But if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it
by The Guyliner
Labels are important. They help us. They can protect us. Labels tell you that there are baked beans in the tin you’re holding; labels warn us not to wash our merino sweater above 30 degrees. We trust labels, because without them, we’d get it wrong. But sometimes, labels don’t work – they are derogatory or incorrect or unwelcome. One part of society where labels are changing is within sexuality and gender. As the landscape expands from straight/gay and man/woman to include bisexuality, queerness and trans people, among others, many are finding themselves moving away from the specific, restrictive pigeonholing a label can bring and merely tagging themselves “Me”.
But what happens when you’re happy with the label society has assigned you, but quite fancy trying out something someone like you doesn’t normally do, or what if you start to travel down one path, only to find you prefer another, and want to change course and stay on it for ever? Do you have to re-label yourself? Does it mean you’re not who you thought you were? Is it time to mute whichever episode of Stranger Things you’re watching, stand up, tell the room you dreamt another man’s erection touched you and have an identity crisis? In short: if you’re straight but have sex with another guy, does it make you gay?
It rather depends on what you think being gay means. For most people, ask what “gay” means to them and, if we’re talking about guys, they’ll say a man who has sex with other men. And this, of course, is a huge part of being gay. But the reduction of gayness to be nothing more than just sex can not only be counter-productive – as in, uptight straight guys are missing out on something quite spectacular – and, frankly, homophobic, but it’s also plain wrong.
You know when you see a kid acting or talking a certain way and you think, “they’re gay” or “they’ll be gay when they’re older” – how do you explain that? They don’t even know what sex is yet, straight or gay. The feelings “gay” children have and the character traits they display can’t be boiled down to some potential gay sex they may or may not be having 10 or 15 years down the line – that’s gayness right there, already in play. Whether you believe in nature or nurture or any other theory, there’s more to being gay than just shagging another guy.
So if we remove the label of “gay” from sex acts we traditionally assume are only the domain of gay men, does this mean you can take part in them and still be straight? Where do we draw the line? Getting a blow job from a guy, for example, is something a lot more straight men have experienced than the stony faces down at the Dog and Gun might have you believe. Is it less gay if there’s no mutual contact of genitals? Because it’s passive? A service, almost?
James, 28, says he regularly got blowjobs from a gay pal in his teens, but he doesn’t consider himself gay. “Me and my mate would fool around but mainly he would do it to me,” he explains. “I wasn’t as interested in his cock as he was in mine, but I think we both got something out of it.” If there’s one thing hormone-frazzled 17-year-old boys aren’t getting anywhere near enough of as they want, it’s oral sex. “I didn’t have a girlfriend yet and my mate was just discovering his sexuality and wanted to try. I always made it clear we weren’t in a relationship and that nobody should know. But I didn’t feel guilty and I think he was cool with it.”
You could argue that there was an element of exploitation to James’s relationship with his mate. The friend was finding his feet with his sexuality and James was the willing guinea pig – as long as nobody found out – but if you’re encouraging a gay man to perform fellatio on you, aren’t you gay? “I’ve never been with a man since and I’m happily married now. I doubt I’d do it again as that would mean being unfaithful, but I consider myself straight. It’s fine to experiment; it’s a big part of finding out who you are.”
And what about when contact with another man happens as part of your relationship? Mark, a 28-year-old investment banker had already had one skirmish with a gay guy when his colleague’s boyfriend came on to him in a club bathroom and went down on him – real life really is stranger than soap opera – but his second time was a different matter altogether. His girlfriend was there.
So why stop at a blowjob and not take it further? When in Rome, and all that. “I just didn’t really feel the desire to f*** him. I suppose it’s possible I might go further one day but I think it’s very unlikely. I almost never think men are attractive.”
But if you’re involving a third person in your hitherto straight sex life, does this mean either you or your partner is bisexual? For Mark, it’s not a concern. “Why do I continue to identify as straight? I suppose it’s because I couldn’t imagine myself having a relationship with a man. In the same way I have gay friends who’ve f***ed women, but would never identify as bi, or worry they’re straight.
“I think that ‘being gay’ or ‘being straight’ is about much more than some sexual contact.”
So a BJ is a BJ, but what about when things go further? Is the threshold for gayness actual penetration? Surely, if you’re having anal sex with a man, you’re gay, no? That’s what the guys in the locker room would say, right?
Thinking about having sex with a man isn’t a sign you’re gay yourself, no more than idly imaging pushing your evil boss under a truck means you’re a latent homicidal maniac. Sometimes, though, even if you’ve never imagined it, when the opportunity presents itself, a primal instinct takes over, as videographer Zak, 25, discovered.
“I’d never really thought about being bi or gay, he explains. “I’d only ever been with girls and had never really been sexually attracted to any guys.
“When I was 20 a load of our sixth form year got together for a party. George was a guy from my year I’d known fairly well but never been close to. We were both fairly drunk and I remember just feeling happy to see him for the first time in ages and for some reason, knowing he was gay, I kissed him rather than hugging him. We chatted for a bit and then we both carried on with the night – not really thinking much about it.”
So far, so straight – no need to adjust any labels so far. Everyone is as they should be.
Zak continues: “Later on, we were both alone on the landing and he kissed me again. This time, for some reason, I didn’t really stop him and before long we were fully making out – we snuck into one of the bedrooms and one thing led to another.”
But was this a harrowing experience? Was there much soul-searching or did Zak just have a blast?
The ability to distance oneself from any gayness of a sex act perhaps comes from how it plays out. Who shags who, who touches what – that kind of thing. Like James getting a BJ from his pal, Zak’s mate was also providing a service of sorts, but Zak was an active participant. “We had sex, both oral and anal,” says Zak. “I ‘topped’ [the other guy played a passive role and ‘received’], I don’t think I’d have been comfortable with it the other way around.”
It’s not uncommon for straight men who have sex with another man to experience “gay panic” and feel guilty about what they’ve done and what it means. This can, on occasion, lead to persecution of, or violence against the other guy, whether he’s gay or also straight. But Zak remains unfazed about the experience.
“I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed,” he says. “I still identify as straight and don’t think I’d initiate something with a bloke, but put in the same situation I could see myself doing it again.”
Some guys might worry that they were gay – and if you’re wondering why anyone would “worry” about such a thing, do take a moment to research how gay men and women are treated across the world – but Zak takes a more relaxed approach.
“One of my uni friends described himself as ‘hetero-flexible’ and I reckon that’s probably where I am at too,” says Zak. “I don’t think repeating it would make me ‘gay’. I’m not attracted to them but I can appreciate men who are attractive. In the same way I’ve slept with women in the past who I don’t think I was really attracted to, sometimes sex is just sex and it’s fun.”
And Zak’s right, sex is just sex. It’s common for gay people, when they first come out, to say their sexuality doesn’t define them, that there’s more to them than simply being gay. It’s all part of the process of recognizing your sexual orientation and assert yourself as an individual, not part of some flock or movement. It’s the vestigial feelings of shame that coming out is supposed to eradicate, hanging on for dear life. “I’m not like the others,” they think. Most of us get over it eventually and reconcile with the fact we’re gay, but this refusal to define can, in some cases, be a positive thing – a defiance of society’s boring old norms. As long as it’s used constructively and positively, and not homophobically of course.
You as an individual get to decide how you label your sexuality, if at all. As long as nobody’s feelings are getting screwed over, you’re free to have sex with men or women at will and still call yourself straight.
But it’s worth acknowledging that you’re merely a tourist and all the privilege this gives you. You get all the pluses of gay sex – and they are pluses, admit it, you love it – but, as long it’s kept on the downlow, none of the prejudice and pressures the LGBT community faces apply to you. You get to dip in, and out, with little or none of the comeback.
Labels inform and warn and categorize, but they also help us come to terms with who we are. A label can be something to cling to, to identify with, to make us feel safe, to tell the world what we’re about.
Avoiding them altogether is brave, choosing one and then flouting the conventions of it could be braver still, but living with a label 24/7 and taking all the consequences it throws at you is perhaps the bravest path of all. And those repercussions can be noxious: LGBT people are discriminated against, mocked, beaten and murdered, all for doing things you get to do without question. Just for being.
Having sex with a man doesn’t mean you’re gay, definitely not. You get to be who you want to be. But don’t forget the sacrifices your gay brothers make on a daily basis so you can have that freedom to choose. You get to go back to your privileged status in the world – we can only be us.
“Gay” sex acts aren’t something to be ashamed of; if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it. Don’t let it be a dirty little secret; own your sexuality – whatever it may be – with pride.
Complete Article HERE!
By Joni Sweet
When Nelly encouraged overheated people worldwide to get naked in 2002, he was unknowingly advocating much more than just a sexy, sweaty dance party. Sunbathing, sleeping, working out, and lounging around in the buff actually provide legitimate health benefits.
While you shouldn’t ALWAYS seek out St. Louis-area rappers for your medical advice, here are five health-related reasons to take off all your clothes
Your skin will improve
Tight, synthetic apparel can cause skin to freak out, resulting in rashes, clogged pores, and irritation, according to dermatologist and RealSelf advisor Dr. Sejal Shah. And when you perspire, it creates an environment for yeast and fungus to thrive, which, gross. She recommends sleeping sans skivvies to keep your skin healthy and clear. If you’re into pumping iron at home, maybe try doing it au naturel to avoid sweaty workout clothes that trap bacteria against your skin. That’s the way Arnold probably did it, right? At the very least, you’ll save yourself the stench of old gym clothes festering in your hamper.
You’ll sleep better
Keeping your body cooler at night yields more restful sleep. “A lower body temp helps with sleep, all bodies sleep better in the cooler temperature,” says Michael Breus, PhD, aka “The Sleep Doctor.” The National Sleep Foundation confirms by saying, “Your body temperature decreases to initiate sleep.” In case you’re not into the high energy bill that will result from cranking your A/C to the recommended 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit, just ditch your PJs for an immediate cooling effect.
You’ll have better sex
Obviously sex is better when you don’t have any clothes on, as opposed to the fully covered version you see on network TV. But spooning naked all night could also help you get in the mood. From the time you’re born, skin-to-skin contact signals the release of oxytocin — a feel-good hormone — which increases empathy and your mom’s feelings of attachment… but that oxytocin release is also associated with romantic love. Turns out that Oedipus was pretty spot-on, and the Greeks knew nothing about neurobiology. All that oxytocin flowing around in your brain just may take your sex to another level.
Another factor in sexual enjoyment is self-esteem, which can be boosted by spending extra time in the buff. “[When you spend more time naked], your body image improves, and you become less concerned with how you look and instead focus on how you feel in your own skin,” says Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, Astroglide’s resident sexologist. “We have been taught to hide our bodies in shame (e.g., dress to hide your so-called ‘problem’ areas), and these messages take a toll on our relationship with our bodies. Being naked helps us to reclaim the entire body as the beautiful vehicle that carries us around across a lifespan.”
Dr. Breus adds a good point about nudity and sex: “Most people are intimate when given the right opportunity. Not needing to remove items of clothing, and knowing that the person you share a bed with is naked is just that — an opportunity.” Well said, assuming the person you share a bed with is a consenting adult.
Your nether regions will thank you
Men and women alike reduce their risks of certain infections and conditions when they go commando, especially at night. Underwear traps heat and moisture around the groin, potentially leading to jock itch in men and yeast infections in women. For women who suffer from chronic infections, the health benefits and comfort levels of ditching panties are even higher. Let those bits breathe once in a while!
You’ll reduce your risk of heart attack
This summer, hit the nude beach (or just quickly strip down in your backyard when no one’s looking) to improve your heart health. The key is vitamin D, which is created by our skin cells when they are exposed to the sun. People deficient in this important vitamin suffer from an increased risk of coronary heart disease. While the duration of sun exposure required for enough vitamin D depends on skin tone, the Vitamin D Council recommends a minimum of 15 minutes outside — not necessarily in the nude, but hey, it won’t hurt. Provided you use enough sunscreen, of course.
Complete Article HERE!
Condemned, celebrated, shunned: masturbation has long been an uncomfortable fact of life. Why?
The anonymous author of the pamphlet Onania (1716) was very worried about masturbation. The ‘shameful vice’, the ‘solitary act of pleasure’, was something too terrible to even be described. The writer agreed with those ‘who are of the opinion, that… it never ought to be spoken of, or hinted at, because the bare mentioning of it may be dangerous to some’. There was, however, little reticence in cataloguing ‘the frightful consequences of self-pollution’. Gonorrhoea, fits, epilepsy, consumption, impotence, headaches, weakness of intellect, backache, pimples, blisters, glandular swelling, trembling, dizziness, heart palpitations, urinary discharge, ‘wandering pains’, and incontinence – were all attributed to the scourge of onanism.
The fear was not confined to men. The full title of the pamphlet was Onania: Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences (in Both Sexes). Its author was aware that the sin of Onan referred to the spilling of male seed (and divine retribution for the act) but reiterated that he treated ‘of this crime in relation to women as well as men’. ‘Whilst the offence is Self-Pollution in both, I could not think of any other word which would so well put the reader in mind both of the sin and its punishment’. Women who indulged could expect disease of the womb, hysteria, infertility and deflowering (the loss of ‘that valuable badge of their chastity and innocence’).
Another bestselling pamphlet was published later in the century: L’onanisme (1760) by Samuel Auguste Tissot. He was critical of Onania, ‘a real chaos … all the author’s reflections are nothing but theological and moral puerilities’, but nevertheless listed ‘the ills of which the English patients complain’. Tissot was likewise fixated on ‘the physical disorders produced by masturbation’, and provided his own case study, a watchmaker who had self-pleasured himself into ‘insensibility’ on a daily basis, sometimes three times a day; ‘I found a being that less resembled a living creature than a corpse, lying upon straw, meagre, pale, and filthy, casting forth an infectious stench; almost incapable of motion.’ The fear these pamphlets promoted soon spread.
The strange thing is that masturbation was never before the object of such horror. In ancient times, masturbation was either not much mentioned or treated as something a little vulgar, not in good taste, a bad joke. In the Middle Ages and for much of the early modern period too, masturbation, while sinful and unnatural, was not invested with such significance. What changed?
Religion and medicine combined powerfully to create a new and hostile discourse. The idea that the soul was present in semen led to thinking that it was very important to retain the vital fluid. Its spilling became, then, both immoral and dangerous (medicine believed in female semen at the time). ‘Sin, vice, and self-destruction’ were the ‘trinity of ideas’ that would dominate from the 18th into the 19th century, as the historians Jean Stengers and Anne Van Neck put it in Masturbation: The Great Terror (2001).
There were exceptions. Sometimes masturbation was opposed for more ‘enlightened’ reasons. In the 1830s and 1840s, for instance, female moral campaign societies in the United States condemned masturbation, not out of hostility to sex, but as a means to self-control. What would now be termed ‘greater sexual agency’ – the historian April Haynes refers to ‘sexual virtue’ and ‘virtuous restraint’ – was central to their message.
Yet it is difficult to escape the intensity of the fear. J H Kellogg’s Plain Facts for Old and Young (1877) contained both exaggerated horror stories and grand claims: ‘neither the plague, nor war, nor smallpox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of Onanism; it is the destroying element of civilised societies’. Kellogg suggested remedies for the scourge, such as exercise, strict bathing and sleeping regimes, compresses, douching, enemas and electrical treatment. Diet was vital: this rabid anti-masturbator was co-inventor of the breakfast cereal that still bears his name. ‘Few of today’s eaters of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes know that he invented them, almost literally, as anti-masturbation food,’ as the psychologist John Money once pointed out.
The traces are still with us in other ways. Male circumcision, for instance, originated in part with the 19th-century obsession with the role of the foreskin in encouraging masturbatory practices. Consciously or not, many US males are faced with this bodily reminder every time they masturbate. And the general disquiet unleashed in the 18th century similarly lingers on today. We seem to have a confusing and conflicting relationship with masturbation. On one hand it is accepted, even celebrated – on the other, there remains an unmistakable element of taboo.
When the sociologist Anthony Giddens in The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) attempted to identify what made modern sex modern, one of the characteristics he identified was the acceptance of masturbation. It was, as he said, masturbation’s ‘coming out’. Now it was ‘widely recommended as a major source of sexual pleasure, and actively encouraged as a mode of improving sexual responsiveness on the part of both sexes’. It had indeed come to signify female sexual freedom with Betty Dodson’s Liberating Masturbation (1974) (renamed and republished as Sex for One in 1996), which has sold more than a million copies, and her Bodysex Workshops in Manhattan with their ‘all-women masturbation circles’. The Boston Women’s Health Collective’s classic feminist text Our Bodies, Ourselves (1973) included a section called ‘Learning to Masturbate’.
Alfred Kinsey and his team are mainly remembered for the sex surveys that publicised the pervasiveness of same-sex desires and experiences in the US, but they also recognised the prevalence of masturbation. It was, for both men and women, one of the nation’s principal sexual outlets. In the US National Survey (2009–10), 94 per cent of men aged 25-29 and 85 per cent of women in the same age group said that they had masturbated alone in the course of their lifetime. (All surveys indicate lower reported rates for women.) In the just-published results of the 2012 US National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 92 per cent of straight men and a full 100 per cent of gay men recorded lifetime masturbation.
There has certainly been little silence about the activity. Several generations of German university students were questioned by a Hamburg research team about their masturbatory habits to chart changing attitudes and practices from 1966 to 1996; their results were published in 2003. Did they reach orgasm? Were they sexually satisfied? Was it fun? In another study, US women were contacted on Craigslist and asked about their masturbatory experiences, including clitoral stimulation and vaginal penetration. An older, somewhat self-referential study from 1977 of sexual arousal to films of masturbation asked psychology students at the University of Connecticut to report their ‘genital sensations’ while watching those films. Erection? Ejaculation? Breast sensations? Vaginal lubrication? Orgasm? And doctors have written up studies of the failed experiments of unfortunate patients: ‘Masturbation Injury Resulting from Intraurethral Introduction of Spaghetti’ (1986); ‘Penile Incarceration Secondary to Masturbation with A Steel Pipe’ (2013), with illustrations.
‘We are a profoundly self-pleasuring society at both a metaphorical and material level’
Self-stimulation has been employed in sexual research, though not always to great import. Kinsey and his team wanted to measure how far, if at all, semen was projected during ejaculation: Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, Kinsey’s biographer, refers to queues of men in Greenwich Village waiting to be filmed at $3 an ejaculation. William Masters and Virginia Johnson recorded and measured the physiological response during sexual arousal, using new technology, including a miniature camera inside a plastic phallus. Their book Human Sexual Response (1966) was based on data from more than 10,000 orgasms from nearly 700 volunteers: laboratory research involving sexual intercourse, stimulation, and masturbation by hand and with that transparent phallus. Learned journals have produced findings such as ‘Orgasm in Women in the Laboratory – Quantitative Studies on Duration, Intensity, Latency, and Vaginal Blood Flow’ (1985).
In therapy, too, masturbation has found its place ‘as a means of achieving sexual health’, as an article by Eli Coleman, the director of the programme in human sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School, once put it. A published study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 1977 outlined therapist-supervised female masturbation (with dildo, vibrator and ‘organic vegetables’) as a way of encouraging vaginal orgasm. Then there is The Big Book of Masturbation (2003) and the hundreds of (pun intended) self-help books, Masturbation for Weight Loss, a Woman’s Guide only among the latest (and more opportunistic).
Self-pleasure has featured in literature, most famously in Philip Roth’s novel Portnoy’s Complaint (1969). But it is there in more recent writing too, including Chuck Palahniuk’s disturbing short story ‘Guts’ (2004). Autoeroticism (and its traces) have been showcased in artistic expression: in Jordan MacKenzie’s sperm and charcoal canvases (2007), for example, or in Marina Abramović’s reprise of Vito Acconci’s Seedbed at the Guggenheim in 2005, or her video art Balkan Erotic Epic of the same year.
On film and television, masturbation is similarly pervasive: Lauren Rosewarne’s Masturbation in Pop Culture (2014) was able to draw on more than 600 such scenes. My favourites are in the film Spanking the Monkey (1994), in which the main character is trying to masturbate in the bathroom, while the family dog, seemingly alert to such behaviour, pants and whines at the door; and in the Seinfeld episode ‘The Contest’ (1992), in which the ‘m’ word is never uttered, and where George’s mother tells her adult son that he is ‘treating his body like it was an amusement park’.
There is much evidence, then, for what the film scholar Greg Tuck in 2009 called the ‘mainstreaming of masturbation’: ‘We are a profoundly self-pleasuring society at both a metaphorical and material level.’ There are politically-conscious masturbation websites. There is the online ‘Masturbation Hall of Fame’ (sponsored by the sex-toys franchise Good Vibrations). There are masturbationathons, and jack-off-clubs, and masturbation parties.
It would be a mistake, however, to present a rigid contrast between past condemnation and present acceptance. There are continuities. Autoeroticism might be mainstreamed but that does not mean it is totally accepted. In Sexual Investigations (1996), the philosopher Alan Soble observed that people brag about casual sex and infidelities but remain silent about solitary sex. Anne-Francis Watson and Alan McKee’s 2013 study of 14- to 16-year-old Australians found that not only the participants but also their families and teachers were more comfortable talking about almost any other sexual matter than about self-pleasuring. It ‘remains an activity that is viewed as shameful and problematic’, warns the entry on masturbation in the Encyclopedia of Adolescence (2011). In a study of the sexuality of students in a western US university, where they were asked about sexual orientation, anal and vaginal sex, condom use, and masturbation, it was the last topic that occasioned reservation: 28 per cent of the participants ‘declined to answer the masturbation questions’. Masturbation remains, to some extent, taboo.
When the subject is mentioned, it is often as an object of laughter or ridicule. Rosewarne, the dogged viewer of the 600 masturbation scenes in film and TV, concluded that male masturbation was almost invariably portrayed negatively (female masturbation was mostly erotic). Watson and McKee’s study revealed that their young Australians knew that masturbation was normal yet still made ‘negative or ambivalent statements’ about it.
Belief in the evils of masturbation has resurfaced in the figure of the sex addict and in the obsession with the impact of internet pornography. Throughout their relatively short histories, sexual addiction and hypersexual disorder have included masturbation as one of the primary symptoms of their purported maladies. What, in a sex-positive environment, would be considered normal sexual behaviour has been pathologised in another. Of the 152 patients in treatment for hypersexual disorder in clinics in California, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah, a 2012 study showed that most characterised their sexual disorder in terms of pornography consumption (81 per cent) and masturbation (78 per cent). The New Catholic Encyclopedia’s supplement on masturbation (2012-13), too, slips into a lengthy disquisition on sex addiction and the evils of internet pornography: ‘The availability of internet pornography has markedly increased the practice of masturbation to the degree that it can be appropriately referred to as an epidemic.’
Critics think that therapeutic masturbation might reinforce sexual selfishness rather than sexual empathy and sharing
The masturbator is often seen as the pornography-consumer and sex addict enslaved by masturbation. The sociologist Steve Garlick has suggested that negative attitudes to masturbation have been reconstituted to ‘surreptitiously infect ideas about pornography’. Pornography has become masturbation’s metonym. Significantly, when the New Zealand politician Shane Jones was exposed for using his taxpayer-funded credit card to view pornographic movies, the unnamed shame was that his self-pleasuring activities were proclaimed on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers – thus the jokes about ‘the matter in hand’ and not shaking hands with him at early morning meetings. It would have been less humiliating, one assumes, if he had used the public purse to finance the services of sex workers.
Nor is there consensus on the benefits of masturbation. Despite its continued use in therapy, some therapists question its usefulness and propriety. ‘It is a mystery to me how conversational psychotherapy has made the sudden transition to massage parlour technology involving vibrators, mirrors, surrogates, and now even carrots and cucumbers!’ one psychologist protested in the late 1970s. He was concerned about issues of client-patient power and a blinkered pursuit of the sexual climax ‘ignoring … the more profound psychological implications of the procedure’. In terms of effectiveness, critics think that therapeutic masturbation might reinforce individual pleasure and sexual selfishness rather than creating sexual empathy and sharing. As one observed in the pages of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in 1995: ‘Ironically, the argument against masturbation in American society was originally religiously founded, but may re-emerge as a humanist argument.’ Oversimplified, but in essence right: people remain disturbed by the solitariness of solitary sex.
Why has what the Japanese charmingly call ‘self-play’ become such a forcing ground for sexual attitudes? Perhaps there is something about masturbation’s uncontrollability that continues to make people anxious. It is perversely non-procreative, incestuous, adulterous, homosexual, ‘often pederastic’ and, in imagination at least, sex with ‘every man, woman, or beast to whom I take a fancy’, to quote Soble. For the ever-astute historian Thomas Laqueur, author of Solitary Sex (2003), masturbation is ‘that part of human sexual life where potentially unlimited pleasure meets social restraint’.
Why did masturbation become such a problem? For Laqueur, it began with developments in 18th-century Europe, with the cultural rise of the imagination in the arts, the seemingly unbounded future of commerce, the role of print culture, the rise of private, silent reading, especially novels, and the democratic ingredients of this transformation. Masturbation’s condemned tendencies – solitariness, excessive desire, limitless imagination, and equal-opportunity pleasure – were an outer limit or testing of these valued attributes, ‘a kind of Satan to the glories of bourgeois civilisation’.
In more pleasure-conscious modern times, the balance has tipped towards personal gratification. The acceptance of personal autonomy, sexual liberation and sexual consumerism, together with a widespread focus on addiction, and the ubiquity of the internet, now seem to demand their own demon. Fears of unrestrained fantasy and endless indulging of the self remain. Onania’s 18th-century complaints about the lack of restraint of solitary sex are not, in the end, all that far away from today’s fear of boundless, ungovernable, unquenchable pleasure in the self.
Complete Article HERE!
In the last two decades, dozens of scientific papers have been published on the biological origins of homosexuality – another announcement was made last week. It’s becoming scientific orthodoxy. But how does it fit with Darwin’s theory of evolution?
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s hit song Same Love, which has become an unofficial anthem of the pro-gay marriage campaign in the US, reflects how many gay people feel about their sexuality.
It mocks those who “think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion – man-made rewiring of a predisposition”. A minority of gay people disagree, maintaining that sexuality is a social construct, and they have made a conscious, proud choice to take same-sex partners.
But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line, and a genetic factor is taken to be the cause. Also relevant – although in no way proof – is research identifying physical differences in the brains of adult straight and gay people, and a dizzying array of homosexual behaviour in animals.
“This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective,” says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?”
Scientists don’t know the answer to this Darwinian puzzle, but there are several theories. It’s possible that different mechanisms may be at work in different people. Most of the theories relate to research on male homosexuality. The evolution of lesbianism is relatively understudied – it may work in a similar way or be completely different.
The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too
The allele – or group of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation may at other times have a strong reproductive benefit. This would compensate for gay people’s lack of reproduction and ensure the continuation of the trait, as non-gay carriers of the gene pass it down.
There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes straight men more attractive to women, or straight women more attractive to men. “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men, and that might be associated with things like good parenting skills or greater empathy,” says Qazi Rahman, co-author of Born Gay; The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation. Therefore, the theory goes, a low “dose” of these alleles enhances the carrier’s chances of reproductive success. Every now and then a family member receives a larger dose that affects his or her sexual orientation, but the allele still has an overall reproductive advantage.
Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.
There is some evidence for this second theory. Andrea Camperio-Ciani, at the University of Padova in Italy, found that maternal female relatives of gay men have more children than maternal female relatives of straight men. The implication is that there is an unknown mechanism in the X chromosome of men’s genetic code which helps women in the family have more babies, but can lead to homosexuality in men. These results haven’t been replicated in some ethnic groups – but that doesn’t mean they are wrong with regards to the Italian population in Camperio-Ciani’s study.
Gay people were ‘helpers in the nest’
Some researchers believe that to understand the evolution of gay people, we need to look at how they fit into the wider culture.
Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on a theory called kin selection or the “helper in the nest” hypothesis. The idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters, contributing money or performing other uncle-like activities such as babysitting or tutoring. Some of the gay person’s genetic code is shared with nieces and nephews and so, the theory goes, the genes which code for sexual orientation still get passed down.
Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed. Vasey hasn’t yet measured just how much having a homosexual orientation boosts siblings’ reproduction rate, but he has established that in Samoa “gay” men spend more time on uncle-like activities than “straight” men.
“No-one was more surprised than me,” says Vasey about his findings. His lab had previously shown that gay men in Japan were no more attentive or generous towards their nieces and nephews than straight, childless men and women. The same result has been found in the UK, US and Canada.
Vasey believes that his Samoan result was different because the men he studied there were different. He studied the fa’afafine, who identify as a third gender, dressing as women and having sex with men who regard themselves as “straight”. They are a transgender group who do not like to be called “gay” or “homosexual”.
Vasey speculates that part of the reason the fa’afafine are more attentive to their nephews and nieces is their acceptance in Samoan culture compared to gay men in the West and Japan (“You can’t help your kin if they’ve rejected you”). But he also believes that there is something about the fa’afafine way of life that means they are more likely to be nurturing towards nieces and nephews, and speculates that he would find similar results in other “third gender” groups around the world.
If this is true, then the helper in the nest theory may partly explain how a genetic trait for same-sex attraction hasn’t been selected away. That hypothesis has led Vasey to speculate that the gay men who identify as men and have masculine traits – that is to say, most gay men in the West – are descended from men who had a cross-gendered sexuality.
Gay people do have children
In the US, around 37% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people have a child, about 60% of which are biological. According to the Williams Institute, gay couples that have children have an average of two.
These figures may not be high enough to sustain genetic traits specific to this group, but the evolutionary biologist Jeremy Yoder points out in a blog post that for much of modern history gay people haven’t been living openly gay lives. Compelled by society to enter marriages and have children, their reproduction rates may have been higher than they are now.
How many gay people have children also depends on how you define being “gay”. Many of the “straight” men who have sex with fa’afafine in Samoa go on to get married and have children.
“The category of same-sex sexuality becomes very diffuse when you take a multicultural perspective,” says Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii. “If you go to India, you’ll find that if someone says they are ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ then that immediately identifies them as Western. But that doesn’t mean there’s no homosexuality there.”
Similarly in the West, there is evidence that many people go through a phase of homosexual activity. In the 1940s, US sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that while just 4% of white men were exclusively gay after adolescence, 10% had a three-year period of gay activity and 37% had gay sex at some point in their lives.
A national survey of sexual attitudes in the UK last year came up with lower figures. Some 16% of women said they had had a sexual experience with another woman (8% had genital contact), and 7% of men said they had had a sexual experience with a man (with 5% having genital contact).
But most scientists researching gay evolution are interested in an ongoing, internal pattern of desire rather than whether people identify as gay or straight or how often people have gay sex. “Sexual identity and sexual behaviours are not good measures of sexual orientation,” says Paul Vasey. “Sexual feelings are.”
It’s not all in the DNA
Qazi Rahman says that alleles coding for same sex attraction only explain some of the variety in human sexuality. Other, naturally varying biological factors come into play, with about one in seven gay men, he says, owing their sexuality to the “big brother effect”.
This has nothing to do with George Orwell, but describes the observation that boys with older brothers are significantly more likely to become gay – with every older brother the chance of homosexuality increases by about a third. No-one knows why this is, but one theory is that with each male pregnancy, a woman’s body forms an immune reaction to proteins that have a role in the development of the male brain. Since this only comes into play after several siblings have been born – most of whom are heterosexual and go on to have children – this pre-natal quirk hasn’t been selected away by evolution.
Exposure to unusual levels of hormone before birth can also affect sexuality. For example, female foetuses exposed to higher levels of testosterone before birth show higher rates of lesbianism later on. Studies show that “butch” lesbian women and men have a smaller difference in length between their index and ring fingers – a marker of pre-natal exposure to testosterone. In “femme” lesbians the difference has been found to be less marked.
Brothers of a different kind – identical twins – also pose a tricky question. Research has found that if an identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the sibling will have the same sexual orientation. While that’s a greater likelihood than random, it’s lower than you might expect for two people with the same genetic code.
William Rice, from the University of California Santa Barbara, says that it may be possible to explain this by looking not at our genetic code but at the way it is processed. Rice and his colleagues refer to the emerging field of epigenetics, which studies the “epimarks” that decide which parts of our DNA get switched on or off. Epimarks get passed on to children, but only sometimes. Rice believes that female foetuses employ an epimark that makes them less sensitive to testosterone. Usually it’s not inherited, but occasionally it is, leading to same-sex preference in boys.
Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe. He notes that the heritability of homosexuality is similar to that for divorce, but “social science researchers have not… searched for ‘divorce genes’. Instead they have focused on heritable personality and temperamental traits that might influence the likelihood of divorce.”
For Qazi Rahman, it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. He believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover. And even if heterosexual sex is more advantageous in evolutionary terms than gay sex, it’s not only gay people whose sexuality is determined by their genes, he says, but straight people too.
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