Women Making Love to Themselves

Are you turned on?

Are you turned on?

Being desired is the orgasm.

That’s true for women, anyway. So says Marta Meana, who studies sexuality at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Women are most turned on by feeling irresistible to their lovers, she adds.

In his book, What Do Women Want? Daniel Bergner introduces us to Isabel, who’s turned on by “the constancy” of her lover’s eyes, which make her see her own body as urgently alluring.

What do women want?

After talking to sex researchers and several real-life women, Mr. Bergner concludes that a woman wants the man she loves to feel a fierce hunger for her.

In this fierce yearning, women often seem to be more turned on by their own allure than by their partners’ physical magnetism.

In a sense, they are making love to themselves through their lovers’ eyes.

A lot of women get aroused via this tangled love making. Quite possibly without realizing that this is how it’s working. Some of my women students do a double take – and then nod their heads in recognition — when I talk about this.

Women’s sexual alienation

Female sexual alienation is what Linda Phelps calls the phenomenon.

Alienation usually comes from a place of powerlessness. And straight women can be relatively disempowered in sexual relationships.

Turned on? Or off?

Turned on? Or off?

A straight woman usually waits for her lover to act on her. So she uses a passive magnetism — her beauty — and then waits for him to ask her out, make the first moves, and (hopefully) call the next day. Because she doesn’t want to seem too forward, too desperate, too sexually interested or too “slutty.”

And a woman who is more aroused by feeling her partner’s desire for her body than by desiring her partner’s body (plenty of us, apparently!) is also experiencing another type of alienation. For she is at least somewhat separated from an experience — namely, making her partner the focus of her desire — that she should be a part of.

I’ve talked before about why women’s bodies are more eroticized (see “related posts” below). But basically, our culture does not eroticize the male body by:

  1. selectively hiding and revealing body parts, creating tension
  2. hiding a body part because it’s “so sexy” and then telling people, “Don’t look at it!” creating tension
  3. culturally obsessing over the body part. (Cameras rarely focus on men’s butts or linger on their chests. Or anything else.)

Making women the sexy half of the species.

Put it altogether and it’s not so surprising that so many women gain pleasure by vicariously making love to themselves thru their lovers’ eyes.

Related Posts

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 28, 2015, in body image, feminism, objectification, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Isn’t this really just plain narcissism? It was rumored that when Sadaam Hussein showed up at the mosque for prayer, people would jokingly assume he was praying to himself. Women making love to themselves is the same idea. Are we men desired, loved, or appreciated for anything? Seriously. I guess it is asking too much to make love to him?

    “After talking to sex researchers and several real-life women, Mr. Bergner concludes that a woman wants the man she loves to feel a fierce hunger for her.”

    As for the one she loves……I guess that depends on how we define love. What about women who have sex with men whom they do not love? Or men whom they would not even date? I understand female sexuality is more complex than male…but this whole idea is just another form of narcissism. It’s me me me me me me. What about WE?

    I think what Bergner really means is she wants the man she DESIRES (not love) to have a fierce hunger for her. And I will venture to say this is a temporary state of affairs, at best.

    “Alienation usually comes from a place of powerlessness. And straight women can be relatively disempowered in sexual relationships.”

    Women are free to ask men out. No? But, when you hold a privileged (like White male) position in the dating and sex world, there is very little incentive for women to change. I find it very hard to believe that a gender that has a clear privileged position in sex and dating is somehow disempowered in sexual relationships.

    The one who is truly disempowered is the man who must always ask for everything be it in dating relationship or marriage. There is nothing stopping a wife from initiating sex with her husband. Is there? So, one has to question who is really alienated in sexual relationships. I think it is men. Not women.

    • Your comment inspires a blog post idea. Maybe more than one. For now I’ll just say:

      . It sounds like you are blaming women. But patriarchy is that cause — by heightening arousal of the female body while ignoring the male body.

      . The situation isn’t so great for women. Not only is it alienating, but since around 80% of young women have poor body image, it backfires and is the source of a lot of sexual dysfunction.

      Agree that the woman doesn’t have to love the man. The term “Love” is overly used, and overly used here: I used the term as a shortcut to communicate that a woman won’t get aroused just by the fact that a man is desiring her, it has to be someone she’s interested in.

      re this: “Alienation usually comes from a place of powerlessness. And straight women can be relatively disempowered in sexual relationships.” Women are free to ask men out. No?”

      Not as much as you would expect, even today. See these posts:

      Why Women Don’t Ask Guys Out https://broadblogs.com/2014/02/03/why-women-dont-ask-guys-out/
      Yeah, I’ve Asked Men Out https://broadblogs.com/2014/02/10/yeah-ive-asked-men-out/
      Do Men Want Women To Ask Them Out? https://broadblogs.com/2014/02/14/do-men-want-women-to-ask-them-out/

      re “There is nothing stopping a wife from initiating sex with her husband. Is there?”
      There is not. But many times they don’t because of sexual dysfunction.

      The way that disempowerment works in this situation is that women feel like they must attract men, because they often feel they can’t actively assert themselves, Lest they be labeled desperate or slutty or are taking over his role. And that encourages them to make themselves the objects of desire. As does the overall patriarachal culture.

  2. I totally agree. It’s been cultural for decades that women are seen as alluring objects of beauty. I hate to use the word “object” but it explains why sometimes, even when we are in a long term marriage, (we already have the guy) we still get satisfaction out of dressing up and strutting around in public. It feels good to feel attractive and sexy. I have definitely always had that feeling – that is pleases me more so than anyone else. I like it that way.

  3. I don’t know why I’d ever go to bed with someone I wasn’t attracted to. But hell yes I want to be desired too!!

    • These women are definitely attracted to the man they’re with. It won’t work unless there’s some attraction there. And I’m sure that plenty of men want to feel desired, too. It’s just that men are quite likely to be more focused on how attracted he is to her body parts instead of how attracted she is to his body parts.

  4. Interesting post. I can definitely attest to wanting my partner to desire me and vice versa. And so agree- that if we come at it passively, then we’re disempowered in the whole experience. I also think it is important for a woman to desire herself and be tuned into her own desires and pleasures not just in the bedroom but in life.

  5. Fascinating post. Indeed, even I feel both the individual in adoration ought to have a desire for one another.

  6. …you’re totally right. I totally *do* “make love to myself”, lol. When I sexually fantasize about the person I like, I often look at pictures of myself from days he saw me. And I imagine him getting turned on by how hot I am.

  7. While I do believe a woman should be able to desire herself and feel confident in the choices she’s making within her life, I would have to disagree with the analysis that a woman trickles that feeling into her sexual relationship with her partner. Being in a sexual relationship is about the expression of those feeling you have for each other, not about the feelings you bring to that other person. What I think this article is really boiling down to how stereotypical gender roles are still in place even when engaging in a very personal act with a partner, thus leading women to suppress their eagerness and focus on what their partner is enjoying, rather than what they should be enjoying together. Being a straight woman in relationship, I fiercely disagree with the idea of “passive magnetism” and felt disappointment for women who censor their sexual feelings and wait for their partner to engage first. Furthermore, stating “it’s not so surprising that so many women gain pleasure by vicariously making love to themselves thru their lovers’ eyes” sheds a very stereotypical light on women, especially in regards to straight women. The idea that a woman gains pleasure in the idea she is good enough for her partner shows that men still have a dominance over women. Consequently, I don’t believe men are knowingly doing this and this topic is more of how society has warped women’s perception of themselves in a male presence. Women are very powerful beings and to learn that we still cling to the idea that our opposing sex still has dominance over us is very disheartening.

    • First, there’s a difference between a stereotype and the social pattern. Stereotypes say (for instance) that all women are like this. And for biological reasons. Social patterns are REAL PATTERNS found in society. And they are created by our social environment, they are not biological.

      I didn’t say that all women are the way I’m describing. I said that many women are. And then I talked about some social circumstances that help to create the pattern. What happens is that both women and men unconsciously internalize their society — the society is in their heads. It’s not a deliberate process on the part of either women or men. It happens unconsciously. I try to explain how this phenomena happens in some other posts like this one:

      Why Do Women Fight Against Their Own Interests?
      https://broadblogs.com/2011/10/21/why-do-women-fight-against-their-own-interests/
      By the way, the title is more extreme than the reality — to catch people’s attention.

      Different women have different ways of experiencing all of this and not everyone experiences female sexual alienation. What you’re talking about is something different from what I’m talking about (“stereotypical gender roles are still in place even when engaging in a very personal act with a partner, thus leading women to suppress their eagerness and focus on what their partner is enjoying, rather than what they should be enjoying together”). That happens a lot too, but it’s a different phenomenon from what I’m describing here. And maybe you haven’t experienced female sexual alienation. But just to be clear, what talking about is this:

      It’s not at all unusual for a woman in bed with her partner to see him looking at her breasts and imagine how aroused he feels, and she then feels the arousal herself — and part of the reason she is feeling the arousal is because she has learned that her breasts are arousing (https://broadblogs.com/2010/11/29/women-learn-the-breast-fetish-too/). And so she is actually feeling his arousal, which she can easily relate to because she has learned to find female body parts sexier, a bit more titillating. see:

      https://broadblogs.com/2011/01/10/women-seeing-women-as-sexier-than-men/
      https://broadblogs.com/2015/10/05/women-are-more-sexually-fluid/

      and as you say “Being in a sexual relationship is about the expression of those feeling you have for each other” it certainly true, And can even be true in this experience. Depends on where the focuses at the time. It might shift back and forth between the two types of experiences.

      Thanks for your thoughts because it helps me to clarify what I’m trying to communicate for future writings.

  8. I agree with you, I believe that most women are obsessed with themselves. We use the excuse that we want to look pretty for our other half or for other people, but is that true? And if it is, is it really worth it? We spend 1000s of dollars ever year in beauty product and clothing, we diet, limit ourselves and exercise countless hours to “look good.” Yet, we are never satisfied, we are constantly trying to improve ourselves. Sometimes to a point that we neglect those around us. We love hearing how pretty we look and don’t miss an opportunity to check ourselves out in the nearest reflective surface we can find. We are constantly, and of course secretly, check other women out to compare ourselves. If we “look good” we feel good, boosting our self esteem. But in reality are we doing it for them or for us? If our relationships were really based on love we would have no need to try to “improve” our image, we would accept each other as we are.

  9. I’ve actually been thinking about the concept of ‘sexual narcissism’ – I don’t mean to blame women for it, since like you say a lot of it is created by social forces, but it seems a lot of women have a relationship to sexuality that seems to focus mostly on themselves: how sexy or attractive they are, rather than being as outwardly focused on men the way men tend to be with women. The idea that women are sex objects, or the cause of erotic desire, which is a culturally relative one, reinforces the idea that female = sexual. In the past century or so females/women are often reduced to sexual objects/sex symbols, who’s main purpose is to be something to be attained, rather than a human being with her own thoughts and desires. It’s like the idea that women just want money and ‘nice things’, and will flaunt their assets to get that.

    • I have personally experienced it – all except for your last sentence — and was shocked when I first read about this. Well, both shocked and recognizing. And I don’t think that is healthy. It is an unconscious process that leads to an alienating and convoluted sexuality.

      I’ve surveyed my students on this topic and pretty much all of them experienced the sexual alienation – but like me, largely in the sense of not being able to experience sexuality as well as we could because we get so distracted by the alienation – largely in the sense of not being able to experience sexuality as well as we could because we get so distracted by how we look and hoping you look good enough. Or worrying that we don’t. Hardly any women experienced what you described in the last sentence. It does sometimes happen and maybe it seems like a bigger deal since people notice it when it does happen. But it doesn’t seem to be common. I’ve never experienced it myself.

      • I have to say that this has helped me a lot in a weird sense. I have suffered from sexual dysfunction as a female and I have always been more attracted to how turned on my body made my male partner feel, but have had a lot of self consciousness and body confidence issues that combined with intimacy issues lead to my sexual dysfunction. I also realized that I was getting aroused to the female form, particularly breasts like the article you shared. But the thought of actually going down on a girl makes me sick and especially wouldn’t pursue a romantic relationship with one. Also I’ve had a few drunken girl make out sessions with girls and enjoyed them, but women are encouraged to explore these things in a way men are not. But this has lead to me being confused by my sexual identity especially since I’ve had problems with orgasms. I thought I might have been Bi but was repressing it, but in real life I’ve only ever been male crazy and just really admire a women’s beauty and a little obsessed with their bodies. I thought the way woman are overly sexualized is the reason too and I found your blog. It doesn’t help that I also had a porn problem which isn’t as common in women but more common than people are lead to believe. I was exposed at a very young age and have had an obsession with it ever since. Although I am officially stopping for good since its only causing more harm for me personally with my own self image and confusing desire from reality vs conditioned attitudes/responses.

      • I’m glad I could help. I’ll be writing more on this issue. Maybe these will also help:

        Women Are More Sexually Fluid
        https://broadblogs.com/2015/10/05/women-are-more-sexually-fluid/
        Sexual Fluidity, Images & Biology
        https://broadblogs.com/2015/10/19/sexual-fluidity-images-biology/

        And here are some paragraphs from some things I’m working on:

        University of Utah Prof. Lisa Diamond makes a distinction between sexual orientation, which appears to be biologically-based, and arousal — which is more flexible and “fluid.” Fluidity may be expressed in different kinds of ways. Self-identified labels may shift over time, actual sexual behavior changes, sexual feelings that had once been drawn to men are suddenly drawn to a woman, or genital or brain responses may become aroused by a stimulus that is not attached to the gender one is sexually interested in. Like Vickie, age 46, who is introduced in a HuffingtonPost article called, “Why So Many Straight Women Watch Lesbian Porn” Vickie gets off on lesbian erotica, which she watches three or four times a month. But she’s never found herself attracted to a real-life women.
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/08/straight-women-lesbian-porn_n_7689072.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women

        Dr. Dylan Selterman, a psychologist who lectures at the University of Maryland, explains that everyone has a sexual orientation, but the degree to which a person is sexually fluid is a separate variable that operates alongside orientation. Some people are highly fluid and others are less so. Sexual fluidity can be expressed as a change in which gender a person is drawn to. Straight — yet you fall in love with your best friend. This shift happens only one time in your entire life and the shift is focused on a specific person not an entire gender, so your basic orientation is heterosexual with fluidity in this one instance. Or fluidity can occur simply as a shift in sexual response.
        http://www.scienceofrelationships.com/home/2014/10/13/debunking-myths-about-sexual-fluidity.html

  10. This is not sexual alienation.. I call this ‘self-centered’, ‘sexual narcissist & ‘selfish behavior. Again your post proved that ‘women are not attracted to the masculine form’..they are just aroused by the thought of using as a sex object.. It’s kind of fetish other than attraction like some hetero-men have who is willing to hook up with gays, though they are not actually homosexuals.

    • I don’t understand what you’re saying here, But taking a guess here’s my response.

      1) What you call narcissism is an unconscious process — one which women typically aren’t even aware of doing. And most of the time it doesn’t work in women’s favor, anyway, since 80% of women have poor body image.

      2) Women find men visually attractive. But the culture doesn’t fetishize male body parts, So women don’t learn to do that either. There’s a difference between finding a person attractive and fetishizing their body parts.

  11. Thank you for the reply. 🙂

  12. I can totally agree with this! There is something about feeling wanted and wanting to feel loved by your partner! I think it’s interesting that we women don’t want to be seen as sex objects yet crave this desire to feel wanted.

    I think that with society today, woman can’t be straightforward with wha they want without being judged and labeled as a slut. It’s really unfortunate that woman go through alienation like this and feel like their partner is the focus of the relationship.

    • Yeah it’s very strange phenomenon, full of contradictions. Women are taught that they are the sex objects, so they end up being focused on themselves instead of their partner when they are in bed. Or rather, how appealing they think their partner sees them. And one can have a full partnership that gets beyond objectification, even if there is a bit of that singular focus in bed. But something weird is going on here.

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