How Taboo Are These Sexual Fetishes?

 

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The correlation between tabooness and sexual interest was statistically significant at p < 0.01.

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How Men and Women Perceive Relationships Differently

Everything you need to know about my data, how I got it, and what I did with it
Disclaimer: I am a survey and data noob. I know nothing about doing surveys, I just do them and then look at basic correlates.

The data came partially from my own traffic (twitter, tumblr) and partially from my friend Eric’s traffic, redirected from his personality testing website.

I removed all answers that reported not being in a serious relationship, as well as a very small number (<10) of answers that appeared suspiciously inconsistent (e.g., a fundamentalist monogamous trans 65 yo with 3 active partners). This left me with a sample size of 993; about 550 cis women and 396 cis men, with the rest reporting as trans or other. For all gender information I used cis women and men, due to the low trans number. Identified (not birth) gender was used for determining straight/gay relationships.

The data on relationship length was very detailed, and I reduced it to 7 categories of length for most graph purposes – 1 month, 8 months, 1.5 years, 3 years, 6 years, 12 years, and 20+ years. (Categories were “at least” – so someone in a 2 month relationship were categorized as 1 month.)

I also am unsure what numbers are needed to reach significance, so take all discussions about importance with a strong grain of salt. I tried to feel out significance by seeing the correlation between questions I strongly expect to be consistent, and by looking at how strong the correlations are compared to others.

Nearly all questions were asked on a 1 (disagree) – 5 (agree) scale. Assume this unless I clarify otherwise.

[

I measured 7 different scores, 4 positive and 3 negative. Each score was the average a few similar questions. Expand the score to see exactly which questions contributed.

good:

Happiness
My relationship makes me happy
I am in love with my partner
My decision to enter into a relationship with my partner was a good one, in hindsight
My relationship brings me emotional stability and security
, Practicality
My relationship brings me practical (in regards to finances or life plans) stability and security
I share the same hobbies with my partner
My partner and I agree on whether or not we want children
I am satisfied with the division of labor in my relationship

*I am least confident about this one, and grouped the questions together afterward

, Priority
Do you consider this relationship to be the most promising, most important, or best relationship you’ve ever had?
My relationship is the most fulfilling thing in my life
My relationship takes priority above everything else
My partner completes me
, and Excitement
My partner causes me to feel butterflies, nervousness, or romantic excitement
I feel thrill and excitement in my relationship
I feel a great deal of passion in my relationship (not including sexual passion)
My relationship brings me entertainment and novelty


bad:

Insecurity
I sometimes worry that my partner will leave me for someone better
I am more needy than my partner
I am insecure in my relationship
I feel jealousy or possessiveness
, Badness
My relationship causes me anxiety
My relationship causes me grief or sorrow
I take care of my partner more than my partner takes care of me
I suspect my relationship might not last much longer
I fight with my partner
My partner and I have different values
I have broken up or decided to break up with my partner
I would like to leave my partner
I sometimes wish I had never begun a relationship with my partner
, and Undesirability
I doubt I could find someone else who completes me as much as my partner does
My partner is more desirable (to general society) than I am
My partner could have had chosen to date people who are better (worth more, more desirable) than I am
negative of:I could date someone better (worth more, more desirable) than my partner if I wanted to
[

I chose to combine these questions for ease of presentation.

Relationship Length

and good things:

The lowest sample size was 31, for men in 20+ year relationships. Sample sizes for 12-20 and 20+ year categories were between 35-45ish per gender, each. 

Everything good decreases over time, with maybe a slight increase between the 12-20 and the 20+ year marks (due to kids leaving the house?)

In hindsight I dislike the practical score and am going to ignore it. It isn’t present in the Men and Women direct comparison graphs.

Men peak in nearly everything at the 3-6 year mark, actually – or maybe it’s just a climb from their sudden drop at the 1.5-3 year period. This is strange to me, especially because women don’t show the same dip-and-climb.

Could this be due to children? Do couples have kids during the 1.5-3 year period, leading to men handling it poorly, thus leaving the relationship before the 3-6 year mark, leaving only the remaining happy men to bring the data back up? Does this indicate that there’s a ‘danger period’ for men, and if they get past it they’re good?

0-3 years, women report higher priority and lower happiness, compared to men. This flips at 3 years in, when men report being less happy and giving the relationship higher priority.

Women report higher excitement overall, with a more stable decline.

And bad things:

Men report much higher undesirability and women report much higher insecurity. Both of these things even out over time, ending up swapped at 20+ years. Is this consistent with the trope that men age better?

Men report higher Badness at early and late stages, with women most unhappy right in the middle. This is relatively close compared to the other two scores.

Polyamory

and good things:

 

There were very low sample sizes for 5/5 polyamory; only 10 responses for women and 20 or so for men. Interpret the far right side of the graph with skepticism.

I asked people to rate how monogamous or polyamorous they identified, with 1 being monogamous and 5 being polyamorous.

The overall trend seems to indicate that medium-poly relationships do the worst, particularly for men. Full poly relationships beat out full mono relationships on happiness, but come slightly short on excitement and priority.

Women see a similar jump on happiness, but this occurs at 4/5 poly, not the 5/5 poly required for men. Women also don’t have to be as poly as men to report excitement increases, and seem to get total larger excitement boosts from polyamory. They also don’t get the 5/5 poly boost on priority that men do, though again, we’re dealing with low sample sizes here so we don’t know for sure.

It seems that men have a higher poly dedication threshhold to start reaping rewards, while women can be happier at mid-ranges of poly.

and the bad:

It appears polyamory widens the gender insecurity gap, with women getting a slight increase and men a bigger decrease. Polyamory does seem to (be correlated with) lower feelings of undesirability. The Bad score is the coolest, with women peaking at 3/5 and men peaking at 4/5.

Religion

and good things

the X axis marked religiousness, with 1 being ‘not religious’ and 3 being ‘very religious.’

Men show generally more positive effects from increased religion, with the strongest difference being the Priority score. The more religious a man is, the more his partner takes importance in his life – by over a half point! Women’s priority remains low and stable regardless of her religiousness.

Nonreligious men are less excited about their relationships than nonreligious women, but this flips for the religious, where men report higher excitement. The same goes for happiness.

So in general, religion has minimal effects on women but strong positive effects on men. I’m really not sure how to interpret this and would love to hear theories in the comments.

and the bad

Turns out religion doesn’t help men’s insecurities that much, with religious men reporting greater insecurity and religious women feeling more secure their heathen counterparts. Very religious women and men report equal insecurity; it’s pretty rare to see that gap closed.

The Bad score sees a slight drop for both, but more pronounced in men. Religious men report a higher sense of undesirability than nonreligious men, with religious women reporting only a slight increase.

So basically, religion might help men with happiness and excitement, but correlates with more insecurity and undesirability, while reducing women’s insecurity.

Abuse

I also asked about abuse. The Abuse Score consists of the average of questions that asked about physical harm ever and physical harm over the last month, emotional manipulation as a pattern and emotional manipulation recently, and sexual assault.

The more religious a man is, the more likely he is to report both abusing and being abused. Religious women only report being abused more, with a drop in giving abuse (but still not as low as nonreligious women).

Everybody reports being abused more over time. Women report being abused more than men, with an exception in the beginning of the relationship. Do people wait longer to abuse women than men?

Up until 1.5 years, men are more likely than women to report both being abusers and being abused. Women then start to report higher levels of giving and receiving abuse (compared to men), but after this the received abuse stays stable (with women as more abused), and the abuser switches again back to men.

For polyamory, women report a weird sharp decline at 4/5 poly in both abuse given and received, but men stay high in both of these. I don’t know what this means.

Some notes: I haven’t looked at the difference between emotional and physical abuse.

It’s also likely that some groups are more likely to admit abuse than others (e.g., maybe religious people are much more likely to consider and report ‘regular’ things as emotional manipulation). It’s possible that low scores are just people in denial.

Also fascinating is the correlations between self esteem and abuse. The higher reported self esteem, the lower the chance of abuse given and received – until we get to 5/5 self esteem, where we enter Narcissist Land, apparently. 5/5 Self Esteemers report a sharp increase in abuse given, and a slight increase in abuse received.

Self Esteem

Things are pretty even here, but anomalies include the drop in priority score in men between self esteem points 1 and 2. Men who have 1/5 self esteem are much more likely to rate their relationships as most important (with questions like ‘most fulfilling thing in my life, completes me, best relationship I’ve ever had).

Everybody’s scores fall a bit between 4/5 and 5/5 Self Esteem, except for women’s Excitement Score, which keeps going up, while men’s only drop. Weird.

Gender Differences by Question

Scores are differences, marked by who got it higher. Respondents voted on a 1-5 scale; the higher the score, the more they agree.

The first initial is the gender that agreed with the question more. The number is the difference in ratings. The numbers in parentheses are the absolute averaged numbers, by gender.

F I am more needy than my partner: .65 (F 3.19, M 2.54)
M I am polyamorous: .52 (F 1.66, M 2.18)
M My partner is more desirable (to general society) than I am: .51 (F 2.74, M 3.25)
F My partner causes me to feel butterflies, nervousness, or romantic excitement: .32 (F 3.31, M 2.99)
M My partner could have had chosen to date people who are better (worth more, more desirable) than I am: .32 (F 2.83, M 3.15)
F I feel jealousy or possessiveness: .30 (F 2.60, M 2.30)
F I have broken up or decided to break up with my partner: .28 (F 2.27, M 1.99)
F I share the same hobbies with my partner: .25 (F 3.11, M 2.86)
F My partner and I agree on whether we want children: .25 (F 4.13, M 3.88)
F I feel a great deal of passion in our relationship: .24 (F 3.68, M 3.44)
M I take care of my partner more than my partner takes care of me: .22 (F. 2.84, M 3.06)
M I am insecure in my relationship: .21 (F 2.47, M 2.26)
M My partner and I have different values: .21 (F 2.67, M 2.88)
F My relationship causes me anxiety: .16 (F 2.70, M 2.54)
F I am sexually compatible with my partner: .16 (F 3.85, M 3.69)
M I am satisfied with the division of labor in my relationship: .15 (F 3.42, M 3.57
F I feel thrill and excitement in my relationship: .13 (F 3.38, M 3.25)
F I doubt I could find someone else who completes me as much as my partner does: .13 (F 3.41, M 3.28)
M I have performed nonconsensual sexual acts upon my partner: .13 (F 1.10, M 1.23)
F I am in love with my partner: .10 (F 4.23, M 4.13)
F My relationship causes me grief: .10 (F 2.31, M 2.21)
M I intentionally physically and nonconsensually harm my partner: .9 (F 1.15, M 1.24)
F My partner has performed nonconsensual sexual acts upon me: .9 (F 1.28, M 1.19)

The Rest
M Sometimes my partner is emotionally manipulative: .8
F My partner has exhibited a pattern of emotional manipulation in our relationship: .8
M I suspect my relationship might not last: .7
F My relationship makes me happy: .6
M My decision to enter into a relationship with my partner was a good one, in hindsight: .6
M I have exhibited a pattern of emotional manipulation in my relationship: .6
F Our relationship is very sexual: .5
F My relationship brings me emotional stability or security: .4
M I could date someone better (worth more, more desirable) than my partner if I wanted to: .4
F I fight with my partner: .4
F My relationship brings me entertainment and novelty: .3
M Amount of serious partners: .3
F I would like to leave my partner: .3
F I sometimes worry that my partner will leave me for someone better: .3
M My partner completes me: .2
F My relationship is the most fulfilling thing in my life: .1
M Sometimes I am emotionally manipulative: .1
My relationship brings me practical/financial security: 0
My relationship takes priority in my life: 0
My partner has intentionally physically and nonconsensually harmed me: 0
I sometimes I wish I’d never begun the relationship: 0
I have intentionally physically and nonconsensually harmed my partner: 0

In summary, time is not kind. Relationships show an almost universal decrease in everything good the longer they go on.

Poly is hard, and you have to go all the way to make it work – especially for men. Religion is also great, if you’re a man.

Women get more excited and insecure, men feel undesirable.

I’m going to write a blog post with much more conjecture about the differences in how men and women approach relationships. But for now, if you want to see the rest of the individual graphs, check them out here. The “relationship length” is sorted by months, and with slightly different average points.

If you want to look at the data yourself, download here.

Fuckers Vs. Raisers

Disclaimer: Pure conjecture, riddled with a ton of what-ifs – probably none of which are original.

One day in a stereotypical medieval town, a bard comes through.

This is a very sexy bard, violet-eyed, good with a lute, and experienced in the ways of women. During his short stay he sleeps with four of the village wenches, and then bounces off to a new village, to seduce more wenches.

The men in the town don’t know about this, of course, and when one of the wenches gets pregnant, everyone assumes her husband did it. Years later, a new child with violet eyes is running around. Life goes on.

There are two sexual strategies for men – Fucking and Raising. Fuckers, like our friend the Bard, do the ol’ fuck-and-run. Move frequently, shoot seed everywhere, and hope that this results in violet-eyed toddlers getting raised by other men. Raisers, by contrast, shoot seed into comparatively few women and end up raising the children they produce.

A society probably can only tolerate so many Fuckers, because Raisers are doing all of the work. If too many men are Fuckers, the kids will stop getting raised, and then the Fucking sexual strategy loses effectiveness.

Kind of like charity/hospitality/welfare. A society only has so much excess to give to people who take advantage of it.

My question then is why are women attracted to Fuckers? Is there any female advantage to this?

Women are attracted to men who indicate they would help their child survive – and to a woman, only Raisers will help her child survive. Having a child by a Fucker is dangerous – if she doesn’t have a Raiser lined up, then she’s on her own, and historically this is Very Bad News. If she does have a Raiser and he finds out the child isn’t his, again – Very Bad News.

So when the Bard fingers his lute, why do all the women around him sigh?

I think their sighs don’t have anything to do with the fact he’s a Fucker – I think it’s because his traits, if they were present in a Raiser, would be ideal. He’s presenting confidence, skill, and high social standing. If a Raiser like that moved into town, all of the women would be trying to wife themselves at him like crazy. The Bard also is a potential Raiser in the women’s eyes, and he probably has to emphasize that idea in order to get her to sleep with him.

This is maybe where the trope of “guy tells girl he loves her in order to sleep with her” comes from. Women don’t want to fuck Fuckers, but they will fuck Fuckers disguised as Raisers. And when they find out, they usually describe the feeling of “being used.”

This makes me think that women’s sexual strategy involves defending against Fuckers at all costs, and that there are minimal or no evolutionary benefits for women to be charmed by the Bard (beyond maybe getting some fresh gene material into the town?). Fuckers only succeed by disguising themselves as Raisers.

This frames things a lot more in terms of ‘battle’ between the genders. I have held the idea until now that human sexual strategy is a lot more of a complimentary competition, but this seems like it has really disproportionate benefits.

Of course this is very general, and cultural norms are changing. Birth control means that women aren’t threatened by Fuckers, and so Fuckers don’t have to pretend (as much) to be Raisers to get laid anymore. Sleeping with a Fucker who isn’t pretending to be a Raiser has given rise to the new fun sort of relationship called Casual Sex.

Okay I am done writing now but I don’t know how to do a closing paragraph. I don’t really want to learn.

The Amory Spectrum

In discussions about monogamy and polyamory, I find I’ve recategorized the two ideas into something that feels more functional for me, and I accidentally try to use them synonymously with the original words. This ends up getting pretty messy, so I’m going to do the obvious thing: invent more words and then explain them!

(there’s a good chance someone has already written about this somewhere.)

Presenting: The Uniamory/Multiamory Spectrum

Your position on the Uniamory/Multiamory spectrum depends entirely on how many restrictions you place on your partner’s romantic/sexual behavior. It doesn’t matter what restrictions are placed on you, or what your partner actually does, or what you actually do, or the functional habits in your relationship.

You are uniamorous if you have rules, expectations, or agreements placed on your partner that state they cannot engage in relationships besides you.

You are multiamorous if you have no rules, expectations, or agreements about your partner’s romantic/sexual behavior with people besides yourself.

Remember this is a spectrum, going from lots of rules (no flirting) to medium rules (you can kiss but no sex) to no rules (you can do literally anything you want). For fun I’m going to provide the Amory Spectrum:

  • 0. Exclusively uniamorous; all extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed; no flirting, sexting, nude photos; can include forbidding being alone for too long with other people or ‘leading them on’; usually uncomfortable with watching porn or expressing attraction to others
  • 1. Predominantly uniamorous, only incidentally multiamorous; all obvious extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed, but leniency for flirting or engaging in light touch. Acceptance of expressing attraction to others and porn use.
  • 2. Predominantly uniamorous, but more than incidentally multiamorous. Most extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed, but with strong leniency; can include approval of nude photos, kissing and light petting, or attending sex/nude/kink parties (as a couple, without interacting with others). Most camgirl’s partners fall within this category.
  • 3. Equally multiamorous and uniamorous: Includes swinging, having threesomes, and occasionally allowance of very casual/occasional extrarelationship interactions, but with disallowance of any serious or regular extrarelationship interactions.
  • 4. Predominantly multiamorous, but more than incidentally uniamorous: general extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed with several rules, such as strongly enforced relationship hierarchy, and can include regulations of number of partners allowed, the frequency of their interactions, or moderate restrictions on their sexual activities
  • 5. Predominantly multiamorous, only incidentally uniamorous: the majority of extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed with few rules; can include light prescriptive hierarchy or minimal regulation of sexual behavior.
  • 6. Exclusively multiamorous: all extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed; no rules or requirements are instituted, and no prescriptive hierarchy is instated

Also: rules for the purpose of sexual safety, such as getting tested regularly or using condoms, do not count towards the multiamory spectrum.

If you date someone for twenty years with no rules about what they can or can’t do, but they never actually get involved with anybody else, then you are multiamorous but functionally monogamous.

If you prefer relationships that tend to be functionally monogamous, you can actively search for monogamous partners while both of you remain multiamorous.

If you insist that you and your partner will only love each other forever, that neither of you even experience the desire for others, and you also have rules that your partner can’t act upon desires even if they do have them, then you are both uniamorous and monogamous.

If you have no rules about your partner’s behavior but they have rules about your behavior, then you are multiamorous dating a uniamorous person, in a monogamous relationship.

Uniamory instituted out of fairness does not count; if you are level 6 multiamorous but dating someone who is level 2 uniamorous, and your partner agrees to not take advantage of your level 6 leniency because it wouldn’t be ‘fair,’ and instead acts as though you are level 2 uniamorous too, then this does not make you uniamorous.

Polyamory and uniamory aren’t really compatible, but sometimes you see poly relationships that rank low on the amory spectrum. If you consider yourself poly but are a 3 on the amory scale, then you might be on the uniamorous side of polyamory.

Basically, I think putting “restrictions placed on partner” into a highly defined, separate role to be a strongly illuminating way of looking at relationship structures. Frequently I find people citing monogamous motivations to explain their uniamory implementations (e.g., “We’re level 1 monogamous because neither of us find anybody else to be attractive!”)

Filling the Dating Role

A: “You’re looking for someone to fill the position of head software engineer for your company.”

B: “That’s right.”

A: “What sort of things are you looking for? Good work history? Proficiency in programming languages? Ability to manage?”

B: “What kind of employer do you think I am? I mean I’m not against those things, but really, I’m just a simple worker at a simple company. The most important attributes in an employee are kindness, a sense of humor, loyalty, and intelligence.”

A: “What?”

B: “I mean, would you hire anyone who was mean, or an idiot, or boring?”

A: “I’d prefer not to, but that’s not the point. You’re hiring them to perform a specific duty.”

B: “And that specific duty will be done poorly if they aren’t funny, intelligent, or kind.”

A: “Yes, those things are important – but they’re base things we want for any human we have to interact with regularly, ever – for any job, for a roommate, for a friend. And yes, those traits can offset a little bit qualification – you’d probably prefer a very emotionally mature but slightly less qualified worker over an emotionally immature but overly qualified worker – but it still gives us no information about how well they’ll perform specifically to the role itself! The base traits of funny-intelligence-kindness are like a platform upon which you build the rest of the structure of qualifications, and when I ask about the role, I am asking about that structure, not the platform.”

This is how I feel when I ask people what they look for in a romantic partner and they reply with “funny-intelligent-kind”. (For the purposes of this post, the generic positive personality trait cluster will be known as FIK.)

I think it’s particularly important because we frequently say being FIK is what’s the most attractive, but then we go on to avoid dating most of the super-FIK people. It’s sort of like if, in a job application, the requirements said they were looking for FIK applicants, but then went on to completely ignore the ones highest on the FIK spectrum.

If you point out that they’re not selecting for FIK, usually the response is something like “but I would never be attracted to someone who wasn’t FIK!” This is true, but not illuminating. The question about selection comes from the aspects that fit the specific role, not the basic FIKness required for form the platform base for that role.

FIKness is something we want for all people in our life, not just dating, so saying you want a FIK person to date reveals nothing about your actual dating requirements.

So to learn about aspects unique to the “dating role,” we have to disregard all qualities that are equally desirable for other roles, friendship included. Anything FIK-related, throw out.

For men dating women, the answer is kinda obvious – physical beauty. For women dating men, power.

This last part is worth its own set of discussion, but I’ll save that for another time – this post was mostly just a response to a few discussions I’ve had with people who claimed FIKness for their romantic selection and were resistant to pointing out role-specific requirements.

The Enticing Moral Claim

There is a tribe called Jhurk where all sorts of lies are told. Easy ones – “no you don’t look fat in that,” malicious ones – “no I didn’t steal your sheep, a wolf ate it,” and even beneficial ones – “no, invading war chief, I have no one else for you to capture in my home.”

One day a man named Goolag, who recently caught his wife with the local voodoo master when she’d sworn she was only going out to pick berries, comes up with a rule.

“Lying is bad!” he proclaims. “I hate liars!”

Nobody likes being lied to. Everyone agrees with Goolag, and they start putting up anti-lying flags. Soon their religions pick up moral tales about how their deities refused to lie. Young Jhurkian men signal how moral and hip they are to Jhurkian women by saying “I don’t date liars.”

Demonstrating how much you are against Lying becomes a quick and easy way to get moral points with the group. Everyone cheers with Goolag when he screams FUCK LYING.

Because everyone generally agrees that “being a liar” is a terrible thing, accusations of lying become especially powerful. Because accusations of lying are so powerful, they become broader – and the people of Jhurk are either “Liars” or “Not-Liars.”

Once someone in Jhurk receives the ‘Liar’ label, nobody cares to investigate further. The lie might have been harmless, horrible, or even occasionally beneficial – but under all the excitement about decrying lying, it’s packaged into one single, binary switch – Liar or Not-Liar. This isn’t a deliberate decision on the part of the Jhurkians, but more a result from a learned sense of outrage.

One woman, Zokk (whose husband was recently shunned for lying about a surprise party) tries to defend Liars. But all of Jhurk knows that Liars Are Bad – and they bring up Goolag’s wife, that dirty whore, and Gneb, who lied about the money in the tribe treasury, and Ved the traitor, who lied about being allied with Jhurk when really he was just selling tribe secrets to the rival tribe across the river.

“Why would you defend Lying when Liars do all these things?” they say. “You are a Liar-apologist!” and thus both Zokk and her husband are shunned.

“Lying is bad” was turned into a moral law in exactly the same way moral laws in religion operate. In religion, a set of “correct behaviors” are agreed upon, and adherents are ‘good’ and the rebellious are ‘bad.’ This can feel very deep and true, like how religion decries homosexuality so hard that people start to genuinely feel disgust and horror reactions about it.

Identifying a general sin is a very efficient way of dealing with social problems, but also very mindless and inaccurate. Jhurk’s lying problem was certainly eradicated, but eradicated religiously – in a strong, oversimplified, and demonizing sense.

New moral laws are usually the most exciting to signal (No dating site profile is cool for saying “I only date people who are against slavery”). And because they’re so exciting, they’re also the most virulent and religious.

I was reading about this commune back in the 1970s where they operated by the new and exciting moral law of Tolerate Everyone (as in allow anybody to live on this commune). This was a revolutionary concept to them and they took it very seriously. There was a strong social pressure to Tolerate Everyone, and anyone who did did not Tolerate Everyone was shunned by the group.

And over time the excitement wore off and they realized this wasn’t sustainable. The commune became a magnet for the drug addicted, the severely mentally ill, people who wouldn’t work, and dangerous criminals. Maybe something like Tolerate Everyone Except Those Who Are A Detriment To Your Community would have been better.

Of course Tolerating Everyone is a good idea and they were right to identify it as desirable – but it’s not desirable not as a law. The world is complex and nuanced and every situation has to be taken individually. This takes much more gentle thought and mental effort, but it might have saved that commune, and Zokk’s husband.

I think the terms “racism” and “sexism” are being used almost exclusively as religious law today.

Ideas having to do with race and sex are vast and complicated. Some come out of fear of culture, others out of mindless fear, others out of statistics. Some are more extreme than others. Some are justified, others entirely invalid. All of them have personal causes.

And in using the easy, simplistic, blanket term of ‘racism’ or ‘sexism’ to address any issue that even smells a bit like race or gender hostility, we are guilty of exactly the same trap that the religious fall into – except they’ve usually had a couple centuries to chill the fuck out while we’re still excited about it.

We say “if you’re racist don’t message me” on our dating profiles because it’s an easy and safe and exciting thing to signal. We use “sexist” as an immediate weapon word against situations that are in the line of fire but they might not be that terrible, we don’t know, we don’t have all the facts yet.

I’m not saying that discrimination against people based on race or gender isn’t terrible. It is – sort of like how maliciously lying to your neighbors is also terrible.

But I distrust the transformation of bad things into a label that can be used as a wide, inaccurate scythe that mows down the worst offenders, the mild offenders, and anybody innocently standing at the edges of the problem, all in the same sweep. It stifles discourse, it reduces empathy, it turns neighbors into opponents, and it mirrors the thinking of the mindless, traditionally religious.

The religious aren’t religious because they’re stupid, they’re religious because it’s enticing. Beware the enticing moral claim!

Are there other genders?

Bob: Gender is real – man and woman. There are two genders. People claiming that there are multiple genders, being third-gender or bigender or whatever – are usually just trying to feel special.

Alice: Wait hold on – but gender is a cultural construction in the first place. We associate things like ‘wearing dresses’ with ‘woman,’ but that’s not absolute. Why can’t we say it’s manly to wear dresses? It’s all in our heads and the narrative society feeds us.

Bob: Well to clarify before I continue – we’re not talking about sex. People can have different genitals, sometimes both genitals at once. There are medical differences. Obviously claiming your physical sex as the ultimate say in your gender is a bit of a silly idea.

Alice: Well we agree there. I’m talking about the mental conception around the way we should behave, which is frequently but not always associated with our genitals.

Bob: Yes. Gender is a cluster. “Maleness” does communicate something – it’s associated with things like sports, being unemotional, aggression, sex drive, bravery. It’s also associated with physical things like beards, large muscles, and penises.

And these things are associated with each other. People who have penises tend to be aggressive. People who like sports tend to grow facial hair. Because we see these things appear together all the time, we give it a name – Male. And even if a male doesn’t watch sports, or if he doesn’t have muscles, he still usually has enough of the cluster so that he is way closer to the “male” pattern than the “female” one.

This is why our culture has an idea of “x is not manly.” What they mean is that x is not typically found in the “male” cluster. A man wearing a dress isn’t manly because “dress wearing” isn’t commonly found in people who are similar to him.

Alice: I feel like you’re making my point for me – that of social construct. We’ve identified this pattern, sure, but it’s only just because it’s common. There is a ton of different possible patterns that aren’t the male or female pattern! Everyone is different and varied. Why do I have to be “manly” or “unmanly”? Why is it that belching isn’t feminine, and why is it that when I do present as feminine, people assume that I’m feminine in other ways as well, like being terrified of mice or some shit? I fucking love mice. This is the entire point – that we break down our conceptions about previous pattern. By identifying as something other than male or female, I am declaring to the world that I am my own unique pattern, with its own unique name. I will not be defined in comparison to preexisting norms.

Bob: I partially agree with you. It’s true that the patterns of male and female aren’t absolute in any way, that it’s an idea that society has.

But the point I’m trying to make isn’t that the male-female patterns are fundamentally arbitrary and culture-bound, but rather that they carry meaning in a way that things like “third-gender” doesn’t, and so to equate them is a bit silly.

For example: we’ve had the word “cunt” in our vocabulary for a long time. It is a very loaded word. It’s banned on television, you can’t say it around your grandma, and if a young child says “cunt” a lot, we get worried.

Is it fundamentally arbitrary? Yes. Is it a social construct? Yes. But that doesn’t mean that you can come along and introduce a new word – “bogus” – and expect it to carry the same weight. You can’t cry “bogus is a bad word!” and expect people to have the same reaction to ‘bogus’ as they do to ‘cunt.’ And that is essentailly what you’re doing. Male and female are concepts that are extremely ingrained in our awareness, and you can’t make a new gender equivalent just by proclaiming it aloud.

Alice: But how else do you start? There are people out there who genuinely don’t adhere to either gender role. Male and female feel intuitive because they are predictable. We generally know what women are like and how to talk to them, what their bodies look like, that they get pregnant – and same for men. This is why we identify those clusters so strongly, because of the strong and well-known association.

But if we start using bogus like a bad word, maybe eventually it will become a bad word. If we want to make other genders a recognizeable pattern, we have to start actively treating them as such.

Bob: I’m not against that in principle, but I think that’s much harder than it sounds. The traditional gender pattern clusters have one huge advantage – that part of their pattern is their physical bodies. If you’re talking about pattern being valuable due to prediction, then you’re not going to be able to beat the powerful predictive ability of visual input.

It’s like – if every time you said the word “cunt,” grandma passed out. And every time you said the word “fuck,” Jesus shed a tear. The words are associated with something measurable and obvious.

And then if someone comes along and says “let’s make bogus a bad word,” you might agree – but if isn’t associated with either your grandma fainting or Jesus crying, then somewhere deep down, you’re not going to feel like it’s a bad word. You’re going to feel like it belongs to a different category entirely, despite people keep claiming it has bad-word properties.

Maybe if every time you said “bogus”, hell got a little hotter, then you would feel like “bogus” was associated with something, and thus a real word. And maybe if we had a physically distinct third gender with a unique role to play in the reproduction process, then “third gender” would carry more meaning.

But it just doesn’t. Patterns are powerful, and they exist because they correspond to something that we “discover,” not something that we invent.

But I am not against shirking your traditional gender role. I think anyone can be anything they want, behave however they want (as long as they don’t hurt anyone). There is no reason for a male-bodied man to be obligated to adhere to the male-cluster. I just think that the words are useful. If you’re a man who wears dresses, you’re less manly. And that’s completely okay.