The vast array of sex science available since the 1950s has demystified sex. Many Americans can now talk about it with their doctors and Bob Dole can speak freely about “erectile dysfunction” on television. Researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson “helped clear away much of the shame and myth that had perpetuated a communal ignorance about human sexuality,” Drake Bennett wrote for the Boston Globe. Today, that research has lost touch with its humanity, according to many researchers, promoting the "medicalization" of sex.
At its worst, they warn, [sex science] is pushing us into a sort of sexual arms race as people engage in sex acts that hold little interest for them, partake of a growing pharmacopeia of sex drugs, even get formerly unheard-of cosmetic surgeries to measure up to a fictional sexual ideal.
Researchers often reduce sex down to its most basic, physical elements, viewing intercourse in terms of function and dysfunction, rather than idiosyncratic preferences. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the marketing of Viagra. Many people swear by the drug’s regenerative properties, but Bennett writes, “the benefits of Viagra and similar pills have to be balanced against the fact that they have made our sex lives seem like something that can - and should - be fixed with a drug.”
The media hype surrounding Viagra promotes the all-too-common view that “sex is a zero-sum game, a win-lose athletic performance, measured entirely by the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of the arousal-intercourse-orgasm sequence,” Michael Metz and Barry McCarthy wrote in the Jan-Feb issue of Utne Reader. A more healthy view of sex is one that changes depending on the couple. “The challenge,” Metz and McCarthy write, “is to stop clinging to the ‘perfect intercourse’ model and replace it with positive, realistic expectations of oneself, one’s partner, and one’s relationship.”
The overly medicalized science isn’t just misguided, it also prevents helpful work from being done. Bennett quotes Amy Allina, program director at National Women's Health Network, saying, “We don't really know - and this is a timely one - how unemployment affects a couple's sex life.”
Scientists are now proposing a new, more “humanistic” model of sex, according to Bennett, that respects the idiosyncrasies of people and their relationships. Looking beyond the physiological, sex science could promote a more healthy view of sex as it functions inside of relationships.
The sex science so far may be promote a sterile, medicalized view of sex, but “it sure is entertaining,” according to Mary Roach, the author of Bonk. In a talk to TED, Roach explains some of the most interesting observation in the history of sex science, including this one by Alfred Kinsey:
Cheese crumbs spread before a pair of copulating rats will distract the female, but not the male.
You can watch that video below: