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« Death By Spam | Main | High-carb/Low-carb »

January 11, 2004

How Structuralist Is Your Fantasy Life?

Michael:

I don’t know if you agree with me, but consulting myself, I guess I would have considered sexual fantasies to be the most personal mental activity a person could engage in, and thus almost certain to be wildly individualistic. I mean, on the face of it I would think such fantasies should be as individual as snowflakes or fingerprints or DNA.

As a result, it always strikes me as odd that the truth seems to be exactly the opposite. Although there are certainly a large number of such fantasies, the number seems oddly finite. If someone is intrigued by some erotic element, say ‘X,’ then it is almost certain that he or she will not be alone in this interest. In fact, it is likely that there will be whole websites devoted to ‘X’ no matter how arcane or ‘specialized’ a taste it might be. Given that these websites are mostly financial ventures with up-front costs to recoup, the existence of a sufficiently large group of consumers devoted to ‘X’ is an obvious assumption being made by the businesspeople behind them. The very existence of these websites, or any other commercial vehicles (books, magazines, etc.) offering what is presumably arousing content, suggests the shared nature of such fantasies.

So what could the fact that our erotic fantasies appear to be shared, rather than individual, mean?

I obviously don’t have a definitive answer to this incredibly important question, but I can list a few hypotheses:

The structuralist hypothesis: It’s possible that erotic fantasies are made up of a finite number of building blocks, so to speak. A limited number of sexes, a limited number of primary and secondary sexual characteristics, etc., a limited number of relationships that seem to attract sexual fantasies (e.g., authoritarian relationships, relationships with some type of ‘other,’ etc., etc.) and voila—grid them all out into a multidimensional matrix and you have a large-but-finite universe of sex fantasies, with a larger or smaller number of individuals clustering at each of the intersections. Of course, this hypothesis doesn’t explain why some intersections would be so much more populous than others.

The viral hypothesis: Perhaps a large-but-finite number of sex fantasies have a sort of underground life of their own, and ‘infect’ our brains, using ‘culture’ as a transmission vector. Maybe we catch sex fantasies from books, movies, T.V. shows, slutty girls who wear too much eye shadow, etc. Again, this doesn’t explain why each of us is resistant to most—probably the vast majority—of these mental viruses.

The strategy hypothesis: Sex fantasies might be practice, so to speak, for different ways to play the game of sex. Since sex is in many respects a competitive activity, different fantasies might correspond to different competitive strategies. As in many games where there isn’t a single ‘best’ strategy, with sex it might often be best to adopt a contrarian one; hence, there would be a large number of sexual fantasies corresponding to a number of sexual strategies. But because there could be a limited number of strategies that make any sense at all, there would also be a limit to the number of fantasies in the population. (It’s even possible that the comparative effectiveness of various strategies might change over time with changing circumstances; maybe strategies that are ‘marginal’ today—and consequently labeled 'kinky'—might become super successful tomorrow in a different world.) I will grant you, this hypothesis doesn’t lay out a detailed mechanism for how sex fantasies prepare us for real world sex.

Granted, these are merely three hypotheses. And no doubt there are many more possible hypotheses in this area, each with potential strong or weak points.

To really get to the bottom of this vitally important phenomenon would take years of field and laboratory research. It’s a big task, but I think we should volunteer to undertake it, as long as someone out there is willing to lavishly underwrite the years of study we will have to devote. (Offers of financial support can be emailed to 2blowhards.com.)

What do you say? It seems like as good a way to while away the next few decades as any, no?

Cheers,

Friedrich

posted by Friedrich at January 11, 2004




Comments

"As a result, it always strikes me as odd that the truth seems to be exactly the opposite. Although there are certainly a large number of such fantasies, the number seems oddly finite. If someone is intrigued by some erotic element, say ‘X,’ then it is almost certain that he or she will not be alone in this interest. In fact, it is likely that there will be whole websites devoted to ‘X’ no matter how arcane or ‘specialized’ a taste it might be. Given that these websites are mostly financial ventures with up-front costs to recoup, the existence of a sufficiently large group of consumers devoted to ‘X’ is an obvious assumption being made by the businesspeople behind them."

But those websites do nothing to throw any light on the existence or nonexistence of sexual kinks that have too few devotees to support such websites.

There may well exist huge numbers of sexual kinks that are subscribed to by tiny groups, or even lone individuals, while completely escaping the attention of the rest of humanity, while a comparatively few have much larger followings.

In fact, given some of the kinks that haven't escaped the attention of the rest of humanity, I'd suspect the ones that have escape the attention of the rest of humanity remain well-hidden for good reason.

Posted by: Ken on January 11, 2004 6:40 PM



Who knows? But the third, "strategy" explanation feels pretty intuitively unconvincing. If sex fantasies are supposed to give you practical preparation for the world of real sex, they are doing a pretty bad job of it, unless your daily life involves a large number of sudsy car washing by bikini clad blondes.

Posted by: williamsburger on January 11, 2004 7:00 PM



We're not that smart. We're also rather fond of the familiar, the tried and true. This is the case no matter what sort of fantasy you talk about.

So you get a limited number of tropes, and woe betide the fellow who tries to introduce a new one.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on January 11, 2004 10:58 PM



Time for some academic to do a long, tedious study of the subject. I wonder if a kind of database of fantasies could be made up, and I wonder how many root or archetypal ones there are.

I wonder too, as porn on the web gets ever more competitive, about churn. Food companies, I read somewhere, come up with thousands of new products every years, and only a few hundred make it commercially. (My made-up figures, but it was pretty impressive.) I wonder if something similar is going on with the marketing of sex fantasies. I wonder if the porn producers are forever trying out new ones, and what percentage of the new ones actually stick around for a while.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 11, 2004 11:47 PM



Personalities mixed with environment and past experiences makes for a good fantasy 'niche'. When it comes to websites, many focus on the physical features (one row of the grid), and the other variables would be actions, attitude, setting, ect.

I have a little experience with online adult content and I assure you that producers ARE always trying new stuff. I guess the best word to describe what they are doing is 'specializing'. A few years ago, there was no need to specialize. Now the market is so competative, you must have a specific niche market to excel. (or just have good, solid, fresh, content)

Posted by: Daniel Kovach on January 12, 2004 9:03 AM



One way to approach this would be to look at possible fetishes that (virtually) nobody has. For example, a big chunk of the human race is made up of old ladies, but I've never heard of anybody having an old lady fetish.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on January 13, 2004 11:49 PM



As someone who finds Jungian thought a useful metaphor, some combination of the structuralist and viral models feels about right.

And Steve, a moments research on the Internet will acquaint you with enough "old lady fetish" sites (just type the phrase into Google) to give you nightmares for years. I defy anyone to come up with a fetish that no one has or can have.

Posted by: Dave Trowbridge on January 14, 2004 1:52 AM



I think Steve Sailer needs to get out more! I think there are entire websites devoted to "old ladies" as he put it.


Posted by: annette on January 14, 2004 5:20 AM



"Grannies," as I see they're called at the sites I drop by ... But it's a good point: what might examples be of fetishes no one has? Would make for a good party game too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 14, 2004 8:47 AM



I landed on your blog three jumps from I don’t remember where, and decided to take a look around. Dare I say that I enjoyed this post and the others I meandered through, while admitting that half of it went over my head? I feel like Tom Hanks’ book-editor girlfriend in the 1998 movie, “You’ve Got Mail”, as she expounds on how much she likes columnist Frank Navasky (played by Greg Kinnear), even though she rarely understands what the hell he’s talking about. I guess that’s life some days.

Happy blogging,

Lauren

Posted by: Lauren Michele on January 14, 2004 12:41 PM



Lauren Michele:

Thanks for the nice words. Just don't confuse the fact that we can't write clearly with the idea that we're supposed to be smart. Actually, I'm not sure the fact that we don't always write clearly means we're dumb, exactly, but it does probably mean that we're lazy, insofar as it takes a lot longer to write something clearly than it does to dash off something half-comprehensible. Of course, I shouldn't really say we, because Michael writes better and more clearly than I do.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 14, 2004 2:10 PM






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