Saturday, August 4, 2012

More on Sexual Disgust

In yesterday's post, I wrote about being troubled by the idea that "women tend to be specifically more disgusted by sex than men are," as described in Rachel Herz's book That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion. A couple points she makes a bit later in the book shed some light on what might be going on when it seems women are more disgusted by sex than men.

The main study Herz cites found that female college students shown pornography were more disgusted by it and enjoyed it less than their male counterparts did. I already raised the question of whether the presentation of sex acts was disgusting to the women, rather than the sex acts themselves. I wonder if the women felt the pornography presented sex in a degrading rather than pleasurable way.

But there could be more to it than that. Herz writes later:

The faces of anger and disgust are most likely to be confused for each other throughout our lives, which ... has some intriguing implications for understanding what "moral disgust" really might be.

I wonder if the women's disgust had more to do with anger than disgust at the human body and its natural functions. Obviously, there's an interpretation I'd prefer to make, but this seems like a reasonable question.

I also suggested the women might have been disgusted because they were socialized to be disgusted (i.e. "good girls don't like that"). This passage suggests this could certainly be a factor:

There is not one disgust, but many disgusts that vary from simply and physical to abstract and complex. The emotion of disgust is probably universal but it is not innate; disgust has to be learned and is subject to a myriad of influences. Our age, our personality, our culture, our thoughts and beliefs, our mood, our morals, whom we're with, where we are, and which of our senses is giving us the feeling, all shape whether and how strongly we are able to feel disgusted, both as a personal predisposition and in the moment right now.

Clearly, sexual disgust is a complicated issue. I'm convinced this isn't just a biological or hard-wired neurological thing. I think that if women are in fact typically more disgusted by sex than men (I also questioned the cited sources in my original post), there is likely a constellation of societal factors operating to promote the effect, ranging from what girls are told as they're raised to how sex is typically presented in society.

I'm still planning to get hold of the paper that seems to be Herz's main source for the claim.

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