Self, Sex

Is There A "Sex Fetish Gene"?


Everyone has had a number of things to say about the immensely popular Fifty Shades Of Grey. As you may or may not know, Fifty Shades Of Grey is a novel about sexual fetishes and suburban BDSM. The so-called "Mommy Porn" genre has become something of a cultural touchstone and Katie Roiphe, in an essay for The Daily Beast, wonders what the implications are and if there is a price to be paid vis-a-vis gender relations in America. But not everyone agrees with her conclusion.

The crew (actually, just Elizabeth Nolan Brown) at BlissTree thinks that Roiphe's understanding of the research behind (heh) her essay is either wrong or wrongheaded. She goes on to quote some neuroscience guys saying that humans (both men and women) are naturally wired for both sexual domination and submission, it's all completely normal, and that we don't just like S&M because of some in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb cultural zephyrs.

And over at YouBeauty, Angelica Catalano brings up a study conducted about the nature of submissive sex. In a nutshell, it's something that's very much thought to be an animal kingdom holdover, with dominant females pursuing dominant males. "Catching the attention of a dominant male means you've risen to the top of the pack," writes Catalano. "So acting out that fantasy (where he pursues, you resist and that power struggle leads to hot, hot sex) reinforces a woman's status and desirability, which makes her feel good about herself. (Note that you can sub in any gender and the same theory applies.) While that's just one possible explanation, the point here is that at its core, this fantasy enhances self-esteem."

The same study, conducted by Dr. Patricia Hawley and Will Henley, concluded that submissive behavior is not just for girls. Men appreciate a little bedroom bossiness and it has little to do with masochism or humiliation. Finally, it ain't weird. Around half of all dudes and chicks surveyed get a little charge out of the idea of submission.

My personal take: Psychology and its dimwitted cousin pop psychology are fallible and, frankly, barely science. We could examine a person's entire life experience and not be able to nail down why they prefer the taste of spicy mustard to the regular yellow stuff. Now add a hairy dude squirting that mustard in your ear, telling you that you've been bad and consequently "punishing" you with the business end of his rod, and there are entirely too many variables to make a blanket statement on why you like it that way. 

I'm glad that Catalano mentions the ubiquity of these kinky fantasies, and that she points out that submissive fantasies are not linked to neuroses in women. But does it mean that roughly half of us are victims of Oedipus or Electra hang-ups, as Freud would suggest? Psychologists, both of the pop and A Dangerous Method varieties, declare that our behaviors are linked to sexual conditioning that occurs during childhood. Something in the neighborhood of sexual predetermination. I, for one, am pretty sure that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes we really like being tied up despite having a pleasant, if unremarkable upbringing and having great respect for our friends, lovers and neighbors. Mommy and daddy issues are frequently convenient excuses for "embarrassing" desires we've been taught to believe are "sinful." Frankly, I was a little disappointed that they tried to explain away the Michael Fassbender character's sexual obsessions with just a line of dialogue in Shame. It was sort of a cop-out for a movie that showed so much dong. It would have been more interesting if he, like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, were just an oddity.

Do you think we have any say in our sex likes and dislikes? Are we a tabula rasa when it comes to bedroom preferences? Is there a "kink gene?"

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