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Dr. Ruth is the 87-year old sex columnist who has been dispensing mostly common sense and scientifically accurate advice to people for the past several decades. That run has come to an end this week when she went on the record as believing that the Jewish holy text the Talmud has guided her to think that men, by their very nature, are uncontrollable animals. Because of this, women should never be naked in a room with them lest they end up raped.
She said she was very worried that a man and a woman could be naked in bed together and at some point the woman could say she changed her mind about having sex.
Now, obviously this isn’t a rare viewpoint. The strange thing is that Dr. Ruth is an extremely intelligent person with a whole lot of education in sexual psychology, but when it comes to this topic, for some reason, she abandons her education in favor of her religious training.
Usually the reaction to this sort of comment is to defend women, which is a perfectly good reaction! This is the sort of thinking that leads to women being victim-blamed, putting the responsibility for whatever happens to them on them and not the rapist.
But the other angle is how incredibly dehumanizing this thinking is for men. I know that as a woman, I would be incredibly insulted if someone said that a man should never be naked in front of a woman because she may just go crazy and, say, anally fist him. Or, yes, force him to have penis-in-vagina intercourse against his will. What if being in someone’s presence meant that no matter what, you consented for them to do whatever they most wanted to do to you? It’s ridiculous.
And so men should be insulted, as well.
There have been some very interesting studies on how well people — particularly men — can control themselves while aroused. And some of them do show an interesting effect. Dan Ariely’s study, “Heat of the Moment,” found that when they’re masturbating, men were more likely to report sexual attraction to things they found off-putting when not aroused, and they were more likely to admit an interest in immoral behaviors to get sex. He also found that they weren’t very well able to predict those changes before masturbating.
It’s an interesting study, but it was only done on 35 students who self-reported, though admittedly the method of self-reporting was really interesting, since it involved a special program on a laptop that was covered in plastic and sent home with the students.
Plus, the study was about desires, and not behaviors. As a million different porn categories will make clear, our desires don’t always, or even often, match up with our behaviors.
But this study and others like it don’t at all suggest that men are driven to rape based on uncontrollable sexual desire that transforms them into animals. That’s a myth that comes not from science, but from religion and cultural fairy tales. Men, like women, are ultimately in control of their behaviors. Dr. Ruth would do well to take a few refresher classes to get up to date on our current understanding of human psychology. Being 87-years old isn’t an excuse: if you’re old enough to give interviews and dish out sex advice, you’re old enough to sit in a classroom and learn something new.