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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Having the heart for sex

The most clicked story on the BBC website today concerns a study comparing the emotional profiles of over two thousand female twins. The hypothesis from the study is that sex is largely governed by emotional intelligence. Apparently, a third of all women find orgasms difficult or impossible to achieve and this study suggests that the ones who gain most are those who have high emotional intelligence.

Now, in my reading of the primary texts, which cannot be regarded as comprehensive, emotional intelligence became faddish a few years back, with the work of Daniel Goleman and its application to the business world where women were often excluded for their lack of the cold reason prized by men. The men themselves proved often enough that they found it difficult to motivate staff and engender loyalty because they could not appeal to their emotional worlds. Goleman’s work stemmed from that of Howard Gardner’s publications on multiple intelligences which provided a critique of school systems that relied only on literacy and numeracy to grade pupils. Gardner proposed that we have a variety of intelligences which should be valued, equally. Gardner’s work was not validated by empirical studies but is still hugely influential.

Recently I watched a National Geographic travelogue treating the wombs of twins in much the same glossy style as a Michael Palin walkabout in foreign climes where people are funny because they act differently different from Brits. The main insight was that there are many variations between even ‘identical’ siblings. It raised scepticism regarding all research based on twins, in my mind at least, as, despite the scientists’ beliefs, they are not actually comparing like with like.

Emotional intelligence is not so easily measured, and it may not even be a constant feature of personality. Some days empathy is high and others not. Women may have more of it than men but there are striking exemplars of either gender who can reach out to others and understand and help solve their problems. When it comes to sex, as usual we are in a murk. It is the old nurture nature debate. According to this research we have emotionally tuned orgasmic females on one side and, sadly, a deficient third who lead a less than fulfilled sexual existence. And where do the skilled purveyors of sexual engagement, who have learned their trade as geishas, gigolos, courtesans or prostitutes, stand in this heart-brain controversy? Are they more likely to employ emotional intelligence or are they cool and calculating and good at faking it?

The problem with concepts such as right and left brain, male and female behavioural traits and emotion versus reason is that they appear to have some validity at large population levels which are often confounded in the case of individuals. The third of women who appear to be missing out on the fruits of the heart and therefore the body are not served well by being told that their emotional intelligence is too low to secure them the rights to an orgasm. It sounds too Barbara Cartland to be scientific, doesn’t it?.


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