Sex And Self Help

In an e-mail to me Amy Alkon, The Advice Goddess suggested this book: What You Can Change . . . and What You Can't*: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement. If Amy suggests it, it is definitely worth a read.

You might also like her recent column Sex Sells about sex in long term relationships. The short version: more is better. Advice that is generally more useful for the female of the couple. But read the whole thing and especially the comments.

Cross Posted at Power and Control

posted by Simon on 01.03.09 at 04:47 PM


Holy shades of Henry Higgins! Why can't a woman be more like a man, eh?

Prager just strikes me as stunningly obtuse. Men don't see sex as a function of love, so women should just leave their feelings out of it and do their jobs? If men (or women!) were content when wives are thinking about the laundry in bed, he might have a point. Preager's #2 is simply bizarre. After asserting that sex is not a masculine act of love, and equating wifely sex with gainful employment, Prager proposes that putting out is properly viewed as the ultimate expression -- and measure -- of wifely love. Sheesh!

I suggest that folks who think those are winning, let alone logical, arguments head back to the drawing board if they're looking to change the apparently depressing status quo any time soon. Congenial sex is clearly good for relationships, but it wouldn't surprise me if Prager's attitude were closer to a "root cause" of feminine headaches than a solution. I don't think the "woman who loves her husband" is the only one with some serious sorting out to do! Ironically, Prager's bottom line is the obvious fact that when men aren't getting enough sex, it affects their feelings toward the women they live with. Men are not fundamentally less emotional about sex than women are. They just have a different set of emotions tied up in the engagement.

Just as an aside, doesn't the idea that couples schedule makeout sessions "without sex being the presumed outcome" seem like some of the most biologically fatuous advice ever dispensed -- especially if the explicit objective is more sex? I'm not sure you could design a better way to compound frustration, although YMMV, but it seems almost stuck on stupid when offering up simple, decent doses of attention and appreciation is quite likely to make such arbitrary experiments unnecessary. As the cleaned up adage goes, "If you want to take me to bed at night, start talking to me before the sun goes down." Pop psyche sex advice (from political pundits!) in columns on the web does far more harm than good.

In any case, folks have been dismissing women's "feelings" in preference to men's "needs" for, like, centuries. What women "want" is trumped by what men have a "right" to expect. Do I really need to ask how that's been working out? Even in purely transactional terms, the issues are not nearly as simple as the Pragers among us might like to think. As a rule, for example, there are identifiable differences in how men and women generally define fairness that receive only the most superficial attention when women are viewed as the problem that needs fixing -- whether or not the issue happens to be sex. Unfortunately, those who argue the trumps in reverse and frame men as the problem don't advance the ball either.

If the Advice Goddess comment thread doesn't basically divide up along those lines, let me know and I might wade through it. Most people just extrapolate from their personal experience to argue some putatively cosmic norm, so I decided to comment on this blank slate instead. The concept of celebrating our differences doesn't even appear to cross anyone's radar. If, like Prager, we assume that our wants and needs are not the same, the positive flip side is that we bring different things to table and, as in almost every other regard, can enrich each other's experience of sex and love and commitment as a result. What strikes me as sad is that so few people seem to realize how much can be resolved from that perspective. It also makes diagnosing real sexual incompatibility -- which does, in fact, exist -- considerably less painful.

What could be more deadening than the sexual blackmail of obligation, or more fraught with hazard than the idea of putting out or holding back as proof of love? What could be more arrogant than someone like Prager seeing fit to dole out such advice? It raises hackles I didn't even know I had! Did your own casual suggestion that his advice is more "useful" for women even register on your irony meter?

JM Hanes   ·  January 4, 2009 9:46 PM


Sorry to set you off.

However, sex every three days or so maintains the pair bond (according to some science article I read a while back - I'll have to dig it up). It is not all that is required of course, but it is a very important part for men. BTW it works the same for women. Oxytocin I think.

I did a statistical estimation on the subject once and came to the conclusion that a woman's sex drive was on the average 1/2 standard deviation below that of male of the species. Enough for friction. Unless the woman wants to bond.

It sets up this dynamic (spoken of in the Bible should that interest you) the woman surrenders to the man. The man in return gives the woman what she desires. It is called the pair bond.

Assuming of course the man is honorable. Which may not always be the case.

BTW Amy Alkon agrees with Prager. FWIW.

M. Simon   ·  January 5, 2009 1:53 AM

Where did I imply that sex wasn't important? For men or women? Men do seem to rely heavily on numbers and norms and appealing to putatively neutral authorities when talking about it though. And oddly enough, it's typically women who don't seem to be "measuring up," isn't it? Irritates the hell out of me. I can only hope that guys who are suffering from lack of sex in their marriages (and I do believe suffering is the appropriate word) aren't talking standard deviations to their wives, as interesting as that may be. I'm not arguing the sex, I'm talking about how you get there.

I did have something of a laugh at Prager's intro, because I suspect women generally understand a lot more about how men's libidos work than vice versa, although I could be wrong. Men almost invariably end up describing married sex as a transaction. That can be a real stumbling block for women who were brought up believing that you only negotiate for sex with whores. Like differences in defining fairness, such miscues can be serious, unrecognized impediments to resolving significant issues. Dismissing women's "feelings" as a form of self-indulgence the way Prager et al do so cavalierly, and ignoring the emotional dimension of male sexuality doesn't help either. It's like wearing blinders that simply make it harder to arrive at the kind of mutually satisfactory accommodations which can ultimately open other sexual doors.

I have to admit, I don't consider the Bible as authoritative on bonding, or much of anything else. Ditto for a little research in amateur therapists' hands, I'm afraid. I'd suggest that when couples are in trouble, dealing with how things are is only complicated by their assumptions about how things ought to be.

JM Hanes   ·  January 5, 2009 6:18 AM

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