Not all empiricism produces foregone conclusions

One of the things I find most fascinating when reading scientific studies (or secondary/tertiary discussions of those studies, because I am lazy) is the conclusions drawn from the data collected. This is something I enjoy teaching to students -- forcing them to ask whether the conclusions are necessarily self-evident from the data, and introducing the possibility that many of our interpretations of outcomes are highly mediated through social and cultural constructs.

There are a number of times in which this article, about the neurological "roots" of the "orgasmic mind," makes inexplicable conclusions about current data on the way a brain functions (and functions differently in men and women, homosexuals and heterosexuals) in the course of an orgasm. While I suspect the author intended to challenge social norms about the female orgasm, I find he reinforces simplistic tropes of female desire. The article's conclusion raises one of the more compelling problems for me. The last section is titled "Pleasure Pill?" and returns to the article's opening example, one woman's ability to overcome sexual "dysfunction" depended more on social triggers than any physiological/chemical alterations. Thus, the article points out, though neurological mapping of the mind during sexual response may be a possible solution in the future for those who have difficulty reaching orgasm, understanding the social phenomena that contribute to sexual pleasure may be equally relevant.

Much of the article is about women's sexual response as distinct from men's, but it identifies these differences through an evolutionary framework. (A very questionable framework, in my mind.) But more concerning, the article focuses far more on the "problems" of women's sexual response rather than considering male sexual response as equally as arbitrary or constrained. Most of the article takes female sexual response as more complicated and demanding than male sexual response, which may or may not actually be true, and what bothered me was the intrinsic problematizing of female desire, and the article's failure to ask whether male sexual response could have nuances as well. One example is that males purportedly exhibit arousal only to visual stimuli of their preferred sexual partners, that heterosexual men do not find seeing men naked arousing nor do homosexual men find seeing women naked arousing. In contrast, women are aroused more "generally" regardless of sexual partner preference. Yet, there is no way of evaluating how much of sexual response has social and cultural norms that influence sexual interpretations.

The article suggests that "Indeed, many sex therapies revolve around opening the mind to new ways of thinking about sex or about your sexual partner." The claim that many sex therapies can address mental challenges, rather than chemical ones made me immediately think of how odd it is that male sexual dysfunction has thus far been treated with a pharmacological solution, while women's purported dysfunctions require extensive social probing. I would argue that Viagara didn't involve any "mind opening" at all. Has anyone bothered to conduct Viagara research on heterosexual men to see if they exhibit signs of arousal when viewing non-preferred sexual objects? It just seems that the article takes far too many concepts for granted, and fails to even acknowledge that the availability of Viagara has a lot of social and cultural consequences. The counter to this article, and it seems that the author is thinking of it indirectly, is that we have developed pharmacological solutions, not "mental" ones, to male sexual "dysfunction." Women's desires, as this article ultimately seems to suggest, are far more complicated and "emotional," even though the point of this article is that women's emotional centers turn off during orgasm.

Perhaps I am reading this article incorrectly, but it does seem that there are a lot of logical inconsistencies. Most of them stemming from a retro-romanticizing** of female desire. (Oooh, "retro-romanticizing," that seems like a good new term.)

** I see that I've been using "retro" in more than one post as a means to suggest it's not a very forward-thinking interpretation. Got to get out of that linguistic slump.

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