Sunday, January 13, 2013

Discomfort with women's sexuality

As I've been seeing recent talk and discussion about rape culture and purity culture, I've become more aware of the culture's discomfort with female sexuality. I understand now how modesty doctrines equate to shaming a woman's body for being curvy and sexual, a.k.a. normal and natural. It brings back to me memories of teachings I received at bible college and of common jokes told or advice given.

The basic understanding that I and everyone around me seemed to accept, is that men are sex-obsessed animals, and women are demure creatures who don't have much of a sex drive at all. The fact that most women did have a sex drive was easily hidden, because sex was an uncomfortable enough topic that anyone who could pretend it didn't apply to them did it gladly. Male teens and young men were always lectured about masturbation and porn, because it was widely accepted that they naturally struggled with those things. Those talks were almost never given to girls or women. Even in settings where men and women were equally present and sexual immorality was the topic, the speaker would only call out the men to listen to what he had to say about masturbation. As a woman, I felt relief that I wasn't being put in the hot seat (hence why no women spoke up to clarify that women have natural sex drives, too). At the same time, it made me feel more ashamed. Because I did masturbate and had since puberty. I even enjoyed watching porn sometimes. But apparently that made me an anomaly, because women weren't supposed to be tempted by such things. Sure, every once in a while a pastor or teacher would say, "women can struggle with these things, too, you know," but it was always an afterthought, and it implied it was rare. No woman I knew had ever admitted to it. Seriously. Not even as a prayer request or admittance of sin. Not in a small group of all women. The thought of it was humiliating. Sexuality was not appropriate for women. The only time a woman would confess to sexual sin was when their boyfriend had pressured them into sex. It wasn't as embarrassing to admit to that because it was the man who wanted it, not them.

When it came to male-female relationships, it was common to joke about how men always wanted to be more physical while women put up with it. But the way in which women would talk about their men, it was clear they relished the fact that he wanted her and was attracted to her. Men wanted sex all the time in their marriages, while the women supposedly wondered what was the big deal about sex. That's why there are so many teachings for women to "give their husbands the sex they need." Women are pictured as sacrificial saints in their married sex lives.

Of course it wasn't always this extreme in reality; this is just the underlying impressions we all had being a part of this culture. But my generation was also raised within the new purity movement, where we were told that sex was great (only in marriage) and promised that holding out would reap big rewards in the form of an amazing sex life as soon as the wedding ceremony was over. Because of that, girls would speak of looking forward to sex after marriage. That was acceptable, because we were all supposed to enjoy marital sex--just not as much as our husbands. It was, after all, a blessing we should receive if we were pure, so we all looked forward to it and expected it.

Why did we buy into this story? It allowed men to be MEN and women to be pursued. It allowed the theology of complementarianism to look like it made sense. And let's face it, the secular world wasn't that much different in their discomfort with female sexuality.


  1. Agree with this post. I didn't masturbate because my purity culture had the opposite effect -- I just completely shut down all sexual feels together until I was a young adult.

  2. I recommend reading anything by Anna Terruwe (Dutch psychologist) for a much more developed view of human emotions, repression, desires, and sexuality than what you were given growing up. She helped me a GREAT deal.

  3. Because sexuality is complex. Many women do not want sex in their marriages because they feel sexually used. I once gave a talk to a large group of Hispanic women about women's sexuality and I mentioned this possibility. I was surprised by the affirmative reaction and comments that I got from so many women. Women have this feeling of 'being used' for sex more frequently than men do. That is why lust is damaging both in marriage and out of marriage.

    Things that seem one way when you are newly infatuated and dating someone can seem quite different when they have been weathered by time and experience.

    Women can also have issues with pornography and masturbation, but in the past it was much less common. Now it has become much more common and many more women and girls are exposed to it. It is a reality than men's sexual arousal reacts more to visual stimuli, whereas for women it is more complex, generally speaking, and is tied to relationship, touch, and other emotional factors. That is why things like erotic literature are more common for women whereas strictly photo-based pornography is more commonly directed towards men.

    Despite many protests to the contrary, numerous scientific studies have shown that we really ARE different.

  4. For this reason, a woman who understands men's sexuality and wants to do the right thing doesn't dress to make a big issue of her curves, etc. It should never be about being ashamed of your body. It's just a decent respect for other people's struggles and not making a game out of it.