Home Biological aspects of sexuality Research into human sexuality

Research into human sexuality

Sigmund Freud, the Austrian psychologist (1856 to 1939), was the first scientist of note to talk of female sexuality. Freud’s methods were based on observation rather than science. He treated women for what was believed to be repression of their natural sexual urges. In those days, few couples in the population were aware that women were capable of orgasm. Nevertheless, Freud invented the term vaginal orgasm, as if such a response was possible.

Most young boys first discover orgasm by masturbating. However, when they mature and have a partner, they prefer the erotic pleasure of intercourse. Freud dismissed clitoral orgasms as immature because of men’s experience. Unlike male masturbation (where the anatomy is the same for intercourse and masturbation), female masturbation involves the clitoris rather than the vagina. No one saw any contradiction in suggesting two quite different sources for female orgasms. Mental arousal motivates us to stimulate the phallus. But men expect women to respond to the stimulation they provide.

No one thought that Freud, as a man, might be unqualified to pronounce on how female orgasm is achieved. Men have always been confident to assert how women should respond sexually and women tend to accept male opinions. Embarrassment prevents women from challenging what they are told. The reason women can’t make sense of the explanations for their sexuality is that men have defined it for them. Men have instinctively chosen to portray female sexuality in terms that suit their own purposes. Men propose theories and assume they are correct because of women’s silence. But silence does not constitute proof. This issue is core to heterosexual society because of the symbiotic relationship between men and women. The inducement of support for a family incentivises women to keep men happy.

Men have traditionally lead sex research but they only fund research that backs their own interests. The male quest to understand female sexuality is evidence of men’s dissatisfaction with women’s sexuality as they find it. They want to find ways of encouraging women to be more interested in sex. The goal of sexology would seem to be to educate women in their role of providing male pleasure. This is a political battle rather than a scientific one.

Women wrote books about topics they felt qualified to write about such as cookery, housekeeping, child-raising and even childbirth. They did not write authoritative books about sex. Men’s lack of objectivity over female sexuality is never acknowledged. If sexology were a science, women’s sexual experiences would be accepted for what they are. Even today, women lack the authority and the motivation to put men right about their own sexuality.

The response of orgasm evolved millions of years ago. Nothing new can be discovered as such. We can only document the facts and use logic to explain women’s sexuality as we experience it. If women were responsive (as men are), these phenomena would be well understood. There would be no need for researchers to tell us what generations of heterosexuals have missed.

The fact that no one discusses erotic turn-ons in the context of female sexuality is evidence that women are not aroused as men are. The focus is always on stimulation techniques. Either new anatomy (such as the clitoris) or new parts (such as the G-spot) are suggested in a never-ending search for the magic button that will guarantee female orgasm. But regardless of the anatomy men stimulate, we do not solve the issue of how to arouse women.

An unfortunate by-product of research that involves talking to women is that unrealistic orgasm claims are given credibility just because they have been recorded by researchers. Any man can observe how his female partner behaves during sexual activity. Nothing changes just because someone puts on a white coat. A scientific understanding of human sexuality involves reconciling what people say with what they actually do. It includes understanding how anyone becomes erotically aroused. Researchers need to establish the physiological and psychological mechanisms that account for orgasm. This includes understanding how a person’s mental response to erotic turn-ons can make it possible for genital stimulation to cause orgasm.

Everyone seems to assume that erotic fiction is the equivalent of holy scriptures rather than fictional stories aimed at arousing and entertaining. Researchers must challenge what they are told. They should establish women’s motivation to enjoy sexual activity alone and with a lover, their appreciation of eroticism and their willingness to explore a variety of sex play. Instead of sensationalising accounts of orgasm, researchers should promote ideas for enjoying erotic pleasure and emotional contentment over the longer-term. Researchers need to abandon their personal opinions based on ignorance, prejudices and assumptions. They must approach sexuality with an open mind, ready to accept the facts and conclusions before them.

Individuals and institutions fight for scant resources. Theories are promoted on the basis of sensationalism rather than credible evidence. Those who can conjure up an attention-grabbing headline, regardless of any facts or logic, get noticed. Sex research that produces unpopular conclusions is ignored. Sexologists should welcome different perspectives and encourage active debate. Sex is a subject on which every adult feels entitled to have an opinion, however uninformed. We all think our personal experiences and personal opinions qualify us to know better. No wonder we have so little sex research!

Considering the importance which sexual problems have in the practice of psychiatry, medicine, psychology, and counselling of every sort, it is disconcerting to realize what scant bases there have been for over-all statements that have been made in this field. (Alfred Kinsey 1948)