With every lick of the ice cream, a new layer of his slobber coated the cream. He handed the cone back to his girlfriend, a woman who had lovingly gargled his life nectar minutes before. She pushed it back, “Eww! You got your saliva all over it!”
Is this a familiar scenario? Since the dawn of man and even before, there have been sexual mores dictating who could mate with whom. But since, the dawn of I do not know what, sex has also been portrayed as dirty and gross. Personally, I don’t blame religious people for this one. I think it is in our nature to find it gross. This makes sense too since exchanging bodily fluids is the #1 doctor recommended way of getting sick. Why then are we temporarily able to suspend this disgust to engage in sexual congress with a partner? Do we even suspend disgust at all when having sex? I don’t know. I haven’t done extended research on the matter, but when I do I will get back to you. Let’s just explore some ideas first:
- Sex is necessary for the survival of the species. If your ancestors didn’t get laid, you would not be here. The chain of life has not been broken since life appeared on the face of the Earth.
- Sex feels amazing.
- It helps us pair-bond (or with multiple people).
When you have sex with someone, you have to acknowledge a person’s animal nature, or rather their humanity, because humans are animals. Be weary of any ideology that denies biology! Things that formerly disgusted us, all of a sudden arouse us immensely – sometimes, the grosser the sex, the more fluids involved (and for some, even solids) and the more fluids there are, the better the sex!
Here is a description of a study quoted from this article: “To investigate this hypothesis, researchers from the University of Groningen had female participants watch some sexy videos and do some gross stuff like drink out of a cup with a bug in it. Another group of participants watched a video of extreme sports, while a third group struck out and were stuck watching a boring movie about a train (Borg & de Jong, 2012). The females who had watched erotic videos rated sex-related stimuli as less disgusting and performed more of the disgusting behavioural tasks. Sexual arousal actually resulted in the down-regulation of disgust in preparation for intercourse. This may point to a shared origin of sexual and pathogen disgust which were later refined by unique selective pressures.”
According to this study, sexual arousal and disgust would be negatively correlated i.e. the greater the sexual arousal, the less disgust one would experience. Correlations don’t inform us about the direction of causality, but this study does: it is the level of arousal which determines the level of disgust and not the other way around. Therefore, if you find someone attractive and you enjoy sniffing their pheromones (my personal conviction is that pheromones matter, but this is still up to debate in the scientific community), your sexual arousal will rise thereby making you more receptive to putting up (keyword) with their gross side like them sweating on you in bed.
This idea that sexual arousal promotes the tolerance of disgustingness seems like an incomplete picture. A lot of women — maybe some men, but I think primarily women — have some pretty nasty sexual fantasies. Ladies, imagine a sweaty truck driver at a gas station. It’s 35°C outside and you’re getting ploughed in a dank restroom and it feels goooood. OK, you can turn off your vibrators now. I get the impression that sometimes disgust is what causes the sexual arousal in the first place!
I’m not quite sure how this would occur. Maybe through associative learning such as Pavlovian/classical conditioning, for example disgusting traits in a person we are attracted to could become associated to the sexually attractive traits and therefore, the disgusting traits alone could eventually turn us on??? I already see problems with this. By the way, I intend on writing something about classical conditioning, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, either click here, or just wait for the article to come out in the undeterminated future. It could also be caused by misattribution of arousal. Allow me to briefly explain. In a famous study by Dutton and Aron, guys were made to cross bridges of various heights (i.e. various scariness levels), at the end of the bridge, there would be a sexy lady who gave them her number under the pretext that they could call her if they wanted more information about the study. It turned out that the men who crossed the highest bridge were also those that called the woman the most. What this study goes to show is that sometimes the experience of a specific type of emotional arousal can be interpreted as the experience of a different emotion. So, the guys on the tall bridge were more aroused due to fear or anxiety and when they saw the sexy lady, they felt like “whoa my heart is pounding, must be due to this sexy ho before me” instead of attributing it to the bridge. This also would explain why some people like to have sex in scary places, the added arousal from the fear makes things spicier. Heck, a third hypothesis, may be that sexual arousal comes first, but then disgust increases emotional arousal thus contributing to sexual arousal. I haven’t done any proper research on the subject, but if I find anything, I will tell you.
But regardless of the direction of the relationship, the correlation between the two would be limited to a certain bracket on the x and y scale. Even if you were extremely aroused —like you hadn’t had sex in years and a prime specimen was before you in all their glorious pulchritude — you wouldn’t necessarily bang them in a cesspool. Conversely, even a coprophile may have his limits as to how gross a shit can be before he refuses to smear it on his erection.
Nonetheless, the tight relationship between horniness and disgust also accounts for why some people feel shame about their sexuality. You would feel shame if you particularly enjoyed eating pickles that had fallen on the floor. You’d probably look around as you dropped them and picked them up. But, that shame comes with a trade-off, the thrill of transgression.
The take home message here is that you’re all gross and it is that very grossness which gives us pleasure.