No Satisfaction

November 28, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross-posted at Sociological Images

Liberal women want more sex. 

Mark Regnerus has been fooling around with the New Family Structures Survey. (His blog post is here.)  Back in June, Regnerus used the NFSS data to conclude that gay parents are bad for children.  Now, he runs the regressions and finds that liberalism leaves women sexually dissatisfied.
Question:“Are you content with the amount of sex you’re having?”
The possible answers:
  • Yes
  • No, I’d prefer more
  • No, I’d prefer less
The differences were clear.

Those liberal women, they try and they try and they try; they can’t get no . . . satisfaction. Hey, hey, hey – that’s what they say

The differences held even with controls for how much sex the woman had had recently.  Nor did adding other possible explanatory variables dampen the effect
the measure of political liberalism remains significantly associated with the odds of wanting more sex even after controlling for the frequency of actual intercourse over the past two weeks, their age, marital status, education level, whether they’ve masturbated recently, their anxiety level, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, depressive symptoms, and porn use.
Regnerus says he was puzzled and asked an economist friend for her explanation.  She, like Regnerus, is a serious Christian, and saw it as a matter of seeking “transcendence.”  Liberal women want to have more sex because they feel the lack of sufficient transcendence in life and seek it in sex.  Conservative women find transcendence in the seemingly mundane – “sanctifying daily life” – so they do not need sex for transcendence.  Or as Regnerus puts it, “Basically, liberal women substitute sex for religion.”

To test this idea, Regnerus controlled for religious attendance.  When he did,  “political liberalism finally went silent as a predictor.”  Churchgoing liberals were no more insatiable than were their sexually content, politically conservative co-worshipers.

So here’s the scenario.  All women want transcendence.  Since liberal women are not religious, they seek transcendence in sex and don’t find it. They’re dissatisfied, but they cling to the idea that sex will bring them transcendence if only they have more of it. So they keep looking for transcendence in all the wrong places. Conservative women seek transcendence in religion and in everyday activities.  And that works. 

Conclusion: Religion is deeply satisfying; sex, not so much.

This explanation, with its attribution of psychological-spiritual longing, makes some huge assumptions about what’s going on inside women’s heads.   

The sociological explanation is much simpler. It looks not to deep inner longings for transcendence but to social norms, beliefs, and values.  It rests on the assumption that people’s desires are shaped by external forces, especially the culture of the social world they live in. In some social worlds, sex for women is good, so it’s OK for them to want more sex.  In others, sex for women has a lower place on the scale of values.  It is less of a “focal concern.”

These differences make for differences in who is content with what – a liberal, East Coast man and a WASP woman from the Midwest, for example.

On one side, three times a week is “constantly.” On the other, three times a week is “hardly ever.” Can we really say that the difference here is about spiritual transcendence?

In some social worlds, a woman can never be too thin or too rich. In those worlds, women diet and exercise in a way we might find obsessive. But that’s what their culture rewards. They want more thinness, more money. Some cultures hold that sex is a good thing – certainly more pleasurable than dieting and exercising – therefore,  more is better.  In some social worlds, that’s the way some people feel about money (never too rich). Are these desires really about seeking transcendence, or they about cultural values?

And there’s one other explanation that may not have occurred to Regnerus: maybe conservative men are better lovers; they satisfy their conservative bedmates in ways liberals can only dream of. 

(UPDATE).  Lisa Wade of Sociological Images has suggested a much better explanation:  Liberal men are such good lovers that when you ask their liberal partners if they want more sex, the answer is, “Do I ever. Wouldn’t you?” But conservative men are so incompetent in bed that when you ask their partners if they want more, the answer is, “No thanks.”

Facts and Faith

November 27, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Marco Rubio was asked in a GQ interview, “How old do you think the earth is?”  Rubio, who came to national prominence at the GOP convention, didn’t answer the question. 
I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow.
Rubio seems to think that if you admit that you’re not a scientist, then science doesn’t matter and that the age of the earth is not a matter of scientific fact.  Instead, it is “a dispute among theologians.”  The fallacy of that position – faith determining facts – should be obvious.*  But what about his second point - that believing in a geological falsehood is irrelevant to having an effective economic policy? 

Alex Knapp at Forbes disagrees. 
Large parts of the economy absolutely depend on scientists being right about either the age of the Universe or the laws of the Universe that allow scientists to determine its age.
The age of the earth is important.  If the earth is only 9,000 years old, you couldn’t be reading this right now. Knapp explains why, starting with a galaxy 13 billion light years away.  Light from that galaxy took 13 billion years to reach Earth.
Marco Rubio’s Republican colleague Representative Paul Broun, who sits on the House Committee on Science and Technology, recently stated that it was his belief that the Universe is only 9,000 years old. Well, if Broun is right and physicists are wrong, then we have a real problem. Virtually all modern technology relies on optics in some way, shape or form. And in the science of optics, the fact that the speed of light is constant in a vacuum is taken for granted. But the speed of light must not be constant if the universe is only 9,000 years old. It must be capable of being much, much faster. That means that the fundamental physics underlying the Internet, DVDs, laser surgery, and many many more critical parts of the economy are based on bad science. The consequences of that could be drastic, given our dependence on optics for our economic growth.
This sounds convincing at first.  But I think I agree with Rubio.  You can be ignorant or even deliberately wrong about earth science and still make good economic policy.  Alexander Hamilton didn’t know how old the earth was, and he probably didn’t believe in evolution either.  In fact, even today, most of us, most of the time, could get by thinking the earth was flat.  For the daily commute and even a long drive to Thanksgiving with relatives, we don’t really need to consider the curvature of the earth. 

The real trouble comes when policy-makers base policy on what they would like the facts to be rather than what they are.
* I hope it’s obvious.  If not, try this analogy:
   “Do you think texting while driving is dangerous?”  “I’m not a highway engineer, man.  That’s a dispute among drivers.”   or
  “Do you think that smoking causes cancer?”  “I’m not a physician, man. I think that’s a dispute among tobacco users and corporations.”

The GQ interview has gotten a fair amount of attention.  The right-wing blogger response (see for an example) is to ignore Rubio’s evasive answer and instead to focus on the question.  Their response is to ask, "How dare the liberal leftist media ask a Republican this question?"  Presumably, these Rubio defenders would have the same reaction to the texting and smoking questions.

Thanksgiving Repost

November 22, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sociological Images (here) put up my Thanksgiving post from six years ago.   Unfortunately, they had to leave out the opening, which was about the new Energizer Bunny balloon. Sociological Images is much more scrupulous about copyright, and the picture was something I'd grabbed from Google Images.  Beside, a year later, that balloon is no longer news. 

The post was a Durkheimian look at the Macy’s parade as totemistic ritual – one that unifies and energizes the social group.  So the new Energizer Bunny balloon had a double meaning for sociologists.

The original 2006 post is here.

Now You See It . . .

November 18, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

At the curtain calls for War Horse last night, the loudest applause was for the three people who operate the title character.  I suspect that the true object of the audience's admiration was The Handspring Puppet Company that created the fantastic creatures we saw on stage. 

The show makes an unusual choice.  The puppeteers have no real part in the play; they are not characters.  But the puppeteer who operates the horse's head is dressed like one of the Devon farmers.  So it's almost impossible for the illusion to take full effect. 

Seeing is believing.  An, as much social and cognitive psychology has shown, believing is seeing.  Or more importantly, not seeing.  The wonder of the illusion on stage comes when we see a horse and not merely a horse-shaped lattice of cane.  But if we continue to see the puppeteer, if we cannot unsee the puppeteer, we don't quite know what to believe. 

When the horse first eats oats from a bucket, you wonder: is the horse doing this, overcoming his reluctance to get near a human (as the story has it) or is the silent farmer leading the animal to lower his head to the oats? (A bit of that scene comes at about this 0:15 mark in this montage.)

In bunraku, by contrast, each puppet is operated by three people, but they are covered head to toe in black, though sometimes the head puppeteer wears a black kimono and no hood.  They are supposed be invisible, and soon they are.

At first when you see bunraku, it seems odd.  The three guys in black operating a puppet one-third their size are a distraction.  But after a while, you stop seeing them.  The stage usually has a dark background, but even when the scene is more brightly lit, you see only the characters in the play, not the puppeteers who operating them. 

Here's a bit of classical bunraku.  You don’t need to watch the whole two minutes to get the idea of seeing the operators.  But that’s much too short a time for you to literally lose sight of the puppeteers.  Believe me, in the real theater, you do.

And here's a more modern example.