You Don’t Need To Touch Anyone’s Genitals To Empathize With Them
Buzzfeed has unleashed a monster upon us. Guys kissing guys for the first time, guys seeing each other naked for the first time, guys trying drag for the first time — all of this seemed fine at the time. It was a harmless handful of videos. But it spawned its whole own genre, with the YouTube channel The Human Experiment, which challenged lesbians to kiss men, gay men to kiss women, straight men to watch gay porn. And now we’ve landed on Bria and Chrissy, a lesbian couple whose tagline is “Face Your Fears,” and who have, finally, gay men touching vaginas and boobs, lesbians touching penises, and their latest, straight women touching other women’s vaginas for the first time.
One of the volunteers for the video says, “I think it’s very disrespectful and rude and offensive to sexualize everything that woman does. I’m not an object, I’m a human being who has interactions with other people, and they don’t have to be sexualized.”
Which dumbfounds me. In what situation in a straight woman’s day-to-day life, unless she’s an obstetrician, gynecologist, or midwife, would she have the occasion to touch a vagina in a non-sexual way? Sure, it’s offensive to sexualize everything a woman does. But it doesn’t seem very offensive to sexualize the specific act of a woman (or anyone!) touching someone else’s genitals in a non-medical context. It’s inherently intimate — and shouldn’t it be?
All of this is also identity tourism, and it reeks of the same ethos of “social experiment” YouTube videos that raise so many hackles. It’s the same basic set-up. Where social experiment videos have the people conducting the experiment, say, “pretending” to hit on women or “pretending” to be racist, identity tourism videos have (usually cis) men and women acting out being whatever is the “opposite” of their sexual identity.
And it’s about as effective at affecting actual change, for viewers, as social experiment videos are. Identity tourism videos are not actually an enterprise aimed at making their viewers more empathetic. Like all intentionally viral videos, they’re a way for the people who make them to do something provocative and get views. It’s not to say that occasionally a provocative video isn’t also informative, interesting, and thoughtful, it’s just to say that YouTube identity tourism has become its own little micro-industry, and let’s be honest, these videos are not deeply nuanced. It’s people touching each other’s junk.
If you are a straight woman who’s wondering what it’s like to touch another person’s vagina, imagine how it feels to touch a penis, but then replace the way the penis feels with the way your own vagina feels. (If you haven’t touched your vagina, touché, pun intended.) I think any intelligent human can figure that out.
Empathy for people who are sexually unlike you blessedly does not require touching anyone’s genitals. It just requires a little bit of imagination and a little bit of compassion. If you want to anyway and you have a consenting partner, cool beans! Just let’s not pretend that you’re doing it for the greater good.