Sunday, July 10, 2011

Female Sexuality

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Female Sexuality Piecing Together the Enigma and Clarifying Myths

Understanding our sexuality is such an important part of being human. Seeking out information to not only clarify but correct myths and piece together the sexual puzzle is essential if we, as females, want to live full, happy, and healthy lives. The purpose of this paper is to explore many issues surrounding female sexuality. In the first part of the book, I plan on discussing the differing perspectives of sexuality along with defining what the term actually means. In order to do so, many dimensions of sexuality will be explained. These dimensions include biological, psychosocial, behavioral, clinical and cultural.

Historical perspectives are then discussed. Throughout history there have been many people who have contributed to issues surrounding sexuality and are important to note. Sigmund Freud was one of the first, who demonstrated the importance of sexuality in human lives. Havelock Ellis was another pioneer in the area of sexuality, who attempted to explain psychological causes of sexual problems. Alfred Kinsey, upon discovering the apparent lack of information on human sexual behavior, set out to collect information using questionnaires to get direct feedback from people. Masters and Johnson, a M.D. and behavioral scientist respectively, observed and recorded physical details of human sexual arousal. Their work has really helped to change contemporary thinking on sexuality. Also, Shere Hite conducted a nationwide survey for females from a wide range of ages, asking many questions regarding their sexuality.

In continuing, I will delve into the issue of sexual responsibility and its historical roles. History, had assigned males the role of sexual responsibility, while females have been given the role of sexual acceptors. Upon explaining the double standards established back during the Industrial Revolution, I will present a timeline. Included in this, will be the light shed on sexuality in the 150’s, as more information was discovered by researchers such as Kinsey, historical roles began to change. Then I will discuss what has been happening in the last decade.

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The next section covered, will be of the stages of sexuality, beginning with childhood. Here, I will go over the physical dimensions of sexual arousal in young infants, along with the importance of closeness and touch in the early stages of life. Also covered will be the importance of educating children on sex.

I will then discuss adolescence. In early adolescence, the double standard becomes more apparent, and passivity plays a major role in young females. As puberty sets in, physical changes take place such as breast development, pubic hair growth, the female body changes shape, and menstruation begins. Additionally, there a psychosexual aspects covered that include the increase in occurrence of fantasies and sexual dreams. At this time, masturbation usually begins, and adolescence attempt to become more independent from their parents.

Adulthood is the time of life when important life choices are being made and perspectives on sex changes. As middle adulthood sets in, there are physiological changes that occur for women such as menopause and sexual burnout. Psychological changes also occur which may include mid-life crises. And during late adulthood, I contradict the common ignorant thought; sex is for the young and beautiful.

Orgasm is the next topic I will discuss, explaining what exactly it is, or at least thought to be, such as the vaginal orgasm and the clitoral orgasm. There has been controversy over the two, and I will explain the reasons behind them such as women lacking understanding of the anatomy of their bodies, along with the phallocentric view of orgasm.

I will also explain the G-spot, along with when the term originated, and where the spot supposedly is, although it has yet to be scientifically proven. Also, I suggest that perhaps this spot is more phallocentric than anatomical.

Furthermore, along this topic, includes the technology used to create orgasms. I will explain the history of instruments used by physicians to cure women’s “hysteria”, which was thought to have two sources female masturbation was thought to be unchaste; the failure of intercourse to produce orgasms regularly in women. The original vibrator was used by physicians to aid in curing this “disease”. During the 10’s, vibrators began to disappear from doctor’s offices. However, in the 160’s, they reemerged as sex aids.

Finally, I will touch on masturbation, and how our culture does not accept masturbation as a natural process (especially for women). Using The Hite Report, I will illustrate women’s feelings and thoughts about masturbation, further contradicting society’s view.

Sexuality Different Views

Sexual perspectives are not the same for every person. Both internal and external forces that have molded our views of sexuality have affected each one of us. These forces range from personal experiences to cultural and social effects. Although all people do share in common the existence of sexual feelings, attitudes, and beliefs, every person’s perspective differs. Therefore, it is important to recognize the many views to help paint a detailed picture of sexuality that can help us in so many ways. Awareness and recognition enhance our ability to not only deal with and prevent problems that may arise in our lives such as impotence, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual harassment, but also help educate our children, and most importantly, helping to fully develop our intimate relationships and increasing our sexual satisfaction. In order to broaden our understanding of sexuality, we can divide up sexuality into different studies from biological, psychological, behavioral, clinical, and cultural perspectives, keeping in mind that learning about sexuality is really the study of human nature. (Johnson, Kolodny, and Masters, 185, p.)

Everyone knows what sexuality is, don’t they? So, what is the definition of sexuality? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, on page 66, sexuality is defined as “The condition of being characterized and distinguished by sex.” Now that really does not give us a clear understanding of the word. A woman by the name of Webster once wrote “I’m not sure if I used to know what ‘sexuality’ meant and forgot, or whether the meanings of the word have become so varied that nobody knows what anyone is talking about. Or have the norms, which informed the meaning, been so radically shaken that new meanings must be identified and put into language that reflects new realities? Maybe we never really knew what it meant, and some of us just pretended that we did.” (Daniluk, 18, p.6) Many writers have attempted to explain what they think sexuality means. Sigmund Freud came up with his own interpretation of the word when he wrote, “One would certainly think that there could be no doubt about what is to be understood by the term ‘sexual’. First and foremost, of course, it means the ‘improper,’ that which must not be mentioned.” (Johnson,, Kolodny, and Masters, 185, p.4) On another extreme, sexuality has been expressed a bit rawly than the past two remarks when Miller wrote, “ ‘ Francie, you bloody fucker,’ I used to say, ‘you’ve got the morals of a clam.’ ‘But you like me don’t you?’ she’d answer. ‘Men like to fuck, and so do women. It doesn’t harm anybody and it doesn’t mean you have to love everyone you fuck, does it?’” (p.4) Other writers have attempted to define sexuality by emphasizing the physical expression if interpersonal intimacy, along with relational components. (Daniluk, 18, p.7)

Looking over these definitions, sexuality appears to be more about what each woman defines as sexual, rather than what some textbook, scientist, philosopher, or writer states. Sexuality is defined by its meaning of the experience to each individual woman. This might help to explain why the term is so difficult to truly understand. Since there is no single answer regarding the definition of sexuality, exploring the dimensions of sexuality may help us to better understand the term.

Sexuality’s biological dimensions include but are not limited to our physical sexual development, from conception to birth and our ability to reproduce according to Johnson, Kolodny and Masters, (p. 7) Additionally, biological factors affect the human sexual desire, functioning, and even satisfaction. These forces may even affect behavior, causing females to respond less aggressively than males. Furthermore, when individuals feel “turned on”, there are specific biological events that take place such as a faster pulse, one’s face may turn red, sexual organs respond, and even a feeling of warmth may envelop a person. (p. 7)

Psychosocial is another dimension of sexuality, which explains sexual development in people and helps to identify sexual problems. (p. 8) Basically, this dimension includes what we feel, behave, and think about contact with others. From birth on, we all interact with different individuals and groups that help shape and mold our sense of gender identity. Many of our perceptions on sexuality are based on what others have told us and been exemplified for us, giving basic guidelines on what to do, and what not to do.

In the behavioral dimension, we go one step further from observing the biological and psychosocial dimensions, in that the focus becomes not only what people do regarding sexual behavior, but also how and why they do it. (p. 8,) In this dimension, the actual activity, or behavior is what is observed. When examining these areas, we all need to remember that we can not base what others do on our own ideas of “normal” simply because that is what we do. Every person is unique and carries their own experiences and values, therefore, there is no such thing as “normal” simply because you or I do something that we believe should be thought of as such.

The clinical dimension, attempts to identify and resolve sexual problems that cause people to fall short of experiencing sexual satisfaction. Such problems may include feelings of depression, anxiety, guilt, or even such physical ailments as the flu, breaking a leg, or using drugs. The clinical dimension looks to overcome and find solutions to these types of problems. According to Johnson, Kolodny, and Masters, over the past two decades, there have been two key changes that have contributed to the success of this area; a more complete understanding of the many dimensions of sexuality, and the science of sexology, which is the study devoted to sex. (p. )

Finally, the cultural dimension is an important part of sexuality that must be recognized. Each culture varies on sexuality perspectives. (p.10) In America, for example, our culture is accepting of being more open sexually. Just turn on the television and watch five minutes of the Jerry Springer Show and it will be obvious what is being suggested. In other cultures, such as in India, it is less acceptable to express sexuality openly. Each culture hold differing morals, which many times, tie into religious traditions. However, having morals does not necessarily mean one must be religious. The point is, each culture carries different feeling regarding sexuality, and different levels of acceptable and not acceptable behaviors.

Sexuality Historical Perspectives

Throughout history there have been many people that have contributed to the issues surrounding sexuality. Notably, one of these pioneers was Sigmund Freud (1856-1). Freud was a Viennese physician, who was able to demonstrate the importance of sexuality to human lives. (p. 18) His contributions were, and still are considered genius for his ability to construct his original discoveries into an organized and persuasive theory. “Freud believed that sexuality was both the primary force in the motivation of all human behavior and the principal cause of all forms of neurosis, a mild form of mental disorder in which anxiety is prominent and coping skills are distorted although a sense of reality is maintained.” (Johnson, Kolodny, and Masters, p. 18) He created many concepts related to sexuality such as the Oedipal Complex which basically states that male children are attracted to their mothers, therefore causing a distorted mixture of feelings toward the father such as love and hate, all at the same time. Additionally, Freud had the notion that girls felt something call penis envy, in which they were jealous and had feeling of inadequacy toward the lack of a penis. (18) Although today, many of these theories have been dismissed, Freud’s theory of an elaborate mental process called psychoanalysis, is still used much of the time. Psychoanalysis is a technique that uses free association, dream interpretation, and analysis of feelings and behavior to investigate mental disorders. ( The American Heritage Dictionary, 18, p.555)

Around the same time of Freud, an English physician by the name of Henry Havelock Ellis (185-1) also wrote a book about psychological causes (rather than physical causes) of sexual problems. The book was titled Studies in the Psychology of Sex (187-11) and addressed the common occurrence of masturbation in both sexes at all ages, and was against the Victorian notion that “good” girls and women had no sexual desire. (Johnson, Kolodny, and Masters, 185, pg. 1) This book caused great controversy and was banned for a number of years.

Alfred Kinsey (184-156), was a zoologist at Indiana University, who when asked to teach a college course, was stunned by the lack of scientific data on human sexual behavior. (p. 0) So what Kinsey set out to do, was administer questionnaires to students directly, regarding their sexual history in the hopes that these questionnaires would bring about detailed information in order to assist in learning about human sexual behavior. This small project grew and over the years to follow, Kinsey interviewed thousands of men and women across the country. Finally, in 148 Kinsey published his findings in , Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which was widely accepted, selling over 100,000 copies within a few months. The book was based on face-to-face interviews with over 1,000 people from all different areas. Then in 15, with Paul Gebhard (colleague), Kinsey published a book titled, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. (p.1) Initially, this book was not so widely accepted. Actually, many people saw the book as offensive, with many newspapers and even the church denouncing it.

“Kinsey died in 156, embittered and disillusioned, but the impact of his energetic investigations was to be strongly apparent in the years ahead.” (p. 1)

William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, were a physician and a behavioral scientist at Washington University Medical School in St. Lois. They believed that in order to fully understand human sexuality with all of its complexities, anatomy and physiology as well as psychological and sociological data must be understood. (p. )

They too believed as Kinsey, that there was a lack of information regarding human sexuality. So what they did, was decide to use a laboratory approach. In 154, they began observing and recording physical details of human sexual arousal. In 166, they wrote a report after observing over 10,000 episodes of sexual activity entitled, Human Sexual Response, that identified the four phases in the human sexual response cycle excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. At this point in time, the generally repressive attitude toward sexuality was beginning to lift and the book was able to captivate the public. It was around this period, that Masters divorced his wife, and wed Johnson. They continued their research and publication efforts in the years to follow publishing many books from Homosexuality in Perspective, Human Sexual Inadequacy, Heterosexual Behavior in the Age of AIDS, and many others. Thirty years since their first study, Masters and Johnson’s work has been considered to be among the most significant in the areas of sexual functioning, sexual problems, and therapeutic interventions. Although some of their work is still criticized, they have helped to change contemporary thinking about sex, including assisting in moving society toward a more open discussion of sexual practices and experiences.

Shere Hite published The Hite Report A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality in 176. What Hite did, was distribute to about 100,000 women ranging in age from 14 to 78, a questionnaire about sexuality. Hite included about ,000 self-reported results in her 478 page book which also contained statistical analysis, with most of the book comprised of candidly open accounts, opinions, and complaints, relating to questionnaire respondents. (Hite, 176) Although there were many who openly criticized her book, most women felt a sense of reassurance by reading it since other women were so frank with their opinions and encounters. Shere Hite surmised that most women were far from satisfied sexually, which succeeded in challenging numerous accepted notions about female sexuality.

Hite also wrote The Hite Report on Male Sexuality in 181 with questionnaires completed by men. And in 187, published an update to her original book, The Hite Report on Women and Love A Cultural Revolution in Progress, which brought renewed notoriety to her once controversial theory that women lacked sexual pleasures in their lives.

Sexual Responsibility

“Responsibility” essentially means being held liable for something, or in some cases, someone. Sadly enough, the word “responsibility” also falls into use when speaking of sexual relationships. “Historically, the male has been assigned the role of sexual responsibility while the female has been confined to a role of sexual acceptance-stereotypes that show little knowledge, of or regard for, the natural capabilities of either sex.” (Masters & Johnson, 174, p.)

These roles, created during a time of little to no knowledge regarding variation in both male and female capacity, basically put all men into the category of being the aggressor, who ravish sweet, innocent women, which greatly appreciate the gesture. All women shall be assigned the role of the humble, but grateful creatures that should be happy for all that they receive.

As people struggle with what their personal sexual needs are and what their sexual roles include, coping takes place in many different forms. Some, use dirty jokes to simplify sexuality, while others, pretend that it doesn’t exist through repression. Some people simply just endure, while others attempt to break free of their roles and openly express their sexuality. (p. 4)

In the early development of our double standard society, husbands and wives living in a then rural society found themselves achieving sexual unity. At that stage, it was widely accepted that sex was a source of mutual pleasure for both males and females as long as they stayed within certain boundaries, which included being practical with regards to sex. (p.4)

As the industrial revolution rolled in, women and men became divided as they both went off to work. Life became increasingly hectic, as daily routine quickened in pace, and men and women began to get lost in the dust of it all, loosing sight of what was important; the need for each other. On top of it all, the many religions, churches, social intolerances and ignorance of sexual matters by health-care professionals pressed down on the loss of focus, skewing what was accepted, creating a real problem lack of sexual response as a natural physiological process. (p.5)

“When sexual response was separated in our thinking from its rightful place as a natural function, sexual misconceptions and even taboos inevitably became integral parts of the social structure.” (Masters & Johnson, 174, p. 5) Sex for human warmth and human pleasure were obscured by sex for procreation, and the concept of sex as a sin. Men and women learned from social arbitration what sex must be. With the increasing pressures, severe neurotic and even psychotic patterns have developed in many men and women.

Male roles became experts of sex, a fountain of knowledge, with an answer for everything to do with sexual activities. Masters and Johnson have suggested that perhaps this is due to the historic male role as the protector and provider, or from the male fear of the unknown or the misunderstood sexual potential of the female. (p.5) Whatever reason, the idea was still that man knows all. A popular clich� as we all know regarding adolescent boys is, “boys will be boys!” Insinuating that they need experience in order to have their wealth of knowledge, yet not quite giving the verbal permission explicitly.

So what were women expected to do? Pretty much, nothing! They were thought of as seminal receptacles. “Everyone knew � or at least all men know and most women pretended � that ‘nice’ women had no sexual feelings, that respected wives only submitted in the hope of conceiving and that ‘those women’ who freely responded sexually simply weren’t the kind you married.” (Masters & Johnson, 174, p. 6)

Up until about half way though the century, everyone knew that on a couple’s wedding night, sex was something the man did to the woman. And prior to the big event, the wife must be a virgin, or conceal the hymen loss from past intercourse. But keep in mind that since men must be all knowing, then they are assumed to have previous experience. However, those who had little to no experience had to hide their insecurities and fake their expertise.

During this period, it was typical of gynecological textbooks to state how women are nonorgasmic and rarely, if ever had sexual feelings or interest. Additionally, men have written more than 5% of everything ever published on the subject of female sexual response, most objectively, and all with no clue what they were writing about. (p 6) It wasn’t until the 150’s when some light was shed on female sexual functioning. At this point, Kinsey and others began opening the door to women’s sexual functioning. Professionals began asserting women had real sexual feelings and legitimate interests. (Surprisingly enough, women already knew this!) Men’s roles began changing as women’s gained increased sexual permissiveness. Then, it was up to men to not do something to his wife, rather, for his wife in the 150’s and 160’s. Women, no longer had to provide a service, but were still expected to acknowledge their husband’s expertise. (p. )

Slowly, more and more information has been discovered that replaced ignorance, misconceptions and myths, and within the last decade, things finally started moving quicker. Society is becoming more comfortable, while individuals become increasingly informed, and teaching our children about sexuality has caused many to grow into viable adults. (p. ) Today, sexual responsibility is assumed by both men and women, eliminating the notion of just one sex carrying the “responsibility” burden. There is no way that a man can be responsibly for a woman’s sexual functioning and vice versa. Sexuality is a natural process for everyone that cannot be forced. Masters and Johnson sum it up nicely when they state, “ Sexual responsibility has a twofold implication in today’s world. Primarily, we are responsible only for ourselves in our sexual commitments, for full communication of our sexual wants and, subsequently, for physical expression of our sexual drives. Also, we are committed to remaining fully attuned to partner communication and to the cooperation necessary to enable one’s partner to satisfy his or her sexual needs. Secondarily, our sexual responsibility extends not only to fully obligation for pregnancy, but to adequate control of conception.” (p. 15)

Stages of Female Sexuality Childhood and Adolescence

The meaning of the term “sexual” originates in early childhood for women. As children grow, they learn from their parents, caretakers, media, and culture about what is and isn’t normal, and what is expected of them. “The child turns to these sources in an attempt to interpret her ‘bodily sensations, name the parts and the acts, identify sets of feelings, [and] make sense of emerging relationships.’” (Daniluk, 18, p., Plummer, 11, p. 8)

“Childhood has been called ‘the last frontier in sex research’ because there is little reliable data about sexual behavior during this formative time.” (Johnson, Kolodny, and Masters, 185, p. 1) Attempts have been made to interview adults regarding how they felt, or what they did when they were children. However, this only resulted in skewed results because many were too embarrassed to tell, and wanted to be perceived as “normal”. When trying to ask children these same questions, society viewed the attempts as outrageous- putting dirty ideas into the minds of their children. To understand the development of sexuality in young girls, focusing on the typical patterns of sexual development during childhood can be more effective in helping children to learn and understand about sexuality in a comfortable way.

Sexual reflexes such as the reflex erection of baby boys in the womb are evident several months before birth through ultrasound studies. Newborn baby girls have vaginal lubrication and clitoral erection in their first twenty-four hours after birth, so it is highly probable that these reactions are also occurring before birth. (p. 14-15)

“An important phase of infantile sexuality comes from the sensuous closeness of parent and child through holding, clinging, and cuddling.” (Johnson, Kolodny, and Masters, 185, p. 14) At birth, this bond begins, and also includes such interactions as nursing, bathing, dressing, and all other physical interactions. Any child that has been neglected in regards to human warmth and touch, may later experience difficulties forming intimate relationships or being comfortable with his or her own sexuality.

Young infants respond with sexual arousal naturally, to many different sources of physical interaction. For example, baby boys may have an erection during nursing. (p.14) While some may see this as disturbing, the fact of the matter is it’s quite normal. Warmth and softness of their mother’s skin or other sources causes messages to be sent to the brain and are interpreted as pleasurable activities. Clitoral erection and vaginal lubrication is equally as common in young girls during nursing. How parents respond to these sexual reflexes plays a huge role in developing the child’s earliest sexual learning. Acting shocked by such arousals conveys discomfort. Calm actions, conveys acceptance. This is extremely important for parents to recognize and understand. (p. 15)

By the age of two, most children have developed a sense of being a girl or boy. Curiosity develops about different body parts and children discover that the genitals, when stimulated, may be a source of pleasure. Initially, the action is solitary, however, many times it develops into a game of “show and share.” (p. 16)

Around this time is when children become aware of their parents responses to their actions. Disapproving genital play, yet encouraging children to be aware of their bodies can cause confusion for young children. Therefore, it is important for parents to educate their children, explaining appropriate behavior such as in public, and permitting sexual experimentation. After all, these negative messages children receive regarding their genitals may affect children viewing their genitals as “dirty”.

Educating children on sex has been of great controversy in the last decade. While everyone seems to agree teaching children about sex is necessary, there is still much disagreement in what should be taught, by whom, and when. Today, 77% of Americans believe sex education should be taught in school, and when these courses are taught, 5% of parents don’t allow their children to go to school that day. (p. 14)

“The truth of the matter is that teaching children about sex need not be different from teaching them about lots of other things; you don’t need to have a Ph.D. in agriculture to teach children about gardening, for example. And just as you wouldn’t wait for a child to ask you about the alphabet before exploring the A-B-C’s, don’t wait to talk about sex, either- take the initiative in talking about this topic.” (Kolodny, Johnson and Masters, 185, p. 14-15)

As young girls grow, a double standard also develops. Girls are strongly cautioned against sex play, while boys are given more of an opportunity by parents looking the other way and making such comments as, “Boys will be boys!” Furthermore, young girls are taught many other things such as what is expected of them sexually. Barbie was the first toy that taught many girls what was expected of them sexually. (Wolf, 17, p. 14) Her posture exemplified that being sexual was being mobile, walk on your toes, with your bust out, and rigid limbs to the side. Additionally, Barbie always wears fancy clothes, has white teeth, and large breasts with a teeny, tiny waist. All the while, Ken remains a eunuch.

As young girls prepared for adolescence, passivity was a major rule girls couldn’t ask boys to dance, aren’t suppose to kiss on the first date, and aren’t suppose to move more than a fraction of an inch when a boy puts his arm around her. Girls must whiteout their child’s erotic consciousness. This becomes very difficult especially for curious girls. Songs play on the radio about “becoming a woman” which is centered around the woman’s vagueness and lack of reality. (p. 7) In the song “Knock three times”, the story is of a man’s sexual obsession with his anonymous downstairs neighbor. This shows how men become infatuated with women they don’t even know, stressing the importance of being mysterious. And if it wasn’t mystery, it was a specific attribute- “I Like Big Butts” is yet another much more recent song. Women’s body parts become the center of attention, therefore, the women on the inside, is perceived as being unimportant.

As young girls begin developing into adolescence, there are a number of physical as well as psychological changes that occur. The first physical evidence usually occurs around the age of twelve, although the entire period of adolescence usually goes up to about nineteen. Changes in breasts, generally appear initially, from small conical buds increasing in size, while the nipple begins to project forward. (McCary, 17, p. 48) This is a time when they become aware of not only the physical attributes, but also the cultural attitudes surrounding them regarding breasts. As the breasts continue to grow, and become increasingly sensitive, the female body contour gradually rounds out and the pelvic areas broadens. Growth of fatty pads develops on the hips, and the vaginal epithelium, or lining, thickens. (p. 48) Soft, lightly colored pubic hair begins to grow, then becomes dark and thick.

About two years after breast development, and one year after hair appearance, menstruation begins. “The menarche, or beginning of menstruation function is the first real indication a girl is becoming a woman.” (McCary, 17, p. 48) “Research confirms that most women, despite their age and life stage, remember with remarkable clarity and detail where they were when menstruation began, how they felt about the experience, and how friends and family members responded to their entrance into womanhood.” (Daniluk, 18, p. 54, Delaney, Lupton, & Toth, 18) In the United States, the average age of menarche is 1.8 years in Caucasian adolescence, while it is 1.5 years in African American adolescence. A century ago, the average age was sixteen and older but since then has decreased possibly due to such factors as climate, heredity, family size, nutrition, and socioeconomic factors. (Johnson, Kolodny and Masters, 185, p. 1-140)

Usually after a year or so following menstruation, the adolescent begins ovulating, releasing mature ova, so that she can bear children. This usually occurs around age fourteen. (McCary, 17, p. 4)

Psychologically, adolescents begin having sexual fantasies and dreams, which occur more commonly at this age rather than at earlier ages. This is usually accompanied by masturbation. These fantasies appear to serve several purposes adding pleasure to sexual activity, a substitute for the real thing, to induce arousal or orgasm, and a mental rehearsal for future experiences. Fantasies also provide a safe, unembarassing means of sexual experimentation. This form of creative imagery even carries over into adulthood. (Johnson, Kolodny, and Masters, 185, p. 144)

Adolescents need and fight for their independence from their parents while seeking their personal identity. They also tend to feel a need to be accepted and liked by their peers, but soon discover that it’s not always the case. Often times, these peer groups adapt their own set of expectations, social controls and rules, which might conflict with the adolescent’s need for freedom. Adolescent females seem to feel more limits than males do in our society. Some examples may include placing a high value on female virginity. And on the other extreme, sex may be used as a status symbol (the more the better). Basically it may become “those who know” vs. “the inexperienced”. (p. 145)

Teenagers’ personal issues regarding sexual decision making, such as individual psychological readiness, personal values, moral reasoning, fear of negative consequences, and involvement in romantic attachments are not always compatible with the peers as well. (p. 146)

Adolescence is a very difficult age. On one hand, they are no longer little kids, but on the other hand, they are not yet adults. Adults may encourage adolescence independence, however, they place them in a double bind by not allowing them to explore their sexuality, as most parents usually prohibit it. Parents may try to regulate sexual behavior through banning sex education, censor what’s read or watched, design and implement school dress codes, and even go as far as pretending it doesn’t exist.

Fortunately, not all parents are so controlling. Some openly discuss all the options, and even provide contraceptives. However, most are not as permissive about premarital sex, which may possibly result in their children having more traditional sex values, and have increased rates of virginity. (p. 146)

Stages of Female Sexuality Adulthood

Early adulthood is generally defined as the period between twenty and forty years of age. (Daniluk, 18, p. 14) This is a time when people make important life decisions such as marriage, occupation, and lifestyle. There are relatively few changes in reproductive functioning of young women.

Recently in the U.S., the trend had been toward marriage at a later age than past decades. (Johnson, Kolodny, and Masters, 185, p. 15) As a result, both men and women face longer periods of being single, which alters patterns of sexual behavior. Today, most people in the U.S. believe that sexual experience is an important part of selecting the right mate.

Unlike adolescence, young adults tend to be less prone to succumb to peer pressure. Sexual opportunity is also more present as young adults do not live under their parents’ roof and have access to private surroundings. According to Johnson, Kolodny and Masters, there seems to be several common patterns of sexual behavior at this time in life. (185, p. 15-160) The experimenter judges sexual encounters in terms of frequency, variety, and performance proficiency. This type person views today as time to enjoy all that they can because later, they’ll settle down. The seekers strives to find ideal relationships, by developing relationships and hoping for the best. These people believe that living together can prove if their partner is right for them. The traditionalist, participates willingly and joyously in sex. However, these people reserve love-making (intercourse) for Mr. or Mrs. Right. They may have several sex partners at one time.

During the early years of adulthood, many feel a sense of sexual uncertainty. Conflicts may arise because of differing attitudes of sexual guilt or immorality. Sometimes, the concern of personal physique and/or endowment, and personal lovemaking skills are carried over from adolescence. Sexual identities may not yet be out in the open, and even for those are have accepted themselves as either homosexual or bisexual, social pressures and prejudices may cause problems. (p. 160) However, some young adults have complete sexual satisfaction, so it all really depends on the individual.

Young adults today, are more sexually active than in the past. Explanations for this may be due to the disappearance of the old double standard that said premarital sex for men was OK, but not for women. (p. 160)

“By middle adulthood, which is about the age of forty, people enter into a period of transition from their younger years, which has been traditionally called ‘middle age’.” (p. 16) At this point, for many, some hard realizations set in about their own mortality and about time running out. Life becomes reappraised for many at this point, in terms of goals, accomplishments and experiences. Many are shocked at their physical appearance and have a difficult time dealing with it. As a result, sometimes mid-life crisis take over.

“For women, mid-life crisis is a time for an emerging identity, a freeing of the inner self as children reach a relative stage of greater independence.” (p. 170) For those that spent their lives raising children, this period of time can be difficult as they mourn the passing of their offspring into adults, and if they had no established career or non-family interests. “Empty nest syndrome” may occur causing depression and listlessness. (p. 170) This may be followed by or coincide with menopause, compounding the problem.

Another component of middle adulthood is the phenomenon of sexual burnout, which may affect as many as 0% of people in the U.S. (p. 170) This stems from the same old sex routine. More than boredom, marked by a sense of physical depletion, emotional emptiness, and negative sexual self-concept. Sexual burnout is not the same as sexual lack of interest. Rather it is usually accompanied by depression.

“One intriguing finding has been noted about sex differences in the psychology of middle adulthood. Among those forty to fifty five year old men, are more apt to exhibit a strong sense of self confidence and control and typically engage in behavior geared to show power and proficiency, while women tend to be more dependant, passive, and lacking in confidence. By the late 50’s however, a decided shift occurs.” (p. 17)

With aging, women reach the end of their fertility, which is called menopause. First, there is a gradual decline in female reproductive capacity from age thirty on, although very gradual for the first ten years. Also, around thirty-five, abnormal menstrual cycles may begin as ovaries respond less efficiently to hormones from the pituitary gland. After forty, frequency of ovulation generally begins to decline. Around forty-eight to fifty-two menstrual flow stops altogether. However, menopause may only be established after one year without any menstruation. (p. 176)

Timing and symptoms vary by woman. Some may feel hot flashes, which affect 75-80% of women. Other changes include prolonged estrogen deficiency, causing women’s vaginas to shrink and thin, loosening elasticity. Also, lessened lubrication may be an effect, causing painful intercourse. (p. 176)

There is disagreement about menopause’s impact on female sexual behavior. Some studies suggest a decrease in sexual interest and possible loss of female orgasmic responsivity. While other studies report that sexual interest may actually increase. Discrepancies may be a result of inadequate research that don’t take into account health issues, spouses or sexual partners. (p. 17)

Finally, in late adulthood, in the U.S., sex is regarded as something for the young and attractive. When some think of elderly in nursing homes in sexual acts, they cringe. However, despite our cultural myths, the psychological need for intimacy, excitement and pleasure does not disappear in old age, and nothing in biology of aging automatically shuts down sexual function. (p. 17)


Even if you think you know what an orgasm is, consider this Even researchers don’t have a full grasp of it. “ ‘Nobody has offered a universally acceptable explanation for what finally triggers orgasm,’ says Robert Birch, Ph.D. director of the Arlington Center for Marital and Sexual Concerns in Columbus, Ohio.” (Bechtel, 1, p. 1) Masters and Johnson have proposed that all orgasms occur very similarly physically. They believe that orgasms are clitorally induced, with contractions occurring primarily in the outer third of the vagina. (The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, 18, p. 8.) Studies that compared the well-known physiological part of orgasm (such as muscular contractions) with all those wonderful feelings people have during orgasm, have found that the two don’t necessarily correspond. (Bechtel, 1, p. ) One third of the women in a study swore they had an orgasm, although there was no such recordings of muscular contractions. They said they climaxed, but their body said otherwise.

Despite Masters and Johnson’s theory, there is still enormous confusion over the terms “clitoral orgasm” and “vaginal orgasm”. (Hite, 176, p. 5) There are several reasons for the clitoral-vaginal controversy. One is that women lack complete understanding of their sexual anatomy. Women should know that the clitoris itself is merely a visible tip to a vast system of sexually responsive female tissue. In fact, “even when fully engorged, the clitoral system as a whole overshadows the clitoral glands and shaft in the ratio of almost thirty to one.” (p. 8) The total engorgement of the clitoral system may actually be larger than the obvious male engorgement. Although the location of the orgasmic spasms occur in and around the vagina and deep pelvic region, which has helped to create the myth that there are two distinct types of orgasms, the clitoris acts as the sensory arm to the entire system. Clinical evidence points to the clitoris that produces orgasms. (p. 8)

Another reason for this controversy is the phallocentric view that continues to follow orgasm during intercourse, orgasm feels much better than orgasm without intercourse. (p. ) But according to the many women surveyed by Shere Hite in The Hite Report (176, p. 10), “with the presence of the penis, the orgasm and contractions are felt less concretely, and that the ‘vaginal ache’ as well is either soothed or not felt during intercourse.” Basically, the penis seems to have more of a soothing or diffusing effect.

Possibly a continuation of this Phallocentric view is that of the G-Spot, which has been more of an enigma than a definite anatomical feature. What started the ruckus, of whether or not the G-Spot (Grafenberg spot) exists, was the 18 book called The G-Spot and Other Recent Discoveries about Human Sexuality. (Bechtel, 1, p. 140) These researchers had rediscovered an article by Ernst Grafenberg, M.D., (150), in which he described a small area on the upper wall of the vagina that- at least in some women- was so erotically charged that it could produce an orgasm. These researchers supported Grafenberg’s theory, by reporting that many women who were sensitive to the G-spot stimulation would ejaculate a clear fluid during orgasm. However, the more modern view is that there appears to be no concrete evidence that such a spot even exists. Some noted sex specialists, such as Loyola University psychiatry professor Domeena C. Renshaw, M.D., have concluded that, at least until better evidence is presented, ‘the G-spot must remain unacceptable as a scientific fact.’” (p. 14) Since there has been no definite evidence presented, perhaps the origination of the G-spot is more to support a phallocentric view of female sexuality, which supports the notion that the penis is needed for stimulation.

So what do orgasms feel like for women? As documented by The Hite Report (176, p. 65), it appears no one dislikes arousal. Some questionnaire respondents said, “Orgasm is a feeling of warmth, first, all over me. In fact, my general mood and the atmosphere around me before sexual activity begins is a great part of the buildup of this warm or excited feeling. After the general warmth comes tension in my legs (particularly thighs), my abdomen, and of course, my breasts and genitals. My clitoris feels very ‘tingly’. I feel very strong before orgasm and my ‘insides’ seem to be alive and powerful. The moisturizing heat, and strength are all very satisfying. Sometimes my buttocks and pelvis feel the need to be very frenzied and move a lot, and sometimes I feel more like pushing strongly against something with my pelvis and legs. The orgasm itself reminds me of a dam breaking. I can feel contractions inside me and a very liquid sensation. The best part is the continuing waves of build-up and release during multiple orgasms.” (p. 65)

“A feeling of being loved and wanted. Exhilarating!” (p. 66)

“A sense of well-being, I am radiant, like a gradual awakening.”

For each woman, the experience may be different. “Searching for one ‘right’ model of women’s orgasm does not reflect the diversity of experiences that women have.” (The Boston Women’s Health Book Collection, 18, p. 8)

Technology of Orgasm Hysteria Pathology

“Hysteria” comes from the Greek meaning “That which proceeds from the uterus”, basically associating hysteria with femininity. (Maines, 11, p. 1) Hysteria (literally, “ womb disease”) was considered to be common and chronic in women, due to sexual depravation. “In 165, Pieter Van Foreest published a medical compendium titled Observationem et Curationem Medicinalium ac Chirurgicarum Opera Omnia, with a chapter on the diseases of women.” (Maines, 1, p. 1) Basically, this book stated that when hysteria occurs in women, due to a lack of sexual stimulation, it is necessary to message genitalia to arouse the woman to relieve her of this hysteria. This was a staple among western physicians and was practiced from the time of Hippocrates until the 10’s. (p. )

“Demand for treatment had two sources 1. Proscription on female masturbation as unchaste and possibly unhealthful . Failure of androcentrically defined sexuality to produce orgasms regularly in most women.” (p. ) This androcentric model defines sex with three steps preparation for penetration, penetration, and male orgasm. (p. 5) As one may notice, there is nothing within this model that expects women to reach orgasm during intercourse. Although they were expected to, it was not necessary, and was still considered “real sex”.

Traditionally, possibly more than 70% of women do not reach orgasm by means of penetration. (p. 5) Therefore, when marital sex was unsatisfying, and since masturbation was forbidden, the so-called signs of “hysteria” came through.

Symptoms of hysteria were characterized by medical authorities as including chronic anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasy, sensations of heaviness in the abdomen, lower pelvic edema, and vaginal lubrication. (p. 8)

Since this “disease” couldn’t be treated in the bedroom, doctors begin taking over the task of relieving symptoms. Physicians didn’t enjoy providing pelvic massages. The male elite sought every opportunity to substitute other devices for fingers such as husband’s attentions, hands of a midwife, or a mechanism. (p.4) The mechanism ended up reducing the amount of time needed to perform the task (up to one hour and ten minutes).

Doctors, at the time, were male elite, wanting to be more efficient in medical production of orgasms so they could increase their income. Due to the increased demand for more rapid physical therapies to cure “hysteria”, and as an extension of previous message technologies, the vibrator emerged at the end of the 1th century. (p. )

Let’s keep in mind patients never recovered or died from the so-called condition. We also must not perceive them as victims, because some of them had to have known what was going on. (p. 4)

“In the first two decades of 100, the vibrator began to be marked as a home appliance through advertising in periodicals, Needlecraft, Home Needlework Journal, Modern Women, Hearst’s, McClure’s, Woman’s Home Companion, and Modern Priscilla.” (p. 1) These vibrators were marked as health and relaxation aid, and were also marketed to men as a gift for women, restoring bright eyes and pink cheeks. There were a variety of models and prices.

In the 10’s, the true vibrator gradually disappeared from doctors’ offices and from respectable households. This may have been a result of the greater understanding of women’s sexuality by physicians, the appearance of vibrators in stag films in the 0’s or both. (p. 1)

When the vibrator reemerged during the 160’s, it was no longer considered a medical instrument, rather a sex aid on the open market to consumers. A major selling point for vibrators was the efficacy in producing orgasms. These instruments gave women the power to pleasure themselves, which was the job apparently no one else wanted.

Beyond the functional role of the vibrator for women consumers and sexual partners, it is also being worshiped as a “cure-all”. (p. 1) Some male authors and therapists find it makes excellent additions to couple’s sex toy collections. Also, finding that is produced orgasm in some women with little effort and skill. Women with high orgasmic thresholds usually will eventually respond to vibrating massage. Those women with low orgasmic thresholds can explore full orgasmic potential.

Vibrators have caused male fears over the years. Today, jokes are made about the use of vibrators. “When did God make men? When she realized that vibrators couldn’t dance too.” (p. 1) Many men have become quite resentful of the instrument.


Fortunately, today, the meaning of “hysterical” is “upset to the point of irrationality.” (Maines, 11, p. 1) It has changed from being a scientific situation of illness, to more general influences to uncontrolled, usually frivolous emotions. However, the fact still remains, “It has been clinically noted, that women do not reach orgasm during coitus as readily as men do, and sustained stimulation of the clitoris is usually required to reliably produce an orgasm.” (p. 48) However, many women can reach orgasm during masturbation. Therefore suggesting that sexual intercourse in an extremely inefficient way to stimulate the clitoris.

Western history has established the sexual norm by medical professionals that penetration to male orgasm is the ultimate thrill for both partners. This leads to strong cultural motivations to deny contrary evidence. This failure has many effects such as assuming healthy women desire penetration, and men who penetrate are essentially doing women a favor, and finally, women who desire sexual activity outside of a male relationship are considered flawed, sinful and sick.

Additionally, remains the assumption that women are slower than men to become aroused and have less orgasmic potential. However, “empirical studies have shown that women are not slower than men to become aroused and satisfied, and that their orgasmic potential is much greater than that of males.” (p. 4) In 184, Carol Tavirs and Carole Wade pointed out that “during masturbation, especially with an electric vibrator, some women can have as many as fifty consecutive orgasm.”(p. 4)

In our culture, it is accepted that people should not masturbate, especially women. It is, however, acceptable for women to enjoy sex as long as they are fulfilling their roles as women- giving pleasure to men. But we need to keep in mind, the purpose of masturbation is to love and care for ourselves completely, and being able to relate to our bodies.

Shere Hite wrote The Hite Report, which as previously stated, surveyed over 100,000 women from age 14 up to 78 about sexuality. One of the most important subjects she included was that of masturbation, since it is an easy source of orgasm for most women. “Of the 8% of women who said they masturbated, 5% could orgasm easily and regularly whenever they wanted.” (Hite, 176, p. ) This certainly contradicts the stereotype that women are slow to orgasm, and do so irregularly.

From the point of view of orgasm, the key to understanding female sexuality is to understand masturbation. Hite’s book was basically a collection of women’s feelings and experiences with regards to sexuality, and masturbation in particular, which gave women a clear description what other women felt and did. Reading other females’ comments on masturbation, can really act to empower women in regards to owning their feelings. Most women, in her book, state that they enjoy masturbation physically, not psychologically. Below are some of the comments that were included

“I enjoy masturbating. The physical stimulation and the orgasm is nice, but often I fell ashamed afterwards like there is something wrong with me because I should have a man to do this anytime I want and I don’t.” (p. 6)

“I like to masturbate physically. I used to feel a little guilty (or frigid) psychologically but not any more. It always leads to orgasm. It’s more intense alone but it lasts longer with someone. I usually have about eight when masturbating. There was much guilt involved with my early masturbation. As mother always sneaked around on tiptoe trying to catch me at it.” (p. )

There are other women who could not even let themselves enjoy masturbation and refuse to do it. And there are those who completely enjoy the activity without any guilt. Hopefully, in the future, women will feel they have the right to enjoy masturbation. To touch, explore, and enjoy our their bodies in a way they desire, not only alone, but with someone else is a natural part of life, just as the need for food, water, warmth, and love are.


Looking back on the evolution of sexual attitudes and behavior in America over the last twenty-five years or so, is quite amazing. We have come a long way from where we started back during the industrial revolution, a time of sexual repression. During the 150’s, although sex was still a taboo to speak of, scientists began to open our eyes to understanding our sexuality. Over the years, as more and more women become involved in the process, rather than continuing the ignorant assumption that men know what’s best, the truth is beginning to come out.

There are many things that have acted to aid in the process of exploring female sexuality and hopefully will continue to expand, and become widely accepted. Increasing sex education for our children, leads the way to fuller understanding of our growth and development both physically and mentally as human beings, and an increased acceptance of others and our differences. Also, recognizing the importance of sexual pleasure through orgasm, as a natural process, is critical in becoming happy, and healthy women. Additionally, exploring our bodies and our potential for arousal should not be thought of as dirty, or sinful, rather it is an action of caring and loving ourselves, and may be shared with companions.

I am hopeful that over the years, this trend towards greater acceptance and increased understanding of female sexuality will continue to expand. It seems very likely, that down the road we can expect a lessening of the restraints imposed on sexual behavior, and a more open-minded approach to sexual attitudes. We must work towards destroying the double standard myths and eliminating the shackles that bind us to sexual roles. Although we have begun to gradually move in this direction, it is only through open and effective communication that our journey will progress in the right direction.


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