Thursday, November 04, 2004

About Sex

The Mistress, contined See part one here Nancy Etcoff lays out some facts about human reproduction in her book Survival of the Prettiest:
Good looks are a woman's most fungible asset, exchangeable for social position, money, even love. But dependent on a body that ages, it is an asset that a women uses or loses. It is as perishable as trigger reflexes, exquisite balance, and quick reaction times. ... human females do not [stay fertile], and signs of aging are therefore important clues to reproductive capacity. A woman's peak fertility is between the ages of twenty and twenty four and remains near peak throughout her twenties. By the end of her thirties a woman's fertility has declined by thirty-one percent, and after that fertility declines much more steeply. Things are different for males, who can still father a baby naturally at ninety four... Unlike with women, fertility is not written on the male body. This difference is the sole basis for the erotic visual preference for women in their teens and twenties.
These facts make some people very uncomfortable. Why? Facts like these explode the myth that men and woman are equal in an earthly sense. This can only be so if a woman chooses not to have children. Most women, however, do want to have a family, and so they and their husbands must come to grips with these differences. For most of human history this wasn't a problem. It became a problem only recently, and only in western countries - in places where ideology began to conflict with these facts and attempted to sweep them under the carpet. I am certainly not arguing here that everything about women's liberation is bad. Rights to vote, and to have property and credit are all good and worthwhile. But somehow in this mix the idea began to circulate that female sexuality as it has been known is oppressive and culturally created. The notion that our ideas of female sexuality are merely cultural artifacts does not hold up to the evidence of the social sciences, as noted by Etcoff, and it does not address the problems faced by women who are discovering too late that fertility is no sure thing. You will still find people who deny the very real impact of the female fertility curve, but it is rapidly becoming clear that they are a minority blinded by zealotry. Women who delay pregnancy too long are at a great risk of not being able to have any children at all. The zealot's last, best hope is that somehow medical science will allow all women to cheaply have children past fourty. That - to put it mildly - seems very far fetched. It may be possible, someday, but I doubt if it will ever be cheap enough to compete with the old fashioned methods. The more vexing question is whether or not female sexuality, based on the biological facts Etcoff outlined above, is oppressive. It may be, if male sexuality is taken as the basis for comparison, but there is no compelling reason to do this. That is precisely what some of the loudest and most influential schools of women writers do, however. Rather than embrace women's unique nature and insist that society embrace it and adapt itself to them, they argue instead that women need to be more like men. Men don't get burdened with unexpected pregnancies that knock months and years off of a career, so women should not have to either, even if it means the death of the unborn child. Men abandon wives for flimsy reasons, and since that is so, women should have that right too. If that means women are often left in the unenviable position of fending for the kids as well as themselves, then the state should pay the difference. To compete with men in the most lucrative fields, women need years of schooling, just as men do. If that means they are then often past peak fertility, then the state must research ways to extend fertility, and provide it at reduced costs. And so it goes. At every turn, the strange idea that women are 'broken' and must be fixed regardless of the cost is used to continually increase the role of the state. This results in poor, weak and small families. They are poor because of the terrible costs of divorce and because of the oppressive taxes that are needed to maintain this regime. There is a hidden cost as well. The pill, seen by so many as a liberator of women because it allows women to use their sexual allure as a means to power (as men use earnings), has a dark side. It mucks up women's chemistry, and while many can stop taking it and conceive, this is not true for all. There are many women for whom the pill and its alternatives are a nightmare. Check out an infertility board on the web if you are in doubt. Fertility is not a disease we need medicine to cure. Fertility is not like the water in your tap, that you can turn on and off on a whim. The pill also degrades sexual relationships between men and women. Freed of concern for pregnancy, there is nothing to restrain the demands that men make on women, and those demands can be terrible indeed. The pill can be seen as an attempt by men to colonize women to suit their purposes. A woman can attempt to use sex for her own gain, but she can only do so as long as she is young. If she cannot land a lasting commitment or big money before her attractiveness wanes, she will have very little leverage or protection from against men at all. Finally, multiple partners lead to a terrible coarsening of the heart. The scar tissue makes it more and more difficult to feel for the other in the bed, for men and for women, but it is perhaps especially hard on women, who are more often more drawn to intimacy than the act itself. Does it need to be this way? Can we build a modern society that embraces the facts of a women's sexual arc through life? A few suggestions. Young women need to be taught the facts about how their fertility rises and falls in a short and spectacular fashion, so that they can plan their lives accordingly. They need to decide much earlier than men what kind of path they want to take through life. They need to choose, children or career, probably by their mid twenties. A woman on the family track can have children early and then resume a career and education when they are old enough to be semi independent. It is this path that needs to be more respected than it is today, and this poses no threat to the working women. The hardest part is the revolution in sexual mores that will be necessary to respecting women as they are. Women on the family track need solid, dependable men. And to achieve that, we really need to re-think our clothing, our advertising, and our music. Men will want assurance that they are indeed the father of the kids they support, and women will not want men to be around women who might tempt them to stray. It seems that traditional sexuality can fit the facts of our nature. The tougher question is, can we? If we think we are only animals who cannot control their wants, then no. If we are truly human, if we really are in control of ourselves in the way that we like to think we are, then there is hope.

No comments: