Archive for November 17th, 2014

Eroticism differs from animal sexuality in that human sexuality is limited by taboos and the domain of eroticism is that of the transgression of these taboos.  –  Georges Bataille

weird tipAs so often happens these days, reporters looking for clickbait to draw eyeballs to their flashing, jiggling banner ads were recently all a-buzz about a new study which purported to discover which sexual fantasies are “normal” and which are “abnormal”.  Aside from the disturbingly-judgmental bias in what should be an objective study, a lot could be said about the flaws in the experimental design; I asked my go-to methodology guru Kevin Wilson about it, and he said:

…The sample was recruited primarily online and via ads, social contacts, etc; it’s probably best considered to be a convenience sample and is almost certainly not representative of the adult population at large.  As such, it’s hard to trust the prevalence rates generated by the data, or that they generalize to the general population from which the sample was drawn…Originally, each fantasy was presented to participants in the survey along with an eight-point scale measuring intensity of interest in that fantasy (where zero = “not at all [interested]” and seven = “completely [interested]”).  The authors coded responses of three or higher as indicating an interest in a given fantasy; this is arbitrary and no justification appears to be offered…the authors’ definition of unusual (endorsed by 15.9%) and rare (2.3%) sexual fantasies is likewise arbitrary…They could just as easily have said, “less than 1% is rare because… 1% is a small number” and had it been just as valid…

But there’s a bigger problem, which as it turns out I’ve written on before when the titillation du jour was the claim that fewer men were paying for sex:

…the General Social Survey…has one huge, massive flaw that was mentioned by my psychology professors way back in the Dark Ages of the 1980s, yet seems not to trouble those who rely upon it so heavily these days:  it is conducted in person, face to face with the respondents.  And that means that on sensitive topics carrying criminal penalties or heavy social stigma, the results are less than solid; negative opinions of its dependability on such matters range from “unreliable” to “useless”.  The fact of the matter is that human beings want to look good to authority figures (like sociologists in white lab coats) even when they don’t know them from Adam, so they tend to deviate from strict veracity toward whatever answer they think the interviewer wants to hear…

So, what does this study say constitutes an “abnormal” fantasy?

“Clinically, we know what pathological sexual fantasies are: they involve non-consenting partners, they induce pain, or they are absolutely necessary in deriving satisfaction,” Christian Joyal, the lead author of the study, said…The researchers found that only two sexual fantasies were…rare:  Sexual activities with a child or an animal…only nine sexual fantasies were considered unusual…[including] “golden showers,” cross-dressing, [and] sex with a prostitute…

Arpaio on a dateJoyal’s claim that sadistic and rape fantasies are innately “pathological” is both insulting and totally wrong; we “know” no such thing.  And did you think it was a coincidence that pedophilia and bestiality were the only two fantasies to fall into the “rare” category during a time when those are the two most vilified kinks in the catalog, kinks which will result in permanent consignment to pariah status if discovered?  Guess again; as recently as the 1980s it was acceptable to at least talk about both of these, and neither is as rare as this “study” pretends.  But Man is a social animal, and even if someone is absolutely certain of his anonymity (which in the post-Snowden era would be a much rarer thing than either of those fantasies), few are willing to risk the disapproval of a lab-coated authority figure even if he isn’t sitting directly in front of them.  What this study shows is not how common these fantasies actually are, but rather how safe people feel admitting to them.  And while that’s an interesting thing in itself, it isn’t what everyone from researchers to reporters to readers is pretending the study measured.

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