PODCAST: ‘Good, giving, and game’ — how sex advice and sex therapy perpetuate rape culture

In this episode, Meghan Murphy speaks with Dr Meagan Tyler about the ways sex therapy and sex advice teach women to meet male desire, regardless of the cost.

Too often, when women are not interested in sex at the same levels their male partners are, they are told either that there is something wrong with them or that they are obligated to find a way to meet men’s desires. Friends instruct us to engage in “maintenance sex” in order to keep our male partners happy. Women are told they are cruel or bad partners if they don’t have sex with their boyfriends and husbands “enough” or in the ways requested of them. In sex advice columns and self help books, as well as in sex therapy, women are often instructed to watch pornography with their partners or are told there must be something wrong with their relationship because they don’t show interest (or the correct level of interest) in penetrative, heteronormative sex. Somehow, it is always women who are the problem — dysfunctional, prudish, selfish, or lazy.

To learn more about the ways sex therapy, sex advice, and sexology more broadly reinforce ideas that harm women and perpetuate rape culture, I spoke with Dr Meagan Tyler, a Senior Lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.

Meagan is the author of Selling Sex Short: The sexological and pornographic construction of women’s sexuality in the West and co-editor of Freedom Fallacy: The limits of liberal feminism. You can follow her @drmeagantyler.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Meghan Murphy

    Thank you for your incisive commentary, sister! Re: telling your friend there must be something wrong in the relationship because she wasn’t having sex with her partner — I think we are all trained to kind of repeat certain statements back to one another, because we’ve heard them said so many times we assume they are true, without really questioning. I’ve sure I’ve said the same at some point in my past.

    It’s so hard to constantly be pushing back against this stuff, especially when so many around us have bought the hype. Talk about ‘judgement’ and ‘shaming’! I’ve been attacked, judged and shamed sooo many times by other women, just for questioning the idea that sex is obligatory in relationships, that we must accept our male partners’ use of pornography, and that a woman’s lack of interest in sex means there is something wrong with her.

    I reeeally hope we can disrupt this narrative and allow women to trust themselves, and take their own interests, humanity, and desires seriously.

  • calabasa

    I think karezza is pretty neat, myself. So is cuddling, kissing, stroking, petting, mutual oral or mutual masturbation…I don’t think *eliminating* PIV is the goal, just not making it the focus. Also, making sure sex is about pleasure for both, not simply what men want to do to women.

    Sex between women is of course already much more egalitarian. I’d also like to see a new model of heterosexual sex, and empowering women to tell their partners what they need, because women will continue to have sex with men, and it’s better that it’s in a way that’s good for them, to the best of their abilities.

    • Kymani Fabrice Arceneaux

      I think there is value in all of this. I also think balance is needed especially when it comes to penetrative sex. Across the board with heterosexuals, gays, and lesbians I see more people having heteronormative sex where we pick roles that are gendered. Egalitarian sex is looked down upon.

  • Prude, … frigid prude …kink-shamer: in my defence against the patriarchy and its limb, liberal feminism, I’ll be wearing these badges with pride, honour, and dignity. Anyway, FC rocks! I’m seriously loving the onslaught of new topics and the intelligent discussion generated by them. Thank you for the inspiration and encouragement. Thank you so much for this insightful interview, Ms. Murphy, Dr. Tyler. Gonna share this podcast with my two 21 y/o nieces.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks for listening!

  • Can’tUnseeIt

    I loved this interview and could listen to more interviews with Dr. Tyler. As regards prudishness, frigidity, and all of the other disparaging terms hurled at women who keep their own sexuality, and their experience of it, foremost in their minds when engaging with men…well they can all fuck off as far as I’m concerned. I heard them in my teens, twenties, thirties, forties and fifties. Just a few weeks ago I was called out as a prude (by another woman) in a comment thread on FB when I said that people who defend porn are soulless and view other human beings as little more than a chunk of meat. Well, then prude I am and no shame in this. It must be some kind of crime to want to be respected and treated as a complete, whole human being in all areas of your life. I must resist. Another label, intended as a slur, I have heard from partners for whom I would not debase myself is, “your so conventional.” Laughable are the ways men will try to manipulate you into servicing their individual and collective boners. Boner servicing is propped up in most of our institutions: churches, medicine, mental health, education, but especially in marriage. It’s insidious and requires constant vigilance to avoid assimilating it.
    Love your podcasts.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks for listening, sister! I so enjoyed talking with Meagan!

  • melissa

    Hey Meghan, have you read this guardian article? Another woman basically promoting wifely duties for other woman(but of-course she’ll pretend like its a gender neutral issue meanwhile). Not just telling women they must force themselves to “just do it”, but also use it like a trade for “quality time” and nicer behavior from the husband. Like dudes didn’t already blackmail and guilt trip women in unwanted sex, like women aren’t people pleasers enough as it is… https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/21/is-sex-the-answer-to-your-relationship-problems-michele-weiner-davis-guidance?CMP=fb_gu

    Wondering if either of you might consider writing a response debunking the same repeated regressive arguments, that surely further enable very coercive, abusive ,entitled behavior from men. Love the discussion with Meagan btw.! Thank u both of u!

    • Meghan Murphy

      Sigh. Will read this. Thanks for sharing!

  • la scapigliata

    “The “eating food you don’t like” analogy is TERRIBLE. Is that a real analogy people use? First of all, I would never eat food I didn’t like for a partner. Secondly, c*m and d*cks are not food! And even if you were eating food JUST to satisfy your partner, would you then let them guilt you into eating it MORE OFTEN because they weren’t satisfied with the amount you were eating?? This analogy is gross and stupid.”

    This reminded me of the time I went to a French restaurant (for the first time) with a new boyfriend and saw “sweetbreads” on the menu. Being a carb connoiseur I immediately ordered it, and he asked me if I knew what it was, I said of course, some kind of sweet bread (!?) He chuckled (he is a bit of a prankster) and said ok. I ate those sweetbreads like they were the best thing ever, they reminded me of my other favourite fried tofu, and when I eventually found out what they really were I got so violently sick, I couldn’t eat anything for three days. He was really sorry for not telling me on time, he thought since I really enjoyed it, that I would be fine. So yeah, the food analogy is really off, on all sorts of different levels, from taking into your body something that revolts you, to being tricked to do so, and even if we like it before we know what it really is, having our psychological boundaries violated.

  • la scapigliata

    These are really good questions and as a heterosexual woman with a reasonably high sex drive, who has had her share of male sexual violence and nasty partners, I too had them a lot. For me, it became clear once I met a truly sensitive, non-abusive lover. He never tried to make me do anything, which resulted in a lot less sex because suddenly I wasn’t being pestered for it constantly. On one level it made me worry that I was undesirable and that he didn’t actually love me, but as our relationship grew stronger, I understood how my socialisation made me go along with a lot of mistreatment from men for the fear of ending up alone. This is not something that ever entirely went away for me. But seeing how I never had another episode of bad sex ever since I met him, and how natural, untreatening and easy, uncomplicated, pleasurable, ordinary, special, lovable, sex (including PIV) can be, I now know the difference. I think for us heterosexual feminists, we want sex but we don’t want abuse. If it’s abuse that’s on offer, then we say no thanks, even if we miss sex per se. For me, once I started thinking along those lines, I was able to choose a partner who was able to offer me that kind of sexual relationship, so even if we can’t destroy the patriarchy overnight, knowing all this can help us in our sex lives.

  • marv

    What a colossal amount of toil you put into these podcasts, Meghan. The preparation time and labour may not be apparent to listeners. The results are sterling. So grateful to you for the many hours of mostly unpaid work you do for women.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks for listening and for your ongoing support, Marv!

  • Meghan Murphy

    Thanks Hekate 🙂

  • Marla

    There was one of these assholes on the Skeptics Guide To The Universe podcast ages ago who deemed himself a “sex therapist” who was pro-porn as a utilizing tool in order to save failing marriages. Cara Santa Maria, the only women on the panel put up a rather weak stand to his bullshit therapeutic approaches said (paraphrasing here) “how is watching a woman being degraded with cum all over her face going to help a marriage in crises?”

    The therapist quickly changed the subject.

  • Lavender

    “If you don’t have the desire and still want to have sex, what are ways to move past lack of desire?”

    What??

    1. It’s not possible to want to do something while not having a desire to do it. If you don’t want to do something, by definition, you don’t desire to do it.

    2. Why are you asking how a woman can force herself to want to do something she doesn’t want to do? WHY??

    If you don’t want to have sex, don’t have sex. If your partner doesn’t like that, get rid of him. If you want to have hetero sex with men, you need to accept that there is no risk-free approach. Your chances of being manipulated and mistreated are very high. Rather than try to negotiate what is an essentially impossibly unequal situation, it makes much more sense to simply disengage for the sake of self-preservation.

    I used to agonize over these questions a lot until I got fed up with the use and abuse and stopped dating men. When I returned to dating after a hiatus, I was raped. When are women going to finally decide they’ve had enough? I think that’s a more valuable question at this juncture.

    • Kymani Fabrice Arceneaux

      Impossible situation? Has it really come to this? All hope is lost, eh? I really think some of what has been said Stems from hurt and anger which is find to feel. I just think we’ve demonized sex instead of figure out what sexuality is outside of patriarchy. Also, if you dont want to have sex, you should probably be upfront about it. It will probably safe you a lot of strife. I dont know many men who dont desire sexual intimacy.

  • Hekate Jayne

    Yes!

    There is also this pressure on us to serve, to put a male’s needs in front of our own, to make his wants front and center, and our own wants come last. Males know this. Since they created the entire dynamic.

    And you are absolutely right, girls get sucked in and don’t realize until it is too late.

    I don’t think that it comes across in this environment, but I am easy going, just kind of by nature. I am very good at going along to get along. I don’t care about choice of restaurant or movie, color of paint in the bathroom, what to have for dinner.

    We need to learn at an early age to say what WE want, and to want specific things. I married my first husband (May he rest in peace)and he wouldn’t allow me a choice in anything. I would have realized this if I had ever tried to pick a movie or a dinner.

    But I considered those small things. And I thought that if I made a suggestion, that I would get what I wanted, since I never asked for anything.

    But it is the reverse. If we don’t assert ourselves early on, then males see an opportunity to seize power and dominate. Because they are fuckheads.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Welcome, sister!

  • Veronica Viramontes

    For the “if a woman doesn’t desire sex…” it’s hard to say. If she misses the pleasure she gets from sex then I can see getting help, but if she wants to desire sex just so she can make her partner happy (which women are conditioned into thinking this is of the utmost importance) than no. If she doesn’t want sex she shouldn’t feel obligated. “If a woman desires sex can she still be a radfem” I hope so because I desire sex and consider myself a radfem lol. I actually have a high sex drive and although I enjoy head/four-play feel unsatisfied w/o coitus. That’s my bodily desires, I can’t help it and that should have nothing to do with whether I am a radfem or not. I think w/o patriarchy sex would be less of the man just thinking about cumming and then he’s done, but about both partners pleasure and orgasms. Also less pushiness, for example I do not want anal and no one should tell me to “just try it” if I am not comfortable the man should respect that and move on. In a utopia there would be a lot less emphasis on female beauty as well. Notice in media how ugly fat men are always with gorgeous women with perfect bodies? I dream of a day where women don’t need to “feel” beautiful to be turned on but instead are turned on by their “female gaze” just as men are turned on by looking at us.

  • will

    “I can’t work out what’s so prudish about wanting to receive sexual pleasure during sex”

    Thank you. Yes!!!

  • Topazthecat

    Calling women ”prudes” and being anti-sex because they are against and want to change how pornography and heterosexuality sexualizes and normalizes men’s domination,irrational hatred of women,dehumanization and violence against women,is as unjust,and outrageous,and enraging as calling Black and Jewish people these things for being against and trying to change racist and Nazi pornography!