Are you dissatisfied with your sex life? Does the term “sexual empowerment” seem unrelatable to you? If you identify as a woman, the reasons might be entirely different than what you think.
Author, educator and activist, Jaclyn Friedman likens it to the movie, The Matrix: “[Women have] got this little splinter in their minds telling them something is wrong with their sex lives . . . Most of the books on the shelf are telling them this is somehow their fault, that they’ll feel better if they gather more self-confidence, more techniques, and tips, more experience. However, even most of us who’ve read all the books and tried all (or at least most of) the tips are still plagued by insecurity.”
As a training therapist, I was shocked to learn the percentages of women who experience female sexual interest/arousal disorder and female orgasmic disorder — they range from 20 to 30% but are likely higher than reported. Friedman’s book echoes and amplifies the same conclusions I came to. Women have problems in bed not because there’s something wrong with them, but because there’s something wrong with how our culture views female sexuality.
Friedman argues that we’re living in an era of “fauxpowerment.” Images of sexy, in-charge women are used to distract from the fact that our society is still deeply misogynistic. Because of this, many women feel distressed, powerless and even guilty that they’re not entirely satisfied with their sex lives. However, explicit messages that police and deny female sexuality continue to permeate our culture — and us — in powerful ways.
Just a few examples include the uneven (at best) sex-ed in our country, which rarely includes a discussion of pleasure or a full view of female anatomy; online trolls using sexual humiliation to punish women who step out of line; scores of rape kits languishing around the country untested, as well as the tiny percentage of rapists who are actually convicted for their crimes.
So how do women gain sexual power and confidence in this dehumanizing environment? Friedman has found examples of pioneers fighting for change in various industries that tell women how they should think and feel about their sexuality. In the next section, I’ll share a few of these industries, along with how you can take action on both an individual and systemic level.
Frequently, men are behind the images that we see in the media. At last count, 83% of those in charge of writing, directing, and producing the highest grossing films were men. Because of this, women are often shown in supporting, submissive, and sex-object roles. There are similar issues of representation in the news media and even literary fields. When women’s bodies are shown in ways that aren’t consumable, it causes confusion and even anger (e.g., the uproar over the initial Thinx campaign in the New York subway system and various furors over public breastfeeding).
What you can do: Search out media depictions of women BY women. Support those you like by sharing them and talking them up. Stand up for “controversial” ads, shows, or movies that show women and their bodies in a realistic, shame-free way. Consider making your own voice heard in this realm, whether it be through an article, book, film, or blog post.
Women aren’t sexually insecure by nature. Billion dollar industries in our consumerist culture pressure women to feel damaged so that they can be “fixed” by buying things. Companies have cashed in on what Friedman calls the commodity model, where women are valued on the basis of how much they appeal to men. This is where race, age, body shape, and size are all used to value and devalue women, something that women often internalize. There are a million ads in this realm — everything from sexy underwear to Spanx to De Beers diamonds.
What you can do: Think about where you want to spend your money (especially given that we get less of it on the dollar than men!). Research and support companies which are run by women, or at least avoid scare tactics. Moreover, consider different ways to feel sexy other than buying things. Try taking a sensuous bath or exploring your sexual fantasies alone or with a partner.
Here are some frightening stats: Only nine states require that sex-ed be taught in a medically accurate way. Four states require sexual orientation be discussed with the view that only hetero relationships are okay. Nineteen states (!) require that sex-ed be taught with the caveat that sex should just happen within the confines of marriage. Few programs discuss consent or female pleasure at all. This leads to all sorts of issues for girls: sexual shame, harassment, powerlessness and abuse from boys, and even performing worse in school.
What you can do: Find out what the sex-ed curriculum is in your community. Lobby your legislators (or join a group doing this) to start making change. Look back at your own sex-ed experiences and question how this may have affected how you feel about sex. Perhaps seek out the pro-pleasure sex-ed you never received.
Friedman discusses many other topics and ultimately provides advice on how to “join the resistance” in a way that feels doable and not overwhelming. It’s a long game, for sure, but the more everyone chips in, the closer we get to a society in which women get to control and enjoy their sexuality.
Photo Credit: iStock