Sex Lessons from Mom and Dad

Even when girls and boys get the same negative message about sex, girls seem to come out worse. 

Many young people only get silence from their parents on the subject. But silence communicates: Sex is unmentionable, shameful. 

Parents often worry that raising the subject will lead kids to have sex. Actually, when parents talk, their children are less likely to become sexually active, and more likely to behave responsibly. 

“Don’t touch yourself there.” Another message linking sex and filthiness. 

The advice doesn’t always work as hoped. Sex therapist Lonnie Barbach tells of one little girl who, “put that extraordinarily dirty place directly under the faucet of the tub in order to wash it more thoroughly and was pleasantly surprised to find that the water created a most intense sensation which culminated in orgasm.” 

Other little girls aren’t so lucky. 

Here’s the downside to the parental rebuke. Touching yourself is exactly what sex therapists advise when women have trouble achieving orgasm. Because they often don’t understand how their bodies work. 

In fact, while parents may scold both boys and girls, the reproach seems to have a more negative impact on girls. Boys who don’t touch themselves, and who don’t have sex, will have wet dreams because their bodies need regular ejaculations to create fresh sperm. This clues boys in to how their bodies work. 

Girls don’t always figure out how the clitoris works. It’s an organ that’s small and hidden, and girls’ bodies don’t force orgasms. Women can go their entire lives, having many babies, without ever experiencing one. 

Nearly all men masturbate, but only half of women do. Perhaps this is why. 

But parents give boys more positive messages about sex, too. “Never waste a boner,” a male student volunteered when I asked what sorts of parental advice they’d heard. 

Girls probably won’t hear anything remotely similar. 

We’ve all heard how boys are told to sew their wild oats before marriage, while girls are encouraged to abstain. Some dads have even taken their daughters to “purity balls” and vowed “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.” A little extreme. And the notion of “covering” a daughter seems a little creepy. But it reflects the larger society’s concern with girls’ “sexual cleanliness.” 

Girls and boys get different messages on sexuality from parents. And even when they don’t, girls’ sexuality can be more damaged. 

Georgia Platts 

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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

Readers Discuss: Are Women Polygamous?

Below are comments on the question: Are women naturally, or culturally, monogamous? They’re edited for brevity and clarity. I’ve organized them and added my comments in italics.

Polygamous women

  • I seem to be different than the study, but then so are most males I know.
  • Divorced at age 33, I experienced a natural heightening of sexual interest and there were a number of men with whom I had sex during the next 7-8 years. I enjoyed it all tremendously and learned at lot about men and about myself. During that time, I met only one man I would have considered as a life partner. Now I realize that the relationship was great because the sex was great.
  • If women were paid equally and had equal opportunity in the job market, I think that monogamy would be weakened.  When I earned more my husband, and could survive financially on my own, my sexual behavior changed as well.

 Polygamous men

  • Sex is so pleasurable. Why limit yourself from pleasure so long as everyone knows the ground rules – that this is about pleasure and not about commitment or love.
  • Sex is magical. I would like to have sex with as many women as possible. But I always thought women experienced sex the same as I do.  It hadn’t occurred to me that they might not.

Research suggests that women, on average, don’t enjoy sex as much as men do. U.S. women enjoy sex less than women in some cultures, but more than women in others. I’ll explore why later.

Jealousy and not loving equally

Women who are interested in polygamous sex can discover difficulties:

  • As a lesbian I have a perspective that is completely woman oriented.  I personally have had more than one lover at a time and found it difficult since I was always trying to explain why I was leaving to visit someone else.  One always seems to love one more than the other. 

 Meeting social expectations: Women

  • Here is my confession – two or three times I allowed myself to be picked up at a party or a bar. I am still so ashamed of those incidents. Remembering them makes me feel so dirty! I thought it was expected.  You know – times were changing.  Everybody did it. I now believe I let myself be used by men who were only after a little fun and had no serious intentions.
  • I let myself be used by men who were only looking for fun… then I felt ashamed! Many women were brainwashed into believing they would enjoy it as much as men only to realize they were no more than a toilet bowl or conquest.  I am sorry to disappoint but sex ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Many may hide the shame and humiliation they feel by saying they liked it.

Women are punished for sex
Some women feel pressured to have sex, but they are also punished when they have it, labeled “sluts”:

  • The stigma attached to women likely keeps the number (of lovers they report) low
  • (At least men) seem to have each others’ backs. Women don’t. They’re often quick to stab each other in the back.

Meeting social expectations: Men

  • Men might be lying too since the cultural expectation for them seems to be quantity rather than quality.
  • Men also have cultural expectations to live up to: amass notches on their belts.

 Agreed. Women claim 5 lovers and men claim 12. Women must be underestimating and men exaggerating. The real number for both is likely in between: 8 or 9.

A man’s view:

  • I wanted to have threesomes for the longest time. Then I realized it was largely about feeling left out of something I thought everyone else was doing.

There’s also plenty of research on how men feel pressured to notch up “conquests” in order to be valued by other men.

Shallow, one-dimensional vs deep, connected relationship

  • Women prefer depth, romance, quality in a relationship. They know that the closer one is in spirituality, emotions, the better the sex. Women need that depth to be fulfilled.
  • A purely physical relationship requires little work. You don’t have to concern yourself with messy thoughts or feelings beyond the immediate moment. It’s shallow and one dimensional. Real relationship takes depth: looking at someone’s worth beyond pretty eyes, nice butt, and teeth.
  • I have heard some women say they enjoy casual sex – but in 62 years I have heard far more say they haven’t enjoyed any sex let alone casual – meaningless sex. It’s intimacy we want!  But I am still waiting for the rush of women who can honestly tell us about all the hot meaningless sex we have been missing! I’m all ears?

Men desiring depth, connection too:

A woman’s perspective

  • I met both kinds of guys when I was dating. I met guys who seemed downright anxious to connect on a deeper level and guys who would lie in a NY minute if they thought it would get them into my pants faster.

A man’s perspective

  • Our sexuality and the expression of it before and during (and after) marriage is, I am convinced, one of the more complicated aspects of what it means to be human. One could argue that God created men and women different sexually (in all the ways!) because to come together in meaningful intimacy (erotic or sexual) requires the development and expression of our deepest and highest virtues—sacrifice, humility, and kindness (even long-suffering at times!), and especially love. It is among the most meaningful and challenging dances we do.

And, don’t forget the men in men’s studies.  Both Michael Kimmel and John Stoltenberg recommend men do sex from a place of love and commitment, and they say that is where the come from, themselves.

SOURCES:  Comments from:
Blogs: BroadBlogs and FreeMeNow
Facebook
Various lists responded either to the list, or to me via email
Student discussions

Are Women Naturally Monogamous?

Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary biology, was skeptical of evolutionary psychology, which sees women as monogamous and men as polygamous, due to genetics. Let’s take a closer look.

Children have the best shot at surviving if their mothers mate with only one man, who sticks around to provide support and resources. Thus, women prefer men who are older and richer. Moms put a lot into their kids because they have a small number of eggs compared with the millions of sperm that men produce. So says evolutionary psychology.

On the other hand, men will have more children (and reproduce their genes) if they are promiscuous, because of their large sperm count.

This premise seems to contradict the prior point that children are more likely to survive if their fathers are around to support them. Maybe more survive than don’t. Or perhaps it’s a survival of the fittest worldview: Babies who can survive without resources improve the gene pool?

The bigger dilemma: How do men manage to enjoy many partners when women are monogamous?

Men also value beauty above all else because attractiveness indicates health and an ability to reproduce. Oddly, supermodels are the most sought-out, yet they’re often so thin that they no longer menstruate. And I hadn’t known that so-called unattractive women were infertile. But never mind.

Returning to Darwin’s concern – and it doesn’t take a genius like him to make this observation – while evolutionary psychology had fit nicely with British middle-class behavior, where women sought resources and men sought beauty, Darwin pointed out that the theory did not fit with the British upper class. There, men were more concerned with wealth than good looks.

Other cultures don’t fit the theory so well, either.

Gauguin’s infatuation with Tahiti likely came in part from the women’s desire for many sex partners (prior to European influence).

Meanwhile, Europeans who were among the first to arrive in the Americas were shocked by similar behavior among the native women.

In these Tahitian and Native American societies, the entire community cared for children, and property passed through women, so men’s resources weren’t an issue. These women weren’t called sluts, either.

Once Europeans transformed these cultures, things quickly turned around. 

It appears that social structures and culture trump biology in explaining women’s monogamy.

There is more to discuss, but I’ll leave that for later.

For now I must ask: Are evolutionary psychologists unfamiliar with this information, or do they simply ignore it because the theory so well justifies a status quo in which women are told to stay monogamous, but understand men’s need for many partners.

After all, it’s in men’s genes – or was that jeans?

Georgia Platts

Source:
Lips, Hilary M. Sex and Gender, 4th Edition. Mayfield. 2001