Sexuality and culture
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Sexuality and Culture. sexual identity and concept of desire is a social construct developed within context that includes history, social class, ethnic group, religion and gender role ideology.

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Sexuality and Culture

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Sexuality and Culture

  • sexual identity and concept of desire is a social construct developed within context that includes history, social class, ethnic group, religion and gender role ideology.

  • Sexual Scriptsinclude the repertoire of sexual acts that are recognized by a social group; the rules or guidelines for expected behavior and the expected punishments for violating the rules

  • Sexual scripts are used to guide one’s own behavior and to interpret others sexual behaviors

Women’s Sexuality

  • Men associated with machismo- show manhood by being strong, demonstrating sexual prowess, and asserting their authority and control over women.

  • Women’s role is passive- she is to be sexually pure and controlled and also submissive and subservient. Their main sources of power and influence in their roles as mothers.

  • The cultural imperatives of virginity, martyrdom and subordination continue to influence our perceptions of sexuality while at the same time, women and girls are overtly encouraged to behave sexually and dress sexually and provocatively but to remain pure and virginal.

North American Sexual Scripts

  • 1- Male Version of Sexuality as Norm

  • 2- Studs vs. Sluts: the Double Standard:

    Behavior’s which are acceptable for boys and men include having many partner’s, taking the sexual initiative, openly talking about sex which are NOT acceptable or less acceptable for girls and women

3-Language of Sexuality

  • Women’s sexuality is almost always depicted in negative ways.

  • Terms like whore, bitch, cunt, gash or being referred to as a prostitute.

  • ‘ramming, screwing, banging or nailing’- all terms that suggest violence and something that is mechanical done to women rather than a reciprocal pleasure.

  • Language suggests that the female role is synonymous with being exploited, cheated, or harmed and the female body is dirty and disgusting.

  • 4- Physical Attractiveness

  • 5- Silence about Women’s Bodies and Women’s Desire:

  • Parents and Communication:

  • Mothers are more reluctant to talk about sexual desire or even their daughters body parts than they are talking with their sons.

  • Few girls know that they have a clitoris that is a separate organ from the vagina and that is made entirely for sexual pleasure.

  • Silence/shaming around girl’s bodies.

  • Masturbation:

  • Girls and women less likely to masturbate even though masturbation in women is associated with positive sexual satisfaction.

  • Those who had experienced orgasm through masturbation have more orgasms with their partners, greater sexual desire and more rapid arousal, higher self esteem and great marital satisfaction than those who had not.

  • Sex Education:

  • heterosexual marriage is the only place for sexual expression

  • Boys seen as sexually insatiable aggressors that are wild and out of control and virile and girls are seen as the defenders of virginity and victims of the boys advances.

  • No suggestion that girls and women might like, want, need, seek out or enjoy sexual activity outside of marriage.

  • Michelle Fine:

  • “ The naming of desire, pleasure, or sexual entitlement, particularly for females, barely exist in the formal agenda of public schooling on sexuality. When spoken, it is tagged with reminders of ‘consequences’- emotional, physical, moral, reproductive, and/or financial… A genuine discourse of desire would invite adolescences to explore what feels good and bad, desirable and undesirable, grounded in experiences, need and limits. (Fine, 1988, p. 33).

  • Michelle Fine (2006):

  • “This essay I wrote in ’88 called “the Missing Discourse in Desire” And it originally came out in the Harvard Ed Review. It’s an essay about sexuality and sex education and girls, and how the available discourses for girls are victimization, violence, morality, but not desire. With a student here, Sara McClelland we have been writing a twenty-year follow up to that and we are just crafting an essay on wanting and girls and women’s appetites. If our clitoris can come over and over again and is disconnected from reproduction, one might make the claim that we are built for wanting, and yet if we eat too much, want too much, talk too much, talk too loud, have too much sex, that’s a bad thing. So kind of theorizing why wanting is so dangerous for women and how that kind of plays back to what is desire mean today.”

Adolescent Sexuality

  • What Factors Influence the Decision to have Sex?

  • Cultural

  • Social

  • Relationships With Parents

  • Hormones/Physical

  • First Intercourse

  • first sexual intercourse described as bad.

  • painful, disconnected, scary and disorienting, clumsy and uncomfortable,

  • Most girls who have sex for the first time report doing it out of peer pressure, pressure from their boyfriends – fear of losing him or wanting to please him.

  • Few virginity stories are about pleasure, desire and sexual empowerment or wanting to have sex because it feels good.

Female Sexual Dysfunction

  • Umbrella term that includes ‘disorders’ like low libido, painful sex, limited sexual arousal and difficulty achieving an orgasm.

  • four categories of sexual "dysfunction": sexual desire disorders, sexual arousal disorders, orgasmic disorders, and sexual pain disorders.

  • This universal pattern begins, in theory, with sexual drive, and proceeds sequentially through the stages of desire, arousal, and orgasm.

  • According to this definition, half of all American women suffered from one of these sexual problems. Are all of these women disordered or is there is something wrong with the definition?


  • Leonore Tiefer (2006):

  • “Women’s lives are influenced by social factors

    and that you can’t just do sex therapy in a vacuum. You have to take into account the gender realities that influence women’s lives. Masters and Johnson treated people as people without any sense of power or social context and that was, it seemed liberating, but it really wasn’t. It wasn’t thorough. It certainly wasn’t thorough and it was really deceptive and incorrect, because you can’t just treat people as people as if they were interchangeable. You can’t, a white man and a black man, you know, a white man and a white woman, a conservative Christian and a Hindu immigrant. I mean it was ridiculous. So throughout the ‘80’s and ‘90’s as psychology was getting more multicultural, I was trying to do a lot of those things in sex therapy, which was definitely unpopular, because most of the people in sex therapy had a real medical model going on in their minds and they thought of these kinds of social things as influences…”

New View Campaign

  • 1) A false notion of sexual equivalency between men and women.

  • Women's accounts do not fit neatly into the Masters and Johnson model; for example, women generally do not separate "desire" from "arousal," women care less about physical than subjective arousal, and women's sexual complaints frequently focus on "difficulties" that are absent from the DSM.

  • An emphasis on genital and physiological similarities between men and women ignores the implications of inequalities related to gender, social class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.

  • Social, political, and economic conditions, including widespread sexual violence, limit women's access to sexual health, pleasure, and satisfaction in many parts of the world.

  • 2) The erasure of the relational context of sexuality.

  • The DSM bypasses relational aspects of women's sexuality, which often lie at the root of sexual satisfactions and problems--e.g., desires for intimacy, wishes to please a partner, or, in some cases, wishes to avoid offending, losing, or angering a partner.

  • The DSM takes an exclusively individual approach to sex, and assumes that if the sexual parts work, there is no problem; and if the parts don't work, there is a problem.

  • But many women do not define their sexual difficulties this way. The DSM's reduction of "normal sexual function" to physiology implies, incorrectly, that one can measure and treat genital and physical difficulties without regard to the relationship in which sex occurs.

  • 3) The leveling of differences among women.

  • All women are not the same, and their sexual needs, satisfactions, and problems do not fit neatly into categories of desire, arousal, orgasm, or pain.

  • Because there are no magic bullets for the socio-cultural, political, psychological, social or relational bases of women's sexual problems, pharmaceutical companies are supporting research and public relations programs focused on fixing the body, especially the genitals.

  • Factors that are far more often sources of women's sexual complaints--relational and cultural conflicts, for example, or sexual ignorance or fear--are downplayed and dismissed.

  • The New View Campaign challenges the cultural assumptions embedded in the DSM and the reductionist research and marketing program of the pharmaceutical industry. They call for research and services driven not by commercial interests, but by women's own needs and sexual realities.

Women's Sexual Problems: A New Classification

  • I. SEXUAL PROBLEMS DUE TO SOCIO-CULTURAL, POLITICAL, OR ECONOMIC FACTORSA. Ignorance and anxiety due to inadequate sex education, lack of access to health services, or other social constraints:

    1. Lack of vocabulary to describe subjective or physical experience.2. Lack of information about human sexual biology and life-stage changes. 3. Lack of information about how gender roles influence men's and women's sexual expectations, beliefs, and behaviors. 4. Inadequate access to information and services for contraception and abortion, STD prevention and treatment, sexual trauma, and domestic violence.

  • B. Sexual avoidance or distress due to perceived inability to meet cultural norms regarding correct or ideal sexuality, including:

    1. Anxiety or shame about one's body, sexual attractiveness, or sexual responses.

    2. Confusion or shame about one's sexual orientation or identity, or about sexual fantasies and desires.

    C. Inhibitions due to conflict between the sexual norms of one's subculture or culture of origin and those of the dominant culture.

    D. Lack of interest, fatigue, or lack of time due to family and work obligations.

  • II. SEXUAL PROBLEMS RELATING TO PARTNER AND RELATIONSHIPA. Inhibition, avoidance, or distress arising from betrayal, dislike, or fear of partner, partner's abuse or couple's unequal power, or arising from partner's negative patterns of communication.

  • B. Discrepancies in desire for sexual activity or in preferences for various sexual activities.

  • C. Ignorance or inhibition about communicating preferences or initiating, pacing, or shaping sexual activities.

  • D. Loss of sexual interest and reciprocity as a result of conflicts over commonplace issues such as money, schedules, or relatives, or resulting from traumatic experiences, e.g., infertility or the death of a child.E. Inhibitions in arousal or spontaneity due to partner's health status or sexual problems.

  • III. SEXUAL PROBLEMS DUE TO PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORSA. Sexual aversion, mistrust, or inhibition of sexual pleasure due to:

    1. Past experiences of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. 2. General personality problems with attachment, rejection, co-operation, or entitlement.3. Depression or anxiety.

    B. Sexual inhibition due to fear of sexual acts or of their possible consequences, e.g., pain during intercourse, pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, loss of partner, loss of reputation.

  • IV. SEXUAL PROBLEMS DUE TO MEDICAL FACTORSPain or lack of physical response during sexual activity despite a supportive and safe interpersonal situation, adequate sexual knowledge, and positive sexual attitudes. Such problems can arise from:A. Numerous local or systemic medical conditions affecting neurological, neurovascular, circulatory, endocrine or other systems of the body;

  • B. Pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, or other sex-related conditions.

  • C. Side effects of many drugs, medications, or medical treatments.

  • D. Iatrogenic conditions.

What would an Embodied, Empowered Healthy Sexuality Look Like?

  • 1- Consciousness:

    “Our girls move toward womanhood through the demarcations of what they can buy and own or of who wants to sleep with them… The danger to girls is that the culture often makes girls turn into women in ways they do not choose before they are psychologically ready, and it defines their readiness as a passive biological development. It gives them little opportunity to turn themselves into women as an active, healthy goal toward which to struggle and to claim at last with pride” (Wolf, p.134).

  • “Asked to describe the circumstances of first coitus, many girls blink and freeze, dropping predicates and leaving passive sentences dangling as if under a hypnotic suggestion to repress.. it was something that just happened’ they say finally. They don’t know how it happened”.

  • “ I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew what I was doing but I didn’t actually know what I was doing”

  • It’s a code were girls live in world where they are expected to sexually available, but not sexually in charge of themselves.


  • “Drawing a blank”- lack of consciousness- absolves you. In our culture, girls’ sexual availability has a positive value to boys- and girls’ lack of consciousness in relation to their own sexual choices also had a positive value to society. A girls setting sexual boundaries that are comfortable to her has a negative value to boys, and the erotic consciousness, feistiness, and acceptance of her own sexuality that she requires in order to set and explore her own sexual boundaries also have a negative value” (Wolf, p. 136).

  • Instead of drawing a blank or becoming unconscious- the first step in a positive sexuality would be to be conscious of what you want, need, desire.

  • “Sexuality is seen from a males perspective. It always has been. This has to do with a lot of things. For one, women are seen as having less power than men in society. This perspective is often brought into the bedroom and leads to an unequal power distribution in this domain. In fact, there is tons of research going on right now in regards to women and HIV contraction. It suggests that younger women don't have enough of a voice to demand their male partners to use condoms. As a result HIV is increasing for women between the ages of 15-25.”

  • On Consciousness Northrup adds,

  • “Both men and women should make love and have sexual contact with each other when it feels right to them and not because of the need to please, to be liked, or to have power over someone. The original meaning of the word virgin had nothing to do with sexuality. It referred instead to a woman who was whole and complete unto herself, belonging to no man”

2-Expanding Definition of Sexuality to include Sensuality

  • Chirstiane Northrup,

  • “Regardless of where a woman begins to reclaim and explore her sexuality, its helpful to know that female sexuality, by its very nature, is a total sensory experience involving the whole body (not just the genitals). A woman’s sexuality may include actual genital contact with someone, or it may not. She does not need a partner or a significant one to one relationship to be in touch with her sexuality. She may not even require orgasm or physical touching. Each woman’s bodily wisdom dictates what is right for her sexually. In today’s society the prevalence of sex and relationship addiction, the lack of self esteem and the fear of abandonment all seem to impede woman’s ability to listen to their body’s wisdom and messages.” (Northrup, p. 244)

  • “Explore and discover your own body, what it likes, what it doesn't like... learn to be in your body and discover your sensuality, in whatever way fits for you (whether it be through yoga, belly dancing, tantra or just taking a bath) there are infinite sensations your body is capable of and if you're busy thinking, planning, analyzing, you're going to miss out on a world of pleasure!”

  • “One of the best rituals I've participated in on this sort of theme was for Beltane a couple of years ago.  Beltane is the old Celtic May Day celebration.  It is the first summer festival and it celebrates sexuality.  On this particular Beltane, a woman in my ritual group was leading--she is an ex-nun so this was a very significant ritual for her in terms of her sexuality.  She was embodying a goddess--and she was a very sexy, sassy, fantastic sort of goddess!  She had us make a bed of flowers on the ground and we each took turns lying on it and stroking each other with flowers and whispering and singing to each other.  It was one of the most amazingly sensual experiences of my life.  The sexual energy was high, even though most of the group is heterosexual--the sexual energy wasn't directed at each other, but just a celebration of each other's sexuality.  It was completely orgasmic lying there in that energy with the soft sunlight warm on me.  It was a moment of total trust and celebration of each other.  That's the sort of ritual I'd like to give a daughter for a coming of age ritual: a real celebration of her body and it's power and the purity of the joy of sexuality. With all a woman's concerns about getting pregnant by accident, STDs, and sexual predation, I think we forget to tell our daughters about the wonder of sexuality--what an absolute joy and celebration of life it can be.  The Beltane ritual taught us all about that, about being in touch with that joyful power of the earth and our bodies and being part of the cycle of life”.

3- Communication with Partner and Self Awareness

  • “If you have a partner, don't be afraid to ask - ask & you shall receive! Be verbal about what you like, don't like & what you need. Educate yourself & take control of your sexual health. learn about birth control, STI's, etc. remember it's your responsibility as a sexual person. Most of all Live in your body! it's the most amazing experience”

  • “ To me confidence= sexuality. My confidence has stemmed from my comfort level with who I am. having said that, I seem to become more comfortable with myself the older I become. I have heard this from many other women that are around my age”.

  • “My sexuality is about being honest and true to myself and saying what I want and need and not being afraid or shy about being sexual”

4- Creative Power of Women and Sexuality

  • “I have talked to my five your old son about the power of women. He has a red string with his altar stuff which is supposed to remind him that women have the power to create life: I tell him that I MADE him and what a miracle that is.  Me, I made his eyes and his skin and his bones and his head and his heart--how incredible is that?  I made him from my body and we were linked with the cord.  We have the cord, dried, and kept in a little red velvet bag, in a spiral shape, as a symbol of Life.  So for me, my sexuality now has a lot to do with creative power.

5- Sacredness, Integration and….

1- “I would have wanted to know that it was ok to wait until I was really ready. There is so much pressure to have sex when you are a teenager and even a young adult, that you are considered abnormal if you aren’t ‘doing it’. I also wish I would have known that waiting- for sex, or for anything in life for that matter!- always makes it better. People think that instant gratification is going to make them happy, but in my experience, the longer I’ve had to work on something or the longer I’ve been in a committed relationship, the better it was.

  • 2- I wish I would have loved my body the way I have learned to love it and appreciate it now. When I was younger, I was so worried about the way I looked to my partner, that I never relaxed enough to enjoy sex. It turns out in the end that no one really cared how I looked in bed except for me!!!

  • 3- I see my body as much more sacred now than I ever have before. In terms of sexuality this means that I treat my body with a lot more respect than I had in the past. I am a whole, integrated human being with emotional, spiritual and physical needs- and I’ve learned that one must be with a partner who recognizes all of these elements in you in order for sex to be truly great.

  • 4- Sexuality is about so much more than sex and ‘being sexy’. It’s about being embodied, being confident, knowing who you are and what you want and staying true to that inner voice of integrity that knows how to differentiate the good from the bad. Sexuality for me means being integrated and connected and living in my body.

  • 5- Finally, more practically, I wish I would have known that sex the first few times can hurt and that it takes a while for it to get better. That’s a big one! The first time I had sex, I was like ‘what? That’s it?! That’s what everyone is so obsessed with?!” Sexuality is a process, not a goal, and it takes time for it to develop and get better. No one really told me that when I was younger- and oddly, in sex ed, we learned only about std’s and contraception, but never the practical things like lubricant for example, or the emotional skills you need in order to be able to decide for yourself whether you really want to have sex or not”.

6- Relaxing About Sex!

  • “ I think the biggest problem is that our society has gone from the ridiculous extreme of 'sex= reproduction' to the opposite even more ridiculous extreme today of 'constant sex will make you happy'.   There is way too much emphasis in our society on SEX, either in the overt sense of  foreplay and intercourse and in the more subtle sense of a preoccupation with appearance, clothes, nails, hair, etc.!  There are lots of very happy, well adjusted people who are not having sex of any kind!! What we need to come back to is sex as the ultimate expression of love.  We have to stop making kids think that they're abnormal/undesirable if they're not having sex by the age of 15 or 16 and we have to stop making adults feel that life will be better if only they wear this revealing garment/ take this pill/ try a new partner etc. I constantly hear about 'great sex' but I rarely hear about 'great love'. 

  • Sex (and reproduction) are only two of the many functions a girl's body must perform.  Why do girls feel they have to stuff their feet into absurdly shaped pointy shoes with 4 inch heels so they can be 'sexy'? Bodies are for running, walking, sitting, standing, bending to do the hundreds of important and/or fun activities we do each day and all those activities can be done more easily in comfortable shoes. As for sex i.e.. love-making- the most important organ for that is the brain. And if a woman is emotionally and physically attracted to a man and feelings are reciprocated the rest will usually come (especially if there are no ridiculous performance expectations) - obviously there are some physical problems that can arise and need to be dealt with -  and no woman who doesn't experience those feelings should ever feel she has to have sex with a man just to 'please him'”

  • “If there was one key idea I would want my daughter to know about sexuality is that the core of a sexual connection with someone transcends initial lust - it is fundamentally about self-love and self-respect, communication and trust.

  • A woman must make peace with her body on her own terms before she can truly open up to another person. Or, her partner needs to be someone who can help her open herself to her own sexuality and ability to give and receive pleasure.

  • Lingerie, sex toys, techniques that will "drive your man wild" may find a place in your sex life. BUT - the true cornerstone of sexual fulfillment is communication between partners. Being honest and open about emotions, needs and desires, rather than trying to live up to unrealistic expectations, opens dimensions of sexuality that are far more sacred than any attempts to recreate false media images of sex.

  • Trust is most likely the biggest issue - allowing oneself to be penetrated by another is a big deal. Our culture sees women as passive, rather than recognizing the profound act of receiving another in one's body. There is nothing passive about this act. It takes tremendous trust to receive another and for the other to be received - this is true intimacy.”

What Would You Include on this List???

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