April 4, 2008

Some comment-worthy articles about sexuality and body image

Posted in body politics, cosmetic surgery, objectification, PIV, sexual politics, Sexuality Blogs and Resources at 6:52 pm by LB

The British Daily Mail reported that men–especially single men–who read “lad mags” (the mags for (hetero) Men that equally objectify the newest babe in lingerie alongside the latest in electronic gear) are more obsessed with their own body image.

“The message in typical lads’ magazines is that you need to develop a muscular physique in order to attract a quality mate,” said Dr Giles.

“Readers internalise this message, which creates anxieties about their actual bodies and leads to increasingly desperate attempts to modify them.

“Some of the most worrying findings were that heavy consumers of lads’ mags think about taking anabolic steroids or use protein or energy supplements as part of their diet and exercise regimes to improve the way they look.”

Forgive me if I’m slightly amused by this, but, um, DUH! These magazines have the same kind of effect on women (not to mention on men’s expectation of what a particularly beautiful woman is). At least the men who read these mags don’t have the have the message that body=worth thrown at them from every which way like women do. While body image can be one aspect of success, men have many more valued ways to be successful than women do.

I also find it interesting that the researchers thought the men were internalizing the ideal images of men found in the mags–maybe the British versions are significantly different than the U.S. ones, but I don’t recall any real emphasis on male bodies; the male physique seemed to be just one aspect of men’s lives they covered (as opposed to the portrayal of the women which are presented as eye-candy first–ya know, the important function of women in a man’s life–then maybe the reader gets to see others aspects of her life). My guess? Men who consistently objectify women, and see their worth first in terms of their value to the guy as an object of sexual desire, tend to start to see themselves in the same light, despite that women’s mags don’t tend to portray guys in that way.

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These men shouldn’t worry to much, however, because what consists of “sex” and “good sex” is still measured in terms of PIV sex (aka intercourse). A new study has concluded that how long good sex should last:

1) is measured in terms of time the penis is inside the vagina;
2) doesn’t include foreplay (which, for women, is much of what they consider “sex”);
3) can relieve most men that their lasting time is “satisfactory.”

What’s interesting about this is that “how long is optimal intercourse?” gets translated into “how long does it take to satisfy a woman?” For most women I know, these are not the same question. My equating these two ideas, the assumption is reinforced that a woman’s satisfaction comes from sex defined as PIV intercourse.

And while it’s nice that men get to feel all “normal” and stuff, that women’s pleasures actually contradict conventional wisdom and representations in porn (while women still seem to be held to ridiculous standards of what their sexual pleasure should be and should look like), it would be nice for a study to come out (and receive as much press as this one has!) that actually talks bout what women’s sexual pleasure consists of. My guess is if one did come out, it’s findings would make the findings of this study a lot less relevant. Check out this too on Slow Sex Movement (part of the Slow Movement).

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I am really delighted that Babeland employee (a women and queer-oriented sex shop) has been hired by Cosmo to dole out sex advice. Maybe her presence can help work against the cult of sexuality that Cosmo espouses that thinks good sex advice is primarily about how to please your man, do a striptease, perform like a porn star, fulfill his ultimate fantasies. Perhaps instead we’ll see a little more about experimenting to find your own pleasures, how to communicate what you want and ask him what he wants, how to use sex toys in couple sex. I mean, totally revolutionary stuff!

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Lastly, in late March an 18-year-old high school senior died after elective breast surgery from an albeit rare surgical complication. Two things from the MSNBC story stand out to me:

Stephanie Kuleba’s friends called her “Sunshine” because that was the perfect nickname for the outgoing and bubbly girl who was everybody’s friend, the cheerleader with the near-perfect grade-point average who was too nice and too perfect for anybody to resent.

This is all too typical–that women can be accomplished in all sorts of ways, but they are never “good enough” unless our bodies “match up” (according to cultural expectations) with the beautiful person we truly are. She wasn’t getting implants, but rather “corrective surgery,” which many feminists who loathe implants might be willing to overlook. But in reality, breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re all normal. The image we see in film, magazines, and porn is a result of some intense photoshopping (not to mention all the implants), even when they purport a “natural” look. Check out this great site that shows what actual breasts, in all their variety, look like. (site isn’t porn, but it’s also NSFW)

The death has focused attention on elective breast augmentation surgery, a procedure that 347,500 women of all ages chose to have in 2007 alone. That number is 6 percent higher than in 2006 and 64 percent higher than in 2000.

D’Amico repeated the FDA recommendation that no one under 18 undergo breast augmentation surgery. Despite its popularity, the procedure does have a high rate of complications and often requires additional surgery within five to 10 years of the original surgery.

The point is, that women are getting elective breast surgeries, which, like all surgeries, have significant risks (not to mention the risks related to the material in implants) in droves. It isn’t that these women are stupid and don’t understand the risks. It’s that they overwhelmingly do, and the potential complications of the surgery outweigh the social risk of a “failed”‘ feminine body and the risk of not being deemed appropriately sexually worthy. Of course, the health risks to women in surgery is coupled with the risks to a woman’s sexual pleasure through decreased nipple sensitivity from the augmentation.

Do think that men would submit themselves in significant numbers to a surgery meant primarily to please actual and potential sexual partners, while risking decreasing their own sexual pleasure? Do men submit themselves in huge numbers to penis enlargement surgery and other procedures that could increase staying power? Then answer is, no, they don’t. But they don’t need to, because we’ve already squashed the “size matters” and “lasting longer is better” myths about female sexual pleasure. When will start acknowledging our unhealthy obsession with bigger or “perfect” (whatever that means) breasts, and show that an awful lot of guys are happy with many kinds of breasts, and those who aren’t need some reeducation, and there are a lot of ways they can be pleasurable to a partner. But ultimately, we need to remember that the primary sexual function of breasts (or we could be talking about vaginas, for that matter) is for the person they belong to–the woman. And you can’t enjoy them if you have few nerves left, or worse, if you’re dead.

4 Comments »

  1. Anonymous said,

    ohhhhhhh si

  2. Amelia said,

    I completely agree with your last sentence. That’s actually really interesting to hear. Maybe magazines need a complete and total, revolutionizing make over. Too bad I don’t think anything will buy into that…

  3. Amelia said,

    Also, thanks a lot for the link to the Dove video! That was a great, quick representation of a lot of the problems I see in American society…all jam packed into a well-done video.

  4. judgesnineteen said,

    I echo “ohhhhhh si”. And follow that up with my own “sigh, Daily Mail.”

    And yeah, nice how men get to feel normal about their lasting time and women get to feel abnormal about getting more out of foreplay than intercourse. I think realizing how sexist the intercourse-centered view of sexuality is was one of the things that got me to doubt whether chastity was a virtue.


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