. While the majority of women picked domination as an arousing fantasy, the majority of shameful experiences that were shared with me also involved a degree of domination and coercion from their partner. This ranged from guys they weren't really into begging until they gave in to their partners paying or forcing them (in a more emotional rather than physical way) into doing things they didn't really want to do. Over half of the shameful experiences women told me about could be categorized that way, even though within those confines they ranged from "having sex with a guy in exchange for drugs" to "my boyfriend telling me I didn't really love him if I didn't participate in a threesome with another girl." So the common trend in most of these shameful experiences is that the dude was a dick.
Women, it seems, like the idea of being controlled, but the reality of it is never on par with the fantasy, likely because in reality you have to deal with the quirks and stupid decisions of a guy who is apparently a dick. Thus we meet the problem of reconciling fantasy with reality, because a fantasy always has you being in control, especially when the fantasy is giving up control. The reality is a whole new ballgame and probably only works with someone you really trust and have hashed this out with ahead of time.
So if dudes are super into threesomes, what do you think men are ashamed of? It's time for another curious revelation! Just as women are aroused by domination but have had shameful real-life experiences with it, men enjoy the fantasy of another woman, but being with another woman is also a pretty shameful thing, at least if it's done in an illicit manner. The majority of dudes who responded cited cheating as their most shameful experience, with one-night stands with someone they weren't into as a close second. So basically men's fantasies involve sex with lots of women, and in real life, they're ashamed of having sex with those women after it happens.
For what it's worth, the question of "greatest sexual fantasy" was also on the survey and left wide open, and a good number of men, believe it or not, answered that their greatest sexual fantasy would be a sexual relationship with someone they love. I know, I had to go brew a coffee, take a sip, then do a spit-take, too. Pop culture has convinced me that all men including myself are dirty dogs and that, while I was writing this article, I slept with three women I'll never call again. But none of that is true. Shock!
In so many words, men like the idea of a lot of sex, and this includes gay men, but they're ashamed of having it with multiple partners for whom they have no real feelings. A lot of guys expressed that they feel this way some years later, so maybe it comes with age, and when you're a college bro you have no sense of self-awareness or common decency, and this is all bullshit that doesn't apply. I only got answers from 90 people and I was drunk during my stats class, so I'm not making any definitive claims, just some observations.
The Disgust Factor
How did it happen that the fantasy cited as most arousing by men or women was so closely related to the most commonly shared moments of sexual shame? It's worth noting that the numbers weren't exact, and a lot of people have never had a shameful sexual experience, but for those who did, whose shame so closely reflects the fantasies of the majority, ain't that a little weird? A little quirky? I thought so. And I figure that's where disgust plays in.
Some people will readily admit that they enjoy a degree of humiliation in their sex, or degradation even. Lots of people enjoy dirty talk that includes name calling. In the confines of a trusting, private sexual moment, more women than you'd think will happily respond to the word "slut." And you can start building a list of names or situations from there that might seem outright offensive if it was being glimpsed by outsiders. But for a lot of people, that shit's hot. They want to be called names, they want to be tied up or beaten. They want to put their tongue in someone else's butt. People do that. I've seen it! And I won't even pretend it had anything to do with research for this. I just like butts and tongues.
So why the hell do we get off on things that should offend us? Why, in the realm of a sexual encounter, are we turned on by things that later we feel shame about? Why does sexual arousal make us do things we readily define as gross?
Look at it this way -- how apt are you to let someone spit in your mouth? Probably not very. Now look at what sex entails. Whatever genders are involved, typically I'm smudging my fluids all in and around a hole in your body that makes its own fluids. In any other context, that is revolting as hell. Sometimes I'm even shooting that stuff all up in you. All up. Way in. And it's going to ooze around in there. And maybe your fluids are dripping all over me. And maybe someone else is there, since that's a popular fantasy, and their fluids are literally dripping off of all three of us. This whole paragraph is either extremely sexy to you or borderline nauseating. And I haven't even mentioned the butt sex yet. Or oral. Oral, for God's sake! You put your face where people expel filtered soluble toxic wastes from their kidneys that would otherwise kill them if their body couldn't remove them. And then you get all licky, sucky, slurpy on it. Fuckin' sexy!
Nature understands that sex is oddly unsexy. But since it's necessary for the continuation of the species, it came up with a way to trick you into continuing to do it, and that's by making you get turned on by unsexy things. That's both brilliant and terrible. But that also means nature has your back from now on and you don't need to ever actually be ashamed of your sexual past ever again. That shame isn't your fault, it's a biological process. Nature wants you to have all the filthy sex you can, and it makes you cool with it while it's happening, so who are you to fight biology? You put your tongue in that bum, you earned it. Nature made you want to do it. It's for the good of our entire species.