Marriage Uncensored?

I don't know why we even bothered to get cable TV. Over 80 channels and there's nothing good on. On Sundays mornings, there's even less on. Which explains why, now that Ru Paul's Drag Race is over, I've taken to watching a show called 'Marriage Uncensored' on Sunday mornings. The hosts, Dave and Christie, are mercilessly perky and smiley as they interview guests 'experts' about the many aspects of staying happily married. Clearly, these people mean well so it's hard to take offense to them. In fact, they are obviously working very hard to make sure that no one can take offense to them, so watered-down and generalized is every piece of advice and information given. It's also pretty clear that it's a Christian show but they don't beat anyone over the head with that so I will give them credit for that.

Last Sunday they were talking about sex - so of course I had to watch the whole thing. It was fun to watch them delight in how 'salacious' and 'uncensored' they were being. It was about as salacious as the Sears catalogue underwear section. But for that show, it was quite risque. Their quest speaker, who's written several books on marriage and sex, was very funny and did get just a little bit graphic a couple of times - to the hosts' evident horror. But it was mostly pretty tame and seemingly harmless. 'Men are physical, women are relational.' 'Men want to feel needed, women want to feel loved'. 'Men need sex, women need romance.' We hear this stuff all the time. So often, I think, that most of us believe it. And though it seems pretty benign I do think there is real danger in this kind of 'Men and from Mars, Women are from Venus' , John Grey view of relationships.

The value, to me, is that this method of understanding relationships encourages individuals to view their interactions from the other person's perspective rather than interpreting their actions based on their own needs and feelings. For example, when I leave a room in the middle of an argument, it may be because I am pissed beyond words and I am ready to rip my partner apart. If my partner does it, it may be because he's very deeply hurt by something I said and can't face me. I need to learn to interpret his behavior based on his needs, feelings, and behavior patterns, not mine. That's a valuable concept with practical applications. I do think that Dave and Christie are proponents of this kind of examination of behavior within a relationship. The 'men are like this, women are like this' model takes it too far though. So usually, instead of being encouraged to look at the person our partner actually is and what his/her behavior means based on who s/he is, we're encouraged to intrepret it only as a typically male or female reaction. Based on that model, my partner is walking out because he's pissed because that's what men do. Men aren't in touch with their feelings, so he can't be hurt. It encourages me to miss the point and misintrepret my partners' actions.

But there's something much more insidious about the Mars/Venus approach that really worries me particularly when it comes to sex. Whenever you hear these Mars/Venus people talk about sex, they always say that men need sex more than women, women need love and romance in order to have sex, women need lots of foreplay, women have to feel satisfied in their relationship in order to have satisfying sex. Dave and Christie and their guest said them all, just as we've always heard them. So what's the message? I think the message is that women are not truly sexual beings. These platitudes are telling us that women only have sex as an act of love for their partner and that they don't enjoy sex for pleasure alone. What does that mean for women (the legions of them) who do enjoy sex for pleasure alone, who couldn't care a wit about romance, and who don't need to feel loved and cared for in order to have great sex? It means that they are acting like men. It means that they are not real women. It's a subtle way to tone down, dampen, and dismiss female sexuality.

This model also gives men license to ignore and dismiss women's pleasure. If you just love and care for her, the pleasure will be all taken care of. But that's just not true. Loving, caring men can still be clueless about how to pleasure their female partners. But this model is telling them they're already doing everything right - that he doesn't need to be concerned and that she doesn't have a right to complain.

We think with the feminist movement and the sexual revolution that we've moved so far from the old views of female sexuality, but the abundance of this mars/venus advice proves that we haven't. Newsflash Dave and Christie and all of you other John Grey enthusiasts, most women like sex just as much as men and they care much less whether you gave them a rose before than whether they had an awesome orgasm.

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