Book Excerpt: Mind-Blowing Sex: A Woman's Guide by Diana Cage
For those of us who are not skinny, white, young, or exotic, there is no model of sexuality at all. We are assumed to be, or at least are portrayed as, sexless. This sort of cultural reinforcement makes it difficult to experience our sexuality in an autonomous way. What would female sexuality look like if we grew up away from media, away from messages about gender norms, racial stereotypes, and religious moralizing? I don’t know the answer—do you? We have difficulty imagining what we actually desire because there are few visible options, other than those that exist to serve and reinforce the dominant culture. We have nothing to objectify but ourselves and other women. We’ve learned to love strip bars and girls gone wild because they all feed into our desire to be desired. But how do we experience and express desire for another?
Desire, sexual satisfaction, and orgasm truly are fraught more often for us than for men. It isn’t because we are less sexual, dysfunctional, deviant, or frigid; it’s because the ways we have been taught to fuck don’t always serve our own sexual needs and desires. It’s not that our sex lives are terrible—far from it! Most of us have great sex pretty often, and are willing to accept the not-so-great times as a normal part of having a sexual relationship. I believe, though, that we can make our sex lives even better and more satisfying by taking the time to learn and to teach our partners about our bodies and sexual responses.
Since ancient times, sexuality has been defined through an androcentric model, meaning that male sexuality is seen as the reality of sexuality, while female sexuality is deviant if it doesn’t follow or complement a male pattern. With male sexuality at the center, expressions of female sexuality get labeled as pathological. For instance, the accepted model of sex—which includes desire, arousal, and orgasm, in that order—doesn’t necessarily reflect women’s experience. Sometimes we have desire but no arousal, or arousal but no desire, and we don’t always end up with an orgasm. This gets us labeled as sexually dysfunctional.
In a widely publicized 1999 study of female sexuality, 43 percent of women ages eighteen to fifty-nine were described as having female sexual dysfunction, with “low desire” being the most common reason for the diagnosis. Forgive me for not being willing to believe that nearly half the female population is dysfunctional.
Men and women don’t necessarily experience desire the same way. Social conditioning reinforces a model of male sexuality that assumes men are expected to have “innate sexual needs” and the desire to conquer a woman in order to get them met. The more sexual conquests he has, the more manly, dominant, and appropriately masculine a man is seen as being. Women, on the other hand, are taught to please while simultaneously being inundated with negative messages about sex. It’s very convoluted. Women end up with a model of sexuality wherein they are allowed to be sexual only by male permission.
The androcentric sexual model has left female sexuality in a complicated place, and we haven’t really had the time to figure out what we need and how to get it. But once we understand that there is no such thing as a “natural sexuality,” then it becomes pretty clear that there is no reason why women wouldn’t have their own sexual needs that look different from men’s. I believe that once we change our thinking, we’ll naturally change the way we have sex and re-create our sex lives in ways that better satisfy us.
As with arousal and orgasm, the common way we understand desire is modeled on male desire, and male desire is more often of the spontaneous variety: A man sees something he wants, gets a hard-on, and feels desire for sex. Additionally, a man’s sensation of desire is reinforced by the visibility of his erection. Women’s physical cues are easier to overlook, and studies show that even when we do experience physical signs of arousal, we still may not experience desire for sex.
Research sex therapist Rosemary Basson has proposed a new model for female desire, what she terms “responsive desire.” While men may commonly experience desire in the form of spontaneous genital tension that they need to relieve, some women are more apt to experience desire related only to specific erotic stimuli. Many women who consider themselves sexually satisfied don’t experience spontaneous desire in the form of genital tension, and without any erotic stimuli, they may not crave sex or masturbation very often. This doesn’t necessarily mean that women crave sex less often, only that those of us who experience this responsive model of desire need to seek out erotic stimuli in order to get turned on.
Usually for us, sex is a conscious choice, and we seek arousal because we want to have sex, instead of seeking sex because we are suddenly aroused. We may decide to have sex because even if we aren’t aroused in the moment, we know that once we get started, it’s going to be great. Because the desire part doesn’t come first, we create it by purposefully seeking out what we need in order to feel turned on. For some of us, that means looking at porn or reading erotica; for others, it means fantasizing. It could also mean getting ready for sex by masturbating, knowing that once we get started we’ll become more aroused. Women who aren’t experiencing desire as often as they’d like can learn to enhance their experience of desire by training themselves to trigger it by involving themselves in things that turn them on.
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