Making “Men” and “Women” One-Dimensional

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Every week or two some magazine wants to interview me about sex. Twenty years ago, when I was young(er) and hungry, I usually said yes. Now I usually say no.

Today I said yes to a well-known national magazine. You see it in every supermarket and airport, with a good-looking busty model on the cover. Let’s call the publication “Young Women Interested in Sex.” (YWIS)

The article they called me about is “75 things about men—in 1 sentence each.” The staff writer, a respectful, pleasant woman about 26, hoped I would answer about a dozen questions. By the end of the interview, we were glad to be rid of each other. The questions included:

• Why do men always ignore you after they finish?
• What are men most insecure about?
• How do you know if men like a new thing you do in bed?
• Why are men so rude when looking at your boobs?
• Of course, men always think about other women when they’re in bed with you. Who are they most likely to think about?

The problems with questions like these, this article, and practically EVERY article in magazines about dating, romance, love, and sex, sex, sex, are soooooo familiar:
• They stereotype men and women: men are like this, women are like that
• They ignore the reality that “men” and “women” are heterogeneous categories: they claim that ALL men are like this, and ALL women are like that
• They perpetuate inaccurate information: men do and think and feel this, women do and think and feel that.

It’s ironic that this publication boasts that it’s the most sex-positive magazine on the market; its founder was legendary in her insistence that women claim their sexuality. Indeed, each month’s cover displays another woman with huge, barely-covered breasts, featuring articles like “How to climax every time” and “How to drive him wild even when he’s tired.” But for all their pseudo-frank talk about sex, these articles always end up problematizing it.

YWIS loves the traditional battle of the sexes, maintaining women’s anxiety about losing or winning it. And because “communication” is SO not-sexy, the editors overlook it for things like lingerie, positions, talking “dirty,” and sexy vacations. A self-help article that says “let’s face it—talking during sex ruins the mood” can’t possibly be of much help.

YWIS’s young female staff in New York does most of the “writing”—which means taking the story ideas they’re assigned and calling experts to provide quotes proving the story’s primary thesis. They take the title, thesis, and expert quotes, add a few conjunctions, and crank out yet another article written by a kid with very little understanding of sex or relationships (much less writing).

This perfectly nice staff writer didn’t like a lot of my answers, because they challenged the foundation of her questions. No, most men DON’T think about other women when they’re with you. No, most men DON’T freak out when a woman initiates sex. No, most men DON’T hate “foreplay.”

But I was sincere when I answered, kept my answers brief as she’d requested, and brought to bear the glorious edifice of my 30,000 hours as a psychologist and sex therapist.

Ironically, it was my best answer that she appreciated the least. When she asked “What do men think when they see a new woman naked for the first time?” I told the truth: “Wow!” She thought I was either putting her on or simply misinformed.

I dunno—do you really have to be a guy to understand that amazing experience?

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