From how we do it to whom we do it with, sex is personal — but is it linked to our politics?
The stereotypes about our political personalities are ubiquitous, especially in the United States. From the promiscuous, birth control using Democrat who supports Planned Parenthood, to the truck balls owning, toxically masculine Republican affirming his “alpha” position by ridiculing his perceived enemies as “cucks”, our views on politics are often linked (in appearance, if not in actuality) to our views on sex. But what kind of sex are Republicans and Democrats actually having? Do our preconceived notions of the parties line up with what’s really happening in their fantasies?
I was surprised to see this discussion on a recent episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, a longstanding comedy-news talk show. Though the findings were reduced to a quick punchline, the study Colbert referenced was real. Published in a book entitled Tell Me What You Want, Dr. Justin Lehmiller surveyed 4,175 adult Americans from all 50 states, collecting data on a variety of different situations, people, political figures and other potential turn-ons. The analysis shines an interesting light on the American sexual psyche.
Republicans, for instance, were more likely to fantasize about activities that involve sex outside of marriage like infidelity, orgies and partner swapping, including 1970s-style “key parties” and modern-day forms of swinging. Republicans also reported more fantasies with voyeuristic themes, including visiting strip clubs and practicing something known as “cuckolding” which involves watching one’s partner have sex with someone else — specifically someone who is better in bed than you are. (This is the origin of the term “cuck,” which has become a popular pejorative in modern Republican and “Proud Boy” online communities).
Democrats, on the other hand, were more likely to fantasize about sexual activities that involved power dynamics, such as BDSM. In fact, the largest bedroom disparity between Republicans and Democrats was their interest in masochism — enjoying pleasure through the experience of pain. Spanking, bondage, and dominant/submissive roleplay were far more likely to titillate Democrats than Republicans.
Dr. Lehmiller’s theory about these differences between the parties boils down to a mainline through the human psyche regardless of politics — the appeal of taboo. It’s easy to see where these marked disparities may come from when viewed through this frame. Republicans are guided by a party platform that touts the “sanctity of traditional marriage,” which would make any sort of non-monogamous exploration verboten. Meanwhile, Democrats may be drawn to power exchange because their party so staunchly stands for equality. Dr Lehmiller writes, “The appeal of the taboo stems from a long-standing principle of psychology known as reactance — which stipulates that when our freedom is threatened and we’re told we can’t do something, we want to do it even more. Many a parent has discovered this principle and used it to their benefit in shaping their children’s behavior through reverse psychology: Frame the desired act as something your child isn’t allowed to do and you just might get what you want.”
There were many similarities between the fantasy lives of those surveyed, as well. Markedly crossing party lines was the inclination toward trying new things, whether they be new partners or new experiences. Additionally, almost everyone surveyed reported that they enjoyed situations and scenarios where they felt validated and competent, indicating that we seek to fulfil our emotional desires even in our fantasies. Behind all of our political slogans and kinky fantasies, it would seem that humans are still striving to meet the same set of psychological needs.
While one cannot jump to conclusions about our sexual proclivities based on survey alone, it’s important to note this data and frame it within the greater spectrum of knowledge. Our sexuality is of course not solely the product of our politics — but this research shows that the two appear to be linked. It stands to reason that the frame with which we view the world would also be the frame with which we view ourselves — and our sexuality.
Brehm, J.W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1967-08061-000
Lehmiller, J. (2018, August 28). Tell Me What You Want. https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/justin-j-lehmiller/tell-me-what-you-want/9780738234953/
Lehmiller, J., Scher, B., Greenfield, J., and Alberta, T. (2018, October 27). Republicans and Democrats Don’t Just Disagree About Politics. They Have Different Sexual Fantasies. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/10/27/sexual-fantasies-republicans-democrats-politics-221919
Schwartz, D. (2016, August 01). Why Angry White Men Love Calling People “Cucks”. https://www.gq.com/story/why-angry-white-men-love-calling-people-cucks
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. (2018, November 03). Republicans And Democrats Have Different Sexy Thoughts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3neoZaTEUeM
Urban Dictionary (n.d.). Truck balls. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=truck%20balls