The success of "50 Shades of Grey" and news about Pornhub's most popular search terms has too many people buzzing about the alleged dangers of each.
Both traditional conservatives and some self-identified feminists are condemning 50 Shades as encouraging violence against women. Clearly, these people know nothing about S/M, and not nearly enough about violence against women. Similarly, groups like xxxChurch and other anti-porn crusaders are dismayed that "teens" was the most popular porn search term last year, fearing this means we're about to see a rash of adults trying to have sex with teens.
The panic about both of these things is founded on the persistent myth that enjoying a fantasy is the same thing as desiring it in real life. If that were true, millions of our neighbors would be punching their bosses, sleeping with their brothers-in-law, selling their homes to start over in Boise, or urinating on the very next TSA guard that hassles them.
Most grownups know that fantasy doesn't equal desire and that it doesn't predict behavior. One of the ways we cope with the pressures and complicated decision-making of adulthood is fantasy. We watch Star Wars and Star Trek, CSI and Grey's Anatomy, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and James Bond (and yes, Wonder Woman and the Million Dollar Baby) and we think "If only that were me…if only I had the chance…"
And we make damn sure we never have the chance. That mayhem stuff is dangerous. Fun to imagine, but nothing to mess with.
Which explains the appeal of 50 Shades of Grey: Fun to imagine, but nothing to mess with. And the appeal of porn featuring 18 and 19 year olds (the only teen porn you can find on the overwhelming majority of porn sites): fun to imagine, but nothing to mess with.
Yes, there are people who coerce women sexually. And adults who romance college kids, even some high school kids. But 50 Shades isn't making that happen, and neither is porn. According to the federal Justice Department, the incidence of each has gone down in the last decade.
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Anyone who looks at 50 Shades and thinks that women like to get roughed up is (a) not really watching the movie, and (b) thinking that before they watch the film. The idea that women like to fall in love with guys who rough them up was popular before E.L. James was born. Jimmy Cagney and Jane Austen come to mind. 50 Shades isn't the problem. Given economic options, most women don't stay with someone who roughs them up. And, of course, 50 Shades isn't about roughing someone up, it's about two people collaborating on an experiment.
The concern about porn and teens is amusing, and as completely ignorant of history as only Americans can be. Teens have been the center of human erotic attraction since the beginning of time. Evolutionarily, they're perfect for mating. And their bodies are as close to perfect as human bodies get. Of course they're attractive to us today—they were attractive in Shakespeare's time, in the Middle Ages, in Jesus' time, and in the Greek heyday before that. Nothing novel about it.
Interestingly, Pornhub's number two search term was lesbian, and numbers 3 and 4 were MILF and stepmom. Where is the outcry about everyone watching porn at risk for turning into, or desiring, lesbians? Or all the porn watchers suddenly turning toward older women, thereby depriving younger women of the relationships they deserve? Don't forget granny porn—does its popularity predict an abandonment of all women under 50?
The accusation that 50 Shades is not a "feminist" book is telling. One hundred million women buy the book and it's not feminist? That many women are not to be trusted to express their own eroticism? 50 Shades is not great literature (nor a great S/M manual), but it has flushed pro-censorship, anti-sexual diversity, fascist-style feminism out of the bushes.
Assuming they're not obsessive, unwanted, and intrusive, fantasies are not dangerous (even then, the fantasies themselves are not the problem). What is dangerous are shame, guilt, and fearing that we're not normal. And the forced secrecy that results from these. They're more constraining and dehumanizing than Mr. Grey could ever be.
Men, women, and couples come to my practice each week talking about "ED"—erectile dysfunction. The term apparently refers to anyone who can't an erection when he wants to—once. This, of course, implies that penises should behave like ATMs—ready to do business 24/7, rain or shine.
But that's not how penises or the human brain are built. Penises actually need a lot of conditions in order to do what their owners, or their owners' partners, want them to do. Those conditions can involve emotions, environmental issues, or features of the partner. If one of those isn't quite right, even the healthiest penis will stubbornly stay small and soft and quite calm.
So here are ten common situations in which penis owners—or their partners—often expect or demand an erection, and don't get one. Such cases are examples of unrealistic expectations, not ED.
* You've been drinking a lot
"A lot" might be as little as a couple of drinks. You don't have to be drunk in order to be compromised by alcohol. You know how drinking slows down your reflexes for driving? It also slows down your erection reflex.
* You're really tired
Sometimes sex is available exactly when we're most tired—and worse, we may fear it won't be available when we're rested (or a potential partner has had a chance to think things over). Besides, many people leave sex for the last thing at night, when they can no longer do anything productive. When we treat sex so disrespectfully it's no wonder if our bodies don't respond.
* You're afraid sex will lead to pregnancy (or an STI)
Even if you're telling yourself over and over "it won't happen," or you're repeating to yourself "don't forget to pull out," that can be pretty distracting.
* You don't really want to have sex with this person
Sometimes it's a long-term partner we've lost interest in, but we have sex in order to prevent conflict. Sometimes it's a casual partner that we're not that attracted to—but hey, it's sex, right? Actually, wrong.
* The stuff she's doing isn't sexy to you—in fact, it hurts
Long, long fingernails where you don't want them, too much teeth, thrusting or bouncing on your penis in a way that scares you—these can all chase away an erection. And a look, a phrase, or lingerie that she thinks is sexy but just strikes you wrong can also get in the way. Turns out men are more sensitive than some people give them credit for.
* She's sloppy drunk
Why you'd want to have sex with a drunk woman is an important question. Among other things, it's hardly ethical (although I understand that you both might be). But once you're into it—or trying to be—it usually turns out to be way more trouble than it's worth. Most penises don't find it to be a pretty sight.
* She doesn't want to have sex
Trying to talk someone into it—or roughly pushing them into it—gets some men excited, caveman-style. Most men are simply too human to enjoy it. And no matter how desirable she was before she said "no," once a woman says "no" it's hard for most men to keep their self-respect if they keep pushing. And erections usually leave when dignity does.
* You're in a big hurry
If you're in a big hurry, you're either thinking about the thing you need to do next, or you're worried about being caught (or simply running out of time). Not conducive to erection.
* You're just not in the mood
Many men have been told that since women control sex, a man doesn't have the luxury of not being in the mood when sex is available. If you're not in the mood but proceed anyway, your penis may reveal the truth by refusing to participate.
* You still haven't gotten over the argument you recently had
That argument hurt, didn't it? And even if it didn't, it made you feel separate from your partner, right? Besides, a productive argument actually gives you something to think about afterwards. If you're thinking about that, that's good—but it may not leave much of your attention available for sexual interest.
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Why does it matter what we call a situation that may be, variously, aggravating, embarrassing, confusing, or shocking?
For one thing, getting beyond the narrative of ED means the lack of erection may not mean a lack of desire, arousal, or affection. For another, it means that the lack of erection may be quite temporary—as soon as the right conditions are arranged (an hour later, a week later), an erection may be quite available. And finally, it means that erection drugs may not be the right approach to getting the desired erection.
As in so many things sexual, honesty with oneself and communication with one's partner are frequently the first steps toward improving your sexual experience—in this case, getting more reliable and drama-free erections.