This month New Scientist is reporting on a study by Prof. Stuart Brody (and colleague) that examined the blood level of the hormone prolactin following heterosexual intercourse versus masturbation. Prolactin is related to feelings of sexual release.
After orgasm from sexual intercourse, the increase in blood prolactin levels was 400 per cent higher in both sexes compared with after orgasm from masturbation. The resulting headline (which I copied above) suggests that heterosexual sex is 400% better than masturbation. Prof. Brody is quoted as saying ?this explains why orgasm from intercourse is more satisfying than masturbation.?
Let me begin to contemplate the problems I have with this study and the early reporting on it.
For starters, I have to continue to wonder about the sole focus on heterosexual intercourse. Despite what some scientists still like to argue, science does not take place in a social vacuum. Nowhere does he explain why he distinguishes heterosexual intercourse from other forms of penetration (e.g. using fingers, toys, hands). Other forms of penetration are not even mentioned. Throughout this brief paper he references a ?growing research literature?. A look at the reference section reveals that this growing literature is entirely his own work.
He?s like a one man heterosexual intercourse pride parade (not that there?s anything wrong with that).
In this current study he compares masturbation with heterosexual intercourse. But while he describes the heterosexual sex that happens, he does not describe in any detail the masturbatory behaviors. Masturbation can take many forms, and may or may not include penetration. Since it isn?t reported one can only assume that penetration was not involved, but if that was the case, was that the result of research instructions, or participant personal masturbatory styles?
There is also no mention of the length of time taken to achieve intercourse between the masturbation and the heterosexual penetration groups. Could the amount of physical activity or exertion play a role? We don?t know. It?s also worth noting that a few decades of writing on female sexuality and sexual response makes one wonder where he found so many women who so easily reach orgasm from heterosexual penetration without external clitoral stimulation. But that?s another story.
As with the previous article, Brody manages to ignore large bodies of sexuality literature. No mention is made of the fact that much of the sexological literature considers orgasm to be a primarily psychologically mediated experience. No mention is made of the body of writing by women who often report enjoying masturbation over heterosexual sex. And finally, while they may be too insignificant to warrant his attention, no mention is made of the rest of the folks in the world who choose something other than sex of the heterosexual persuasion.
I continue to be dazzled by the way scientists will write and study in a complete social vacuum. What is most frustrating for me is the way that the media never critique or interrogate sex studies that in any way confirm our (usually misguided) beliefs about sex. This study which carries the status quo message that we should all be having heterosexual penetrative sex. This flies in the face of more than thirty years of women writing about sex. I think it might be time for someone to rain on this particular parade.
S. Brody & T. H.C. Kruger, Biological Psychology, vol 71, p 312
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