DO Women Like Sex Less Than Men?

Responses to my post asking why women like sex less than men included:

  • Says who?
  • I think it’s the opposite – I think women like it more
  • I don’t think anyone can know who likes sex better

Or as one reader put it, “The overwhelming majority of men and women get their attitudes and desires for sex primarily through the natural, healthy desire to have sex… Women are equal to men and thus capable of every form of behavior that men engage in.”

To which I respond: no and yes (in that order).

Women are certainly capable of enjoying sex immensely. In some societies women are highly orgasmic and inclined to engage in sex with great frequency, as with Tahitians and American Indians before contact with Europeans.

But highly orgasmic women in America? Not so much – at least not by comparison.

Of course women are capable of having great sex. But the extent to which they actually do depends on factors other than just what nature brings them. Repression plays a role, and so do sexual objectification and male dominance (all will be explored later).

Do women like sex less? Consider this research on sexuality in America:

On the orgasm front three-quarters of men say they “always” have an orgasm, but just 30% of women do. One quarter of women don’t usually have orgasms. In the casual sex of hook-ups the rate is lower, especially for women. Sociologist Michael Kimmel (Guyland) surveyed college students on their most recent hookup. Only 44% of the men reported having an orgasm, and only 19% of the women did.

The more orgasmic a person is, the more they report enjoying sex. Not surprisingly, women report liking sex less than men do. A Chicago University study found that men have more interest in sex at all ages. And an ABC News Primetime Live survey found that 83% of men “enjoy sex a great deal,” while only 59% of women do. That same study found that while 70% of men think about sex every day, only 34% of women do.  

Women also experience more sexual dysfunction than men. A report from the Archives of Internal Medicine showed more than one quarter of young women feeling weak sexual desire. While research at the University of Chicago found that 32% of women (but only 15 -17% of men) have low libidos. Not surprisingly, 40% of men say they would like to have more sex than they do now, but only 28% of women feel the same way.

For more evidence of gender difference in sexual interest, see my post: Sex Research: It Doesn’t Fit Me, It Must Be Wrong

I wonder if men ever sit around confiding to friends that sex ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’ve listened to these kinds of conversations with many groups of women, yet it’s hard to imagine men doing the same thing.

The difference in the male and female experience is due mostly to cultural forces. The difference in the female experience between modern Americans and ancient Tahitians is entirely due to culture.

Yet many people think our society has no negative effects on women’s sexuality.

Maybe that’s why we don’t do anything to create change.

Georgia Platts

The Burqa and Individual Rights: It’s Complicated

“Burqa bans” are arising throughout Europe, with France voting their approval this past Tuesday. But many are concerned that the prohibitions limit the individual rights of Muslims.

It’s complicated.

First, the garment itself limits individual rights – women’s. Second, to what extent is the burqa wearer exercising actual choice? Finally, is a ban the best way to go?

Let’s start with the question of women’s choice.

When a society’s way of seeing becomes our own – even when it harms us – the belief is “internalized.” My interest in this phenomenon was sparked by my upbringing. In the early years of the feminist movement women from my church were bused to various conventions to vote down things like equal pay for equal work. I spent afternoons listening to women in my church talk about keeping battered women’s shelters from opening. They were against women receiving priesthood authority, and they were for male leadership in the home.

I didn’t understand why they worked so hard to disempower themselves, their daughters, and other women. But people don’t tend to question the taken-for-granted notions of their culture. It’s simply what you do.  So choice disappears.

The same phenomenon arises in other settings. Saudi women say they don’t want to vote or drive. Many 19th Century American women didn’t want the vote, either. In North Africa women defend the genital mutilations that kill and cripple them.

Burqas limit women’s autonomy and power. Yet some women voluntarily don them, keeping with their culture.

Burqas – or niqabs (face coverings) – prevent wearers from gaining driver’s licenses when they are strictly worn, since identity can’t be confirmed via picture ID. When a city or village lacks public transportation it is hard to get around without a car. That makes it tough to get a job.

Even with transportation it’s not easy finding work in a facemask. The mask seems dehumanizing and eerie, as does the subjugation it represents.

But ethnocentrism is thought weightier than sexism. “Isms” that affect men seem more important than those that affect women – even when women are harmed, as when a female German judge denied a Muslim woman’s appeal for divorce, claiming that being beaten was part of her culture. 

Did women have equal power to create the cultures that harm them?

Some women do resist, but feel pressured, as one of my Muslim students told me when we discussed the matter of covering.

But bans may not be the best way to deal with burqas or niqabs. Bans can backfire since people cling more tightly to their groups when they feel persecuted. As restrictions go into effect more women might actually embrace the burqas that limit them.

A better way may lie in creating conversation so that different cultures can consider a variety of perspectives. I am sure that Westerners and Muslims can learn from each other and our different ways of seeing.

Georgia Platts

Ways of Seeing: Ravaged or Ravishing?

By Robert Rees

We are bombarded with thousands if not tens of thousands of images every day. Occasionally, two images come into such sharp contrast that they can’t be ignored. Such was the case when I opened the New York Times on Sunday, May 2. On page ten  of that issue is a color photo of a 23 year old Congolese woman. The caption says her lips and right ear have been cut off by rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Her shorn head, the blackness of her face, the swollen pink oval around her mouth where her lips had once been (like the exaggerated lips of “Sambo” or minstrel characters once popular in American culture), and the sideway glance of her eyes as someone (perhaps her mother) touches her remaining ear with what seems tenderness. It is an image so heartbreaking as to make one weep.

                                                                             

In Ways of Seeing John Berger says, “The meaning of an image is changed according to what one sees immediately beside it or what comes immediately after it. Such authority as it retains is distributed over the whole context in which it appears.” Thus . . .

Immediately across the page from this photo is a full page Lord & Taylor ad of a beautiful white woman with long flowing dark hair, green eyes, perfect lips and two ears from which dangle long bejeweled earrings. She is arrayed in such opulence—necklace, pendant, bracelets, a giant opaline or turquoise ring, that the contrast with the Congolese woman is shocking. The juxtaposition of the two images is heightened by the fact that the Congolese woman wears a simple hand-crafted red and black blouse whereas the model wears what looks like an expensive hand-knitted ivory-colored chemise over a pink lace skirt. She holds in each hand a knitted handbag (“only $89”), each covered with roses and each holding a small dog, so laden that she seems barely able to hold them up. This cornucopia of luxury, this picture of desire would never be found in the Congo, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The ad’s caption—“We all have our creature comforts. . . Some of us more than others”—is so ironic as to be almost beyond irony. The motto compounds the irony: “Shop more. Guilt less.” 

Again, John Berger, “A woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste—indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. . . . To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men.” 

The Congolese woman, like the Greek Princess Philomela whose husband Terus cut out her tongue so she could not reveal that he had raped her, has likewise likely been raped and brutally silenced. The severing of her left ear compounds the violation. She will be so disfigured that probably no man will ever touch her again and no compassionate god will turn her into a nightingale. 

The woman in the Lord and Taylor ad will be ravaged by the eyes of a million men who will yet never touch her skin except in their imaginations. And yet in her wildest imagination this white goddess could never see herself in the place of the black tongueless Congolese woman, nor the Congolese woman ever imagine herself in such a space as the woman in the ad inhabits. 

Both of these images are part of the world we live in, although we tend to keep them in separate compartments of our consciousness. The one is horribly real, the other an unreal arrangement by Madison Avenue designers. On another day when they are not juxtaposed, we might consider each separately, but when they are thrust before us in such stark relief, we can turn from neither–only ponder what they tell us about how some of us have more creature comforts than others and how we can remain “guilt less”—and that we are somehow complicit in both.

 Robert A. Rees teaches at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

Early Islam’s Feminist Air

The founders of three great religions, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed (in order of appearance) were remarkably feminist in their leanings. In the month of Ramadan I would like to explore the feminist air of early Islam.

For centuries Muslim women enjoyed greater rights than most women in the world. The Koran gives women the right to work and to own property. Mohammed abolished female infanticide, slavery, and a widow’s obligation to marry her husband’s brother. Indeed, women were given the right to give their consent to marry.

Some things that look sexist today were a great step forward at the time. Women could become heir to one third of what a male inherited. (Since men’s role was to support women they were given extra help.) Muslim women were able to inherit much sooner than their Western sisters.

Islamic men are also allowed to marry up to four wives, and each wife must be treated equally. Doesn’t sound too heavenly to our ears, but this was progress from a time when men could marry as many women as they wanted.

Even the most problematic scripture in the Koran was an improvement. Chapter 4 verse 34 reads, “As for those women whose rebellion you justly fear, admonish them first; then leave their beds; then beat them.” This scripture actually gave women some protection against abuse in that men were cautioned against battering as the first response.  

Some Islamic feminists note that there are other definitions for the word “daraba,” than “to beat,” one of which is “to go away.” Something to think about.

With early feminist beginnings it is not surprising that one of the largest, most egalitarian and peaceful societies is West Sumatra, Indonesia.

Yet over time the religion has become increasingly patriarchal in most corners of the world.

In what is claimed “countering Westernization,” Islamic states have kept busy restricting women’s rights, sometimes going against the Koran, as when the Taliban took away women’s right to work, or when the right to consent to marriage is ignored.

As one Islamic feminist put it, “Islam needs to go back to its progressive 7th century roots if it is to move forward into the 21st century.”

Georgia Platts

Sources:

Asra Q. Nomani. “A Gender Jihad for Islam’s Future.” The Washington Post. November 6, 2005

Neil MacFarquhar. “Translation of Koran Verse Spurs Debate.” San Jose Mercury News. March 25, 2007. (Originally published in the New York Times.)

Glenn Beck Doublespeak: Reclaiming the Civil Rights Movement

Doublespeak: Any language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.

Glenn Beck wants to “reclaim” the Civil Rights Movement: “We will take that movement because we were the people that did it in the first place!”

Miami Herald columnist, Leonard Pitts asks: whose “we”? Beck’s “we” sounds like people like Beck: affluent, middle-aged conservatives.

Funny, I thought that particular “we” were the backers of the “Southern strategy” that used racism to attract white votes. In the South this “we” largely turned Republican when Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act.

This is right out of Karl Rove’s playbook: Redefine an idea as it’s opposite. Rove turned “W” from National Guard deserter to Iraq/Afghan War Hero as easily as he swift boated war hero, John Kerry, into an unpatriotic fibber.

Orwellian talk is alive and well on the political right. It pops up when “Conservative Feminists”  resist adopting “a male model of careerism and public achievement as female goals, thereby denying women’s need for intimacy, family, and children.” If they had their way, we’d soon backtrack to a world before feminism.

Future Texas textbooks will question the Founding Fathers’ commitment to separation of church and state. They will diminish Thomas Jefferson and expand anti-feminist, Phyllis Schlafly.  Meanwhile, the slave trade will be renamed the “Atlantic triangular trade.” All thanks to a conservative school board.

Taking “we” back from Beck, Pitts names the Civil Rights Movements’ rightful owners: Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus, Freedom Riders fighting – and sometimes losing their lives – for the right to vote, Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, and Martin Luther King leading the movement.  

Meanwhile the political right will keep trying to take over our thoughts one word at a time.

Georgia Platts