Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sex, Contraception and Woman's body Image

Here is a very interesting post on the connection between our current sexual culture and women's body image. My husband and I have often commented to each other about how strange is our culture's attitude toward physical attractiveness, sexuality and reproduction. The biological point of sex is reproduction. Female attractiveness is nature's way of drawing men and women toward each other, so they can reproduce and keep the species going. Yet in modern times, we separate sex from reproduction so thoroughly that this deep biological purpose is suppressed. We've often speculated about whether the urgency and intensity of women's sexual "displays" (read: lack of modesty) is related to some pent-up, frustrated sub-concious urge to reproduce.
Anyhow, this post from an ex-atheist, now practicing Catholic lent some credence to our speculations:
On the rare occasions that I used to think about the prospect of having a large family before my conversion, one of the first things that would come to mind is, "Just think of what my abs would look like! And years and years of nursing babies wouldn't exactly leave me looking like a Victoria's Secret model!" and with a shudder I'd perish the thought. There were other reasons that the prospect of having many children didn't appeal to me. But the issue of what my body would start to look like somewhere around baby number five or six was actually a pretty large factor.

Was I just shallow? I'm not so sure....This sort of thing also came up back in college when my pro-choice friends and I would rage about these awful pro-lifers who tried to tell women that they should carry an unexpected pregnancy to term. The horror! Didn't these people know what pregnancy does to a woman's body?! This assumed, of course, that there would be circumstances upon which a pregnancy would be totally unexpected (a la the contraceptive mentality), and that any physical trauma to a woman's body would be so terrible as to be a justifying factor in terminating a pregnancy.

Thinking back to those discussions, we so abhorred the idea of what a pregnancy does to a woman's body because this was our value. What we looked like physically was so intertwined with our value as human beings that to tell us we should have to carry a pregnancy to term -- with all the weight gain and stretch marks and physical changes that would entail -- was to say that we should make our very selves less valuable as women.

Irony of Ironies.


Anonymous said...

It sounds insecure to me, and I understand that. The sexual revolution taught us that partners were easy to come by, but pregnancy changes a woman. After the third child, you no longer have the body of an 18 year old. This make a huge difference if you must compete against the next trophy girlfriend.

It make no difference if you're married for life, if family is a sign of commitment, not compromise.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested that you say that "female attractiveness is nature's way of drawing men and women toward each other"--it may have been unconscious, but the fact that male attractiveness doesn't enter into your equation speaks volumes about your politics--attraction, here, is one-sided; the male picks the most attractive female, and she is given no voice at all.

What that phrase really says is that female attractiveness is what draws men to women, so that they can (perhaps forcibly?) impregnate them. How unsurprising, then, your concerns about modesty--are you one of those people who says that rape victims deserve it because they dared to wear a short skirt or go out alone at night?

I also don't think it's reasonable to attribute women's sex drives to a "pent-up" desire to reproduce. Beyond unreasonable--it's archaic. Don't you ever enjoy sex with your husband? I'm 24, and though I'm married, we're not planning to have children for a number of years (if ever). That doesn't mean I don't enjoy sex--or that my desire for it has anything to do with my wanting children.

Anonymous said...

In reply to Amanda:

Male attractiveness doesn't enter the picture because biological attractiveness -- the look of youthful fertility -- is one of the lesser factors women look for in a man.

It isn't discounted entirely, of course; but men whose bodies allow overt displays of youth and health frequently lose out to less-young, less-youthful, more rugged (sometimes even craggy) men who can display wealth and stability and power -- the ideal traits for protecting a pregnant mate and rearing her young with the most advantages, of course.

This is well known, and is the obvious context for the emphasis on female attractiveness. Male "attractiveness" just isn't that important, unless you expand "attractiveness" to include all those other factors -- which stretches the definition quite a bit beyond the physical attributes being discussed!

Why did you miss that context, Amanda?

Is it because you're predisposed by education (modern universities in particular are notoriously devoid of intellectual diversity on such issues) or personal circumstance (everyone has emotional wounds, but some are affected more than others) to see anything which speaks well of traditional mores as equivalent to rape?

If so, that's a disabling intellectual bias, and you'll be unable to think, let alone speak, fruitfully on this topic. Give it some thought.

(It isn't entirely gentlemanly of me to interpret your words as indicative of some psychological disability. But then, I gave you far gentler language than you gave Jennifer Morse, with far more justification: I had to exert some restraint in replying. So, if anyone upbraids me over it, I'll just ape my forefather and say, "the woman tempted me.")