INTERVIEW: Dr Meagan Tyler on the way sex therapy reinforces compulsory heterosexuality and how we can push back

Meghan Murphy speaks with Meagan Tyler about the way sex therapy, sex advice, and self-help books for women normalize male-centered sex and porn culture.

Too often, when women aren’t interested in sex at the same levels their male partners are (or aren’t interested in sex at all), they are told there is something wrong with them. Women who don’t conform to meet male sexual desire or at least pretend to enjoy male-centered sex are accused of being “prudes” and told to engage in “maintenance sex” in order to keep their male partners happy. All this is reinforced not only by our friends, but in sex therapy, sex advice, and self-help books. Somehow, it is always women who are the problem, and the dominant narratives shaping our understand of sex and sexuality are rarely questioned.

To learn more about the ways sex therapy, sex advice, and sexology 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.

This interview originally aired on the Feminist Current podcast.

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MEGHAN MURPHY: In your research on sex and relationship advice, self-help books for women, and sex therapy, what kinds of trends have you come across?

MEAGAN TYLER: The strongest trend I’ve come across in all the texts I read for this research is an underlying, constant pushing of women to accept whatever sexual demands a male partner wants of them. It often wasn’t said outright, but there is a constant pressure for women in heterosexual relationships. To be “good,” sexually, is to agree to whatever your male partner wants of you or find a way to pretend to enjoy it.

MM: I find it personally and politically troubling, as a feminist and just as an individual woman, that sex is taken for granted in relationships. We hear messages like, “If you aren’t having sex, that’s a sign of a bigger problem in your relationship,” for example. And of course, when we’re talking about sex, we’re talking about penetrative sex… We equate marriages that don’t include much or any penetrative sex to “loveless” marriages. We tell others or are told that if our partner isn’t engaging in sex with us, we should leave them or that we have the right to cheat. What’s at the root of all of this? Why are these messages so accepted in our culture?

MT: The existing literature would probably just say it’s the result of the male sex right. It would say that men’s sexual access to women is the cornerstone of heterosexuality, and that women and men exist under unequal conditions of power, so women not submitting to sex acts that they don’t find particularly enjoyable represents the downfall of the heterosexual construct.

It’s extremely threatening, although not consciously, to sex therapists and sexologists that that’s what all of this is founded on. As you say, it is about penetrative sex — they might talk about it in other ways, but they absolutely take sex to mean heterosexual sex and they take it as shorthand for coitus.

There are some fascinating case studies of couples coming to [sex therapists], perfectly happy not having penetrative sex. By their own criteria, if the couple doesn’t feel it’s a problem, the therapist shouldn’t treat it as a problem either. But in fact, these therapists were horrified and thought these people were very aberrant. I think it’s fascinating that this still exists — that the gloss we get of pop psychology around sex therapy is very, like, “Do what you want! Do what you feel comfortable doing!” But when you break it down just a little bit, what you really find is, like you say, the message that you should be in a relationship (because none of this advice is aimed for single people) and that sex is absolutely an expectation of relationships… But it has to be penetrative sex in a heterosexual relationship. It’s the gold standard.

There’s some great stuff by Jenny Kitzinger, probably about 20 years ago now, talking about how none of this advice makes sense in the context of lesbian sexual relationships. It just completely falls apart. It only makes sense in a heterosexual paradigm.

MM: You’re likely familiar with Dan Savage, the sex columnist… And of course his work isn’t just centred around heterosexual relationships — he’s gay and he writes a lot about queer sex. But he coined this idea: “good, giving and game,” which is basically the idea that if you’re in a relationship, that should be your approach to sex — that you should be open-minded and willing to consider anything, within reason, because you want to please your partner and you want your partner to be happy and that’s the deal or contract you enter into in intimate relationships. I wonder what you think about that idea?

MT: It’s interesting the way that it goes in cycles, and I imagine that [idea] gets touted as quite progressive in some circles — I’ve seen the way a lot of his advice is…  But it echoes advice from decades — if not centuries — ago in sex therapy and sexology before that. So you have things like the famous Joy of Sex handbook from the 1970s, which promotes similar ideas. Food, for example, is a constant analogy to sex in a lot of pop sex therapy. And it’s the same in the Joy of Sex as well, where you have everything broken down into appetizers and entrees and main courses and what have you and it’s very nauseating to read through it. One of the comparisons [the author] makes is: If you had a partner who liked Chinese food and you didn’t, you would eat it sometimes to make them happy, so [sex] is exactly the same.

And I think it’s really scary that all those notions that we have outside of regular sexual relationships of consent — of positive affirmation and enjoyment of sexuality — are supposed to go out the window in long-term heterosexual relationships. There’s huge pressure, as you say, to keep up a particular kind of sex… I think there’s probably more pressure to agree to certain sex acts than others, for example. Why does that concept of consent we claim to value irrelevant once you’re in a long-term relationship? It speaks volumes that we need this entire industry to cajole women into having forms of sex that they often don’t want to have.

MM: And why is that a bad analogy? What’s the difference between eating Chinese food and sex?

MT: Well, I guess forcing yourself to eat Chinese food you don’t love is not the same as being coerced into sex that can end up being rape.

It’s also this continuation of what Kathleen Barry talked about — prostitution sex — bleeding into everyday life. And having done some studies recently about men’s abuse of women in brothel prostitution, for example, it’s really interesting how that gets represented as “regular work,” but if you take consent away from it, it’s rape. And I think it’s the same kind of thing when you’re trying to run all these other analogies about sex in relationships: if you don’t acknowledge that if it goes wrong and there’s coercion, or if this is someone agreeing to sex they don’t want, then you are looking at coercive sex — you are looking at abuse. And that has really traumatic consequences for the people involved, that maybe eating something you don’t like doesn’t.

MM: And in your work on sex advice and sex therapy, you do use that feminist analysis of prostitution as a framework. I wonder if you can explain that a little more — what’s the connection between prostitution and the treatment of heterosexual relationships in sex advice, self-help books, and therapy?

MT: The most obvious one and the one that was kind of horrifying to me and meant that I was motivated to look into this, was the way in which porn stars and women in prostitution were being held up as the ultimate sex experts. Because the more sex you had, the better you must be at it and the more you must know about it. And there was no contextualizing of the fact that that is, at its most positive, faking sexual enjoyment for a camera.

Ariel Levy talks about this in Female Chauvinist Pigs — that sexual enjoyment then just becomes performing for someone else’s enjoyment, and that gets conflated.

That was probably one of the most obvious ways that this kind of notion of commodified sex in its most basic form was being touted as the model for all women to mimic in their everyday heterosexual relationships.

But then there was also the radical feminist analysis that has existed for decades, looking at the fact that maybe the defining elements of prostitution isn’t just the about economic exchange (which is what is seen as separating it from other forms of sexual interaction), but the sexual inequality between men and women and that — at its heart — one person’s sexual desires determine everything that happens, and that there is one person in that interaction who is not getting their interests or sexual desires or needs taken into consideration at all. They purely exist to meet the other person’s conception of what they want. And that model is prevalent in sex therapy, particularly in self-help books for women. Self-help books for men are markedly different, which is also quite interesting.

MM: Something you hear about fairly often these days is this notion of “maintenance sex.” In your research, how common have you found this practice and term to be, and what’s your perspective on it?

MT: In the literature I came across in my research — in the academic side of things — “unwanted sex” was probably the more common term, which then started bleeding into these less harmful sounding terms like “maintenance sex.” It’s this idea of doing it anyway, even when you don’t want to, and that this keeps the relationship going and keeps everyone happy. In fact, we saw that in the post that went viral about a mommy blogger talking about getting [sex with her husband] over and done with because that makes for an easy life. I think sexologists have really struggled to categorize that — they certainly wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing, generally, and they think high levels of sexual interaction is really important.

Again, I was shocked to read how many of them were counselling women who, even though they had three or four small children, were still having sex with their husbands three or four times a week, but he wasn’t happy with that amount, so something had to be done to help the woman have more sex. They wouldn’t say, “Hey, you know what? Actually there’s nothing wrong with you, and that actually sounds like quite a lot of sexual activity in a house where there’s a hell of a lot else going on.” So there’s definitely that constant treatment of women as aberrant — the benchmark is always his sexual desires.

So “maintenance sex” fits quite well into that. It’s not about what women want, and whether or not they want or get any physical enjoyment or connection out of that sexual activity. It’s is about maintaining heterosexuality at all costs and that the ultimate benchmark of good heterosexuality is meeting male sexual desires. So I think maintenance sex is a really harmful concept. It is absolutely normalizing the idea that women shouldn’t be connected or entitled to enjoy or want the sex that they participate in.

We saw the pointy end of that in sexological literature after Viagra came out (which seems so normal now — when I talk to my undergraduate students, they can’t imagine a time before Viagra, when
men just had to put up with not getting erections), and seemingly solved erectile dysfunction, according to a lot of people in the sexology and sex therapy industry. There was this huge shift in attention to: How do we get women to now deal with the fact that there are a lot more erections going around? Often this was happening in with regard to older women in relationships, for example, who hadn’t had penetrative sex for a long time. One of the things that started to develop was this idea of receptivity — this idea that women didn’t just go around with active sexual desire, wanting sex, but that they had to be sort of awakened by men’s touch, and then get interested in sex. So they’re encouraging women to just agree to sex, first off, and then see how they felt about it, because maybe a few minutes in, they might find that it wasn’t so bad and they might end up enjoying it. That was their great idea for the leap forward of “women’s sexual therapy treatment” — that you encourage women to just give it a go for a while and see what happens.

It is extraordinary that we’re saying that this is the way forward, when in actual fact it was like the “sleeping beauty” model of women’s sexuality that has existed for centuries — that women don’t have any sexual desires of their own, they only exist in relation to men.

MM: Speaking of Viagra, in recent years there’s been this push to find a “female Viagra.” And in order to justify this push to come up with something that will increase women’s libidos, there’s also been a lot of talk about “sexual dysfunction” in women — the idea that if a woman doesn’t desire sex, she’s dysfunctional in some way, and that’s a problem that can or should be treated. Have you studied that phenomenon at all?

MT: Not directly, but kind of doing the analyses of the literature that deals with sexual dysfunction. Again, as someone outside the field, studying it as a political scientist and a sociologist, it’s astounding, some of the claims that get made.

One of the spikes after the interest in Viagra and the interest in finding a female Viagra, was this widespread claim that came out of the journal of the American Medical Association — a highly regarded medical journal —  that most women were sexually dysfunctional. So there was obviously a huge rush for marketers to find a pharmaceutical product for this, but no one ever questioned that assumption that most women were sexually dysfunctional. What does “dysfunctional” actually mean, anyway, if you’re talking about a majority of women?

It’s funny seeing how often these things reoccur. It made me think of the Hite Report from the 80s, finding that a majority of women almost never
orgasm when having penetrative sex with men, and that is still classified as a disorder, even though it actually represents a lot of women’s experiences. That is really unchanged. It’s the bedrock of not wanting to question what we think sex is — penetrative heterosexual sex, focusing on male pleasure — and then telling women they’re dysfunctional for not liking that, rather than saying maybe this whole setup that we’ve got is not about women’s pleasure, so it’s not surprising that women aren’t gagging to do it… Well, certainly not all women, anyway!

MM: I wonder there’s anything to this idea of sexual empowerment. It’s something that we hear about so much as far as third wave feminism goes and the sex positive movement that has really taken off in the last couple decades. Is it possible, do you think, for women to be or to feel empowered through sex, or do you think that’s a bunk concept?

MT: I suppose it’s trying to separate out what sex is under patriarchy and what it might be. And I think, just like adopting anything as is, whether in terms of beauty practices or in terms of other patriarchal standards of femininity, it is difficult to find them empowering under patriarchy or believe that at a rational and analytical level they can actually be empowering. That doesn’t mean some women don’t enjoy those things, but I think the difference with sexuality is that if you’re looking at it on a global scale and an anthropological level, this is seen as such a fundamental part of our lives as human beings. Sexuality doesn’t have to take the form of the “gold standard” of heterosexual penetrative sex, though it is the West. So I wouldn’t want to throw sexuality out, like a baby with the bath water kind of scenario.

There have been some great feminist activists, Women Against Sex in the 1970s being a really good example, saying that women should just withdraw from sex and sexuality altogether. But for me, I’ve got to keep some level of optimism about what we might be able to achieve under different circumstances.

I often go to Andrea Dworkin on that; so thinking there’s some kind of underground resistance in women — thinking that there might be a humane sensuality that we can achieve outside of the patriarchal structures of sexuality that, come the revolution, could be a strong source of power and enjoyment for women.

MM: When I was younger, and before I become more radical in my feminism, I did think that sex was really central to our existence and to our lives. Ironically, when I did think that, I wasn’t having orgasms yet [laughs]… But today, I’m in my late thirties and my perspective is that sex is overemphasized, so I have definitely started to push back against the narrative that sex is what makes the relationship good and that we’re obligated to have sex with our partners. But because of that people will often just try to dismiss me as a “prude.” And it’s not just men pushing that narrative. I can’t actually think of a man in my personal life who has used that word to describe me — more often, it’s women. I have more than one female friend who has accused me of prudery because I challenge these male-centered norms about sex and what a healthy relationship or “sex life” looks like. I wonder why you think women do this to one another? Why do women accuse one another of being prudes or of being bad partners, for challenging our cultural expectations of sex or our understanding of sexual relationships with men?

MT: I suppose there’s the old concept of horizontal violence — that women, or any oppressed group, will often keep other members of that group in line, more overtly than a more powerful group. I do think that sexuality is one of the big battlezones for patriarchal norms… [The idea that patriarchal, heterosexual sex is “natural” and biological] is so interwoven with our understanding of sexuality that people get very threatened when you talk about sexuality as being culturally constructed.

I heard Gail Dines talk at a conference once, and she said exactly what you did — that the older she gets, the more she thinks we have a culture obsessed with [sex] for no good reason. She said it’s like teenage boys are running the culture. So I think it is threatening on some level when you stop doing that, in the same way women who stop shaving their underarm hair sometimes get looks and stares and comments from other women — because there is something threatening about saying, “Actually you can step outside these norms.” I think it’s easier to believe that it’s not possible or that it’s biologically determined. And when you see women making those other decisions, then you see it can be done, which can be quite threatening to the conceptions that you have been carrying around.

Certainly that’s what lesbian feminists have been arguing for decades — that the idea of lesbian feminism is so threatening to the whole system that they’re often not taken seriously, or it’s not seen as a central idea: that you could overthrow heterosexuality just by women withdrawing their energy out of it at a very basic level.

MM: And how you respond to those accusations — of being called a “prude” or being called “sex negative”?

MT: I once made badges that said “prude,” just to get it over and done with, so there’s no confusion. I had “prude” on one side and “frigid” on the other.

I’ve come to more laugh at it or embrace it. I don’t know that that is necessarily a politically useful way of going about it, but personally very useful, that you can just say, “Yeah, all right, what of it? You think I’m a prude? I don’t really care.” I suppose at a day-to-day level that was useful to me — I really did get to the point where I just don’t care any more. But I suppose the anti-sex thing irritates me for the same reason it irritates so many feminists — when you are trying to reclaim this as something that could be potentially positive in women’s lives and saying that women should be entitled to want and desire and access sexual pleasure in ways that they find fulfilling, and we’ve lost that as an option because we’re presented with either “do it the way the dominant construction has been presented to you via popular culture” or “withdraw from it altogether.”

I think when you even threaten the edges of dominant construction of heterosexuality, you’re labelled a prude. There is no concept of the fact that we could restructure it or remake it… Not that I have some great hope for that, but in terms of our personal lives, just trying to buy out of it a bit while still being heterosexual (for example, in my case) is seen as prudish. Anything that isn’t full-on in agreement with dominant heterosexuality is seen as anti-sex. And, again, I think it suggests how fundamental the dominant construction of heterosexuality is to the patriarchy — that people think that even just fraying out at the edges might just bring the whole system down, so we desperately have to stop or shun people who say that this might not be the way that it has to be.

MM: And finally, what do you wish would change? What do you think a feminist approach to relationships or sex therapy would look like, for example? What could change in terms of sex advice or relationship advice to centre women and empower women in an actually feminist way?

MT: That’s such a tough question, really, and I have changed my opinion back and forth over the years as to whether a feminist sex therapy is truly possible. I know some great women who have tried, but obviously the system of sex therapy is so founded on really harmful concepts to women that it is difficult to work within that framework in a positive way. At the same time, I think there are a lot of women who do better sex therapy, and the more feminists you can get in there who don’t say things like, “You absolutely have to be okay with your partner watching violent pornography” the better. I think the more women who can find therapists who say, “Actually you can say no to that — that’s fine,” is an important interim measure — that women can go for help and be reassured.

I guess my ultimate aim was that women should be allowed to say “no” — years ago, that’s what I kept thinking. That what needed to underlie the support for women: that it was okay to say “no” to all of these things, including sex altogether and any kind of sexual interaction you might have with another person. And I still think that’s really true and fundamental, because we can’t ignore the context in which we exist. There is such widespread sexual harassment and sexual violence against women that it’s kind of extraordinary that women would ever seek heterosexual relationships under those conditions at all. And sex therapy, generally, as a discipline, ignores that context altogether. It doesn’t understand the constant threat of sexual violence that women live in; it doesn’t understand the unequal relations between men and women.

It was actually my thesis supervisor who challenged me on that, and said: That’s all good for the moment, that you just want “no” as your absolute baseline and that all women need to eventually be in positions where they can say “no” to anything they don’t want to do, but that’s not a great utopian vision. For her, that’s where lesbian feminism came in and thinking about what kind of power could women have if they develop those sexual bonds together or if there was room for women to develop those bonds together. What might sexual enjoyment look like under those conditions instead? And maybe we do need a utopia where we can imagine being outside of this system, as well as the interim tools to deal with the kind of oppressions that we experience now.

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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  • Kathleen Lowrey

    Great interview. I just recently read Sheila Jeffreys’ book _Anticlimax_ published in 1990, which makes very similar arguments. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much feminist energy gets put into reinventing the wheel every couple of generations. I know this is not a new point — Glosswitch has a great piece on it here —

    https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/11/why-does-feminism-have-come-waves

    and it is NOT the fault of feminists that backlash busily deepsixes all of their hard work every other generation but, damn, you know?

  • Unree

    It does feel strange to defend him, but I somewhat agree. I’ve been reading Dan Savage for years (less so lately–I’ve kind of had enough) and find him much fairer to women than most sex advice columnists. That said, GGG as ideology puts pressure on reluctant partners. It teaches not only the importance of the original bargain that you mention but also “Be a little more cooperative when your partner proposes an active change in your sex life.”

    Savage never says that the person who makes demands should be good, giving, and game in response to “Leave me alone.” His message tells us that the partner who wants more sexual activity should expect to get his way more often than the partner who wants less. And as Tobysgirl says, this encouragement is just what a stay-at-home dude supported by his working wife, a guy who does nothing all day but watch porn, will want.

  • Christine

    That is a pretty great defence of Savage. I used to respect him a lot more. The turning point for me might have been this FC item, wherein Jess Martin links to a particularly… unimpressive, let’s say… piece of advice in the second paragraph:
    https://www.feministcurrent.com/2015/06/05/ftf-mari-matsuda-addresses-critics-of-identity-politics/

  • Wren

    He’s fair to women when he supports kink, prostitution, porn, and trans-identified men?? Somehow by supporting all these things he’s promoting sex equality?

    I think you’re confused.

  • Meagan Tyler

    Yes, my research on sex therapy and sexology draws heavily on foundational feminist works in the field, such as those by Sheila Jeffreys and Margaret Jackson. I write quite a lot about this continuation in ‘Selling Sex Short’: http://www.academia.edu/927863/Selling_Sex_Short_The_pornographic_and_sexological_construction_of_womens_sexuality_in_the_West

  • Meagan Tyler

    I actually talk about Dworkin’s notion of a ‘humane sensuality’ in the conclusion to ‘Selling Sex Short’, alongside the work of other great lesbian feminists who have tried to reconceotualise what a sexuality based on equality might look like. Definitely important discussions to be had in this area, IMHO.

  • Wren

    This is a great interview!

    I read Kathleen Barry twenty years ago but she was one of the first women I read that gave me an intellectual life raft out of the sex industry. I think I was already out when I found her work, but I had no understanding of what happened to me; I was just trying to push it away through forward momentum. I don’t think I understood everything she was saying, nor was I ready to understand it, but I got enough to realize I might not be crazy or alone or to blame. I should revisit her work.

    The sex industry is part and parcel of women’s “sexuality” in patriarchy. Women who are in supposedly monogamous relationships know that if they don’t service their man sexually, it is culturally accepted for him to use pornography and/or strip clubs and prostitutes to fulfill his needs. Even if he never ever says it, she believes that it is her responsibility to keep him from straying. Or, of course, he may find another partner who lets him indulge in these things or engages in the sex acts he want. Either way, the possibility of abandonment is ever-present. So this is a constant looming threat to any woman who is financially dependent on a man, or who fears a loss of status without a man (basically any male-identified woman).

    A woman isn’t truly free to say no to sex unless she is completely financially independent, NOT living with the man (because she can never get away from him and his fucking whining), and emotionally somewhat removed. She must have shed all of her programming around being “sexually liberated” and people-pleasing. This is a tall order and makes it nearly impossible for the majority of women to do. I know I’m still working on it, and probably will be my entire life.

    Regarding women’s innate sexuality and whether or not we need therapy, the answer is a big fat NOPE. My sexuality is just fine. The problem is that I cannot find a man who treats me with the kind of care and respect that makes me desire HIM. That’s men’s fault, not mine.

    But if there is such a thing as feminist sex therapy, then I imagine it wouldn’t look much different than trauma therapy for sexually abused women. Again, it would be about deprogramming women from years of gaslighting and brainwashing, and teaching women that we have sole sovereignty over our bodies. Until some kind of feminist utopia does exist, this is really what we all need.

  • Meagan Tyler

    No, I don’t think it is a misunderstanding. It’s a different level of analysis. This is a really common thread in both “scientific” and “pop” sex therapy. There is often a line or two about not having the sex you don’t want to have, but this is consistently undermined by the constant messages to try something new and think about pleasing a partner. This advice is sometimes presented in a gender neutral way (I do talk about this in ‘Selling Sex Short’), but the power dynamics of heterosexuality mean that this advice plays out in very different ways for men and women.

    And I would strongly refute the idea that DS is anything but unhelpful for women. He runs a porn festival, for crying out loud. And his helpful “advice” to women who think there might be anything wrong with porn pretty much shows up his misogyny: “All men look at porn–men with hot girlfriends, men with dumpy girlfriends, men with 10 girlfriends, men with no girlfriends. The handful of men who claim they don’t look at porn are liars or castrates. Tearful discussions about your insecurities or your feminist principles will not stop a man from looking at porn. That’s why the best advice for straight women is this: GET OVER IT. If you don’t want to be with someone who looks at porn–if you can’t handle it, AG–get a woman, get a dog, or get a blind guy. I’m sorry if you think that’s insensitive–no, wait: I’m not sorry. I sincerely believe that “Get over it” is the best possible advice for women bothered by porn.” / https://www.thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLove?oid=15715

  • FierceMild

    All of your points are good and would be really persuasive if we were living in a social system that didn’t constantly pressure women to service men’s sexual needs. Outside the broader social context there is no real quarrel with Savage. But he operates inside our social context – which is Patriarchy – without giving it so much as a cursory acknowledgement. Good giving and game would work excellently in a relationship of social equals, say a lesbian or gay relationship, but in a heterosexual relationship under male supremacy it is absolutely detrimental to the well being of women.

  • FierceMild

    I believe this interview was a podcast a while ago. I listened to it with my husband and we both felt a profound relief at having someone to help us articulate and expand on realities we’d come to know through painful effort. Thank you.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes it was! We try to transcribe (and edit for clarity) some of the podcast interviews for people to read. I find that while some people prefer listening, others prefer to read 🙂

  • melissa

    Loved that podcast. Remember a few days after fidnign this in the guardian

    “How does it make you feel when your partner is cold and distant? Or when they’re critical and prickly? Does it make you want to rip their clothes off, order in a vat of whipped cream and install a chandelier to swing from?

    No? Well there’s your problem – according, at least, to Michele Weiner-Davis, the marriage-guidance counsellor whose Ted talk explaining her unconventional advice to warring couples has been viewed almost 3.5 million times online.

    Her advice couldn’t be simpler: shag. Do it even if you don’t want to, do it especially if you don’t want to and, most important of all, do
    it frequently whether you want to or not. To make it even clearer, she’s borrowed one of the most famous advertising slogans of recent
    times: Just Do It. “Your partner will be grateful, happier and therefore nicer, too,” she explains from her clinic in Colorado. “It’s a win-win
    situation for both of you!” ”

    Basically spread your legs if you want your partner to be nicer. Can’t believe how many people were eating this up.

    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/jan/21/is-sex-the-answer-to-your-relationship-problems-michele-weiner-davis-guidance?CMP=fb_gu

  • Meghan Murphy

    As a heterosexual woman, my solution is more to put my energy into my female friendships, rather than into the men I date. I am attracted to men so can’t seem to help but date them, hook up with them, etc., but I’m committed to *not* prioritizing them above my work, friendships, independence, space, quality of life, etc etc. I also agree that celibacy is a good solution, though apparently I can’t manage that just yet ha.

    • BornACrone

      Meghan, let me be blunt here: I have been celibate for longer than you have been ALIVE kid, purely because men, the gender I would very much enjoy loving, are shit. That is not what I would call a “good solution” any more than amputation is a “good solution” to gangrene.

      They are not worth it, and there is no way to turn this into a joyful, empowering thing. And Gerry, this is not a “break” I’m taking, as if having sex with men were just some annoying housework and I’m being celibate as a way of enjoying “me time” or some crap. Men are selfish, childish, and dangerous, and I have been forced to make a choice I dislike for three decades, okay? So can we please stop sugarcoating this whole issue and batting around the concepts of celibacy and forcing oneself to pretend to change orientations as positive feminist choices? Can we just tell the fucking truth about sex for once? It’s not a nice truth, but one thing I know for sure is that lying to ourselves about it ain’t gonna accomplish a goddamned thing.

      • Meghan Murphy

        We’re just talking, here, BornACrone… Having a conversation. I’m having trouble understanding why your responses are so defensive? No one is attacking you — we’re all just thinking out loud about our experiences and possible solutions.

      • Wren

        I think I understand what you’re saying. It’s often a kind of cruel joke to people to talk about celibacy: it’s for monks or frigid, weird people, or for liberated man-hating feminists and creates a caricature-like image. Many people toy with it for short periods of time but haven’t truly resigned themselves to a lifetime of no intimacy and the reality of that. It isn’t a good way to live, but it’s the bargain that precludes the possibility of further trauma. I get that.

        But this decision (and you’re right, what choice do we really have?) to not have intimate relationships with the people we are physically attracted to due to the very real threat of abuse and violence (whether physical, sexual, or emotional) is a tragedy. I want and deserve to have a partnership and intimacy and closeness with someone, and the idea that I may never experience this burns a hole in my heart. I don’t appreciate it when people give me Pollyanna-ish, cliched advice about having close female friends and a dog (even though I do love my dogs and even though I myself have given this advice!). But the reality is that it’s just not the same, and I feel that I am being robbed of yet another human experience. I simply haven’t yet found any man that I can trust or desire, and it is an enormous risk for me to put myself out to date. The wrong experience can jeopardize the fragile equilibrium that I’ve fought to create. Inside of me is a constant dance between feelings of hope, fear, love and defeat. It can be exhausting.

        I think this is what you’re getting at, but of course I could be wrong. However, I don’t think Meghan or Gerry are trying to make light of it. We are all just trying to deal with this fucked up world the best way we can.

      • Alienigena

        “They are not worth it, and there is no way to turn this into a joyful, empowering thing … Men are selfish, childish, and dangerous ….”

        In my life experience this includes men who are fathers and brothers, also seriously not worth the effort of maintaining a relationship with them. I remember getting a ride with my brother from my parent’s place in the country (> 1 hour long drive) and he started to harangue me about his work and his relationship and I felt anxious and angry because I remember my father haranguing my mother about work or one of us (his children) and being subject to his angry harangues myself. I just shut my brother down, because he was not likely to lend a sympathetic ear to me in future. Just because I am 1.5 years older than him I am not all knowing or at all willing to be his wailing wall (accepting of his angry ranting).

  • GerryJCapone

    Celibacy is not like taking a vow of chastity. It’s not either-or, but is for whatever period fits one’s life, politics, values, intentions.

    It can be forever or it can be taking a break. I think most women and yes some men, practice it without really consciously doing so. They just retreat from sex and/or intercourse for some time, find it perfectly okay or superior, and extend it.

    I’ve known both gay men, lesbians, and straight women who refer to themselves as “asexual.” They say this because whatever their sexuality is, it doesn’t fit socially, or they’re going through a period, long or short, where sex is so out that it drives them to say “I’m asexual” as a way of putting the word out there that their out of the game.

    And I’ve known others who don’t describe their sexuality at all, but who never have sex with another person. And still others who prefer the sensation caused by themselves to those caused by those others they’ve experienced.

    Whatever the case, it’s not so much sex that is missed by these persons, but closeness and conversation.

  • Cassandra

    Ya took the words right out of my mouth. 🙂
    I’ve been celibate for *a while* now. It’s really the only solution for me.

  • Meghan Murphy

    “Men don’t center women the way women center men thanks to sex role training. Women’s entire identity is tied up in relationships…”

    Totally. So many women put men first (their boyfriends, husbands, etc.), whereas men simply aren’t pressured/socialized to center women in their lives at all. It’s depressing, and, I might add, not at all worth it.

  • Ana Koe

    One of the worst experiences that I ever had seeking medical care as a woman was when I started experiencing gynecological problems and sexual disfunction while single and celibate, in my early thirties. My pain, discomfort and general depression didn’t matter, because it wasn’t affecting a man’s sex life.

    I have always had a high sex drive, and that always defined my sense of self, and the way I experienced everything. So even though I wasn’t in a relationship, and wasn’t necessarily eager to be in one at the time this started, I was absolutely emotionally and psychologically destroyed when things started going wrong. I got no help. I was told by female gynecologists that it was ok that I was in physical discomfort, that I couldn’t masturbate or even fantasize, let alone consider sexual intercourse because I wasn’t in a relationship. When I insisted that that wasn’t satisfactory, I was pressed: “Why? Are you trying to date?”

    I got better through my own efforts: a new, more careful exercise regime, an improved diet, more sleep and less work. But it took so much out of me, and was lonely and traumatic. And maybe it would have been even more lonely if I’d had a boyfriend or husband, and he was callous and selfish.

    I don’t know what the solution is except that I feel like as part of their “sex ed” men should have to look at a lot of pictures and videos of all the things that actually go wrong with our sexual anatomy: Birth trauma, prolapses, trauma from Crohns and other long term digestive diseases. They should have to really think about what it actually feels like when your sexual organs are inside you, close to all your other organs.

    I will say that literally the only empathetic medical professional I met during this time was a male e-clinic physician who had to do some very painful, last minute exams that he was probably not expecting to have to do that day. He actually did have an interpretation/advice. And I almost feel like the reason he was helpful was because he wasn’t a gynecologist or sex therapist. I suspect that the very institutions that are supposed to be addressing these problems are also rife with institutionalized callousness.

    • FierceMild

      I’m so sorry you went through this. There is nothing more painful than ovarian/womb troubles.

  • Wren

    Thanks. I’ve learned a lot here at FC!

  • BornACrone

    “The answer is to stop making men the center of your existence.”

    Go fuck yourself. How fucking DARE you assume that I have. How fucking dare you. Go to hell and stay there.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I don’t think she was assuming *you* centered men in your existence, I think she was just speaking generally to women looking for a solution. Please reign in the unnecessarily rude language, thanks.

  • Hanakai

    Well, a fourth alternative is to limit your interaction to those men who are intelligent, kind, who genuinely like women and listen to them, who care that their partner’s happiness. Admittedly, these specimens are not typical of their sex, but they do exist

    • Ashley Braman

      Yeah like 10 % of the worlds population of males. They are an anomaly… Its weird to be expected to act like males do no wrong when 90t of them do…

  • Meghan Murphy

    I find it useful as well!

  • Meghan Murphy

    I’m not opposed to women’s rage, I just would prefer if sisters didn’t speak like that to one another here (referring to the other comment/response, mainly).

  • Meghan Murphy

    I don’t care if you contradict me! I’ve been rude plenty of times in here ha. Thanks for clarifying your point and for attempting to explain BornACrone’s perspective.

    • will

      Thanks Meghan. <3 <3

  • FierceMild

    It does. Like right out of experience it bloody well does. When they don’t act like their penis is the most important thing they realize their penis is not the most important thing.

  • Misanthropia

    Straight males should stop pestering women to engulf their dicks and should bend over spread their legs and be penetrated with a strap on. But they all think it’s ‘gay’.

  • Ashley Braman

    Trans are the Trojan horse of the lgbtq community. Personally dont understand why they are included when they stop people from being lesbian and gay. And not only that but they say all the time trans is being a womxnot a sex prefrence. But the lgb is all about sex prefrence. So its kinda like an oxymoron

  • Ashley Braman

    I ve been married for 6 years to a male. And im straight but omg do i wish i was a lesbian years ago. I cant really change the situation im inbut i always tell my girls id rather them be lesbians and to stay away from boys