The Typical Sex Life Fallacy

post by ozymandias · 2017-10-07T21:48:29.229Z · score: 108 (68 votes) · LW · GW · 293 comments

[Related to: Different Worlds.]

[Please note that this post contains explicit discussion of sexuality (without pictures), including discussion of my own sex life.]

[I have no moderation control, but I would definitely really appreciate it if further discussion of whether this post and ones like it are appropriate for LW move to here.]

My friend Andrew Rettek remarked to me a while back about the tremendous diversity in how people shower.

People may take anywhere between five minutes and forty minutes to shower. They may wash their hair daily, once a week, or not at all. They may wash their bodies thoroughly, only clean the parts that look dirty, only clean certain parts (such as the armpits or genitals), or just stand under the water. They may use a loofah, a sponge, or nothing. They may bring in a comb to comb out the conditioner. They may sing. They may zone out. They may jerk off. They may bathe instead, and bathing may involve reading a book or bath bombs or lighting candles and drinking a nice bottle of wine or bubble bath or none of those things at all. The one thing that is consistent is that everyone thinks the way they shower is the way normal people shower.

The reason for all this diversity, of course, is that after early childhood we don't shower together (except in locker rooms or as a form of sexual foreplay, both of which are likely to be unusual) and we rarely discuss exactly how we shower. We can get a certain amount of information about typical showers (such as length) from living with people, but again most people don't live with that many people, and the people they live with may be unusual. The rule follows: for things that are private and rarely discussed, there may be a good deal of unacknowledged diversity.

Sex is interesting because, while private, it is often discussed. People (including myself) have a certain tendency to deduce what sex is like for everyone from what sex is like for ourselves. As an example, consider pubic hair. There are innumerable thinkpieces about the pressure experienced by women to shave their pubic hair and the disgust of their male sexual partners if they are unshaven.

This has never been my experience. I have literally never had a man offer any opinion on my pubic hair whatsoever. If he did I would consider him to be an utter boor, I would never hook up with him again, and I would complain to my friends and expect all my friends to be sympathetic. My local norm is that, while of course one may have preferences about pubic hair grooming or genital size or coloring or some other traits, it is incredibly rude to voice any opinion about others' genitals other than "happy to be here!" Maybe if you're in a long-term committed relationship with someone you could bring up the topic politely, while remaining aware that their pubic hair grooming is their own business and you have no right to demand anything.

In the rare occasions where I've had the opportunity to find out men's opinions on pubic hair, they have often been enthusiastic. For instance, when I cammed, my clients universally preferred a hairy pussy. (As my ex-girlfriend used to joke, "the first day you cam you shave your pussy, six months in you start googling 'pubic hair thicker darker techniques.'") And of the men I know who have mentioned their opinions on pubic hair, most have been something along the lines of "I say grow that shit like a jungle, give 'em something strong to hold onto, let it fly in the open wind" (although they do not generally agree that if it get too bushy you can trim).

Do I think the thinkpiece writers are wrong? Probably not! I suspect they're accurately reporting what the dating pool is like for them and their friends, but for some reason it's different. Perhaps men who hire camgirls are older and have more old-fashioned preferences, or hairy pussies are undersupplied in mainstream porn causing their aficionados to seek out handmade artisanal porn, or a hairy pussy makes the camgirl look normal and attainable and clients find this attractive. Many of my friends are queer; perhaps queers are different from heterosexuals, and this rubs off even on the straight men around them. Maybe I spend lots of time in sex-positive communities, and we've successfully created a norm of body positivity, which means that people feel it is rude to make negative comments on other people's bodies. Maybe it's something I haven't thought of.

Another example: a few months back, I was reading an argument about polyamory in which a monogamous man said that he knew that poly men didn't really have girlfriends, because their wives would shut down this whole poly thing the second they started spending $10,000 a year on their new girlfriend, as of course everyone does. My first reaction was to make fun of it: who spends $10,000 a year on a girlfriend? What the fuck are you buying her, a solid gold pony shoed with diamonds? I want someone to spend ten thousand dollars a year on me, that sounds great.

(Topher: "I think that probably involves a lot of nice dinners at fancy restaurants with expensive bottles of wine, and you have a phobia of alcohol." Me: "they can buy me tea instead! you know how much really good pu'erh I could get for $800 a month?")

To be clear: while there might be some extraordinarily wealthy poly person who spends $10,000 a year on their girlfriends, in my experience of poly communities this is not true.  Typical dates include "taking a long walk", "getting a cup of coffee", "watching a TV show on Netflix", "being on Tumblr in the same room and showing each other cute cat gifs", and "taking care of a small child together". (Maybe that last one is just me.) If you get dinner, you can generally expect to split the bill, unless one person happens to be particularly poor or prone to forgetting their wallet, and the date is probably going to be at a $5 burrito place. In my experience, polyamory only starts getting pricey if you have to buy plane tickets to visit out-of-town partners or start letting all your partners stay in your house rent-free in the Bay Area.

But when I make fun of $10,000/year guy, I'm making the same error. I've generally only dated broke students, broke artists, and programmers, who while wealthy have a distinct tendency to drive old cars and refuse to wear any shirts not given to them for free. And even if I did go on a first date with someone who wanted to spend $10,000/year on me, I would wear sweatpants to the nice restaurant, not be able to find anything lacto vegetarian on the menu without custom-ordering some very depressing spaghetti with marinara sauce, and flinch away from the expensive wine as if it were a spider. At that point the question is just who rejects whom first.

Instead of assuming that the people I date are a random selection from the pool of All People Who Date Ever, I should assume that they're a biased sample: they're people I'm attracted to, who are attracted to me, and whom I even get a chance to meet and interact with at all. This is a pretty biased subset of humanity: no prizes for guessing why I don't typically date monolingual Swahili speakers.

And I'm unlikely to notice the other subsets of humanity even exist. While I can observe the existence of truck drivers, hockey fans, and other people far different from me, sex and romance are private, and I only get indirect evidence and self-report of what other people's sexual or romantic lives are like. It's particularly easy to assume that what it's like for me is what it's like for everyone-- just like it's easy for me to assume that everyone else zones out in the shower.

Therefore, I think it's a good practice to, when people make claims about dating or sex that seem ludicrous or bizarre to you, have as your first hypothesis that they are accurately describing some dating pool you are not in.

293 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Raemon · 2017-10-07T23:46:56.830Z · score: 52 (27 votes) · LW · GW

> The rule follows: for things that are private and rarely discussed, there may be a good deal of unacknowledged diversity.

I found myself wanting to highlight and upvote this point in particular, which I saw as a key takeaway here.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-08T00:09:36.038Z · score: 32 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I signed on to read apprehensively, and found a lot of interesting insight. In particular, while it seems clear in retrospect, I'd never actually had the thought:

"The rule follows: for things that are private and rarely discussed, there may be a good deal of unacknowledged diversity."

I also appreciated what I took as an implicit reminder that even what feels like a very large "n" to me might still be vanishingly small and skewed overall. There are lots of times that I feel like I've met over a hundred people who all felt the same way about the same question, and it's nice to remember that could be a single bubble in a boiling chaotic pot, or a single dark-colored stone on a beach full of stones of all kinds.

There was one part which took me by surprise, and seemed to contradict the overall message of the post, and it was this:

"If he did I would consider him to be an utter boor, I would never hook up with him again, and I would complain to my friends and expect all my friends to be sympathetic."

I couldn't tell if that was meant to be a "mea culpa" counterexample, where you were showing a thought you would have before remembering the thing about different strokes for different folks, or whether that's still your endorsed position.

If that's still your endorsed position, I think you must be imagining a different sort of circumstance than I am, because in the circumstance I'm imagining that's just way overreact-y and inappropriately harsh. I think what I'm drawing from that paragraph (which may be inaccurate) is a claim like "there is literally no way for someone to express any opinion or preference surrounding my pubic hair's appearance that isn't pushy or rude or uncalled for."

And I have a pretty easy time imagining someone saying something (even unsolicited) that's better said than swallowed and that I would advocate we should not have norms that strongly punish. In other words, I can see a range of things-a-person-might-say that would totally deserve the response you offered, but I can see a larger range of things-a-person-might-say where the example response you gave strikes me as 2-10x ruder.

Any interest in enriching my model?

comment by ozymandias · 2017-10-08T01:25:24.199Z · score: 22 (17 votes) · LW · GW

The norm among people I date is that it is utterly inappropriate to express a preference about someone's pubic hair unless you've been dating fairly seriously for at least a few months (and even then it's definitely a-favor-they're-doing-you rather than a-thing-you-have-the-right-to-expect) or they've explicitly solicited it. As to whether it's a good norm-- well, it's the one I'm used to and I haven't experienced another one, I have no complaints, but I can hardly compare it to others.

Perhaps the confusion is that in my particular dating pool it is not remotely uncommon for people to have sex with people they've just met. If I only had sex with people I've been dating for three months I'd consider it much more reasonable for them to have pubic-hair opinions.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-08T02:20:59.048Z · score: 31 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's more that I parse "offer an opinion" as a pretty tame/neutral/soft action (which may be the crux). There are certainly opinions that are rude to hold and rude to offer, but "offer an opinion" as a class seems to me to describe something far less intrusive than e.g. "criticize," "denigrate," "ask that you change," "make judgments about" or even "assert an opinion."

(This is why I posited above that maybe we're imagining different scenarios, although it's seeming more like we're imagining similar scenarios but just having different reactions to them.)

"Offer an opinion," in my head, conjures up something like a person making a nonverbal :/ and then their partner making a nonverbal :? and then the first person saying "Oh, I just like it better when people don't shave." Or perhaps someone saying "I think it'd look beautiful if you grew this out."

Presumptuous, to be sure, with the degree of presumptuousness depending heavily on tone and context and whether they're alive and responsive to their partner's reaction if indeed it was a hurtful overstepping of bounds. Certainly unambiguously rude, in a very real swath of possible cases.

(And of course, there are things that are much more presumptuous, that you might have meant to refer to with the polite handle "offer an opinion.")

But to me, that's a very different class than somebody, offhandedly and unsolicited, saying "You should shave." Or "What, no hair?" Or "What a mess." Or "Oh, never mind, [all of the reasons that made us think we were compatible and got us here in the first place are outweighed by] I'm turned off by that."

I think it's the norm in my subculture bubbles that if someone lightly oversteps the bounds of propriety by offering an unwanted and unsolicited opinion (as opposed to doing the stuff in the previous paragraph, which I think is better described by those other phrases), it's absolutely unjustified to write them off entirely as a person, sum them up as an utter boor, and complain about them to multiple other friends, possibly people in the same social circles. That seems way disproportionate to me, and a serious escalation, and the sort of thing that reflects much worse on the "doxxer" than on the "boor."

(And furthermore, it seems bad enough that it's worth these words I'm spending on it; from the inside this doesn't feel like making a mountain out of a molehill, it feels like pointing at something scary dangerous.)

I'm much more in agreement with you about the appropriateness of the described reaction in the cases that I'm filing under the categories "criticize," "ask that you change," etc., especially the part where you personally tag that person in your own head as "not worth dealing with" and never hook up with them again—that seems 100% justified, and something I'd explicitly validate if I were the friend being confided in.

Even then, though, unless the situation described to me is like 80th percentile bad or worse, I'd still try to uphold a "maybe we don't talk crap about people who aren't here to defend their honor?" norm. I think my sympathies end at the point where [my friend's sovereignty over their body and their sex life] ends, and the space of [gossip and status moves and social attacks] begins.

If it's something my friend feels others in the social space need to be warned about, for their own emotional and physical safety, that's one thing. But if it's someone who's taking a private interaction, interpreting it through their own lenses, reaching an uncharitable judgment, and then spreading that judgment around as if it represents accurate truth (with accompanying social pressure on others to agree, in the form of an expectation that they be sympathetic!) without the transgressor even being aware of the damage that's being done to them, and with no way for them to defend themselves or explain their perspective—

That sounds like a great way to build a toxic, fear-filled society where everyone's judged behind closed doors for honest mistakes and small social slip-ups, and where anybody with anything approximating social anxiety has to just stay home entirely because who knows, if I ever think it's safe to offer an opinion and it turns out I was misreading things and overstepping my bounds, I'll be immediately rejected as a person and gossiped about in private.

(I reiterate that I still have, in my hypothesis space, that we're just using the words "offer an opinion" differently, and that it may be that once I had a mental model of the thing you actually meant/have experienced, the space of disagreement collapses down to basically nothing. If you're using the phrase as more of a gentle euphemism for people being rudely and unsolicited-ly critical, then I think we more like 90% agree. But if the cases I describe in paragraph 3 result in the response you described in the original post, I suspect we more like 70% disagree about norms of appropriateness and which harm is fundamentally worse/more corrosive. I'd also be surprised, in that case, that such disagreement came from the author of this post, which I read as being all about recognizing that others have different culture from you, and That's Okay.)

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2017-10-15T23:28:51.273Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I move in circles where asking "why is X bad" is as bad as X itself. So for the avoidance of doubt, I do not think that your comment here makes you a bad person.

I'm trying to imagine a conversation where one person expresses a preference about the other's pubic hair that wouldn't be inappropriate, and I'm struggling a little. Here's what I've come up with:

  • A BDSM context in which that sort of thing is a negotiated part.

  • The two have been playing for a while and are intimate enough for that to be appropriate.

  • The other person asks, and gets an honest answer.

It sounds like none of these are what you have in mind; can you paint me a more detailed example?

comment by hamnox · 2017-10-09T02:38:22.262Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds like a great way to build a toxic, fear-filled society where everyone's judged behind closed doors for honest mistakes and small social slip-ups, and where anybody with anything approximating social anxiety has to just stay home entirely because who knows, if I ever think it's safe to offer an opinion and it turns out I was misreading things and overstepping my bounds, I'll be immediately rejected as a person and gossiped about in private.

In the case that you did not write this facetiously, I regret to inform you that some people already live in such a world.

I know Ozy hangs out in places at least adjacent to it.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-09T03:34:10.888Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah. I am aware that a lot of people already live in that world, and I even had a stereotype of Ozy being closer to those people than I, both in terms of knowing more such people/needing fewer steps to reach them, and also in terms of personally caring more about ameliorating that kind of issue. That's why I was really surprised to see that dynamic popping up endorsedly in an otherwise very-opposed-to-that-sort-of-thing post.

I've been feeling sort of sad about how there was no further comment from them on this question. As noted above, it seems really really worth hashing out. I notice that, at this point, I'm essentially interpreting the lack of reply as a lack of defense.

comment by lambdaepsilon · 2017-10-08T17:03:22.605Z · score: 23 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is strongly connected to the Typical Mind Fallacy.

I did a quick inventory of distortions that I recognize often [I live in a leftist techy-academic bubble full of socially and sexually permissive people].

Other people's properties that I overestimate because of my bubble:

  • Intelligence

  • Comptence (Imposter-Syndrome)

  • Knowledge (expecting short inferential distances)

  • Physical fitness

  • Available amount of leisure

  • Susceptibility to arguments and evidence

Stuff that is (relatively) easy for people in my bubble, but seems to be hard outside:

  • Reading a novel

  • Looking at the water

  • Discussing sexuality & relationship styles

  • Casual non-sexual touching (hugging, cuddling etc.)

And these are just properties where I deviate pretty strongly from mainstream society.

The rule follows: for things that are private and rarely discussed, there may be a good deal of unacknowledged diversity.

I agree. The Hamming-style question I now ask myself is:

'Which unacknowledged diversity is creating the most problems for me in social interactions?'

comment by lahwran · 2017-10-08T16:12:22.449Z · score: 23 (10 votes) · LW · GW

downvoting because linking to your own comment elsewhere on the same thread feels like spam in this context.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-16T05:46:30.749Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I find it amusing that you still think of yourself as a rational agent engaging in strategic, sensible behavior.

comment by gjm · 2017-10-09T20:11:47.155Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I commend this comment to the attention of the Sunshine Regiment, for its combination of stupidity, obnoxiousness, and perfect uselessness even if it were neither stupid nor obnoxious.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2017-10-08T00:25:02.814Z · score: 4 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Really liked the content of the post. But also somehow felt that some of the language ended up being a bit too... I guess "crass" for me?

I am usually working in an open workspace, and the language of the post made me feel like I wanted to quickly scroll by and to avoid having other people look at my screen while I was reading the post. This definitely had a serious impact on my reading experience, and made it very hard for me to engage properly with the post.

I am not sure what to do about this. I would probably end up feeling uncomfortable in a world where posts like this would fill the frontpage, and do find that the marginal post like this has a large impact on the degree to which I feel comfortable surfing the page in public, which is the vast majority of times I would visit the page. So, not sure. I am close to downvoting this post because of this, because I do think more content like this would have a large impact on my use of the page, but also feel a sense that this is just my personal preference and other people might feel very differently here. I will not vote on this post for now, but am interested in other people's input on this question.

comment by ozymandias · 2017-10-08T15:18:17.393Z · score: 25 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to suggest that this conversation move into Meta.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2017-10-08T23:15:12.810Z · score: -9 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Agree. Meta is the correct place for this. I think the future the sunshine regiment probably want so move things to there a bit earlier.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2017-10-09T02:24:37.551Z · score: -12 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Also, I will just be deleting all comments in this thread made after this comment. I don't want to clutter up the frontpage with more meta discussion.

comment by ozymandias · 2017-10-08T01:15:15.858Z · score: 20 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I'm also interested in people talking about this!

I was somewhat leery about putting this post on the front page, but eventually decided to since it had useful rationality content and there was not a clear guideline about NSFW content on LW (as there is about e.g. culture war stuff). I placed a content warning at the beginning to help people who might not want to read it avoid it. The title is something I'm unsure about changing: generally, I prefer to write titles that make it quite obvious if the article is about something people might want to avoid, but on the other hand I certainly don't want to make LW's frontpage something people feel uncomfortable browsing in public.

It occurs to me that by "crass" you might mean "number of swear words", in which case I can easily fix it if people object by editing the LW version of any post to be swear-word-free.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2017-10-08T01:32:21.112Z · score: -3 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I think the swear words made a reasonably large difference for me, and editing them out would have improved my reading experience a good bit.

(To be specific: "pussy" is clearly a swear word for me, "sex" is not. This line also irked me: ""I say grow that shit like a jungle, give 'em something strong to hold onto, let it fly in the open wind")

comment by ozymandias · 2017-10-08T01:20:16.931Z · score: -18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Also, I note that it's a problem (in terms of ability to opt out/my occasional attempts to apply rationality to sex not ruining everyone's ability to browse LW in public) that even if I put it on my personal LW blog the *comments* would still appear in the recent comments feed. (Perhaps I should direct the people on Thing of Things who want to discuss their shower habits over here. :) )

comment by Zvi · 2017-10-08T01:25:32.623Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · LW · GW

For the feature list we could have the option to have comments on some posts not appear in recent comments, and/or allow people making comments the option to have their comment not appear on the recent comments page. I remember someone (I think it was you but I'm not 100%) noting that they raised their comment-threshold because comments would clutter up recent comments; if we could opt out of that we could give positive-feedback and other low-signal-but-worth-sending comments while making the recent comments feed better.

comment by DragonGod · 2017-10-08T13:51:52.462Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I strongly support this.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2017-10-08T01:28:51.537Z · score: -11 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I think in the long run comments on personal posts shouldn't show up on the frontpage, unless they hit a certain karma threshold, and authors should be able to prevent comments to be posted to the frontpage at all. For now the comments on the frontpage are one of the primary ways people discover posts that are posted to people's personal blogs, so I think until we have better discoverability I would want to leave the default as is.

comment by weft · 2017-10-08T14:57:12.916Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I support NSFW filters that are opt-in-able, because I don't want other people to feel uncomfortable browsing LW. However I appreciate this style of writing. It reads as more natural to me, and is therefore easier for me to parse. And if I personally had an interesting insight I wanted to share, I'd rather not have to worry about signalling class here.

I'll also note that I had a strong emotional reaction against the "anti-vulgarity" posts here, because I've had people explicitly tell me I need to change the way I talk if I want my ideas taken seriously (in a casual, non-work-related setting), in ways that made it obvious that they were trying to gain social status over me and not actually trying to be helpful (I do not at all think that is what is going on here). But I will note that a handful of people supporting anti-vulgarity policies makes me feel like I don't belong, even though I don't think I ever posted in vulgar or natural speech on LW. I do not necessarily endorse this emotional reaction, just pointing out that it occurred.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-08T00:55:28.189Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That was the source of the "apprehension" I listed above (a prediction based on the title that it would go that way) and while I found it non-problematic, I also note that I was reading alone in a private room. I estimate with 80% confidence that had I been reading at work or around other not-close-friend acquaintances, I would have had an experience that resonates with yours.

comment by cata · 2017-10-08T01:09:54.440Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would much rather solve the problem of reading-in-public with clear content warnings than restricting how explicitly people talk about things.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2017-10-08T01:35:00.954Z · score: -8 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I also somehow missed the content-warning at the beginning. Probably because it didn't have a paragraph break after the "related to" section, and so I parsed it as part of the "related to" section. So I guess this is a small piece of feedback on making sure there is a full paragraph break there.

comment by ozymandias · 2017-10-08T01:44:08.533Z · score: 31 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Edited.

comment by Raemon · 2017-10-08T06:17:14.765Z · score: 22 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Longterm I'd resolve this with tags for NSFW, Sex, and/or Vulgar Language, which can get filtered from Front Page (possibly with some base filters people have the option of turning off)

comment by ozymandias · 2017-10-14T17:09:24.555Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand how this comment is related to the post. My uncharitable instinctive assumption is that you've noticed I am trans and do trans-positive blogging elsewhere, and have chosen for this reason to say an unkind and irrelevant thing. But perhaps there is some more reasonable explanation I am failing to model.

comment by DragonGod · 2017-10-08T13:31:41.633Z · score: 0 (30 votes) · LW · GW

[Content and responses removed by habryka since this is more appropriate in meta, and the comment was already crossposted]