My goal as an author and educator is to challenge and change the cultural message about women’s sexuality. Out of curiosity I asked Facebook followers what they wished their parents had told them about sex when they were teenagers. The responses, primarily from adults over 45, were fascinating, and often sad. The older women in the crowd gave a similar response: “Anything”. As in, I wished I’d been told anything.
Most women were given little, if any, information about sex back in the early 60s. We had to learn second-hand, from “dirty” novels, or at the hands of boys who were equally uneducated about sex.
The majority of responses on my FB feed reinforce the way we currently educate girls and women about sex. An absence of information hampers their ability to make informed choices. The message we get directly or indirectly is that women aren’t supposed to want sex. Our desire makes us whores or sluts. So, we’re left with the notion that men are the ones with desire and women are breeding instruments or merely there to serve at his pleasure.
Here are some of the other comments people shared about the messages from their parents:
- Marry him if you have sex with him.
- Sex isn’t always about attraction or love,
- How much fun it is with the right partner.
- That it was ok to say no if I wasn’t ready, to take my time, and that just because someone wanted to have sex didn’t mean they liked me.
- That it’s ok to enjoy it.
- More about the emotional impact of sex, how sometimes it can create a bond, maybe with someone you’re not really sure you WANT to create a bond with.
- Why to. Or why not to. They were good on the mechanics, but without context.
- That it didn’t have be bad, (and used as a weapon when it was) and that there’s no such thing as a frigid woman.
To be fair men didn’t always get positive messages either.
If you’re in your 50’s or 60’s you probably got no information about sex growing up. Your parent(s) didn’t talk to you about love and intimacy or finding pleasure with a partner. Maybe you were told that virginity is to be prized. Keep your legs together, men rape, don’t “give it” to just anyone. Always be on guard. All of this sets women up for a lifetime of not fully understanding her sexuality and possibly, not experiencing pleasure in her body.
Then comes aging–a natural process everyone experiences. Aging is a positive milestone, given the alternative, until we hit some unexpected moment and then body parts soften and sag and then everything starts to change–in good ways and in ways that feel alien. Lacking reliable information about sex, even though we learn through our life time, we find ourselves not knowing how to go forward as a sexual woman during or after menopause. Add in a divorce, the death of a partner, or a chronic illness–ours or a partner’s.
Imagine what all of that can do to your sexuality? Some of you have been fortunate enough to find partners with whom you have, or had, positive experiences. But for some, the struggle of aging and the emotions and pressures of this period of life passage only bring stress and uncertainty about one’s sexual identity.
And we’re left to sort out the messages we’ve absorbed about women’s sexuality and aging.
If we had been taught to know and appreciate our bodies would we have been more intentional in who we had sex with?
If we’d been told about the pleasure to be found in touch–alone or with a partner–would we be more orgasmic? More clear on saying yes when we wanted? And no.
Would women be managing the menopausal and life changes more easily with an enhanced awareness of their bodies? Would we feel less shame and fear around sex?
I don’t have answers to these questions but I suspect that the more we talk about sex and sexuality at every stage of the life the more comfort we have in our bodies and in expressing our sexuality.
Embarrassment, fear, shame, lack of knowledge, difficulty in communicating–all of these things contribute to our difficulty with sexual expression. And, they are all tied to a lack of adequate knowledge as we were growing up.
The good news is that women can learn to communicate, to understand and appreciate their bodies and express sexual wants and desire. It’s what I teach in my book, Inviting Desire, and it’s what I hope you find in my writings and public speaking.
Also published on Medium.