Outside the Sex-Negative Box

Mae West: "When I'm good I'm very good. But when I'm bad I'm better."

Mae West: “When I’m good I’m very good. But when I’m bad I’m better.”

Girls who lack desire are good girls?

Pretty much all of my students have witnessed slut-shaming in high school, and many have experienced it.

Or just listen to the radio and you’ll hear desiring girls insulted as “hoes.”

Because apparently, a girl with desire is a bad girl.

Some young women even defend their virtue after being raped by explaining that they felt no desire. Like Audrie and Daisy:

  • Audrie: I have a reputation for a night I don’t even remember.
  • Daisy: I was not interested in Matt romantically. I considered him my older brother’s friend. I trusted my older brother. I trusted Matt.

Daisy makes clear that she wasn’t sexually motivated. And Audrie seems to be saying she shouldn’t be blamed for sexual activity that she can’t even remember because she was passed out.

Meanwhile, study after study finds that nearly half of American women have low or no sexual desire. When you are constantly damping it down to be a good girl, desire can start slipping away all on its own. At least for women, whose sexuality is more sensitive to repression.

Women’s sexuality has been repressed for so long that low desire is now being called “normal.” Evolutionary psychologists even claim that modern women’s lower desire is an evolutionary good — instead of a devolutionary bad.

When you live in a culture that shames women’s sexuality it can be hard to imagine anything different.

And yet things can be different — and they have been, too.

Sex positive societies

American Indians along the Eastern Seaboard were strongly sex-positive before — and just after — Europeans arrived. Sex was believed to be a great blessing from the gods, not a sin. And for everyone, men and women, alike.

Polynesians felt the same way. In many of these island nations sexuality was relished with gusto, genitals of gods were worshipped, and the female orgasm was prized. There, women were easily — and easily multiply — orgasmic.

Pre-Christian Celts and Norse were sex-positive too.

Things could be a lot different than the punishing world girls and women find themselves in.

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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 January 23, 2017, in sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. It seems the white people repressed sexuality where they wend. Other wise why would a country that worships the penis of a GOD (still does) consider it taboo to even depict a good scene in its movies.
    K that was just trash talk and me being mean :). but I am confused that you are speaking about suppression of women’s libido in this day and age. I though there was pride in being called a hoe or slut. I guess it depends on the context

  2. I can’t believe that a woman still has to ask for an orgasm in 2017.

  3. It doesn’t make sense and it hurts everybody. Women should be free of judgment and be sexual if they want. And their desires should be accepted, as men’s usually are. Well a man can much easier be looked as a ‘perv” compared to a woman by another woman compared to a man viewing a “thirsty” woman. And it’s weird too, since we’ve seen posts how guy’s don’t like the hard times of getting dates and sex and that’s because women’s sexuality being repressed. If and when women are lusty and what supposedly guy’s would like, she’s punished as seen as a slut. So you punish in a convoluted way, women doing what men would like and that’s being more lustful toward men. Like men wanting to be seen as more sexy and bodies lusted after more. Well how’s that supposed to happen when the women or few women who are more sexual and visual, are punished for it? It puts women in a catch 22, where they can’t win and that’s not right or fair and hurts women but also effects men too.

  4. It’s sad how often pseudo-science or patriarchal-standards are used to support this idea that girls/women don’t feel desire but in any instance it’s seen to not be true, those individual women/girls who’s experience/behavior challenges this idea, are shamed and demonized. We’re told girls don’t desire sex but when a gal’s actions can be observed to threaten that idea as false, that girl is slut shamed. We’re told girls always get attached to their sex partners but when a girl’s experience challenges that idea, she’s labeled as loose. So the only option left is to accept sex negative ideas, with that acceptance comes supporting, internalizing, and respect, or be true to self and refuse to follow with sex negative ideas, with that comes stigma, shame, and loss of status.

    I remember, even as belonging to a generation that is more supportive of equality and fairness, in high school/middle school challenge to the slut/stud double standard was met with myths about gals with multiple sex partners having loose vagina. Myths like this were repeated and used to justify the double standard but the most harrowing thing about this is how easily accepted they were. Ideas and double standards that promote sex negativity are so ingrained that even when traditional methods of promoting it(such as religion) are no longer valid or the method outright rejected, we create and easily accept new justifications without question. If religion is no longer enough then evo-psych is used. If blatant inequality is no longer acceptable then new concepts based on myths are used to justify.

    • Well put. It’s a vicious cycle that actually does damp down response and desire, so when women have less desire they are expected to be the gatekeepers, which harms their sexuality.

  5. A ‘good woman’ may not be a ‘feeling good woman’.

    Only a ‘feeling good woman’ can be a good mother.

  6. I was shocked by the truth that half of American women who has low sexual desire. And also the public prejudice about the women who make up with different partners. Let’s assume that if a man got a lot of partners, it’s going be the point to show off in front of others. Conversely, if the same situation happens to the woman, they will be treated as slutty. Is the woman really sexually desiring, or they just do that for the sake of the reputation? People’s bias and negative judgments towards to female are unfair and unacceptable.

    • When you stop and think about it it’s really weird that women get so strongly punished for things men are congratulated for. And yet it seems natural and normal to so many of us.

  7. Well men’s sexuality is repressed too.
    In the media and movies there’s almost always at least a bisexual or lesbian female character who is strong cool and sexy.
    But the very few gay male characters in movies are in comedies playing weak characters. And also there’s almost never a bisexual male character.
    For any male bisexual or gay character in movies I can name you a hundred female bisexual or lesbians characters.

    So the current society accepts female bisexuality and homosexuality as something common and sexy whereas male bisexuality and homosexuality it’s appears to be uncommon and weak and funny.
    Female bisexuality/homosexuality?
    That’s fine and cool and sexy.
    Male bisexuality/homosexuality?
    That’s weak and uncool.
    I am a heterosexual guy but I don’t like double standards

  8. The article gives a really good point about how repressing sexuality in women is more of a an insecurity because not so many women wants to express their desires because they do not want to get slut shamed, I believe the media has much to do with it, and some religious bases. It was acceptable back then in history in various cultures not sure why it not morally acceptable not.

  9. Nailed it. This post speaks my mind.

  10. If a man has a low desire for sex, he is deemed as “unfit, not normal, not a man.” If a woman has a low desire for sex, it is deemed as “normal.” We are not categorized as sexual beings who are a or should be allowed to have pleasure. We are not seen or understood as people who can and should partake in the fun, in the pleasure, in the connection, in nature. Although we are the ones that have the ability to reproduce and maintain the life lines for men, we are also coincidentally shamed for trying to enjoy our experiences. I have found myself frustrated with this notion, growing up in America. In Europe, it is a bit different. People enjoy and speak out about sex and their sexualities/sexual encounters. It is celebrated because we all understand it is a normal part of life and love. I don’t keep track of my “number” (number of people I’ve slept with) anymore, because it shouldn’t be about my number that deems me as a slut or a prude. It shouldn’t be about the time I had a one nighter or the time I went and slept with 3 different people within the span of a week (examples here, not personal examples). Sex is a blessing, it is a beautiful experience, and yet here in America it is considered taboo. But on the flip side, America is the largest producer and consumer of pornography. This industry teaches people about what not to do, what to expect from women, and shows unfair/untrue scenarios about sexual encounters. It frustrates me because many men also prefer to watch pornography rather than to go out and find someone of their liking. These people walk into the bar with false expectations and desires based on the things they watch and are upset/start to shame women for not “meeting these expectations.”

    • Yep: If a man has a low desire for sex, he is deemed as “unfit, not normal, not a man.” If a woman has a low desire for sex, it is deemed as “normal.”

      We need a more sex-positive society for women!

  11. Nice post! The sex-positive movement is something that is becoming more and more needed in current times. The notion that sex is something that people look down at other people for having, or not having is not just ridiculous. Women who love having sex are sometimes looked at as unicorns. And women who do not love sex? “What a prude.” Just because a woman doesn’t want to have sex with you, does not mean she does not like sex.
    Sex-positivity can begin at a young age with females, teaching them about their body parts, and not making it an embarrassing topic from the get go can really help a young girl growing up. I have two younger sisters (11 years younger, and 16 years younger than me), and I have had them come to me with what would be deemed an ‘uncomfortable question’ about sex, but instead of making it an uncomfortable conversation, and starting them off being embarrassed or even ashamed with the question, I turned it into something they can learn from. “The talk” is such a big part of American tradition, but why does there need to be a talk? It can be implemented throughout childhood. Parents seem to choose lying over sex, telling children they wish for babies and then one shows up, or that when you have sex with someone it means you love them is not the way to go about teaching children about sex.
    And it does not need to only be taught to girls. Telling a girl “don’t let boys touch you” or “stay away from them” does not help either. Boys should be taught about consent from an early age. And about respecting people around them.

    A little off topic, but to readers who like podcasts, there is a great informative, funny, and really likable podcast called “Guys We F**cked” which is made by two comedian feminists who talk a lot about sex positivity, and gets more in depth with women who like sex, and how normal that really is.

  12. Occasionally, I forget that my own view on sexuality is an anomaly. I have always been incredibly interested in sex and the biology of it. When I was eleven I googled the definition for “orgasm,” (it didn’t do me much good; what did they mean by a “climax” in sexual activity? I thought it was all good.) I religiously watched sex educator Laci Green’s videos on YouTube, and I frequently brought up the topic of masturbation with my mom. It was my openness on all things sex that led to my friend group expressing themselves equally openly. We would share our own experiences with self experimentation long before any of us were sexually active–it was my best friend who suggested I try using a shower head instead of my hand for a stronger orgasm. My willingness to discuss a topic that many consider taboo has led to me having what I consider a pretty fulfilling sex life. When girls my age say that they have yet to have an orgasm with another person, I emphasize communication, not realizing that’s where the problem lies. People are afraid to discuss sex, despite it being a natural human process. We focus on getting our male partners off, and leave ourselves in the dust, irritable and dissatisfied. I wish that I had a quick fix, something I could tell people to automatically make sex wonderful, but unfortunately we need to break down some barriers first.

    • Lucky you! A lot of women don’t know enough about their own bodies to be able to communicate. And many women have suppressed desire so much that they are no longer in touch with it. I’m glad that you have escaped that!

  13. When I had learned about sexual stuff I did not really have a desire to do it. I felt the need to get in touch with myself at times, and that was enough. I had always wanted to be respected which became more of a desire than doing things sexual with another person. I have had some experiences, yet none of them made me feel the desire to want to continue them. It always lead back to if I did not feel respected or as I respected myself the desire was not there. I finally found someone that challenged me and respected me to the degree that I did. The things that happen between him felt very natural, and the more things that happen the more desire I had. He ended up going across the US for school. And I am back down to the respect for myself and no desire to do sexual things. This really got me thinking, did I find the person I want to be with, and only want to do things with him because he sparks my desire? I still to this day have a hard time figuring it out.

    • Because women’s desire is more punished and repressed in our culture– leaving women out of touch with their own desire–it takes more to get women interested. So I’m guessing that this particular man is someone who you were super-interested in, a man who really sparked your desire. And you haven’t met someone like that since.

  14. It’s weird how we have this double standard in our society. Why should the sexual activities of one gender be negative, yet positive for another gender in the same culture? It creates this problem where women are trained to turn away from sex and men are taught to embrace it, to the point where it changes our desires and creates complications in romantic relationships. There are women who are affected by the stigma so deeply that they lose their sexual desire and then struggle with any romantic relationships they have with men because sex is considered a normal and expected part of the relationship. Why would we want to create this type of situation? Really, what is the benefit of slut-shaming? We live in a society where women are taught that they are not allowed to have sex, and then told that they are broken when they lose the desire for sex. And we create men with high sex drives and pair them with “broken” women and then blame the woman for her lack of desire.

    • Yup.

      Slut-shaming makes no logical sense. It only makes sense in patriarchies. It helps to create a sense of male dominance when men are free but women are not. Men are celebrated and women are shamed.

  15. Wonderful blog.. Everyone in this world need to read your blog

  16. The sexual repression of women could be considered another form of control. We are not in charge of our own body and our sexuality is centered around whether men find us desirable or not. We are merely play things. Women who take control of their sexual pleasure and awareness are slut shamed or considered aggressive. Media plays a large role in our sexual repression, it is just another step, media tells us that women should not enjoy sex, that it is not the norm and to be a woman and enjoy sex is wrong. How often do we see television shows depicting the woman disparaging sex while the man negotiates it? This creates a paradigm for both men and women where men believe that they must negotiate and coerce sex while women believe that they must resist and minimize sexual desire. Women should take control of their own sexual desire in whatever form that may take place and own it for themselves.

    • “The sexual repression of women could be considered another form of control. We are not in charge of our own body and our sexuality is centered around whether men find us desirable or not.”

      Yes, that’s it, isn’t it?

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