Is it true? Do men really need more sex than women? We have the patriarchy to thank for that particular cliche; the same brush that paints women as pure, sexless beings by extension portrays men as sex-hungry, aggressive slaves to their libidos. Although it's rarely so bluntly stated, subtle manifestations of the stereotype can be found almost anywhere you look: Unoriginal stand-up comedians that refer to marriage as a "ball and chain;" parents who instruct their daughters to remain virgins but encourage their sons to sow their wild oats; and this week, even a think tank in England decided to join the fun with an entire paper devoted to the subject. Pretty crazy stuff considering sexism is over, amiright?
According to the Telegraph, a British research group recently published a controversial paper in favor of legalizing sex work. At first glance, it's great — legalizing sex work could reduce HIV transmission, improve the safety of workers themselves, and allow law enforcement to spend money on more pressing matters. In short, decriminalizing sex work is awesome! What's not to love?
The problem arises from the think tank's reasoning behind their argument, which relies on the (literally) ancient belief that men have greater sex drives than women. "Male sexual desire is manifested at least twice as often as female desire," author Dr. Catherine Hakim writes. As a result, she claims, men will inevitably turn to sex workers to sate that desire, because feminism has created a "male sex deficit" as women become increasingly economically independent.
Allow me to illustrate my feelings in GIF form.
"This gap in sexual desire between men and women is growing over time and cannot be dismissed as an outdated patriarchal myth," Dr. Hakim writes; the trouble is, this statement glosses over the fact that although past studies indicate that men have higher sex drives, pretty much everyone admits that little research has been done on the subject of female desire — and moreover, the majority of existing research is probably heavily biased. For heaven's sake, the clitoris was erased from the 1947 version of Gray's Anatomy simply because the editor felt like taking it out. We didn't even discover the full anatomy of the clitoris until 1998. Science doesn't exactly have a great track record when it comes to female sexuality.
Thanks to this supposed discrepancy in sexual appetites, Dr. Hakim claims that female empowerment is responsible for a growing gap in sexual supply and demand. As women become increasingly financially independent, she argues, they are beginning to notice the "unfair bargains" in many relationships, leaving men without girlfriends to satisfy their sexual needs every waking moment. But there are several problems with this argument. First, it suggests that men only enter relationships for the sex, which completely discounts their agency. Some men totally only want girlfriends for sex. (So do some women.) Some men want girlfriends for romantic intimacy. (So do some women.) By implying that men without girlfriends will inevitably turn to the sex industry, it merely perpetuates the stereotype that men are walking, talking sexual animals. Second, it suggests that the only worth a woman has in a relationship is her willingness to offer sex, to which I have only one reply: Ugh.Third, what are we supposed to take away from it all? That women freeing themselves from a cycle of being forced to offer marriage, aka sex, in exchange for housing and food is somehow a bad thing? Because that's certainly what it sounds like.
Dr. Hakim then goes on to claim that sex work has "no noxious psychological or social effects," and that the perception of sex workers as victims of human trafficking is "outdated." Although it is true that many women are absolutely sex workers because they want to be and the typical anti-sex work narrative excludes their agency in the matter, statistics also show that women are still routinely forced into sex work, often from a horrifyingly early age. The paper presents it as an either/or issue, when in truth it isn't nearly so simple as that.
"The report argues that it is difficult and costly to enforce the criminalisation of prostitution but then goes on to say that decriminalising it will reduce harm to women – when this is not at all the same thing," the acting director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Sarah Green, told The Telegraph.
A thoughtful, feminist treatise on the legalization of sex work from a sociological point of view could have been an incredibly useful argument to add to the ongoing conversation about sex work at large. Unfortunately, though, this particular paper seems to be an oversimplification of an incredibly complicated issue, and the result is unfair to both men and women. At this point, I'm not even surprised at this type of narrative anymore — I'm just tired.
Once again, allow me to sum up my feelings in GIF form:
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