Monday, September 21, 2009

Yes, let's talk about sex

Catherine Morgan brings up an important issue in her post on BlogHer: Can We Talk About Sexual Dysfunction? It's true that in the face of all the cultural mythology about sex, and women and sex, open dialogue can be truly helpful. But the way we go about this dialogue, and the assumptions that guide it, merits special attention. Sometimes the myths are embedded in the dialogue itself, and this can hamper real progress. So I think the first step is to highlight the myths and be aware of them as the discussion proceeds.

Here's one that jumps out at me. Morgan quotes Laura Berman saying, "Good sex is all about intimacy, sharing, trust, and making yourself vulnerable to your partner." I assume she's talking about good sex for women, in the women-are-all-about-the-emotions-while-men-are-all-about-the-visual tradition. And I have a few thoughts about that. First, it may be the case that many women self-report as being turned on by and interested in the emotional aspect of relationships more than the physical/sexual stuff. And that's to be expected, given our conceptual framework which depicts women (real women) as emotional beings. After all, the way we describe our experiences is mediated by the worldview and conceptual framework we inherit from our culture.

Then there's the fact that women who are interested in sex that may not be in a loving relationship are sluts. Let's not forget that in our culture it's only OK for a woman to be interested in sex within a properly sanctioned hetero relationship. Obviously most women who have grown up in this environment will have internalized this message. And if you've internalized the message that enjoying sex in this way makes you a bad person, you're probably not really going to enjoy it all that much. Or you're not going to cop to enjoying it. So no doubt many/most women do find sex more enjoyable in the context of a loving relationship. Emotional intimacy probably is integral to their sexual pleasure. But let's not assume that they're just wired this way or something. My bet is that this has as much to do with the way women are constructed socially as with their biology.

Which brings me to the next issue. Even if many women do experience sexual intimacy this way, it is still not the case that all of us do. And for those of us who don't, being constantly told that women aren't interested in casual sex and aren't primarily visually stimulated, could lead to sexual dysfunction. At the very least, it's super irritating. No matter who you are, being told that you're abnormal and, by extension, unfeminine, is problematic. Some of us have had really good sex outside of hetero constructs and committed relationships. Others only feel comfortable enough to be sexual in a secure and loving relationship. And that's OK. But continuing the discourse with these limited conceptions of what female sexuality can look like is limiting and othering to those who don't conform. And that is a perfect recipe for dysfunction.


  1. Sterling9/21/2009

    Yet another feminist proclomation on how fun promiscuity is. great.

  2. Sterling,
    Your comment is very original, well thought-out, and applicable to this particular post. Or not. Also it's spelled "proclamation."

  3. Maybe its all about finding the balance between having sex, fucking, and making love.

    With the emphasis on balance more than any conceptualization of any form of sex.

  4. Steven, that seems right to me. Like there's a time and context for everything, so why get so fixated on this one particular version of it?

  5. Anonymous9/21/2009

    I think this caricature of female sexuality is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche that it informs the science on the topic. Unintentionally, I'm sure, but the questions you ask and the way you structure your research and interpret the data already incorporates this assumption about differences between men and women. And of course it's an unquestioned foundational belief as far as therapeutic pursuits go. And I assume that's where the Bermans are positioned.

  6. Anon,
    That seems right to me.

  7. Lizzay9/23/2009

    Maybe it's like this. Our society as a whole is still sort of alarmed at the idea of women as autonomous sexual agents. So "sexperts" like the Berman's have to adhere to these tropes about women only wanting sex in the context of a loving and intimate relationship so that people won't shout them down and cut their funding. It's like a deal they made in order to be allowed to occupy their niche. Only this deal sort of negates any good they might have done.