Taking Female Sexuality Out of the “Male” Box

Mon, 04/04/2011 - 08:27
Submitted by Anonymous

I just finished reading some of the posts at the apparently defunct blog Ways Women Orgasm Forum, and I was deeply moved by some of the things that the author, Jane, had to say. Probably, because I have experienced some of these issues myself.

She describes herself as “bitterly disappointed when sex did not deliver the easy arousal portrayed in erotic fiction.” In spite, of the fact that she was able to have orgasms during masturbation, she found sex with a partner to be a real challenge and reported that she “never felt anything like the same sexual arousal during sex with a lover.”

For many years, I suffered the same problem - and apparently so have many other women. According to David Buss and Cindy Meston in their book Why Women Have Sex, women are twice as likely to orgasm during masturbation as they are with a partner. In my case, I was easily orgasmic alone but had to really work at with a lover – plus, the orgasm left much to be desired (the big bang felt more like a little hiccup).

At least, I am orgasmic. Over 20% of women never come at all – under any circumstance. Which is to say the least, a big whopping problem. Within the last few years, the politically correct term for this whopper is female sexual dysfunction (which sounds better than the old one, frigidity).

Women’s “elusive” satisfaction has provided a huge pond for Big Pharma to fish in and has papered the wallets of countless book and magazine writers.  But in spite of all this interest, women still remain horny and frustrated or maybe, more appropriately, “not horny” and "frustrated".

Jane goes on to describe some of the reasons she believes are behind this mess, and I agree with her thinking about the "effects" but not about the “causes” of women's sexual woes. She writes:

Unfortunately, although only a relatively small sample of women exhibited sexual desire, the popular message was that all women could potentially be as strongly driven by sex and orgasm as men are....Women who did not enjoy sexual arousal and orgasm during sex as easily as men did were now considered to be abnormal, either ‘inhibited’ or even ‘frigid’ (terms never applied to men).This new definition of female sexuality implied that, once relieved of the old-fashioned female inhibition, truly modern and liberated women’s minds and bodies would respond just the same as men’s had always done. Women were pressured into exaggerating both their sexual desire and their sexual arousal as well as faking orgasm.

I agree with much of what she says here. I think that our culture puts a tremendous amount of pressure on women to be sexy and sexually responsive. Not enjoying sex has now become the taboo that being a slut was for earlier generations. Nobody wants to be considered a prude - or God forbid, hung-up. The problem I have is that she later goes on and says that:

Sex is fundamentally about male sex drive. A man’s erect penis is the symbol of this hormonal drive to thrust until ejaculation. If women have a reproductive drive at all then it is an emotional drive to raise their children. They certainly do not have the same biological drive to reach orgasm during sex that men experience.

This is precisely the same argument that Joan Sewell makes in I'd Rather Eat Chocolate, her memoir about learning to accept her low sex drive. And I think that it reflects a common view of female sexuality. That women are inherently less sexual than men, and our supposed "problems" are all the result of our hormonal makeup. Jane, at least, takes into consideration that how women process sex may be a contributing factor. But still comes to the conclusion that this is just the natural order of things. 

Well, yes and no.

Yes, women often put up with bad sex, and yes, we don’t process our sexuality the same as men. But no, our hormones don’t render us incapable of climbing the same erotic heights as men. Our cultural conditioning does. If you want to see just how far we haven’t come in regards to gender equality, take a look at our sexual norms. Forty years after the women’s movement, we still define sex in male terms, as vaginal intercourse, an act that most women don’t and can't come from.

Let me repeat this one more time because our concepts of sexual normalcy make it hard to see the truth or the injustice. Kind of like how a battered child doesn’t see herself as an abuse victim because being beaten black and blue is her view of normal.

We define sex by an act that most women don’t come from – in some cases – ever.

Plus, this act is considered to be practically mandatory for heterosexuals. If we look at sexuality from an objective perspective, our fixation on intercourse is not only unfair to women but just plain weird. After all, intercourse is not a risk free act – especially for a
woman. There’s not only the danger of an unplanned pregnancy, but STDs, and HIV to think about.  Meanwhile, we’re not getting off. So, where’s the payback here?

Now, I’m not opposed to bonking, after all, it is the reason we’re all here. But let’s face facts, the clitoris is the primary female sex organ – it develops out of the same exact embryonic tissue as the penis. For most women, it is the clearest route to nirvana, and the only reason for its existence is to send the female body into the pleasure zone.

And yet, we still continue to treat clitoral play as an appetizer to a main meal.  Too often, the clit is regulated to foreplay with the expectation that orgasm will arrive from intercourse - which is a little like expecting a man to climax from having his balls played with. Culturally speaking, we're trying to fit female sexuality into the “male” box and then wondering why many women would rather eat chocolate than fuck.  

Yes, some women manage to orgasm hand-free from intercourse (around 15-35%).  And many women (me included) love penetration, which stimulates the internal parts of the clitoris. As far as I'm concerned, nothing on this planet feels better than a combination of clitoral and vaginal stimulation. That's why the rabbit vibe is so popular. However, not every one feels this way. Some women find the two together distracting. And frankly, they should be able to define sex however it works best for them. Unfortunately, our view of heterosexual sex doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for self-definition. And that's the problem.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote in Male and Female that how orgasmic women were in a given culture was correlated with how much that society valued female pleasure. Societies that love orgasmic women usually have a broad sexual menu where even the fussiest female can find a way to enjoy herself. Societies that don't value female satisfaction restrict sex to what men enjoy.

Case in point, the island of Mangaia. Anthropologist Donald Marshall found that most Mangaian women were multi-orgasmic and had numerous lovers from an early age. Both boys and girls were educated by their elders in the art of lovemaking from the time they first began having sex at puberty. Anorgasmia in women was unheard of. While on the Inis Beag, a small rural community off the coast of Ireland, female orgasm just didn't happen - and if it did, it was considered weird.

The social status of women is highly correlated with their sexual satisfaction. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago found that gender equality was associated with greater sexual satisfaction for both men and women. The researchers looked at 29 countries, and compared them on sexual satisfaction levels. They found that in highly male dominated countries, like the Middle East, only 38% of women reported that sex was gratifying, while about 70% of westerner's reported satisfaction.

Western society still suffers from clitaphobia though, and it takes many forms. For one, there is the widespread verbal circumcision of the female anatomy. We don't talk about the clitoris, and we call the female genitals by the wrong name, (i.e.,vagina). The clitoris, not vagina, is the equivocal organ to the penis. When I was 14, l learned where my clitoris was and how to orgasm (thank you, Shere Hite). Somehow, I can’t imagine a 14 year old boy not knowing what or where his dick is.

In a study conducted jointly by Minnesota State and Royal Roads Universities on clitoral knowledge, researchers found that most of the participants had never heard of the world clitoris until they were well into their teens - often after becoming sexually active. One young woman said "I don’t remember ever being told that a clitoris is a normal part of a female’s body." I'm with you, sister. I never heard the word as a child.

This was also true in a 1998 study that looked at students in a human sexuality class, only 1% of participants had heard their mothers mention the word clitoris. Most had learned that "vagina" referred to the entire female anatomy. Many women never hear the word clitoris used in their homes, among their friends, or on television.

One of the problems with calling the female genitalia "vagina" is that it makes it harder to define sex on your own terms because "your terms" are are so inconsequential that they are never included in the vocabulary. From the standpoint of popular culture, your clit doesn't exist and therefore needs no attention.

And it is also true that the way women are socialized to view sex puts us at a distinct disadvantage in the heterosexual bedroom. Jane mentions that one of the problems she had was that she fantasized while she masturbated and that she couldn’t easily do this with a partner present. I can relate to that one too.

The clit doesn’t usually stand at attention because of a partner’s nudity or from the mere sight of something sexual the way the dick does. Many women are more aroused by their own randy thoughts and by the emotional elements of a sexual encounter than they are by looking at a lover’s six pack.

Men are more into visual stimulation than woman, and this a taken-for-granted gender difference.  However, what are the ramifications of this difference? Personally, I believe that this has a profound effect on male and female arousal. Male arousal is grounded in the body - something concrete, static, and not subject to change at a moment's notice. It is also something subject to classical conditioning - the old Pavlov and the dog thing here. [Explanation: Pavlov conditioned a dog to drool to the sound of a bell by repeatedly ringing a bell and presenting meat. Eventually, just the bell alone caused the reaction].

Men form very tight associations between their own arousal and the physical (or visual) aspects of sex, and they reinforce these connections over and over again by looking at porn, fantasizing, and masturbating. Plus, heterosexual sex is set up to provide them with an ever-present orgasmic payoff. Men appear highly sexual because their responses are so conditioned that they are automatically triggered by sexual stimuli. And our priaptic media plays on this male vulnerability to sell everything from cars to toothpaste.

So, is male randiness really about testosterone- or is it about hardwired associations?

Women, on the other hand, don't make these connections as well. We are discouraged from masturbating (hard to do when you don't know you have a clitoris because it's called a vagina), we are not socialized to find our partner's body all that exciting, and heterosexual sex often doesn't provide much of a payback.

The end result for women is that there is often a disconnect between sexual activity and their own gratification. In other words, we don't sexualize sex. We romanticize it as a way to fill in the orgasm gap between men and women. And unfortunately, this make actual physical arousal harder to come by because you can't condition a physiological response (like arousal) by using an emotion as a stimulus. An emotion is, by its nature, fragile and easily changed. This is one of the reasons why women have more problems getting and staying turned on than men. Our arousal is simply not anchored in anything stable.

Sometimes, fantasy can help fill the gap, but as Jane points out, this can be tough to do with a partner present. Fantasizing during sex means you are less likely to attend to your partner's needs - a no-no for women. I would argue that there is no reason you can’t lose yourself in a fantasy with a partner. It simply involves giving yourself permission to focus on your own feelings and stop thinking so much about what he wants.

That, of course, is the hard part making your own sexual satisfaction as important as your partner's, defining it for yourself, and being able to reveal it to a lover. Not easy in a culture in which a woman still make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. And not an easy task when genuine female sexuality is culturally invisible and what is visible is a pornified facsimile of female desire.

Another part of clitaphobia is the restriction of sex to a small number of sexual acts, which is so different from female masturbation. And it is one major reason why many women fail to transfer their orgasmic abilities to a partner’s bed. Women are far more creative in how they masturbate than men. And as Margaret Mead pointed out, a broad sexual menu is key for most women's orgasmic satisfaction. Hite found that women humped teddy bears, used shower massagers, and squeezed their thighs together all in the name of a good come.

Once again, I argue that even the wackiest masturbation technique can and should be used with a partner, if you think outside of the aforementioned box. So what, if the only way you are able to orgasm is with a teddy bear.  Maybe you could do some age play, or he could stroke you, while you hump teddy for all its worth. This doesn’t mean you can’t expand your repertoire beyond teddy – just that it’s okay to use what works for you.

It's time we stopped pretending that women don't need sex or orgasms - that we’re okay with scraps rather than a four-course meal, and the only thing we are looking for out of sex is intimacy. Natalie Angier once said that the idea that we women don't mind if we come or not makes as much sense as saying  homeless people are okay with being homeless because they “ like living outdoors”.

I have only one response to that kind of bullshit “remember Lorena”. You know, the petite South American with the apt last name of Bobbitt. When asked why she attempted to neuter her husband, she replied:

“He always have [sic] [an] orgasm and he doesn't wait for me to have [an] orgasm. He's selfish.”

Orgasm is not the be-all and end-all of sex for either men or women. Sometimes, the journey is more important than the destination. But sometimes, the journey is a long boring trip in a hot car going nowhere. And most women don't have a choice whether to pursue the destination or the journey. Many of us are stuck with the journey because of social norms - not out of personal choice. Hite has argued that what we really need is a new definition of sex based on individual pleasure.  And as she very succinctly put it:

…sex can evolve beyond orgasms. Sex can be transformed to become an individual vocabulary of erotic gestures, combining bodies to reach high states of arousal and desire, beyond a quest for orgasms by either woman or man. Sex can become something new, something we have not yet seen, something that we all now create by taking private, very courageous, steps.
       Now, that would be a real sexual revolution...

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LilithLand, I love your

Mon, 04/04/2011 - 15:19
deera (not verified)

LilithLand, I love your posts.  I agree mostly with this one.  The only exception is that women are not, for the most part, visually stimulated.  I know of a few women, including myself, who get sexually aroused by looking at good porn, erotic art, etc.  I happen to be bisexual so I don't know if this has something to do with that or not.  I have heard some women complaining that there isn't much to look at these days.  Men don't seem to take care of themselves and many of them look very unhealthy.

Maybe the reason some women aren't able to be turned on is that they are just bored with their partner and need a new lover.  Not all women are monogamous as society would like us to be.  I find staying turned on in a long-term relationship a difficult thing to maintain.

Hi Deera, What I was mostly

Tue, 04/05/2011 - 00:57
LilithLand (not verified)

Hi Deera,
What I was mostly referring to here is the fact that a
lot of women don't seem to sexualize the male body as much as men do
the female body - even women who look at porn. I know that I can be very turned on visually but just looking at a naked man isn't going to do it for me. Also, men do buy and look at porn more than women. I was pondering the ramifications of this. I think it is very significant and largely disregarded by research scientists. So, many areas in general about sexuality are sadly neglected by science.

I agree with you about there not being a lot of stellar man candy around for women to get excited about. Particularly, in my age group. Where I live a lot of men just let themselves go, while women bend over backwards to stay attractive. Not good.

What an Excellent Read

Tue, 04/05/2011 - 09:03
fan (not verified)

I also enjoy your posts as I am 40's on that endless "journey". Thank You.
Have you read the female comments on www.secretsocietyofwomen.com as it relates to sex?  There is a real disconnect with how heterosexual sex is viewed by both partners.  A ton of angst.  Painful especially as it relates to affairs. Majority of women enter them because of a marita problem, even revenge.  However, many men can seek an affair for no reason other than just wanting a jolt, something new. Sadly, the marital advise to women has been to stay attractive, practice date nights and tend to spouses sexual needs and the man will not stray. I think that works in reverse.  Women can be content to be content. The reality is if the opportunity is there men can separate their need for recreational sex from marital sex.  They are not looking for a LOVE affair. If they were free to without the threat of losing family they would venture to include both types of sex in their life. They also have the support of other men.  The women beat up and blame each other. Women at first are on board with "just sex" only for so long before they daydream of a life with the new lover. I too seek to feel special not just feel orgasm. Are women naturally more monogamous or is it societal?  Maybe we do have a higher purpose than just finding someone to "get off" with. Personally, I am torn between giving up as so many disenchanted women do or conforming with the male model- sex just for fun, physical not romance.  Guess it's worth a try.

I totally identify with those intangible thoughts/fantasies that provide my Pavlov response. It is priceless and those are all mine!

Hi Fan, You bring up a lot of

Wed, 04/06/2011 - 14:05
LilithLand (not verified)

Hi Fan,

You bring up a lot of good points, and thank you for the website link. It looks very interesting.
Are women naturally more monogamous or is it societal? 

I really don't think that women are naturally that monogamous. In most of nature a fertile female will mate with as many males as possible to sample a wide variety of sperm in order to produce the healthiest offspring. Research has shown that the vagina plays a major role in reproduction by helping to transport high quality, genetically compatible sperm to the egg. In some animals, the female will literally eject the sperm of poor quality partners after sex.  All of this points to the advantages of non monogamous sex in terms of reproduction. 

With that being said I think people in terms of how much sexual variety they need. Some need a lot; some not so much. Because men have traditionally wanted to limit women's sexual opportunities, we had to make do with a lot less in some cases, while men might have felt under the gun to have more than they wanted.

I understand your dilemma about wanting more from a sexual relationship. I too would like to  have a whole package. It can be difficult at our age to find.

Ways Women Orgasm

Sun, 04/10/2011 - 05:34
Jane Thomas (not verified)

Hi there,
Thanks for publicising my blog 'Ways Women Orgasm'.
Just to say that it is not defunct - would be intertested why you gained that impression.
I am attempting to get women talking about sex, which is very difficult.
In particular I am asking women to say how they achieve orgasm with a partner. It is noticable that so far very few women are willing to provide details that are believable.
Hence my forum exists to illustrate how mysterious this aspect of sex remains even today in our supposedly liberated world.
I would be happy to have an e-mail exchange with your ideas.
Kind regards,


Mon, 04/11/2011 - 15:39
scott faulkner (not verified)

lil darlin,
i'm sixty, so i grew up in "the sexual revolution"  and i was  a handsome young rake and charming enough have tumbled with with well over a hundred women.   i was at least 50 before i learned what a clit was or that tha little button had more nerve endings than a ten inch cod.  how sad is that?
my exwife, we are still close friends, told me she never once reached orgasim through intercourse, and she would not let me go down on her (believing her coocheesnorcher unappealing to eyes, nose, and tounge)  she would not let me diddle her with a dildo either.  i do not know who to blame for so much remorseful sexual ignorance....  so pervasive in the world i know.  if i could have read your blog info when i was 14 my sex life would have been so much richer, and i would have shared more pleasure.  i was with several gals who really enjoyed intercourse, and were bound and determined to get their rocks off too. and i remember the girls before allowing intercourse going absolutely bonkers with long bouts of making-out grinding my hand in their drawers.  still so much ignorance.

my education sucked in the end.   three of life's most important things ignored, didn't learn crap about how money or sex works.... and very little about nutrition.

thank you, and good luck in your educational endeavours.  i'm a old film and video guy, write me a  script.

Hi Jane, I am sorry I guess

Tue, 04/12/2011 - 21:42
LilithLand (not verified)

Hi Jane,

I am sorry I guess at the time I didn't see any new posts. So, I thought it was defunct. My bad. I agree so many women don't tell the truth about female sexuality because it is so controversial. It is very important to get women to tell the truth about sex. I would love to have an exchange of ideas with you.

Hi Scott Falkner, Gee, I

Tue, 04/12/2011 - 21:50
LilithLand (not verified)

Hi Scott Falkner,

Gee, I wonder how many people have had your experience? I know that my mother was born in 1930, and I seriously doubt she EVER had an orgasm. Dr. Betty is only one year older than my mother and a lot luckier. She is still alive and orgasmic. Growing up in a culture in which the clit is NEVER discussed puts everyone at a disavantage. I think it is really tragic that the most important things in life (and you highlighted them) money, sex, and health are totally ignored. I was very lucky to have come of age during the 1970s and 80s I learned from Shere Hite where my clit was.

So then how...

Fri, 07/08/2011 - 15:25
Spire (not verified)

"That, of course, is the hard part making your own sexual satisfaction as important as your partner's, defining it for yourself, and being able to reveal it to a lover. Not easy in a culture in which a woman still make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. And not an easy task when genuine female sexuality is culturally invisible and what is visible is a pornified facsimile of female desire."
So then how do I get my wife to see this picture? She was raised in a " Mastrubation is a sin " type of household and she shuns anything I bring up past the basics. I put her "O" before my own, but it's hard to handle sometimes when she dosn't do that for herself.
"So, is male randiness really about testosterone- or is it about hardwired associations?"
I fell that the wireing can be rerouted with a bit of assertiveness on the lovers part. Tell your partner what you like and want. If that dosen't work then try a little nudge in the right direction here and there. Not all men are as astute to what is being told to them. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor of sorts when I became sexualy active. So my wireing was ran to take care of my lover before myself.

Hi Spire, Frankly, it is up

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 22:25
LilithLand (not verified)

Hi Spire,
Frankly, it is up to your wife to develop her sexuality. If she can't or won't, you've done all you can. I would suggest buying one of Betty's videos - maybe 13 Masturbating Divas and try to watch it with her. See how she reacts. Just a suggestion.

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