Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast recounts a terrific story about how F. Scott Fitzgerald came to him one day in a fit of anxiety about the size of his penis, and how Hemingway took him to the Louvre to reassure him that his endowments were certainly equivalent to those of classical Greek statuary.
In the absence of Hemingway, most of us these days turn to Google. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an economist who studies consumer behavior, wrote a fascinating article about this a few months ago in the New York Times, and it’s stuck with me as I talk about what we do at Crave, so I wanted to share it here.
He explains that people talk and think about having sex way more than people actually have sex — self-reported numbers from surveys of sexual behavior far exceed more measurable data, like condom sales or pregnancies, both among married people and unmarried people.
Looking at Google searches, however, tells a different story. Our fears and anxieties surface here: Is my body attractive to my partner or potential partners? Why aren’t we having more sex? What can I do to make things better?
But the data from Google also reveal that this anxiety is somewhat misplaced. For example, men are much more concerned about penis size than women, while women worry about vaginal odors and things that aren’t as significant to men.
For Stephens-Davidowitz — and for me — this is actually somewhat encouraging. He says:
“This data makes me feel less lonely. In my previous studies of Google data, I had found the viciousness that humans often hide. But this time around, I have seen our hidden insecurities. Men and women are united in this insecurity and confusion.
Google also gives us legitimate reasons to worry less than we do. Many of our deepest fears about how our sexual partners perceive us are unjustified. Alone, at their computers, with no incentive to lie, partners reveal themselves to be fairly nonsuperficial and forgiving. In fact, we are all so busy judging our own bodies that there is little energy left over to judge other people’s.
Maybe if we worried less about sex, we’d have more of it.”
This is such a compelling case for more safe spaces and conversations about sex. With Google’s recent back-and-forth on policy changes for adult content, it seems even more important to make the case for people to share their truths and fantasies, their insecurities and their triumphs, and in doing so, to help people appreciate and celebrate their own bodies and desires.
Photo credit: Evan Bench via Creative Commons