I already didn't like "philosopher and writer" Alain de Botton before he got is gig at Psychology Today. Now, via I've got a serious problem with him. Here's why I think you should too.
In a post called 12 Rude Revelations about Sex de Botton makes the following startling, and wrong, and very, very dangerous assertion
Involuntary physiological reactions such as the wetness of a vagina and the stiffness of a penis are emotionally so satisfying (which means, simultaneously, so erotic) because they signal a kind of approval that lies utterly beyond rational manipulation. Erections and lubrication simply cannot be effected by willpower and are therefore particularly true and honest indices of interest. In a world in which fake enthusiasms are rife, in which it is often hard to tell whether people really like us or whether they are being kind to us merely out of a sense of duty, the wet vagina and the stiff penis function as unambiguous agents of sincerity.
Source: Psychology Today (naturally)
Emily Nagoski nicely dismantles de Botton's factual, psychological, and sexual claims so I don't have to. (Hint: if he were right then most men have serious sexual attraction to full bladders first thing in the morning.)
That means I can concentrate on de Botton's seriously creepy sexual-violence-supporting implications instead.
Involuntary reactions such as wetness or erections are "satisfying?" "Erotic?!?!" Seriously?
this is giving direct aid and support to rapists? Because that whole “if you didn’t really want this you wouldn’t be hard/wet” is one of the big guns in abusers and rapist’s bags of psychological tricks. (Tip for de Button: try Googling “arousal during sexual assault.” Asshole!)
One result that pops up early on is from survivor-support site the Pandora Project (my italics.)
A sexual response or orgasm in the course of sexual assault is often the best-kept and most deeply shameful secret of many survivors. If you are such a survivor, it’s essential that you know that sexual response in sexual assault is extremely common, well-documented and nothing for you to be ashamed of.
And it isn’t just about you and the way your body responded either. It may also have been one of the repertoire of dirty tricks rapists use to get their victims to feel responsible. Diana Russell writes that “Some rapists think they’re lovers” and tells us:
(These rapists) think that if a woman is stimulated in ‘just the right way’ she will enjoy it. The conquest may seem more important if the rapist believes he has turned the woman on physically, particularly if it is against her will. Getting the victim to respond physically may also alleviate the rapist’s guilt feelings.
Source: Pandora Project: Sexual Arousal & Sexual Assault
Or regarding erections, from Living Well, and Australian site for recovering male victims (my italics)
People who sexually abuse boys and men often use their knowledge about male bodies to deliberately cause an erection and/or ejaculate to occur. They do this because they know it is extremely confusing and embarrassing. They might also do it to try and convince both the person being abused and themselves that what is happening is not really abuse. Whatever the reasons, ultimately they know that if the boy or man was aroused, they might be less likely to tell anyone about the abuse due to feelings of shame and embarrassment.
In that context de Button’s choice of the words “Involuntary physiological reactions such as the wetness of a vagina and the stiffness of a penis are emotionally so satisfying (which means, simultaneously, so erotic)” (my italics) are just beyond horrifying and right up there with encouraging, endorsing, and maybe even celebrating sexual violence.
Maybe he’s too stupid to understand. Maybe he thinks he thinks he’s being “edgy” and contrarian. Maybe he’s trying to rationalize his own prior victimization. Or perpetration! But one way or another it’s not funny either that he said it, that his editors passed on it, or especially that Psychology Today (of all people*!) published it!!!
Sweet Mother of Pearl!
* Not that I expect Psychology Today to be particularly interested in truth, reality, or responsibility -- after all they seem to have picked de Button to replace their previous calculated-to-offend, too-distraced-even-for-them columnist Satoshi Kawazana -- but for a journal purporting to be about, well, psychology, today, I would at least expect them to have some sensitivity to the psychological and emotional well being of survivors of sexual violence.