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Does Duke Grad's Sex Presentation Break Glass Ceiling?

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: It's been a week since Duke University was rocked with another sex scandal. When recent graduate Karen Owen's PowerPoint presentation rating Duke men for their sexual talents (orlack thereof)went viral, many young women smiled and pumped their fists. After generations of female sexual repression, this sure tasted like yummy retribution. Men, famous for their locker room talk and treating women like sexual objects, finally had the tables turned on them.Or did they? Are the men who ranked at the top of the list feeling slandered or empowered?

Karen Owen


What can we make of Owen's report on "horizontal academics"? First off, some background, starting withthe originof the unwritten rule that men's reputation rises with the number of sexual conquests while women become devalued by their degree of sexual experience. Long before we became a community of farms and industry, humans roamed in "families" of about 25 to 35, women gathering as many calories each month as men dragged in on a woolly mammoth. While there was something approaching gender equality, women were still at greater risk in terms of sex. Women had far more to lose than men by engaging in sex, such as an unwanted pregnancy during a time of famine or an STD that could wipe out her family. So women had to be very choosy in their partner selection. This is the root of women's sexual power: controlled supply against a high demand.

After farming and industry confined women to one man for survival, the double standard arose so that men could be sure that they were providing for their offspring and not those of another man. As a little aside, one recent study done in American hospitals found that fully ten percent of newborns' DNA does not match the DNA of the doting baby-daddy at mama's bedside. So there is real reason for men to be concerned about the paternity of those tiny mouths eating up their resources.

The double standard is both of those factors at play: Astute women withholding sexfor protection and to gain power over men, and men attempting to limit women's accessto other males. The sexual double standard is alive and well in plenty of traditional cultures and is still used to control women. Virgins are coveted. Women with sexual experience are unmarriagable. The sad thing is that in many of those countries (India, China, Thailand, for example) high-status virgin women are now delaying marriage to pursue careers -- and are sometimes remaining virgins until the age of 30. This has given rise to a rampant sex slave industry to service young men waiting for virgin wives. It's crazy!

So by breaking the sexual glass ceiling, are women becoming more liberated here in America? Not necessarily. While it's tragic for a culture to punish women for normal sexual urges, to behave exactly like a stereotypical man is just lowering ourselves to their level. Women have always been the emotional bonders in relationships. In fact, one of the purposes of female orgasm is the release of oxytocin, the female bonding hormone. For women to ignore their biology and disassociate sex from emotional bonding is a bad thing for our species. And by giving up women's enormous sexual power that comes with withholding supply, we are selling out. Women are still at a much higher risk than men for the burden of child-raising and a the acquisition of a sexually transmitted disease.

The Duke student's report is both a victory and a defeat. Now some men know what it feels like to be an object. But it also sent a message that women's sexuality is but a trivial hobby rather than a powerful way for humans to make strong connections. In my opinion, the double standard took a welcome hit, but so did the power of women.


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16 comments so far | Post a comment now
Carol October 9, 2010, 10:17 AM

True equality comes with mutual respect. This grad student, even sent to a few friends, did not demonstrate respect.
She willingly decided to have sex with these athletics. No one excepts to be exploited this way.
If a male student did this, the outcry would be louder.
The bigger lesson to learn is sometimes you can’t even trust your friends with your confessions.

michelle October 9, 2010, 9:33 PM

Please Wendy, enough with the junk science and pop evolutionary psychology. Everything about the case you tried to make has been discredited. So this woman is of course “unnatural” in your eyes, for actually wanting to have sex with hot men without marrying them and bearing their children. It’s a bad thing for the species?? A little over the top, IMO. If you disapprove of this woman’s behavior, just be honest and say you are not comfortable with it on a personal level.

Ks October 10, 2010, 8:30 AM

Your grasp of the history of relations between men and women is shaky at best. Men and women have a far more egalitarian relationship that comprised far more than sex. Farming and industry did not confine women to one man for survival. Societal norms started shunning divorce. Or rather the church who had decided to accept marriage decreed that divorce was a sin against god.

Long before that men and women married and divorced at will when the relationship was no longer equitable for both partners. Societal norms have changed and shifted over our collective human history to lead us to today. You can not pin point any one date as being the place in time that made things the way they are now.

I still can not understand why anyone cares about this story. So what if she had a few sexual partners. So what if she made a little power point presentation and sent it to her friends. They all probably got a laugh at the expense of the men this woman slept with. Now this women is learning a very good lesson on how it feels to have people you don’t know speaking about you in an ill manner. Sounds like a personal crisis to me. Not news.

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