There’s something I have been feeling quite passionate about for a long time, something I however wouldn’t have felt comfortable sharing on this blog merely a year ago: the stigma around women having sex and (god forbid) even enjoying it. It’s laughable how contradictory our generation truly is when it comes to sex; We pride ourselves on being the progressive generation, the one that is open and honest about sex-based topics. Yet when it comes down to it, a lot of us – mainly women – are still too afraid to admit that we have sex, enjoy sex and heck, even crave sex.*
*Take a shot every time you read sex.
Recently I had the pleasure of contributing to an article by Laura, a fellow blogger who doesn’t shy away from having open discussions about all things dating, love, sex and society. 5 women reveal their best and worst sex; That was the title of the article (which you should totally read by the way). When Laura contacted me and asked if I would be willing to share my own experiences, my immediate reaction was pure excitement. My second was doubt. I knew that I wanted to be part of Laura’s article yet I was still hesitant on whether or not I should actually do it, mainly out of fear of judgement and worry that I could be regarded as uncouth or unrefined.
The reason behind my decision to 1) contribute to Laura’s article and 2) finally share my thoughts on this topic is that I realised I had been unconsciously feeding into that stigma I loath so much by NOT writing / talking about it.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with wanting to maintain some privacy. In fact, I believe some things should remain private; That some things are purely meant for my partner and I to share and know. And I will always retain that stance. That’s the beauty of intimacy: sharing vulnerable moments with someone and forgetting what exists beyond your four walls. No fear of judgement, no self-consciousness – in these moments we let go of that mindset and of our diffidence. Just pure, raw intimacy. How very beautiful indeed… definitely something that we need to treasure.
There have been, however, plenty of situations in my teenage and adult life where I have wanted to talk about sex and some aspects of my sex life (surprise! I am not some sexless female!). Yet something always held me back from sharing too much; Shame, embarrassment, fear… Regardless of with friends, family, or with all of you on this blog, there was always this sense of hesitation and questioning how much I could truly share without being judged or being told that it was TMI (too much information). Sex and shame is one of the most harmful combinations out there, one I have definitely been guilty of harboring in the past.
Women desire sex as well
“I miss sex” is something I revealed to a friend not too long ago. An admission that I was terrified of making because I felt like for the most part nobody (and by that I mean no women) ever openly confesses that they crave sex. And talking about female masturbation? Unthinkable. All of this despite it being proven that, on average, women think about sex 18,6 times a day. Although this number is merely half of the amount that men think about sex per day, it shows that (surprise again!) plenty of women want, crave and need sex too. So why is it that women feel the need to act as if they don’t?
Most women have been subject to hearing about all about men’s need for sex from the time we hit puberty. “Men only want one thing” is a phrase most of us probably heard countless times while growing up. Besides stereotyping males, this wide-spread saying solidifies society’s idea that sex is something purely craved and initiated by men and not the other way around. It is a harmful message that enforces (from a very young age) the notion that it is somehow “wrong” of girls to feel regular lust, shameful of women to crave sex and that, above everything, we shouldn’t admit that our sex drive can be just as strong as mens’.
As someone who as been single for a while now, I am no stranger to longer periods without any ~fun sexy time~. I am in the same boat as my single male friends but the inhibition I myself and countless of other women feel while talking about our desire/need to maintain a healthy sex life is significantly lessened, if not almost absent, when it comes to men. I am amazed at the ease with which some men discuss their need for sex, their own experiences and even masturbation. For them it is a topic like any other, easy-breezy chitchat that most of us females hardly ever engage in. If we do, it is done in hushed tones and with half embarrassed, half apologetic smiles.
Female sexuality remains a taboo
The well-known drinking game Never Have I Ever was a nightmare of a situation for me in my teens. More often than not, the topic of masturbation would soon be approached. Never have I ever masturbated in the last 5 days. My thought pattern always followed the same pattern: do I admit it or do I lie? More often than not, I would not drink that round. Instead, I curiously watched the other girls in the room. While almost all boys drank generously, even laughing and joking around, most girls seemed visibly uncomfortable and refrained from drinking and consequently admitting to self-pleasure – just as I did.
Never will I forget the silence when a friend of mine decided to come clean: “Actually, I masturbated this morning”. All heads snapped to her direction. The boys who loudly making masturbation jokes just a second before had fallen silent. The judgement on everyones faces proved: a lot of women who talk about their sex lives (with the same openness as men) are still frowned upon.
Despite living in a sex-dominated society, a large chunk of people still cover their ears, their faces reflecting disgust and disbelief at the thought of a woman having sex or self-pleasuring. A woman having sex is bad enough, a women enjoying sex is even worse. Even women are guilty of promoting the mindset that harms them so much. We unconsciously hold biases towards sexually active women while giving men free passes for the same behavior because “boys will be boys”. After all, women are just as likely to slut shame women as men are.
Sex is part of most of our entertainment outlets, we are surrounded by it constantly. It is in the SIMS games we played when we were younger, the TV shows and films we watch regularly and splattered across newspapers and magazines daily. Women having and enjoying sex in entertainment has been normalised, so why is it that this hasn’t fully translated into the real world?
We have to tackle the sexual pleasure gap
A fascinating article by UnHerd discusses the age-old question if men truly have a higher sex drive than women. Featured are quotes by various men, all claiming something along the line of “women do not enjoy sex” or do not do so as much as they do. “Women may CLAIM to like sex, but you really don’t” one man states. Another quote reads “I have yet to meet a hetero woman who enthusiastically participates in sex”. These comments were met with heavy criticism – and rightly so. Buddy, I hate to break it to you but maybe you just haven’t met a hetero woman who enthusiastically participated in sex WITH YOU.
Despite the great advances in gender equality, female sexuality still remains a taboo. To this day female sexuality is underlined by the outdated notion that women should be pure; That a woman engaging in regular sex is promiscuous, that reaching a certain number means she is a slut or that it somehow doesn’t make her “girlfriend / wife material”.
We need to get past this stigma by collectively fostering an environment in which women feel they can talk about their sex-lives without shame or fear of judgement.This is not about pushing women to share intimate details they would rather keep to themselves. It is about the creation of an environment in which women feel comfortable enough to express their sexuality freely if they want to. And the first step towards this is acknowledgement: All of us – women included – have to acknowledge female sexuality. A woman wanting / craving / needing / initiating / enjoying sex should not be abnormal or shamed. It is neither uncouth, nor unrefined to admit to having a sex life and enjoying it.
10 thoughts on “Women are not sexless: the stigma surrounding female sexuality”
This is exactly what I needed to read right now, without even knowing it. I loved this piece so much, Fiona, I don’t have the words to explain.
This has been on my mind a lot recently; more so because of this vile thing that happened on Instagram recently, where a group of high school boys (from a big, famous school that can only mean they’re rich, educated, and well-placed socially) made a group chat where they shared pictures of girls (privately shared nudes or from their accounts) and talked about what they would like to do to them. And some had even gone as far as saying they would like to gang-rape someone. The screenshots of their chat were revealed and it was so alarming and triggering, and a whole load of chaos ensued.
What I’m getting at is that sex is always viewed as something that is “done” to women and not something they take an active part in. Let alone enjoy it. This idea is so ingrained into society, that in India (and in a lot of other countries as well, I’m sure) it becomes a woman’s duty to give in to the sexual needs of her husband, with absolutely nothing done to satisfy her own. She is just not supposed to have needs. And it is this line of thought that goes on to the objectification of women during sex. Since she does not have needs, what purpose can she even possibly serve apart from being a tool of satisfaction for men?
I think our generation is the most double-faced when it comes to matters of sex. A woman who has sex is impure; easy and “loose”, but a woman who doesn’t or hasn’t yet is an unwanted prude with no experience. There is just no way to win in a society hell-bent on being misogynistic. Whatever a woman will or won’t do will be held against her because god forbid she have a life outside of being a side-role in a man’s.
I personally haven’t “done the deed” yet, and that was because of my own reasons of not being ready, and just generally being uncomfortable with the idea of doing it. And at times I’ll find myself falling prey to the spiral of “what if I haven’t done it by the time I’m 20” and “what if no one would like to be with me because of my non-experienced body” and a whole bunch of other what-ifs that are so, so pointless. Everything we know about sex is a social construct, and while society is an important part of being a regular human being, making something that is so very personal to an individual a thing of society feels terribly idiotic. Everyone should have the social freedom to deal with sex the way they want without limiting another person’s freedom to do the same.
This is such a long comment, I’m terribly sorry. I just went on a complete rant. But thank you, Fiona, for bringing this up. We really need to talk about it more.
LikeLiked by 6 people
Thank you, Arshia – it means a lot to me that this post resonated with you!
I heard about that incident in the media. The sad thing is that this behaviour has been normalized to an alarming degree. I read a lot of comments stating that “as long as they didn’t follow through with it”, that there was “nothing wrong” with that kind of behaviour and that it was “just talk”. Disgusting – that’s all I can really say about it. Disgusting, maddening and sad.
Also, thank you for giving us a peek into this topic in the context of your culture. It’s infuriating – the notion that somehow women “owe” sex to men, that their purpose doesn’t extend beyond this, that they are apparently incapable of having their own needs, that sex is something that is “done” to them (as you so perfectly described). I loathe it so, so much.
And oh my god, yes. Societal deadlines. How I hate them. I regard to sex, I know a lot of girls / women who simply went out and had sex for the first time merely to “get it over with”. And in some cases, they were then labeled a “slut” for doing so. By OTHER females. You cannot win in this area as a woman. And we are part of the problem too. I think that’s a detail that is often forgotten – that a lot of women enforce sexism and misogyny just as much as men do.
“Everyone should have the social freedom to deal with sex the way they want without limiting another person’s freedom to do the same.” – So, so true. I applaud you for staying true to yourself and not letting those societal pressures get to you. We are all on different timelines and we shouldn’t compare ours to anyone else’s.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me and whoever may have read it. I think it’s an important conversation we should be having. Not just as women, but as a society as a whole.
Ps. I am terribly sorry for only replying to your wonderful comment now (two months later, oops).
Oh, Fiona, how I adore you!
This is such a relevant, important post. It’s so weird – I became so keenly aware of all the double standards put onto women around sex once I moved away from home.
I went to school and grew up with the same people – and still hung out with them after school ended. It was this weird hellscape bubble of teen hyper-judgement and not-quite real life-experience and a FUCK TON of misogyny. Gossip about girls we know hooking up with guys and being looked down on. The boys always telling us secrets about girls they were hooking up with and showering affection on, but “she’s not wife material because we had sex too easily”.
This weird and entirely stupid notion around not having sex being tied into respecting yourself. Even though the boys having sex is something they *massively* respect themselves for. It’s suffocating and inescapable – either you throw it off and face social judgement and internalized guilt or you perpetuate it.
Thankfully, I got out of dodge and my eyes were completely opened to how not everything thinks that way. Since finding my people over in Australia, (probably because I’m friends with the most leftie liberal travel hippies haha) I realise how much restriction and judgement is placed on us just from having it lifted.
This comment is ridiculously long, sorry, but this is SUCH a good post xxx
LikeLiked by 4 people
Thank you, Mia! So happy you enjoyed this post.
Oh my god YES. I understand you completely. Once I left that school bubble and stopped being around a lot of people that enforced that misplaced judgement and misogyny, it really opened my eyes to just how unhealthy the environment was in which I grew up in. I think that’s definitely something I learnt as well – that if your “friends” or the people you hang out with are judging you or ANYBODY ELSE for the choices made in regard to your / their OWN sex-life, then they aren’t your friends.
And SO TRUE about there being a link in our heads between sex and self-respect or even respect in general. So many times have I witnessed the judgy “I don’t like/respect her” followed by the justification “because she sleeps around”. Just…what?!
Glad you were able to escape that bubble and are around people who acknowledge female sexuality and are less judgmental xx
GIRL. You did this and you did it so well – thank you for putting all of this into words!
This is so relevant!! I love what Arshia said in that sex is so often viewed as something ‘done to’ women, rather than something women partake in and benefit from as well, as well as Mia’s comment about sex somehow being linked to how much respect you have for yourself. Me personally, I definitely had to unlearn a whole lot of internalised misogyny and perceptions about sex, and once I opened my eyes to all of that, BOY. Life changed. I think also being of an Indian background, being raised with parents from such a culturally different outlook on life compared to me growing up in Australia, has taught me a lot about how while of course some places put so much more secrecy and judgement on women and sex, a lot of ‘liberal’ or western cultures do so as well, with just varying degrees of intensity.
My friends and I were having a conversation about our intimate relationships and I was so astounded at how many of them hadn’t ever finished with a guy, and then it turned to a conversation of women getting the confidence to not only talk about their sex lives, but also talk about what they like and what they don’t like and what works for them or doesn’t. My one friend and I were the only ones who admitted to verbally telling a guy that they needed to do things differently or explaining what worked. Because it’s one thing to ‘admit’ to having a sex life, but to be specific in knowing how your body works and women also benefitting from sex seems like a whole other subject that some people aren’t ready for.
Personally, I follow a girl on Instagram, @flex.mami, who I HIGHLY recommend – I did a post about her podcast a little while back, and she’s SO OPEN about literally all aspects of sex, especially coming from a woman’s perspective. I love women like her and posts like this that are just honest with the fact that like…guys (hetero instances here) aren’t having sex by themselves, ‘it takes two’ and sex should be mutually beneficial, if it’s not, I. DON’T. WANT. IT. xx
LikeLiked by 3 people
Thank you for reading, Priya! I love your comment so much. Thank you.
When I read your comment just now I found myself literally NODDING and saying “yes. exactly. absolutely.” out loud. The amount of internalised sexism, misogyny and perceptions about sex I had when growing up… it still shocks me today. Just like you, I had to unlearn so much of what had been communicated (both consciously and unconsciously) to me from as early as my childhood.
You definitely grew up surrounded by two very different cultures (especially when it comes to perceptions surrounding sex). I imagine it must have been quite a contrast at times? Just like you, I think female sexuality is something that remains unacknowledged or retains a stigma ANYWHERE in the world – the way this presents itself simply varies from culture to culture (and, as you perfectly said, in intensity). What I have found is that in Western cultures, the stigma still very much remains but is more… “underground” if that makes sense. It’s so ingrained into society, it’s even become… acceptable? Normalized? The problem is kind of shoved under the rug under the pretense that “we are progressive” and “sex-positive”. All while females are slammed with judgement, slut-shaming, misogyny and sexist perceptions about their sexuality every single day.
I love having open & honest sex talks with my girlfriends. From what you described you talking about with your friends, I feel a sense of deja vu. A friend once admitted to me that she felt bored during intercourse with her boyfriend, that they would always alternate between the same few positions for example and that nothing really worked for her (she never finished once). When I asked her if she had talked to her boyfriend about this she kind of was like “I can do that? Wouldn’t that be… weird?”. It was a weird realization for both of us in a way; For her the fact that she had every right to (& SHOULD) bring this up with her boyfriend, for me that a lot of women (myself included) nowadays still face a large sense of inhibition when it comes to talking about their sex lives and their sexual preferences.
“to be specific in knowing how your body works and women also benefitting from sex seems like a whole other subject that some people aren’t ready for.” – SO, SO TRUE! AAAHH. “sex should be mutually beneficial, if it’s not, I. DON’T. WANT. IT.” – PREACH.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this topic with me (us) and for the great account recommendation (I checked her out on IG just a couple of minutes ago and I LOVE her content – immediately pressed ‘follow’), I cannot wait to listen to her podcast too! xx
LikeLiked by 1 person
You have this incredible ability to put everything that I feel and think into words in such a beautiful way. Whenever anybody asks my opinion on something, I might just forward them your blog because you phrase everything so much better than I ever could.
I definitely did and still do have this huge fear around sex and sexuality and the internet. I am very aware of how public the internet is and how anyone can access any of my posts so I am very thoughtful about what I put on the internet and how it could possibly reflect back upon me. And that is fine… but also, who really cares!? Isn’t the internet’s purpose all about expressing ourselves?! If someone is really going to dislike you based on what you have posted online then surely they are going to dislike you in real life too and therefore you are likely not going to be friends anyway.
I was definitely guilty of feeding into the stigma around sex when I first went to University: I believed that everyone should wait until marriage to have sex and could not understand why people would have casual sex (I blame my conservative Christian upbringing) but it was through the friends that I made whilst at University that I challenged these views and discovered that actually sex is something to be enjoyed, not just an expression of love, and that it can mean different things with different people. I am definitely guilty of enjoying sex and am not ashamed to admit that not all of these experiences were not in a committed relationship. As long as it is consensual and both of you are enjoying it and on the same page about what actually means (i.e. one-night-stand vs committed relationship) then I think everyone should go for it! xx
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts with me on this topic, Hannah. I am happy that this post resonated with you! xx
So true, sex / sexuality and the Internet is a whole other topic one could probably write about! Staying mindful and aware of the things you share online is important and there are definitely a lot of things one probably SHOULDN’T publish. But sex is a topic that a lot of children and teenagers are not educated about properly – so they turn to the Internet for their sex education. And in general, sex is still such a taboo topic even though we all have it (or will eventually). I guess the reason behind my decision to press publish is that by doing so, I’d like to think that I am doing my part of normalizing sex by talking about it in an open way online and calling attention to issues (such as the wide-spread unacknowledgement of female sexuality).
I loved reading about your own personal experiences with this whole topic, thank you so much for sharing! I have read a lot of articles and personal accounts of the damage (Christian) purity culture can have and what I learnt is this: everyone is free to decide when (and under which conditions) they would like to have sex, yet there can be a lot of guilt(-ing) and shame(-ing) that comes along with the promotion of purity culture.
Having people that challenge your views is crucial, it makes us think about why we believe what we believe, it pushes us to continuously grow. None of us are perfect, I think that’s important to remember. The outlook I had on sex (or my relationship to it in general) has definitely changed drastically over the years. I was carrying a lot of internalised misogyny with me and had perceptions about sex that – looking back – just weren’t healthy. This led to me feeling ashamed after I had intercourse for the first time for example (even though I laugh about it today).
“I am definitely guilty of enjoying sex and am not ashamed to admit that not all of these experiences were not in a committed relationship. As long as it is consensual and both of you are enjoying it and on the same page about what actually means” – A huge YES to this, I 100% agree.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hey, this is brilliant! Talk about a topic left untouched.
There is so much judgement surrounding sexuality and being able to make your own decisions, however controversial they may be. What I’d love for people to know is that sexual express is a normal and healthy part of being a person. It is perfectly fine to have desires just as it is needs. Whether society as a whole wants to embrace that truth is another question, but it is what it is. What’s also relevant is that our attitudes towards casual sex for pleasure and fun are different to how we feel about sex in committed relationships.
Personally, my first time was when I was fourteen. I won’t say I lost my virginity because I find that to be untrue- to imply that anybody really loses anything or is completely changed by a sexual experience? I don’t know if that’s always the case. You don’t suddenly become someone else. Honestly, I had quite a good time. It wasn’t particularly awkward and we knew enough to know what we wanted. That was that. We had such encounters for a few months. It was never anything serious but it was nice to be vulnerable with someone else. To give and express pleasure freely without fear of judge. Just to be, without expectation.
I come from a family that isn’t particularly religious, but my father is a dedicated muslim. I find it amusing that the concept of sex doesn’t seem to exist within the religion except for when someone wants his “manly needs” fulfilled or a couple are starting a family. You are seen as broken, flawed and shameful if you are a woman desiring sex in this religion. You are villainised and it’s ridiculous. I am proud to be someone fighting against oppression and unrealistic, unlivable standards. Severely limited sexual expression is just one of many aspects where change is needed.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you for reading, Maryam, I am happy you enjoyed this post!
I agree with everything you wrote so much! Sex in todays society is closely interlinked with judgement and misogyny. This needs to stop. Just like you, I believe that everybody should be able to express their sexuality freely. That we shouldn’t feel shamed or made to feel guilty about having sex, enjoying sex and having sexual needs. It’s strange really; How something that is so human and natural is such a massive taboo.
I also do not like referring to it as “losing” your virginity and try to avoid this phrasing at all costs. Thank you for also sharing your own experiences, it seems like you have always had a very healthy mindset in regard to sex, which is so, SO important. I hope my future children grow up to have a healthier relationship to sex than I did when I was younger.
Personally, I am not religious, yet I do find religion to have very beautiful sides to it (such as the community aspect for example). Yet religion and sex is something that is so intertwined in almost every religion. This is an aspect I find hard to be sympathetic towards. Because as soon as religion puts limitations on ones sexuality, shame and guilt are enforced. And oftentimes, just as you described, it is combined with misogynistic worldviews that make sex about fulfilling men’s needs and women a “tool” (don’t you just love objectification?!🙃) to do so.
“Severely limited sexual expression is just one of many aspects where change is needed.” – I couldn’t agree more. I find it ridiculous that religion is something that has not evolved whatsoever in that regard. It always stays the same, even though the times and the world we live in have most certainly changed.
LikeLiked by 1 person