Debra Soh holds a PhD in sexual neuroscience research from York University. This text is adapted from her book The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex & Identity in Our Society.
With the mainstreaming of feminism, it seems millennial men have also bought the lie that gender equality requires the sexes be treated identically. What does this mean for women? I would argue dismay and disappointment.
One of the greatest myths perpetuated about female sexuality is that women enjoy casual sex as much as men. Young women are encouraged to pursue hooking up because that is what empowered women are supposed to do. Those who abstain are seen as unfortunate casualties of a culture rampant with slut shaming and repressive gender norms.
The admirable goal of gender equality has metastasized into meaning that men and women are the same and, therefore, any sex differences are socially imposed and can be unlearned, or altogether don’t exist.
As a result, it’s become fashionable to call into question biology and evolutionary psychology. Both have become verboten in recent years, tarnished with allegations of sexism, irrelevance and being in opposition to women’s rights.
In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth. It actually hurts women to behave like men, and vice versa, when it comes to courtship and sex. This is the case regardless of one’s political affiliation.
For the record, I am certainly not a traditionalist. In addition to my research expertise as an academic scientist being on the subject of kinky sex, much of my writing advocates for sex positivity and comprehensive (as opposed to abstinence-only) sex education. I believe the focus of sex should be pleasure. On a personal level, I’ve always been career-driven, more focused on financial independence than finding a husband.
But for some reason, drawing upon biological or evolutionary explanations for behaviour, or even hinting that abiding by traditional gender roles might actually help us when it comes to romantic relationships, leads to allegations that I also think a woman’s only purpose in life is to look pretty, have babies and be subservient to men. I’m not suggesting any of these things.
The act of sex comes with a greater cost to women, due to the possibility of becoming pregnant and having to take on related responsibilities – giving birth, breastfeeding, raising the child and ensuring his or her survival. By comparison, for men, sex requires an investment of several minutes. (About five or six minutes on average, according to recent studies.)
This is why women, on average, are more selective about their sexual partners, preferring those who possess status and resources that will benefit them and their future offspring. Back in the day, if these resources were of poor quality or inconsistent, this would threaten a woman’s survival and the survival of her children.
It may be the 21st century, but a man should still be required to make the first move. Initiating contact or romantic interest is a small act demonstrating he is willing to invest in her. As a woman, you do not want your boyfriend to treat you like one of the guys, even if that sounds commendable in the name of gender equality, because doing so requires him to put in much less effort.
A man who isn’t required to invest will almost by default be interested. Why wouldn’t he? It’s potentially free sex!
Men consistently report greater enjoyment of no-strings-attached sex, while women experience more negative reactions. After having casual sex, women are more likely to self-report depression, regret and feeling “used.”
Is there any truth to the idea that social standards influence this behaviour? When we look at sociosexuality (which refers to a person’s enjoyment of sex without commitment) in more egalitarian societies, such as Norway and Denmark, women enjoyed casual sex more, but so did men, leading to larger sex differences.
This is not to say that women should cease having casual sex. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. There definitely still exists a double standard regarding women’s sexuality – for example, that men are free to roam sexually while women must remain chaste to preserve their inherent value as future wives and human beings, more broadly – and even though these attitudes are rooted in evolutionary psychology, that isn’t an excuse to hold women to a different standard than men.
My concern is that only one perspective is being promoted as acceptable for young women. If a woman is more interested in having committed relationships, that should be completely fine, too. She should not be made to feel as though she is uptight, unenlightened or a sexual prude.
Young women reach out to me, asking for sex advice, because in many instances, what they find in the mainstream conflicts with their own experiences with men.
First of all, male sexuality is concordant. This means when a man is turned on psychologically, he’s also turned on physically, down below. Female sexuality, on the other hand, is lower in sexual concordance. Women may be psychologically turned on, but not physically, and vice versa. It can take a bit of extra time for a woman to get warmed up.
It’s not appropriate or helpful to use male sexuality as the standard, because women’s bodies don’t operate this way. Women who believe female and male sexuality are no different will feel pressured to perform similarly to their male partners in the bedroom. When they don’t or can’t, they will internalize this, thinking there is something wrong with them.
If it’s empowering for women to go after what they want in the corporate world and every other aspect of their lives, why shouldn’t the same standards apply in dating? The answer: because we have not yet severed our modern-day sexual behaviour from its history. It’s a system that has served us quite well, considering that we exist today.
Is it old-fashioned to think this way? Probably. But if it gets you what you want and helps you avoid being heartbroken, what’s wrong with that?
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