Sex Really is Disgusting After All, Just Like Your Mother Told You

This article, Feelings of Disgust and Disgust-Induced Avoidance Weaken following Induced Sexual Arousal in Women, published this past week in the science journal  PLOS ONE, goes a long way to explain why we do all those disgusting things mentioned in my earlier post, Every Single Disgusting Thing the Human Brain Can Imagine, even though the acts are, you know, disgusting.  From the article:

Saliva, sweat, semen and body odours are among the strongest disgust elicitors. This results in the intriguing question of how people succeed in having pleasurable sex at all. One possible explanation could be that sexual engagement temporarily reduces the disgust eliciting properties of particular stimuli or that sexual engagement might weaken the hesitation to actually approach these stimuli.

In my defense, I was pretty drunk that night.

So that explains (maybe) why we go ahead and have sex during our periods, and give one another golden showers, and let that creepy guy with the greasy hair (he smelled of cheese, too) tongue kiss us.

I love reading science journals because I’m always left shaking my head and wondering “What crazy fuck thought up this experiment?” and the researchers who wrote this article didn’t let me down. I’m sure one of them had a mom like Margaret White,  the mother of Carrie from the classic horror film (and Stephen King novel of the same name).

Margaret White:  I can see your dirty pillows.  Everyone will.

Carrie:  They’re called breasts, Mama, and every woman has them.

My own mother was so discomfited by the subject of sex that she explained menstruation to me while we were

Keep your eyes on the road, both hands on the wheel, and let’s talk about sex.

driving in the car, with me in the backseat, her eyes glued to the road ahead of us and both hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles were white.  She breathed an audible sigh of relief when I answered “No” when she asked, “Do you have any questions?”

Other than menstruation, my sexual education came from girlfriends, who generally knew less than I did.  Then, when I started dating, I learned a bit more from boys, who generally had more experience than I did.  I remember a friend in sixth grade explaining French kissing to me, and thinking there was no way she could be right about this.

Me: He puts his tongue in your mouth?

Friend: Yes!

Me: In your mouth?

Friend: Yes!

I guess you can imagine my reaction when I found out about the other things boys wanted to put in my mouth.

I’m left wondering if we really are disgusted by “saliva, sweat, semen and body odours” as the researchers from this experiment seem to believe.  Growing up, I remember punching my little sister in the stomach after she took a sip of my soda because I was so disgusted by the thought of her spit trickling down the inside of the straw and into my drink.  But today, I’ll happily use the same fork as my husband because I’m too lazy to unload the dishwasher to get a clean one.  And sweat?  Come on.  Semen, of course, does seem a little too much like snot, and snot really is revolting, so maybe they’re on to something there.

There’s a great book, aptly titled That’s Disgusting, about disgusting things and why we find them disgusting but I don’t recommend reading it right before you’re about to have dinner.

Or have sex.

Royalty free stock photos including the images in this post can be found at Stock.XCHNG

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11 thoughts on “Sex Really is Disgusting After All, Just Like Your Mother Told You

  1. Ralph says:

    Hi Karen. Talking about sex should be more open. We all do it or at least think about it (thinks:). I wouldn’t go up to a woman in the street and ask for sex even if she worked in the second oldest profession. The first being politicians and bankers. 🙂 It’s a pleasure like eating. We all talk about food so why not sex. (My! I’m talking to a woman about sex! Giggle! Giggle!) It’s crazy how people react. We should enjoy doing it and talking about it. Take care Karen. Ralph x

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      • Ralph says:

        I agree with you about the older generation. I am at the talking stage as I am working on getting a girlfriend with help from my friends as they are fed up with me flirting with their wives.Great fun. 😀

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  2. GreedyFrog says:

    Does this make your whole blog disgusting then? 😀
    You are right though, it is strange how what you would normally find disgusting is acceptable when you are having sex.
    But there are still limits though: I am pretty sure most people find golden showers revolting, for example. Although judging from the questionnaire in your previous post, “disgusting” clearly means different things to different people.

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    • Karen says:

      Yes, it does make my whole blog disgusting. 😉

      I’m not sure if I agree with the premise that the researchers started out with in this experiment: that we find certain things disgusting, e.g. saliva and sweat. I tried to make this point in the post (I guess I wasn’t successful!): it’s like these researchers are squeamish eight year olds, running around shrieking about boogers and poop. At a certain point of your life, suddenly spit isn’t so gross, and you’ll gladly let that cute guy stick his tongue down your throat.

      I kinda stopped being grossed out about anything after my first gynecological exam. I mean, after you come through and you see the that the physician doesn’t recoil in horror and scream “OMG! You’re so gross!” you kinda realize, hey, we’re all kinda of slimy and sweaty and gross and it’s not a big deal.

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      • GreedyFrog says:

        I see what you mean, but would you not be grossed out if a not-so-cute guy stuck his tongue in your mouth? I know I would 😀 . To me, it’s not really spit, or sweat (or worse) that is disgusting, it is who it comes from.
        I think there is something about attraction or love making you see “disgusting” things in a new light.
        It isn’t just sex acts either; since I have become a mother, my daughter has weed, pooed and vomited on me numerous times, I have never felt disgust. But I am pretty sure I would be grossed out if someone else’s child pooed on me.

        Or maybe it’s just me 🙂

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  3. overthinkingmind says:

    This is great!
    The article was really intresting and the story of your mum is hilarious, mine avoided the subject all together by buying me some books with one about sex and puberty hidden in between others!
    I have never been particullary disgusted but when you think about it, it is rather gross! However, only having been with people who do the ‘normal’ stuff in bed I guess I haven’t seen how gross things CAN get.
    Again, brill post!

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    • Karen says:

      Thanks! Let me say your Mom was absolutely ingenious with hiding the puberty books in amongst the others. I think my Mom would have been too mortified to purchase books on that subject. Today she would be able to anonymously order them over the internet, with no nosy book store clerks passing judgment on her purchase of “What’s Happening to Me?” (yes, that’s a real book).

      Ah, progress.

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      • overthinkingmind says:

        Haha, you’re very welcome 🙂
        I think my Mom rationalized that buying would be easier than actually speaking to me and that if she bought enough no one would notice haha 😛
        Oh god, I am so glad my Mom didn’t have the internet, she’s so unaware of it and what you can buy on it I’d probably end up with a dildo and the Karma Sutra!

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