28 August 2013

Refuting the theory that physiologically facilitating rape is "self-protective"

I've been surprised to come across more and more references lately to a relatively new theory among some sex researchers that the reason women reflexively lubricate to certain stimuli which they don't self-report as being arousing is that it evolved as the body's way of protecting itself in the case of sexual assault.
Here is an example:

Genital response to sexual stimuli may be an evolved self-protection mechanism. Female genital response is an automatic reflex that is elicited by sexual stimuli and produces vaginal lubrication, even if the woman does not subjectively feel sexually aroused...Female genital response entails increased genital vasocongestion, necessary for the production of vaginal lubrication, and can, in turn, reduce discomfort and the possibility of injury during vaginal penetration. Ancestral women who did not show an automatic vaginal response to sexual cues may have been more likely to experience injuries that resulted in illness, infertility, or even death subsequent to unexpected or unwanted vaginal penetration, and thus would be less likely to have passed on this trait to their offspring....Reports of women's genital response and orgasm during sexual assaults suggests that genital responses do occur in women under conditions of sexual threat.

The first time I saw it it immediately struck me as suspect and I questioned it in the comments of the webpage that quoted it, and went on to forget it.  But since then I've seen several more allusions to the same theory by different researchers in different contexts, and its really starting to bug me.
As I talked about in great length in my previous post, there is a nearly universal - albeit frequently subconscious - assumption in human society that women are inherently prone to being victims.  This (largely baseless) assumption is just as strong among feminists as it is among traditionalists and patriarchs, although it takes different forms.
Obviously I would be delusional if I thought scientists were above social bias and herd mind, but I am disappointed that there doesn't seem to be anyone else questioning the theory that deliberately facilitating rape is a self-protective mechanism.

The theory in regards to the threat of rape is bad enough.  But let me start with an even more ridiculous theory - a good number of sex researchers have actually suggested that this same rape facilitation mechanism is the reason that women are found to have physical arousal from various sexually themed images and stories which they subjectively report as not being sexy, including not only depictions of rape, but also lesbian sex and, in at least one case, monkey sex.
Here's a couple examples of this theory being presented:
"women’s genital responses are usually non-specific: self-identified hetereosexual women have been shown to have similar genital responses to stimuli that depict hetereosexual, gay, or lesbian sex (Chivers et al., 2004). Women even show some genital responses to nonhuman primates having sex, while men do not (Chivers & Bailey, 2005). Importantly, this genital arousal in women seems to be automatic: it occurs before women even report feeling aroused (Laan, 1994) and even when they are not aware of its presence (Ponseti & Bosinski, 2010).
Men and women, then, seem to have strong differences in the type of stimuli that causes genital arousal. What might have caused this? It has been suggested that there is a functional account of the nonspecificity and automaticity of female genital arousal: The Preparation Hypothesis. It has been shown that increased blood flow is a precursor to vaginal lubrication (Levin, 2003) and suggested that this may serve as a protective function for women engaged in intercourse – consensual or otherwise (Chivers, 2005)." http://www.jimaceverett.com/genital_lubrication.html


"Men’s genital arousal occurs in response to a limited number of sexual stimuli, whereas women’s genital arousal occurs in response to a wide range of sexual stimuli, including those depicting nonpreferred cues. Researchers have hypothesized that women’s nonspecific pattern of genital arousal prepares the body for sexual activity, thus functioning to protect the genital organs against injury. If this hypothesis is correct, women should show genital responses to any cues suggesting sexual activity..."  http://www.centenary.edu/attachments/psychology/journal/archive/mar2011journalclub.pdf


"Women, she says, are physically aroused by non-specific stimuli, everything from copulating primates to two men having sex. Even rape scenes can trigger a physical response...Dr. Chivers looks at the question from an evolutionary standpoint. As modern humans evolved, women who became lubricated at the slightest sexual signal would have been less likely to get injured or to contract diseases during sex, especially if it was forced on them. It could be a protective mechanism." http://www.theglobeandmail.com/incoming/her-parts-desire/article1154587/

First of all, the theory doesn't even fit with available information.  One study after another, with different researchers and different methods of determining arousal (vaginal lubrication, blood flow, heart rate, pupil dilation, brain scans) have all consistently found that the majority of women - regardless of stated sexual orientation, fetishes and preferences, exhibit physiological arousal from straight, gay male, and lesbian sexual imagry.  Some have even found arousal in response to images of non-humans engaged in sex.
However, one thing that consistently fails to elicit a response is images of an erect human penis without a larger sexual context.
These theories for why women are so easily aroused by so many things (compared to men), echos the theory presented above in regards to assault - women's physical arousal is on a hair trigger for the purpose of facilitating being raped without injury.

It shouldn't take much to realize how absolutely stupid that theory is - which would women in the early stages of human evolution facing a threat of rape be more likely to see: two women having sex, two monkeys having sex, or an erect human penis?
How often in human evolutionary theory were women presented with the threat of injury due to attempted rape by lesbians, gay men, or monkeys?  Probably close to never percent of the time.
In contrast, heterosexual non-consensual intercourse forced by a male attacker would include an erect penis exactly always percent of the time.
This theory is so unbelievably nonsensical that I am literally at a loss for how to express just how stupid it is.
And yet it is being suggested by quite a few otherwise respectable intelligent psychologists and sociologists and other sex researchers who work on investigating this sort of thing scientifically for a living!

I won't go any further in debunking the "women lubricate to lesbian porn so they won't be injured by male rapists" line of reasoning, because it is just plain stupid.

Instead, for the rest of this I'll focus on what appears on the surface to at least be logically consistent (although still wrong): that women are physically turned on by the threat of rape as a method of self-protection.

If the goal of self-preservation were primarily to avoid inducing others to injure you, then our response to threat from other humans would be neither Fight nor Flight.  It would be Stay Perfectly Still, or perhaps Lie Down and Cry. 
Human beings have the longest time to maturity, the most investment of any creature that requires parental care.   This is almost certainly the reason why human females are much more selective of mating partners than both human males, and females of pretty much every other specie. 
Further, outside of modern medical intervention, childbirth is frequently the single largest cause of death of women of child bearing age.
If the human female has evolved to increase the risk of undesired pregnancy by facilitating rape, in order to avoid what would most likely amount to comparatively minor cuts and bruises would be more than a little counter-productive.

And then there's that other little glaring piece of the equation; which I just don't understand how it escapes the attention of anyone presented with this theory...
There are two humans involved in intercourse, and both are using sensitive and vulnerable body parts!  The theory pre-supposes that the vagina is soft and easily damaged, while the penis is somehow solid and indestructible - even though everyone knows this is false.  The penis may be a symbol of strength, dominance, and power in human culture, but it is in actuality at risk of serious, painful, and rather dramatic injury from intercourse without sufficient lubrication and/or at the wrong angle. 
My own, counter-theory, is that if, hypothetically, the response of the vagina to non-sexually-arousing stimulus was to become as dry as possible and for all the muscles to forceful contract, were a male rapist to attempt to proceed anyway it would cause at least as much physical injury to his sex parts as to hers, if not more.
I attempted to look up any medical reports or injury statistics that might confirm or refute that idea.  I looked for anything about penile injuries during attempted or successful rape.  I looked for for information about penile injuries during consensual but insufficiently lubricated anal intercourse.  I looked for data on penile injury in either consensual or non-consensual prison sex, or about the rate and methods of lubrication used. As far as I can tell, none of this information has ever been collected, by anyone.   The only thing I can find is confirmation that such injuries are possible, and they do happen, but zero about how common they are, or how often it is successfully avoided sans lubricant, or what the relative rates of injury or pain to "giver" and "receiver" are in any of those scenarios.
The closest I found was this study of a random sample of men in Kenya which was specifically looking for differences in penile injury rate related to circumcision and its affect on HIV transmission.
They found a majority of subjects reported at least a minor injury due to sex in just the past 6 months.  This (unless an overwhelmingly disproportionate number of Kenyan men happen to be gay or rapists) is with ordinary consensual vaginal intercourse.  Nearly half reported cuts, abrasions or bleeding.  The majority were minor enough that they would have not sought medical treatment, and therefor would never have been reported.

Though Kenya is not specifically known for the practice, a number of southern African nations have a cultural preference for "dry" sex - i.e. many women make a deliberate effort, often using external agents, to prevent "excessive" natural lubrication.  Sources conflict over whether this is intended solely for male pleasure, or to increase pleasure for both genders.

"Brown et al. found that many women respondents express a clear preference for dry, tight, sex. Respondents believe that if a man has a small penis, powders help create a good feeling for the woman. One woman explains, “A women feels no pleasure when the vagina has too much liquid.”(11)"
Looking further into reports of deliberate dry sex, researches almost exclusively focus on potential injury to the female as a result (much like research into intercourse caused injury in anal and non-consensual sex in the US) - however the reports do at least frequently acknowledge that the risk of injury goes both ways:

When asked specifically about any harmful effects of vaginal tightness and dryness, some participants admitted that an extremely dry vagina could cause problems. One man reported, “It’s natural for all guys to go crazy for a woman who is dry, but you have to make love carefully. If you want to be rough, you can get hurt. A man can get cuts and wounds and catch diseases” (Judith Brown, personal communication, November 1999)

The materials used for vaginal practices include traditional herbs
and an array of natural products as well as common commercial p
roducts such as alum, boric acid, and bactericides. According to Halperin, many women use these produc ts for ‘dry sex.’ Their partners have been found to suffer penile injuries, lacerations to the foreskin, and bleeding (Halperin 1999).

Respondents believe that the man should hurt or suffer a little during penetration [Brown et. al]

Unfortunately, none of them have any mention of the relative prevalence of pain or injury to male vs female partners.
I've found two sources with relative numbers - though neither is specifically regarding insufficient lubrication. 

In a cross-sectional survey of general population residents of Cape Town, South Africa, 21% of men and 16% of women reported coital bleeding in the past 3 months,

Unfortunately, the summary does not distinguish between menses bleeding (the majority of reports) and injury, and it is unclear if the reports were of either partner's bleeding, or of self only.  Either way it seems likely that those numbers indicate the frequency of injury to men to be higher.  The initial paper likely does, but it has not yet been made available

The most conclusive I could find was this:

In all, 1454 cases of reported coital injuries were reviewed; 790 occurred in men while 664 occurred in women, mainly in the genital area. Physical urological complications were more common in men than in women.
Which, again, is not specific to insufficient lubrication, but it shows a very clear higher risk of injury to male genitalia from various forms of sexual contact than to female.
This completely undermines the "self-protection from rape via facilitating rape" theory.
The opposite reaction would likely cause greater injury to an attacker than to the victim, and would therefore discourage rapists from attempting it in the first place.

Of course the fact remains that women do produce lubrication in response to sexually explicit stimuli which they subjectively report as not being arousing, and the reason for that is still in question.  I offer no theory of my own at this time (although the very first article I posted - http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-sex-and-babies/201105/why-do-women-get-physically-aroused-and-not-even-know-it - offers 3 alternative possible explanations, and this study goes into much much greater detail than most, and offers a pletora of insights: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2739403/ ).

My only purpose here is questioning the validity of the "facilitating rape is self-protective" claim, the very idea of which I suspect is only possible in a society with a deeply internalized misogyny.

[much more evidence of our deeply internalized misogyny here: http://biodieselhauling.blogspot.com/2013/01/RapeAndFeminismPage1.html ]

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