Sex research: Making sense of how the other half make out
Slap and tickle, slip and tackle ... there’s a whole world of funky fun and games you can learn from
According to his author biography, Dr Justin J Lehmiller’s work focuses on “casual sex, sexual fantasy, sexual health and friends with benefits”. But then he is a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and his textbook, The Psychology of Human Sexuality, is taught in universities and other educational institutions the world over, so it’s not all fun and games.Lehmiller interviewed a staggering 4,175 people for his latest work, Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life (Robinson). It is reportedly the largest and most comprehensive survey of the sexual fantasies of Americans to date.
Each of those participants was asked to write out their ultimate fantasy, then asked some 350 follow-up questions about their sex lives and how often they fantasised about specific acts, people, places and things. According to the London Sunday Times, the more bizarre responses detailed sexual attraction to navels, armpits, cars, dirt and … medical pacemakers.
As Lehmiller told the newspaper: “You can learn fetishes for almost anything you can think of.”
There’s apparently nothing quite like Tell Me What You Want; although there are whole libraries out there detailing our sex lives, the details of our private thoughts and fantasies have never been explored so thoroughly. “Now,” the newspaper said, “all of a sudden, there is context for how ‘normal’ you really are, where you sit on the vanilla-to-kink spectrum.”Some 96% of Lehmiller’s participants admitted to having fantasies — from passing thoughts several times a day to full-blown “cinematic narratives” a couple of times a year. Most want to act upon those fantasies – yet very few had shared their thoughts with their partners.
Lehmiller’s explanation for this is simple: “We tend to just have sex rather than talk about it, and that’s problematic. Feeling abnormal or weird is one of the biggest things that holds people back and creates an anxiety that is very disruptive to our sex lives. I want to make it easier for people to have these conversations.”
Okay, now for the bad news.
Pornography, Lehmiller found, wasn’t having as great a psychological effect as previously supposed – only one in seven participants said their biggest sexual fantasies stemmed directly from something they saw in a sex film – but it did play a significant role in the fantasy bodies they dreamed of: straight men who watched porn fantasised about women with bigger breasts; straight women, likewise, fantasised about bigger penises.
The Kardashian effect was also undeniable. Statuesque blondes did not feature in men’s fantasies as much as petite brunettes with hourglass figures.
The ideal fantasy woman for heterosexual men is 1.65m tall and weighs 59kg, which is three-quarters of what the average woman in the real world weighs. Ideally, their pubic hair is either gone or there’s only a tiny bit present. The celebrities straight men fantasise about the most were, in order, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lawrence.The straight women who participated in Lehmiller’s project described their ideal fantasy male as being at least 1.82m tall and weighing about 85kg, with brown or dark hair with a bit of manscaping. Their most fantasised-about celebrities were, in order, Channing Tatum, Ryan Gosling and Adam Levine.
Depressing, isn’t it? But then these were American fantasies.
SPY vs SPYWhat makes a good spy or intelligence operative? According to Christoper Andrew, they need to learn from the lessons of the past. But then, as an historian, he would say that, wouldn’t he?
In a comprehensive new work, The Secret World: A History of Intelligence (Allen Lane), Andrew argues that, if leaders like George W Bush and Tony Blair had paid more attention to the past, they would not have suffered the sort of surprises that led to the September 2001 terror attacks in the US or the Underground bombings in London in 2005.
He further suggests that if US and UK intelligence chiefs had studied the example of their predecessors during World War 2, they would not have been duped into believing in Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
Andrew cites Hitler’s V rocket programme as an example. Allied agents in the field were not asked to provide information about these Nazi weapons, but instead were noncommittally instructed to report only what they could discover about new enemy systems. In contrast, operatives were dispatched to Iraq with the false assumption that Saddam Hussein had a WMD programme.
Such false assumptions, Andrew suggests, are fairly common in the modern spook community. “The history of intelligence,” he writes, “is full of examples of able, well-intentioned policy makers and intelligence officers who … have been seriously compromised by their failure to comprehend the importance of past experience.”
One thinks of David Mahlobo, our former minister of state security, and the bizarre day reporters’ cellphones were jammed during the opening of parliament in 2015 because of some fear of drones – but it is only a fleeting thought; Mahlobo was not, after all, an able or well-intentioned policymaker but a rather buffoonish figure about whom history will not be too kind.Andrew’s journey into the past reveals that little is new in the world of spooks. For example, far from being the first of its kind, the Blair and Bush-led Anglo-American intelligence alliance was anticipated by the English and Dutch in the 16th century. Chillingly, the torture technique of waterboarding, used against al Qaeda suspects by Donald Trump’s new CIA chief Gina Haspel, was first employed by the Spanish Inquisition. The tsarist Russians were successful codebreakers long before the British. And so on.
When it comes to the Cold War, Andrew examines the CIA’s dirty tricks in countries like Cuba, Chile and Iran, but says very little about the KGB’s covert activities around the world — mainly because, under Vladimir Putin, the Russians are better at keeping their secrets than most.
Ditto, you could say, the Israelis. According to Andrew, they are reckoned to have carried out about 2,700 targeted killings of their enemies, more than any country in the western world. As he puts it: “Assassination has remained undeclared Israeli state policy ... because of a series of operational successes.”
As the official historian of Britain’s MI5, Andrew is complimentary about the intelligence unit’s success in frustrating jihadist terror plots in the UK, but points out that this cannot be sustained indefinitely.
They will, he bleakly argues, inevitably achieve some of their terrorist objectives – purely because there are now so many would-be conspirators. “The question now is not whether some future group of (probably Islamist) terrorists will use WMD, but when they will do so.”
TRUE CRIMEJohann van Loggerenberg, the former group executive with the Tax and Customs Enforcement Investigations unit and author of Rogue: The Inside Story of SARS’s Elite Crime-busting Unit, has a new book out this month: Death and Taxes: How SARS Made Hitmen, Drug Dealers and Tax Dodgers Pay Their Dues (Jonathan Ball). What’s on offer are more insider accounts from SARS case files and investigations into such cherished public figures as Dave King, Billy Rautenbach, Barry Tannenbaum, Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma, among others.
A CLASSIC REVISITEDIn celebration of Guy Butler’s birth in 1918, Jonathan Ball has issued a centenary edition of the revered poet and academic’s classic collection, Tales From the Old Karoo. According to the publisher, the short stories here recall “a place and time before tarred roads, television and the Internet replaced horse-drawn carriages, steam-engine trains and fireside storytelling. In his characteristically dry, humorous style, Guy Butler captures the essence of the people and landscape of the Karoo. It is a collection of delightful yarns and reminiscences about real ghosts, imaginary people, stubborn farm animals, and events that never happened – stories so strange they can only be true.”
SLUSH PILE BLUESFay Weldon has written a guide that aspirant authors and wannabe authors may want to look out for: Why Will No-One Publish My Novel? A Handbook for the Rejected Writer (Apollo). Given that Weldon has published 34 novels, and has written several plays and television dramas, she probably has some idea about how not to get rejected by publishers.
Here are tips and emotional support for the writer who (Weldon imagines) just received his or her sixth rejection slip. A fair amount of time is spent diagnosing why books are turned down, the structure of novels, and so on. But perhaps the most pertinent insights Weldon offers are of the book business itself, which is dictated by “vile commercialism”; editorial decisions are, sadly, often trumped by the bozos in the marketing department. Those who decide what gets published and what doesn’t are just as flawed as the writers they reject.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“We are not who we think we are. The stories we tell of ourselves are like thin trails across something that is more like the ocean. A mask afloat on the open sea.” — How To Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee (Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).