What women want in their sexual lives is a relatively new question coming from the place of women choosing their own participation and choices around their sexuality that came with access to birth control in 1964, and right to choose Roe Vs Wade in 1973. Desire was a secondary measure of a woman’s sexuality until the social revolution of the late 1960’s with sexual equality emerged with the potential of women having choice and responsibility in their lives as sexual beings, equal to their partners. Prior to the sexual revolution, the function of women sexually were the only studies undertaken by social or medical science. For example, Masters and Johnson began as a result of fertility studies, because the primary function of a women’s sexuality was to be a partner to her husband and produce babies in families. It was a new perspective and a new area of concern to have the new question: what do women want sexually? The study of women’s sexuality with the scientific community changed their perspective on female sexuality in the studies from the experience of sexuality for women. The study of female orgasm was a new field of interest as women took on a more equal role in sexual choice and participation. The new day for women and men was about a realm of satisfaction around sexuality for women.
How women were viewed and how they viewed themselves over this period of change in the roles of women in their sexual lives was a new paradigm of studies in 1970. The changes can be measured in participation in marriage and family practices over the years since. David Buss, Ph.D and Cindy M. Meston, Ph.D, Head of the Sexual Psychological Lab at the University of Texas at Austin in 2010 developed through their work a further perspective in their study “Why Women Want Sex Today?”
Forty years after the feminist movement, what we know is, women do not need to marry to have sex, or even to have a partner or a family. Adoption is available to single parents; partnerless conception is a medically sound alternative to adoption as a means to have a family. That being the case, what attracts women to marriage was the basis of the Buss/Meston Study. Today women have their own 401K’s, health insurance through Affordable Healthcare. 44% of working women are supporting their families, women are a majority in the number of college graduates and the highest number of PhD candidates. Many of the values and contributions women gained in marriage are no longer restricted to that format of life choices. So the Meston-Buss study study results were that sex had become defined by women unrelated to those particular benefits where women’s sexual and political equality was in effect. So how did women feel about sex? Their study reported that women felt at choice about sex, and therefore 32% of women 18-24 years of age, single and married reported little interest in sex. 33% of the women of all ages single and married reported little interest in sex. 37% of the 50-60 year old women reported little interest in sex. Rather than this being a cost to their relationship, their preferences could be their own and not a problem for the couples that they studied. The groups studied did not feel the decline in sexual activity was a loss to their relationship. Rather than the lack of interest and activity in sex being a negative, the couples reported satisfaction in their lives with each other.
However, a study by Erik Jassen at the Kinsey Institute added in his study that if one side of the couple is not in agreement with the other in terms of interest in sexual activity, there was a negative impact on the relationship.
Why is this subject of sex important? Is it the case that since for women who live in the context of sexual freedom, sex is an option and not an obligation, entered into out of choice and desire? The quality of women’s sex lives is the measure for women, rather than fulfilling a role, and for the largest percentage of women they studied, a valued and meaningful activity of intimacy. Dr. Oz and most authorities have added to the conversation with the acknowledgement that men and women participating in sexual activity have greater well being, health and longevity and are more optimistic about life. There is no age limit on sexuality, and so in my own research of women approaching 70, the enthusiasm, the interest and the desire for being intimate sexually has only accelerated with the years.
This is the distance we have come since the the sexual revolution of the late 1960’s. There is for some appreciation and approval by women who see their desire as a significant part of the process and identity of women. In the past fifty years, some women have responded to the sexual freedom accessible to them and defined their participation. The modern woman, the free woman allows for herself choice and appetite as the factors that correlate with how she lives her life.
There are women in many places in the world where the choice around their sexuality falls within the realm of no choice: these are the women whose choices come from entitlement to sex by their partners, and sexual obligation due to social perceptions of the role of women and their value. Procreation and availability to be of benefit to her husband sexually and to bare his children are the known quantity for many women in the world.
For these women, choices are made for them at birth or at age ten about the use of their bodies; the orientation of sexuality having the content of desire, gratification and pleasure is not on the table of awareness or practice for segments of the world where women have little or no power afforded to them. In an Indian village last week, NPR had a story about a town council that punished a woman who wanted to marry outside her social level by having the whole tribe of men rape her. These stories are painful to hear but a reminder that women and their ability to choose their lives, sexually and otherwise, is recent. It has been only fifty years that women had the potential for freedom, sexually, economically or politically.
It is a recent transition in the past fifty years that women’s rights became an option, a means for women to choose their destiny, their paths as sexual beings. There are those in our country and throughout the world who seek to reduce women’s right to choose and determine the use of their bodies, there are countries where women’s voices cannot be heard. Sexual slavery of women in ISIS has been a headline astonishing the world. But a return to the past is not possible for most countries as the gifts to men and women in their value and participation in having equality as the measure of their lives has been a page turned that cannot be dismissed.
The new day, the new context of modern feminism issuing from the 1970’s is a practice and conversation about choice and gratification, dignity and respect. Variations on how families form, and the value and necessity of marriage for sex or bearing children have over the past thirty years changed; civil rights and human rights are the future promise in process. The freedom women have gained and the shifts and changes that impacted men and women in equalitarian roles and functions in relationships is where we are headed. Female sexuality has been the gateway for gains in political and economic equality measures, and the energy and future of current generations are about continuing rather than limiting the transformation underway.