Head, Heart and Balls

The penis as an agent of sexual oppression (or not, as the case may be)

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When people use the term " sexual oppression" , they usually mean the oppression of women by men. And maybe with good reason, for history reveals that such oppression has been at the root of many societies.

The feminists of the sixties (and later), in fighting against this order of things, saw the penis as the tool by which men oppressed women - the penis being both a symbol of men's assumed superiority and the physical " weapon" with which they subjugated women.

The debate - or argument - may seem quaint nowadays, but it's worth recapping, and anyone who's interested will find it clearly set out in the book A Mind Of Its Own by David M Friedman.

Basically, feminists who railed against sexual oppression thought that the relationship between the vagina and the penis was not a private matter at all - it was actually a political relationship.

every sexual contact has a hidden agenda

How? Because intercourse itself was a representation of the dominant-submissive polarity in which the penis (i.e. male power) penetrates, and the vagina (i.e. female passivity) receives what the male chooses to give.

Heterosexuality itself was attacked for defining female eroticism in terms of male needs. This raises some fascinating questions about what makes men and women fall in love.

Over time, this anger came to focus upon the penis. Women began to question who was in charge of them - the penis (seeing it as an entity somehow representative of and yet separate from men, a symbol of male power with a life of its own), or themselves.

 In this viewpoint, the criticism leveled at women since the days of Freud onwards, that failure to achieve orgasm during vaginal intercourse was a sign of sexual " immaturity" , becomes transmuted into a symbol of men's desire to keep women in their place.

While a clitoral orgasm, not being dependant on thrusting in the vagina, threatens the superiority of the penis and the basis of male power, and hence it is undesirable. (Here's another, better, different view.)

What's more, for those men who really were sexually motivated by lust, power or contempt for women, but little else, the pill represented a humiliation, for it gave women power over contraception and hence power over the penis.

These views may seem extreme nowadays, but you have to understand the cultural context of the sixties and seventies, when they no doubt seemed very real to women brought up in a culture where the roles open to women were very much more restricted than they are today.

As time went by, the sense of oppression lessened as feminism (in the broadest sense) became more mainstream.

For example, Shere Hite's ground-breaking report on female sexuality, revealed much about female sexuality that dispelled the illusions of women who believed they were sexually inadequate.

For example, led to believe that they " should" have a vaginal orgasm if a penis was thrusting away in their vagina, many women would have been relieved to discover the fact that well over 70% of women don't reach orgasm through vaginal intercourse alone.

Rape, too, was analyzed in terms of sexual politics. The ability of a man to penetrate a woman's body against her will was interpreted, by some, as the ultimate test of a man's superior strength, the triumph of his manhood.

 "Man's discovery that his penis could serve as a weapon ranks as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe," wrote one female commentator of the time.

There are, by the way, many problems and objections with these arguments. To name one, in some Asian cultures rape is practically non-existent.

To name another, some scientists have suggested that far from being a political act, rape is a desperate, evolutionarily motivated attempt to reproduce by socially inadequate males who can't win a partner.

In the context of all these arguments, it was inevitable that scientists would start to research the levels of arousal that men experienced when confronted with various sexual stimuli, then go on to try and establish if there were any relationships between sexual violence and male sexual biology.

For example, if a " normal" man becomes aroused when confronted with images of sexual violence, what does this mean? Does it mean that he has a repressed desire to engage in sexual violence? Does it mean that all men are potential rapists?

Clearly, these are important questions. In one controversial study, a psychologist at the UCLA wired up the penises of college men to a device which measured sexual arousal and then asked them to read accounts of consensual sex and non-consensual sex (i.e. rape).

It seemed that the men were equally turned on by the descriptions of consensual and non-consensual sex. Somehow, I have a sense that most men will not be surprised by this finding, and probably not find it particularly shocking.

I was once told that one of the most difficult things for a male psychotherapist was finding himself aroused as his clients recounted episodes of sexual violence towards them.

The more vociferous feminists will of course claim that " evidence" like this does indeed prove that all men are potential rapists, but in my view nothing could be further from the truth.

It is precisely because we men have such good control over our sexual urges that we are not all potential rapists, and to suggest otherwise is a disservice to relationships between men and women and inherently disrespectful of men.

And in case the point is still not clear to you: such experiments (or anecdotes) do not establish any kind of link between arousal and behavior.

In fact they do not even demonstrate what it is that is sexually arousing about such depictions of sex: the sex itself, the sexual violence, the presence of an erect penis, the thought of having sex with one's partner, and no doubt many other possibilities as well.

The penis, testosterone, and sexual politics

What role does testosterone have in all this? Andrew Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic, once wrote about his experience of taking testosterone shots, the effects of which included, according to him, a propensity for violent confrontation.

As a result of his " experiment" , Sullivan suggested that while culture and social upbringing had a significant effect on a man's adult behavior, testosterone was the major influence on aggressiveness, self-confidence, impulsiveness, dominance, risk-taking, physical intimidation and violence, up to and including murder.

This mirrors Germaine Greer's comments about how she felt after taking testosterone. I think I am right in saying that she said she could now understand how men could commit rape, with such a powerful sexual drive.

The obvious problem with Sullivan's report of his experiences with testosterone is that while whatever he reports may indeed be true for him, it proves nothing about anyone else, nor does it prove that there is a link between testosterone and aggression.

But is it really possible that varying testosterone levels are responsible for the different behaviors - including rape - found in men?

Are high testosterone men without partners more likely to commit rape, for example? There has been no shortage of investigations conducted into these questions, but unfortunately they have produced conflicting answers.

The foremost researcher in this field has been Professor James M. Dabbs of Georgia University.

He observes that testosterone levels are in fact generally higher in physically imposing, aggressive, highly competitive men, the kind we would think of as " macho men" .

But unfortunately, there is no evidence of any kind to link testosterone level and criminal behavior. Nonsense, you may say: what of the rapists and child abusers who ask to be chemically castrated (or are ordered to be so by the courts) and then become meek and mild citizens?

Well, some rapists and child molesters have been shown to have very low levels of testosterone, so there is no clear general link. It begins to look as if testosterone cannot be blamed for the bad behavior of men in the way that it has been in the past.

There are, however, a number of studies which show that men who are living in a social milieu where aggression and violence are commonplace have, on average, higher levels of testosterone than most men.

But as has been pointed out by Professor Robert M. Sapolsky, of Stanford University, if you notice a correlation between levels of aggression and levels of testosterone, it could be that (a) testosterone elevates aggression, or (b) aggression elevates testosterone, or (c) neither causes the other.

And while everyone seems to think (a) is true, the surprise is that actually it's (b) that's true.

The elevated levels of testosterone found in inner city men, for example, is not the cause of their aggression it is the consequence of the aggressive lives they lead.

As Sapolsky observes, " testosterone does not cause aggression, it exaggerates the aggression that's already there."

Nonetheless, even though testosterone may not create aggression, it is certainly at the root of masculinity and maleness.

Without it, the male fetus develops into a female, both bodily and in brain structure: so clearly there is some sense in which testosterone is at the root of male behavior, in giving the body the potential to become characteristically male, in terms of aggression, risk-taking, and all those other behaviors we see as characteristically male - not to mention that it is responsible for the development of the penis, the organ at the very center of the expression of male behavior.

Sex Positions

For more variety and greater excitement, plus some background information on the context (including the advantages and disadvantages) of a whole range of different sex positions check this out....and, if you'd like to raise your lovemaking to a whole new level of passion, you can find plenty of exciting information on sex positions and techniques on this information resource.

Other pages on the penis and male sexuality

Arousal & desire in men
Circumcision & foreskin
Condoms & birth control
Pleasuring a woman
Masculinity & sex
Sex positions galore!
Delayed Ejaculation
Men and relationships
Male desire
The male orgasm
The penis as oppressor
Sperm wars
On Being A Man
Law Of Attraction
Relationship Advice
Male thoughts