Feminism as the Anti-Viagra: Do Equal Rights in Bed Kill the Mood?

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Is feminism a sexual buzz kill -- a veritable "anti-Viagra"? This is the contentious claim made by neuroscientist Ogi Ogas, whose research into the brain chemistry of desire is raising eyebrows among some sex experts and certainly some feminists.

Some would argue that the feminist movement has enabled women to be more proactive about expressing and fulfilling their sexual needs, but according to Ogas, problems arise -- at least on a neurochemical level, when strict gender equality is taken from the boardroom to the bedroom.

"Most women prefer to play a submissive role in the bedroom. We've got these primal sources of sexual arousal hard-wired in the brain. Though both males and females are born with the brain circuitry for dominance and submission, nature apparently only links one of these circuits to the arousal system. It appears that in females the circuits are hooked up to be aroused by submission -- usually," he says.

By this logic, attempting to divorce a submission/dominance power dynamic from sexual intercourse would inhibit desire. "If you're a woman, or a man, and you're preferred role is submissive, if you feel compelled to approach sex with the same gender equality as the working world, it's going to be hard to be aroused," Ogas says. In his upcoming book on the subject "A Billion Wicked Thoughts," Ogas uses the different ways men and women consume porn, erotica, and other sexually-related materials online to study desire.

The assertion that most women want to be sexually dominated alone is enough to raise hackles with many women, but billing feminism as a desire-dampener has spurred serious backlash from feminist scholars.

Deducing desire from porn habits is problematic, says feminist author Jessica Valenti. In reference to the proliferation of violent male-dominated porn in recent years, she says: "I think this porn exists because we live in a misogynist society, not because men are hardwired to want to dominate and take advantage of women. That's a dangerous argument because it gives an excuse for men for watching violent porn -- 'if that's in their brain, how can we fault them?'"

"Explaining it away with brain chemistry seems like a really incomplete model. It doesn't take into account socialization, or what we're taught to desire by the culture around us," she adds.

Feminist Standpoint

As is the norm for sexual research, talking about what gets people off is a thorny topic, especially when it crosses into the realm of domination and fantasies of sexual violence.

For those familiar with the sexual battles of the women's rights movement, the idea of pinning women's current sexual dissatisfaction on feminism, as Ogas does in a recent blog post concerning his research, seems ludicrous, says Stephanie Coontz, author of "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s."

As recently as the end of the 19th century the normal woman (as in not a prostitute) was thought to not have any sexual desires, she says. "Men believed that only prostitutes enjoy foreplay and that they shouldn't use it on a woman you respected, such as your wife. Fast forward to the early 1960s when most state laws held that a husband could not rape his wife because marriage constituted a 'permanent level of consensus,''' Coontz says.

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