Off and on, depending upon whether it coincides with my eating dinner, I listen to the daily CBC-produced radio program Q with Jian Ghomeshi that is broadcast by my local NPR station. It is a reasonably good program, more heavy on longer interviews with arts and cultural figures than the CBC show it replaced that was called As It Happens.
So I was shocked to hear that the host had been fired last Friday after it was revealed by the Toronto Star that he indulged in very violent sexual encounters with women. The details given are lurid and shocking. Ghomeshi claims that it was all consensual and that anyway it is his private life, but eight women (seven of them choosing to remain anonymous in that story, but today a new figure has come forward describing a similar experience) have provided detailed accounts that suggest otherwise, and describe Ghomeshi in ways that suggest he really enjoyed taking women by surprise and beating them up quite severely as sexual foreplay.
I tend to take the view that what consenting adults do is their own business and have got used to the idea that people get pleasure from an array of practices that would never have occurred to me and seem to be quite unpleasant. Even if consent was given here (and it seems doubtful from the early reports), the descriptions of what went on were of such a nature that they gave me pause, wondering how anyone could enjoy doing such things and raises the question of what exactly is ‘normal’ and if anything does lie outside some ultimate boundary.
Coincidentally, I read today about a study that looked into male and female sexual fantasies and tried to distinguish between what is normal and what is not. Here are some results:
- The nature of sexual fantasies are varied among the general population. Few fantasies can be considered statistically rare, unusual, or typical (see glossary).
- However, not surprisingly, the study confirms that men have more fantasies and describe them more vividly than women. The study also tells us that a significant proportion of women (30% to 60%) evoke themes associated with submission (e.g., being tied up, spanked, forced to have sex).
- Importantly, unlike men, women in general clearly distinguish between fantasy and desire. Thus, many women who express more extreme fantasies of submission (e.g. domination by a stranger) specify that they never want these fantasies to come true. The majority of men, however, would love their fantasies to come true (e.g. threesomes).
- As expected, the presence of one’s significant other is considerably stronger in female fantasies than in male fantasies. In general, men in couples fantasize much more about extramarital relationships compared to women.
This study only looked at the prevalence of fantasies to arrive at some judgment about what might be considered normal. It is not necessarily the case that what is rare, and thus ‘not normal’, need be condemned as wrong.