Is Feminism Desire’s Kryptonite?

April 18, 2011

Ogi Ogas, a computational neuroscientist, and author of A Billion Wicked Thoughts, has ventured into enemy territory with a post at Psychology Today – Why Feminism is the Anti-Viagra. He’s aware of the risks, which is why he begins his article by whispering this:

Gender equality inhibits arousal.

Of course, he might as well have announced it with cannons – it wasn’t two shakes of a lamb’s tail before feminists came out screaming snark.

“The majority of women have submission fantasies. From classic romance The Flame and The Flower to classic erotica The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty to Twilight BDSM fan fiction, submission themes are immensely popular in cross-cultural female erotica. The fact of the matter is that most heterosexual women are wired to find sexual submission arousing–and so are most female mammals.”

Any woman being honest with herself knows this is true. That even includes, on occasion, ardent feminists. Nothing can produce the clit twinge faster than mental images of rough, unexpected sex with a favored male. Consider these quotes:

I have struggled with two competing images of the opposite sex: oppressor, and dream date.
J. Courtney Sullivan

I blame my recurring rape fantasy on the fact that I’m a feminist.
Tracie Egan

(By the way, Tracie Egan has shared the story of having paid a male gigolo to enact a forceful rape with her, according to Ogas. She’s also put together a list of articles proving that “Psychology Today Hates Feminism.” Since Psychology Today is a network of bloggers motivated by science rather than ideology, perhaps that should tell us something.)

Ogas: “Almost every quality of dominant males triggers arousal in the female brain: dominant scents, dominant gaits, deep voices, height, displays of wealth…women still want strong, dominant men.”

For insight into the effects of feminism on the SMP, Ogas interviews Angela Knight, a successful author of erotic romances.

“I think this is one of the problems we’re having in romance in general right now: our heroes have gotten a little too PC. We’re portraying men the way feminist ideals say they should be—respectful and consensus-building. Yet women like bad boys. I suspect that’s because our inner cavewoman knows Doormat Man would become Sabertooth Tiger Lunch in short order.”

Meanwhile, Ogas notes that the “massive popularity of dominance-themed websites for men” demonstrates that men have the opposite, and complementary arousal triggers.

“Our mammalian brains come wired with very ancient sexual preferences, quite prominent in the most popular forms of male and female erotica preferred by Homo sapiens. Men are aroused by being dominant and by submissive women, women are aroused by being submissive and by dominant men. In the bedroom, inequality beats equality.”

Note that final statement. Ogas is talking about what turns people on sexually, in the bedroom. He is not saying that women shouldn’t enter the boardroom. Rather, he addresses the loss of acknowledged differences between the sexes and its effect on relationships.

Women’s gains have undeniably been at the expense of men. In an era where women have an unprecedented amount of “power, independence and clout,” men have lost a corresponding share. Today, there are often two dominant people in the bedroom. As women grow more dominant, they exceed the dominance of a significant percentage of the male population, leaving them with a much smaller pool of men they find attractive. Even feminists don’t want submissive males, which is why so many of them are perpetually single.

Ogas explains why we can’t just educate, or even guilt people into rewiring their attraction triggers to accomodate feminism:

“Just as democracy has no effect on our basic taste preferences for sugar and fat, democracy doesn’t affect our basic sexual preferences for domination and submission.”

Linda Young, a counselor in private practice and popular media figure who also blogs at Psychology Today, responded last week:

Feminism is the Anti-Viagra, Not!

The crux of her argument:

“Feminism is about social, economic and political equity and is independent of what turns someone on in a bedroom or fantasy.”

What Young fails to address, or even see, is that as women have become more dominant in the social, economic and political realms, many have also become more dominant in the bedroom. It’s the reason men keep shouting from the rooftops that women’s career achievements don’t make them attractive sexually. Successful women in their 30s claiming that they’re single because they intimidate men has become a cliche. Intelligence is not a boner killer, but an aggressive demeanor is.

Meanwhile, Feministing had this rebuttal to Ogas:

Feminism, once again, blamed for, well, everything

The interesting excerpts from the article:

Courtney: One could be in a truly egalitarian relationship, that consensually and joyfully plays around with power dynamics in the bedroom. I would argue that the foundational equality of their relationship would actually make role play even more available to them.

SW: It is precisely feminism that makes role play necessary. If couples have to negotiate and agree to “experiment” with dominance and submission, isn’t that proof that they’ve drifted away from their own sexual natures? Why not inhabit the role each secretly craves, rather than pretend?

Lori: I appreciate that he’s attempting to speak publicly about women’s desire, and validating this as a subject, but his analysis lacks nuance and shames those women, and men for that matter, that dare to have fantasies about control with an immature scientific argument that amounts to little more than a feminist “gotcha” attempt.

SW: Ogas is not in the business of shaming. He’s a scientist. He describes a research finding he characterizes at startling:

In humans, the hormonal vagaries of prenatal development appear to cause a substantial portion of men to be born with active submissive circuitry. These men find sexual submission as arousing—or, quite often, far more arousing—than sexual dominance.

He also states that a much smaller percentage of women are born with “active dominance circuitry.” As we know, the internet provides, and BDSM communities thrive in every flavor. The point is that the overwhelming majority of humans are wired a certain way, and that is inconvenient for feminists.

Lori: Plus, dear Ogi ignores basic scientific studies that have demonstrated that feminism is damn sexy. A Rutgers University study found that feminism boosts sexual satisfaction for both men and women, and that having a feminist partner is linked with healthier, more romantic relationships, at least for heterosexual couples.

SW: Oh, I am so glad she referenced that study! I dug around till I found the paper and then proceed to wade into the regression analyses (so you don’t have to). I suspected, from long experience, that claims such as Lori’s usually reflect cherry-picking results, usually from a researcher with a specific, i.e. feminist, agenda. This proved to be the case.

Let’s have a look at what this study found. Spoiler Alert: Is feminism in fact “damn sexy?” Nope.

The Interpersonal Power of Feminism: Is Feminism Good for Romantic Relationships?

The paper is actually comprised of two 2007 studies conducted by feminist scholars Rudman and Phelan at Rutgers. Study 1 included 156 female students, and 86 males, all in heterosexual relationships. Subjects got credit for participation and the experiment was run in a lab. A questionnaire asked participants about their identification with feminism, and whether their partner was a feminist. It also asked questions to establish the relative degree of relationship quality, equality and stability.

Fearing that the first study did not adequately incorporate the full range of feminist experience, Study 2 was constructed to include 289 volunteers, 208 female, 81 male.

Rudman had found in an earlier study that “women and men who endorsed beliefs such as “men perform better sexually when they are in charge” and “romance depends, in part, on men being in charge,” showed low enthusiasm for feminism. This suggests that female assertiveness and autonomy, attributes that are instrumental for gender equality, are perceived as promoting sexual conflict. Study 2 afforded a check on the accuracy of this perception.”

The age range was 18-65, and the questionnaire was administered online. Participants were recruited from Craigslist, various Yahoo! and Google Group forums, and two psychology websites. The average education level was 14 years.

This study has been trumpeted by feminists for years, without any justification – well, I take that back, there is one tiny statistic they may take comfort from, which I’ll share in a bit. In fact, the study demonstrates clearly that female feminism has a negative effect on relationships, though not surprisingly,  the effect is mitigated if they are in relationships with male feminists.

The Studies

First, subjects were asked if they agree with the statements “I am a feminist” and “My partner is a feminist,” on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 10 (strongly agree).

Study 1 MeanStudy 2 Mean

F: I am a feminist.

F: My partner is a feminist.5.45.3
M: I am a feminist.4.95.4
M: My partner is a feminist.5.45.7


In other words, the degree of feminist identification among the participants overall was a big meh. Neither study was predominantly feminist in its identification, and no analysis was conducted based on the disparity within this response.

Subjects were then asked a series of question re relationship quality, equity and stablility. In Study 2, a question was added to determine the correlation between feminism and sexual satisfaction in the relationship. According to the researchers, this was because the first study missed the “fish/bicycle” generation of feminists, who were more qualified to weigh in on sexual matters.

Young women’s experience is inarguably limited, compared with older women, vis a vis intimate relationships, balancing them with careers, and with sexual discrimination.”

That is not inarguable. I would indeed argue that young women have a very different sexual experience than did the second wave feminists, one with much more physical intimacy and less emotional intimacy as characterized by hookup culture. The erosion of emotionally intimate relationships among young people has been steady since the Sexual Revolution, and picked up steam in the 90s when dorms went coed and hooking up became the collegiate norm.

Here are the correlations derived from the regression analyses. Don’t go away – it’s more interesting than it looks, and I’ll highlight the best bits.

Correlation of Feminism to Relationship Satisfaction
QualityEqualityStabilitySexual Satisfaction
Study 1Study 2Study 1Study 2Study 1Study 2Study 2
Self -.11-.35-.20-.43-.09-.24-.24


The Findings

1. Being a feminist woman is negatively correlated to all measures of relationship happiness across the board.

However, having a male feminist partner was positively correlated. The researchers believe that this is the similarity effect. Women feminists are happiest dating other feminists.

According to the researchers, “It is not clear whether women feminists select like-minded partners or shape their partners’ beliefs.” They acknowledge that asking only one partner in a relationship about views on feminism is problematic, and that future research should attempt to ask both halves of any couple.

2. For men, having a feminist partner correlated to relationship dissatisfaction.

“[Men’s results] are the mirror image of women’s reports, [and are an indication] that feminism troubles relationships.”

3. Relationship length was negatively correlated to relationship equality.

The longer women were in relationships, the more disagreements arose around gender roles.

4. Study 2 results were similar.

“We found [that] feminism [was] a negative predictor of women’s relationship quality, equality, stability and sexual satisfaction.”

5. The statistic highlighted in yellow is the singular finding that has feminists kicking up their heels in triumph throughout the media.

It’s may be the most abused piece of data ever to come out of an academic research project.

Here’s what is says:

81 males, aged 18-55, whiter than the original group (72% vs. 56%) and 10% outside the U.S. found that while being feminist themselves decreased sexual satisfaction (-.20), having a feminist partner increased sexual satisfaction (.33).

Rudman and Phelan were unhappy with their results, and adjusted them for “suppressor variable effects.” Their explanation was weak and did not stand up to scrutiny, in my opinion. This reduced, but did not eliminate the negative results for women’s view of feminism in relationships.

The study authors conclude:

I. Feminist male partners may be important for healthy romantic relationships.

II. Feminism may also be healthy for men’s relationships. First, feminist men in Study 1 reported greater agreement about relationship equality. Second, men in Study 2 reported greater relationship stability and sexual satisfaction to the extent their partner was a feminist.

May be? The study concludes little, and has inspired no additional research since it was conducted. I’m troubled by the merging of Study 2 with Study 1, and I find the design of Study 2 especially poor. The Sexual Satisfaction finding seems flimsy, especially as women in Study 2 still felt that being feminist was detrimental to their own sexual satisfaction.

Obviously, Feministing’s claims are blatantly false. But what do you think about the bigger question?

Does gender equality in the bedroom inhibit arousal?

Are women turned on by male feminists?

Are women feminists hot in the sack? If so, why?