I was recently interviewed by Karen Robertson for Cosmopolitan South Africa on the subject of the new book A Billion Wicked Thoughts, which has been extensively reviewed on these pages. Ms. Robertson’s article “Is Kinky the New Normal?” appeared in Cosmopolitan South Africa in July 2011. Thanks to Ms. Robertson and to Cosmopolitan for permission to reproduce the excerpts below from our original interview.
Robertson: As a sex therapist you’re on the front line as it were of human sexual behaviour. How useful have you found the findings in A Billion Wicked Thoughts?
Snyder: The book confirms two things we sex therapists have known about for years – that humans are quite sexually diverse, but that there appears to be some underlying order in all this diversity.
The authors’ approach is to try to map out the sexual “cues” that men and women use to identify worthwhile mates. It’s a somewhat simplistic approach, but I believe the findings are mostly valid — and useful in clinical practice.
Robertson: For instance?
Snyder: For instance, as I discussed in The Strange New Science behind A Billion Wicked Thoughts, the authors found that many straight men like to look at other men’s penises online. Penises are an ordinary sexual cue for heterosexual men.
Furthermore, some of the more exotic visual creations on the internet — such as computer-generated images of women with male genitals — attract male attention because they offer things men like to look at, in novel combinations.
In this case, women’s bodies and erect penises.
Robertson: If a young woman finds what she would regard to be deviant porn (women with penises for example) on her boyfriend’s computer – what would you suggest she do?
Snyder: First, stay calm. Don’t jump to the conclusion that he’s gay – because he’s probably not.
Then it’s a judgment call about whether to bring up the subject with him. In most cases, I probably would. It might be an opportunity to share good stuff about what really turns you both on.
Robertson: Amongst many other things, Ogas and Gaddams research reveals that foot fetishes aren’t deviant.
Snyder: I prefer the term “kinky.” Kinky sexual inclinations can sometimes just be a normal variant.
Some men are turned on exclusively by women’s feet, and by nothing else. But the authors didn’t study that group per se. Rather, they looked at web sites specializing in feet, and at how often people searched for feet. The people who search foot sites may find feet to be sexy, but many and perhaps most of these people probably aren’t exclusively turned on by feet.
A great unanswered research question is “What’s the connection, if any, between the authors’ claim that feet are an ordinary minor male sexual cue and the fact that some men exclusively respond to feet and to nothing else?”
Robertson: The survey was limited to those seeking titillation online – do you think this is a problem in terms of how we treat the findings?
Snyder: The authors are very clear that they are only interested in studying desire. Not in what people do, either alone or with a partner, once they feel desire.
I think the strategy of asking, “What are people seeking online?” is a valid one by which to measure what motivates people sexually.
So is asking, “What kinds of images and text get made and sold?” If the producers of erotica didn’t know exactly what men and women will pay to look at or read, they’d go out of business.
Robertson: There has been concern with the findings in feminist circles – specifically the idea that women are hardwired to be submissive and the bedroom is not the place for equality. Any thoughts?
Snyder: Great question — but it’s complicated.
There’s sexual submissiveness, and then there’s emotional submissiveness. The two are different.
Sexual submissiveness encompasses a variety of different things. Ranging from the wish for a partner to take charge in the bedroom – which is pretty common. To wanting to be dominated or treated roughly in bed – which is less common but by no means rare.
Then there’s the level of fantasy. Someone with fantasies of sexual submission wouldn’t necessarily want that to happen in real life.
Robertson: How much do you think we can really infer about sexuality from this kind of research?
Snyder: One could ask that question about ANY kind of sex research. As I discussed in “Studying sexuality, one mouse-click at a time,” in sex research there are always problems with the data.
That being said, sexuality is obviously not as simple as clicking on images on a screen.
A Billion Wicked Thoughts describes what kinds of images men tend to seek on the web. But in bed with a partner, your average man needs other things as well. He needs to feel valued, appreciated, accepted and, yes, desired.
Just like your average woman.