Don't Ask the Sexperts
Dan Savage, Dr. Ruth, and others on what still mystifies them.
Read more from Slate's Sex Issue.
Slate asked seven people who earn their livings thinking and writing about sex what they've never been able to figure out about it. Some of our sexperts have academic backgrounds, some religious, and others have just logged a lot of hours talking to people about their habits and pleasures. They say there's still a lot of mystery left.
Ian Kerner is the author of She Comes First, He Comes Next, and other sex advice books.
Why do most men still know more about what's under the hood of a car than the hood of a clitoris, and why, in our post-Sex and the City culture, are women faking it more than ever?
Em & Lo are sex and relationship writers and authors of Buh Bye: The Ultimate Guide To Dumping and Getting Dumped.
We've never been able to understand why virginity is still defined strictly in terms of penile penetration. Does that mean all lesbians are lifelong virgins? What about gay men who just aren't that into anal sex? (There are plenty of them.) And how is it possible that a straight couple can engage in oral sex, manual sex, mutual masturbation, and possibly even anal sex (if you believe the rumors about Catholic school girls) and still claim they're "saving themselves for marriage"? Sure, intercourse's role in baby-making elevates it a bit among sexual acts. But these days, birth control, family planning, and reproductive technologies mean that intercourse is less a means to an end and more a pleasurable end in itself. Add to that the influence of feminism and the gay rights movement, and you'd think that there'd be a few more seats at the official sex table. Of course, if we defined "loss of virginity" as merely "mutual orgasms," millions of American women would become born-again virgins overnight. Any kind of orgasm? Er, ditto. While we'd hate to heap any more sexual pressure on women, we think a dedication to making sure all parties end up sexually satisfied should be the gold standard. Did you and your partner climax, or at the very least have a really, really good time? Then hand over that V-card.
Simon LeVay is the author of The Sexual Brainand Human Sexuality.
I'm co-author of an undergraduate human sexuality textbook, so every few years I have to review the whole field of sex research to see what advances have been made. The most depressing area is that of "paraphilias," which are pathological sexual desires, often involving victims—everything from pedophilia to zoophilia, exhibitionism to sexual murder and cannibalism. What's depressing is that we seem to be making little or no progress in understanding the cause or treatment of these conditions. So victimization continues, and the perpetrators—nearly always men—are warehoused in state "hospitals" or exposed to ever more vindictive harassment in the community. Whoever figures out how to prevent their descent into deviancy, or how to give them back healthy, loving sex lives, will have alleviated untold suffering, and will have made that dark corner of my textbook a greater pleasure for me to write and for students to read.
Morgan Smith, a former Slate intern, is a law student in Austin, Texas.
Illustration by Alex Eben Meyer.