Posted by: Beverly Dale | January 12, 2010

What Problem? Sex Sells!

Daniel Bergner, who writes periodically for the New York Times, began 2009 with an article entitled “What do Women Want?” It was a summary of research by various  sexologists studying the underlying cultural and biological factors that affect women’s fantasies and desires. Everyone is in a quandary at to what works sexually for women.  After Thanksgiving Bergner’s  second article “Women Who Want to Want,” was published. This one focused on the phenomenon of women who are “plagued” by low sexual desire. The fact that these articles were published in such a prestigious newpaper, of course, confirms once again that “sex sells.” However, it is instructive to note that the focus of both was on the “problem” of women’s sexuality, something that men have obsessed over since, at least, the Victorian age.

Now it is true that the US does not “do marriage” very well. We marry younger and more often, divorce faster, and remarry sooner than any other culture. (See Andrew Cherlin in Marriage Go Round.) And the music we export to the world reflects our idealized and romanticized view of intimate relationships that is totally out of sync with daily life and intimate relationships as they are actually lived.  So re-examining what we believe and teach about marriage, romance, and intimacy might help us understand our sexual issues. But Berger’s interest is women’s sexuality in particular. Other than the sexist notion that women are the problem, we might want to examine the conflicting and destructive messages that women hear.

When I asked a group of young men what kind of women they respected, I heard: those who don’t come on too strong, those who come on strong, those who are sexually experienced, but not too experienced, and those who are virgins. Come on! How can women win here? College-age women are expected to be sexually enticing but are then penalized and called “sluts”  if they say “yes,” or if they are sexually assertive or even worse, God forbid, if sexually self-confident.

In addition to these crazy rules, we send such destructive messages about women’s bodies, size, shape, color, fashion etc. that few college aged women are comfortable in their own skin. It’s hard to find anyone unapologetic about being a sexual person. Timidity, low self-esteem, and ambiguous or contradictory societal gender and sexual rules are bound to create issues impacting the desire and arousal for women of any age. So, will someone please tell Daniel Bergner women are not the problem here? The problem is how the sexual game of objectification of the female body in the hook up culture is being played.  While sex may sell newspapers and most other products in the US, we are deeply conflicted about sexuality, and, women pay the price for that.

And, while we are at it, the (Western) Christian church only makes it worse by failing to present a sex-positive message, or worse yet, by allowing the sexually repressed faith  perspectives to be the only voice talking about (and against!) sex!

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