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Hey, did you ever read that totally weird and kind of clueless article in the New York Times about female sexuality, and think to yourself, “gee, I wish someone would pay Daniel Bergner to write – weirdly and somewhat cluelessly – about the difficult intersection of cultural representations of sex and human sexual response at even greater length?” Did you furthermore add, while thinking to yourself, “I hope that, once Daniel Bergner has been paid to write at great length about these issues, his resulting book is assigned to an apparently terrifying reviewer who manages to simultaneously glorify male sexuality and imply that it is perfectly natural for men to have sexual fantasies about female children?” Well, that is because you are a woman, and your desires are necessarily receptive and formed in reaction to the desires of others, namely those of Daniel Bergner and Slate contributor Steven D. Kramer. For behold! So it has come to pass:

[In his book about “paraphilias,” which includes a lengthy profile of a pedophile named “Roy,” oh goody] Bergner does not ignore the contrast between pedophilia and perversions that lead to consensual sex; he sees molested children as victims. But in the context Bergner offers, the quality of Roy’s obsession cannot seem especially strange. Judging by measures of penile engorgement, Bergner reports, normal heterosexual men are significantly “aroused by female pubescents and, less so but markedly, female children.” Though Roy’s actions are heinous where [an amputee fetishist named] Ron’s are harmless, Roy’s desires are more mainstream than Ron’s.

So, let’s do a quick charting of the logic here.

(1) We live in a culture wherein youth is fetishized and being attracted to women over, say, thirty-five, is considered so weird and unseemly that it is itself relegated to the realm of fetish (see “MILF” and/or “cougar”).

(2) We therefore attach signifiers of youth, or even childhood, to the construct “hot woman” by, say, fetishizing schoolgirl outfits or virginity or sexual inexperience or hairless vaginas (because, let’s get real: you say it looks “clean” and you say it looks “more explicit,” but what it really looks like is a body that hasn’t hit puberty yet but somehow, miraculously, grew breasts).

(3) We extend this by directing sexual attention to actual minors, fetishizing bodies that are childlike (see the small breasts, narrow hips, and – OBVS – hairless genitals of “Barely Legal” porn stars, and the similarly small breasts and narrow hips of most models, many of whom start their careers while below the age of consent), and sexualizing little girls themselves by, for example, giving them toy stripper poles for Christmas.

(3a) Because little girls are helpless. Because little girls are easily dominated by people who are bigger and stronger than they are. Because little girls are taught to be obedient to their elders. Because in a society which hates and fears women, and is founded on male domination of women, female sexuality – a drive which, when accessed and expressed, leads women to pursue their own pleasure, to want things and ask for them, to provide men with constant proof that they are autonomous beings and that their needs may not, in fact, correspond with what men want from them in every single point or at all – will of course be hated and feared. And little girls are not sexual. Little girls do not experience this scary, threatening, adult desire. In a misogynist society, of course, of course, we will fetishize young women and find older women unattractive. Because little girls are helpless.

(4) So, it is totally “mainstream” for “normal” straight men to get turned on by pictures of extremely young women and even little girls, and the reason for that is… biology? Give me a fucking break.

So, what keeps men from being pedophiles, which Kramer (via Bergner, and how do I know, honestly, what Bergner thinks? This is just a review) would like to stress is totally a bad thing even though it is so very normal? Well, let’s check in with Kramer:

Men’s desires are more focused. Male homosexuality has a strong genetic component. (Less is known about female homosexuality, but the genetic contribution may be weaker.) …In general, the penis and the mind are in reasonable agreement; men recognize when they’ve been turned on. Part of what saves men from pedophilia is the very vigor of their sexuality; most men are strongly drawn to adult women, albeit in a promiscuous way. When asked what they visualize when they climax, few men say it’s the partner they’re with.

Yes, what keeps men from being pedophiles is their manly masculine manful desire to fuck every adult woman in existence, and they have that desire not due to the fact that they constantly receive messages that men who don’t want to fuck every adult woman in existence are pussies and homos, but due to NATURE and SCIENCE. So, men don’t refrain from raping helpless children because they recognize that to be a monstrous act. Men don’t refrain because they can differentiate sex from rape. Men don’t refrain because they view sex as an act that should always be founded on reciprocal pleasure and respect, whether that sex takes place within a twenty-year marriage or the bathroom at a sleazy bar. Men don’t refrain for any reason but that they are built not to because their sexual desire is somehow more real and powerful than women’s, and they are amoral, unthinking beings whose behavior is due solely to the dictates of that desire.

If I were a guy, I’d be insulted; yet, I guess, I would have no reason to be. After all, it’s science.


  1. Margaret wrote:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I haven’t read Bergner’s book, but you have laid out troubling sections of Kramer’s review and gotten at something that troubled me reading the Bergner NYTM piece of the weekend: there seems to be an enormous pseudoscientific leap in logic from some data about a particular, narrow experience (voyeurism in the Chivers experiment, for example) to big generalizations about male vs. female sexuality (both of which are apparently monoliths and just need a generalizing principle to explain them). The second section you quote from Kramer seems to do the same thing.

    I just discovered your blog today, am really happy I did, and look forward to reading your posts in the future.

    Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  2. Sady wrote:

    Awww, thank you lady. Re: your comment, you’ve managed to pin down EXACTLY what made me feel so iffy about this whole article and much of the coverage around it, and which I flailed around incoherently for a full day trying to explain – conflating specific phenomena (porn-watching and sex, lubrication and arousal) and then slapping broad conclusions onto it (or a series of broad, seemingly contradictory conclusions) that magically fit age-old gender stereotypes. It’s all a bit too pat and easy for my taste.

    Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  3. Rachael wrote:

    This is brilliant. Your post, I mean–not the article that inspired it.

    I hate it when science is used like this. Seriously, do they really think men are that stupid? Apparently.

    Friday, May 8, 2009 at 3:38 am | Permalink