Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Who Robs Women of Sexual Desire?

Ancient cultures knew that female sexual desire was a lot more potent than that of men and that female bodies were a lot more adapted to experience sexual pleasure. Greek mythology, the great Eastern tradition of story-telling, One Thousand and One Nights, and a wealth of Medieval sources agree unanimously that female sexuality is a lot richer than male. We all know the myth of Tiresias, the blind sage of the Ancient Greek mythology who experienced being both male and female:
When Zeus and Hera had a disagreement on which sex enjoys the most pleasure during intercourse they decided to let Tiresias judge, since he had experienced both. Hera insisted men enjoy sex more, while Zeus claimed the opposite. Tiresias then said, that if sexual pleasure could be put on a scale from one to ten, then men were at one, and women at three times three.  
In Eastern stories, male and female genies often hold debates and conduct experiments to determine who needs and enjoys sex more. The answer, in every single case, is women.

As someone who comes from a different culture, I was quite shocked to discover that in the US the discourse that poses female lack of interest in sex as normal has won the day. Americans keep coming up with convoluted explanations as to why women in this country are less interested in sex than men. This is the most recent attempt I have found:
It's an indicator of how male-dominated our society is that the fact that women have diminishing libidos and don't seem to care that much about it is treated as the problem, when in fact it's merely the symptom of a larger problem--that women feel overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, understimulated, and shamed about their bodies.
There is a very good, progressive sentiment behind the above-quoted post. It doesn't take into account, however, that cultures which were a lot more male-dominated than this one never had a problem of diminishing female libidos. Ancient Greeks can hardly be considered beacons of female liberation. Neither can the pre-Xth century Indian and Persian storytellers who contributed to the creation of 1001 Nights (and, consequently, the entire Western tradition of story-telling in the Middle Ages.)

This is an extremely Puritanical society that is very prissy about sexuality. I know that Americans have managed to talk themselves into believing that their culture is "permissive" and even "raunchy." However, any outsider immediately notices just how sexually deprived, constricted, and uncomfortable about anything that has to do with sex this society is. 

P.S. As I was finishing this post, I was watching a TV show that diagnosed a young man with something called "a severe addiction to sex" which, according to the show, is "a mental illness." People who watch porn, masturbate, and have sexual fantasies "should be monitored at all times" because "they are sick and need help." I rest my case, people.


Tim said...

People who watch porn, masturbate, and have sexual fantasies "should be monitored at all times" because "they are sick and need help."

The funny thing is, that the chaste monitoring people are horribly outnumbered by us sexual savages :)

Clarissa said...

The chaste monitoring people engaged in these nasty activities too, as history shows. They just hate themselves for it a whole lot. :-)

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Greek narrative that women enjoy sex more than men tells us anything about what ancient Greek women actually experienced. It seems significant that the males in the story are attributing this greater desire to women...especially given the number of rape stories in Greek myth.

This doesn't speak to your point about American culture. It just came to mind.

Clarissa said...

Of course, life for women in Ancient Greece was horrible. Still, even then mythology didn't deny them their sexuality. Our mythology, however, does.

Spanish prof said...

Have you ever written a post on Camille Paglia? I would be interested in reading it.

Anonymous said...

How would you compare US prissiness and Spanish and Spanish American style repression?

I'd say Brazil, noticeably less freakish than US, although my Brazilian friends disagree and say they are terribly repressed.

I'd say Spain, Spanish America, repression levels about like US, and France / Scandinavia a little less so.

But it's hard to generalize.

Clarissa said...

Spain is completely European now, in this respect as well as every other one. Or most of them. I'm talking about people of my generation and younger.

Spanish America has its issues but not in the same way as the US. The discourse and the reality are different.

Brazilian people that I know are happily wild.

I start sounding like some weird sex expert. :-) :-)

NancyP said...

Porn isn't free, and if the young man spends the rent money on porn, yes, there is a problem there. If the man spends so much time on porn that he doesn't have sex anymore with his IRL sexual partner, well, the relationship has a problem.

Otherwise, who cares about vanilla porn, as long as the actors are adults, are using condoms, and aren't injuring themselves or others. It would be a good thing if BDSM porn included extra "how to do this safely" instructions after the porn itself, just in case some newbie gets some stupid ideas. It's bad enough that J.Q.Public can't figure out how not to lose implements up the anus, and have to go to the E.R. to get the object extracted.

Clarissa said...

Yes, I heard once about a lightbulb in the anus. :-)

el said...

I think there is an explanation:

BEFORE - women were abused & raped, including in marriage, with impunity; couldn't choose whom to marry, whom to have sex with, etc. - AND the culture (Christian too!) told stories of those wanton women.

I found this, searching for Andreas Capellanus's (mentioned below) quote
Relevant part:

Many of us think of "chivalry" as synonymous with respect and veneration for women. In fact however, only certain women were to be respected and venerated. Poor women were not included. Andreas Capellanus (whose name in Latin means "Andrew the Chaplain"), author of The Art of Courtly Love, suggested that a knight or nobleman who wanted a peasant woman should rape her on the spot since chivalry and persuasion would be wasted on her. These class biases persisted all over European society. One study of sexual offenses in 14th century Venice found that noblemen comprised three percent to seven percent of the population but were responsible for 21 percent of its sex crimes ("clearly only a fraction of their criminality," says the researcher).

Why suppose Eastern rich men behaved differently?

Now I'll explain the connection I saw. Wasn't culture, especially in ancient times, shaped by powerful men, not by slaves & women? All those talks of women's lust seem a great cover to:
- force yourself on your wife & any other woman
- if she wasn't one's wife & complained in court, accuse her of "crying rape" to save her reputation, get money, etc.
- if you committed a sexual sin (a priest breaking chastity vows/ raping a child/ etc), the woman caused your fall, like Eve - Adam's.

All of the above while claiming the ever popular "she wanted it" and calming what's left of the man's conscience with "yes, she wept, but you know those women, she had to act like that because of being expected by culture, in reality she wanted it more than I did".

I don't say my theory gives full explanation, but imo it's a part of it.

NOW - women can at last exercise the lust we've been hearing of for centuries (due to birth control, better enforced laws...) - AND the culture added (added since "she wanted it" still holds) new components: "Those women don't want sex" (so wouldn't exercise the new freedom to have it & bad in bed men needn't worry).

Whatever works for subjugation of women is added. So I can't feel all warm & nice, while reading those myths about sex loving women. Real women then enjoyed it much less than women do in USA today.

el said...

Now this is frightening. Just saw and was horrified:

el said...

People who watch porn, masturbate, and have sexual fantasies "should be monitored at all times" because "they are sick and need help."

Now I understood you can even be a virgin and still do all 3 of the above. So everybody should be "monitored at all times", especially the writers of such articles, who often er... go further than most other people.

Did my long comment with the theory about sex loving women in those cultures got lost?

Clarissa said...

el: you are forgetting, my friends, that women of the Middle Ages left a literary record, too. And that record is, indeed, filled with accounts of happy, exuberant sexuality that exists for its own sake and not in order to catch a husband like in the US today.

I think you have bought into the discourse of the Middle Ages as "the Dark Ages." That discourse is completely spurious.

The very first examples of both proto-Spanish and Arabic female literature in Spain is about very happy female sexualities. Created by women, of course.

Clarissa said...

"Now this is frightening. Just saw and was horrified:

-Please don't buy into this conservative propaganda. Don't forget that exactly the same stories were told of Jews in Nazi Germany.

el said...

happy, exuberant sexuality that exists for its own sake and not in order to catch a husband like in the US today

Were those few luckily married/placed rich women? After all, may be some ladies at Sun King's court enjoyed sexual permissiveness, but they represented less than 0.001% of the population, while I talked about the average woman. You say "not in order to catch a husband" - did their culture let it? How did society see it? What about birth control? Could you link to some web materials, give their names with links to writings, please? I would love to read them.

Arabic female literature about very happy female sexualities

Arabic? Were they Muslim? If so, how does it go with what we see in Arab countries today, since they don't seem to support happy female sexualities nowadays? I am honestly interested.

Clarissa said...

"When Cordoba was the greatest and most sophisticated city, not only of the Moorish civilization but also the entire known world, the Princess Wallada (born in 1011 and died in 1091) achieved fame for her court of learning, many centuries before France's legendary Madame de Rambouillet held sway over her literary salon. Wallada gathered around her the finest poets and musicians of al-Andalus, who would sit around her on cushions and rugs, improvising ballads and epic sagas to the sound of the lute and zither.

Wallada, who was the daughter of the Caliph al-Mustakfi, was greatly admired for her fair skin and blue eyes, which gave her a very special, exotic appeal for the men of Cordoba. In fact, she was so proud of her beauty that she refused to wear the veil when she went out in the streets of the city, thus enraging the local mullahs. It was the time of the great fitna, when the Berbers were rising up against the Ummeyad Caliphate, and religious tension was high.

But Cordoba was in many ways much more liberal in its customs than some Middle Eastern countries are today. This was because the Andalucian society of the time was a multi-cultural one, a mixture of the Islamic, Christian and Jewish civilisations, which made up medieval Spain. This meant that no single religion had full power over the men, and particularly over the women, of the city.

Wallada not only refused to cover her face, she also was very outspoken and free in her sexual behaviour, thus becoming a symbol of liberation for the women of her time. She resisted all efforts to keep her in her traditional place, and to prevent her from choosing the lovers she preferred.

When the great Moorish philosopher and supreme judge of the city, Ibn Rushd, known to Europeans as Averroes, accused her of being a harlot, she responded with an act of defiance. She had one of her own poems embroidered on her gown and wore it in the street, for everyone to read. It said:

"For the sake of Allah! I deserve nothing less than glory I hold my head high and go my way I will give my cheek to my lover and my kisses to anyone I choose."

She had many lovers, but the most famous was the Ibn Zaydun, one of the greatest Moorish poets of the time, born in 1003 and died in 1071."


Wallada's erotic poetry can be found online.

Clarissa said...

"If so, how does it go with what we see in Arab countries today, since they don't seem to support happy female sexualities nowadays? "

-The Caliphate of Cordoba was destroyed not by the Christians but by the fanatical Berbers. Unfortunately, a more fanatical trend of Islam won a while ago. If it hadn't been for that, Islamic countries would be the most prosperous and advanced nowadays. Every religion and every culture has its regressive and oppressive trends as well as its progressive enlightened ones.

Clarissa said...

"Were those few luckily married/placed rich women?"

-I wrote an entire post on Jarchas a while ago. Jarchas represent the oral genre of the illiterate Christian women of the lower classes in Medieval Muslim Spain.

"O mother, what a lover! / Below his yellow curls,
his white neck / and his little red mouth!"

"My lord Ibrahim, / O sweet name!
Come to me at night!
If not, if you don't want to, / I shall come to you.
Tell me where I can find you?"

el said...

Thank you for the information!

Only the last question
Unfortunately, a more fanatical trend of Islam won a while ago.
When did it happen?

Unlike some people you mentioned recently, had I have a teacher as a partner, I would tire him with questions, not the opposite.

Clarissa said...

I'm always grateful for any intelligent questions. :-)

The struggle between the more fanatical trend in Islam and the more secular, enlightened, worldly one took place between 10th and 15th centuries. The results were not good for the progressive folks, unfortunately.

el - 1st part said...

Wasn't sure where to leave this comment. Today I stumbled upon a new blog:

First, the book she quotes in this post "The Spinster and Her Enemies" by Sheila Jeffreys seems to be an interesting history book on women. I would love to read it and thought you may be interested too. It's on Kindle on amazon.com. If you read it, hearing your thoughts would be great!

Second, in her blog she takes a stand for female sexuality, but views PIV (penis in vagina) sex very negatively due to its' extremely high cost for women:threat of pregnancy (birth control can fail too), diseases, the fact that only few % of women report to orgasm from it (unlike oral sex, clitoris, etc), birth control side-effects (not every woman can use the Pill and I both personaly knew & read on the forum of some women suffering a lot afterwards. The problem is, you can never know untill you try in many cases and then it's too late). She also reviewed how women suffered from their husbands demanding it through history: death from childbirth (each pregnancy = another Russian roulette), 10 children, numerous abortions, etc. You talked about the book, "The Man who loved children" (?), - without PIV his wife would be able to develop as a person too and stop after 2 kids f.e.


In this post the male-dominated Greek society talks about the pleasure during intercourse. I guess Eastern stories too talk about PIV. Ditto American society, when they ask whether women enjoy sex. For them sex=PIV and the rest is a side-dish, only addition to the main.

I don't think this blogger's views can be dismissed as Puritanical. Long before reading her, without hearing anything(!) from feminist lit on the topic, I too wondered why one was supposed to have PIV with every man one dates for X time or be left for another woman. What if a woman wants to kiss, hug, have oral & manual sex, but not worry of forgetting the Pill or its' side-effects, of condom slipping or breaking, etc? Why such possibility is not even on the menu in practice in our society? I am not from US, so not their Puritan history talking, and PIV does hold numerous consequences for women, which no other form of sex has. So why is limiting it not socially accaptable?

Why young men expect it almost immediately nowadays, but when I asked on Israeli university forum, as a personal survey, what would happen in case of unwanted pregnancy, I got:
a) people don't talk of it before sex as a rule
b) some women say they wouldn't abort, but don't care to inform men of that prior to PIV. I heard (exact words) "I want sex and if I did inform them, they wouldn't sleep with me" (!?)
c) some men said they wouldn't want anything to do with a child (!) and that a woman agrees to abortion, even if you don't talk one word about the topic before sex, while some women disagreed.

el - 2nd part said...

Needless to say, they were very anti- my ideas of other kinds of sex, but seriously talking and thinking before PIV kind.

What is Puritanical in wanting to date, have lots and lots of sex, but not PIV before you're really sure you both want to take this responsibility? Many women report of not enjoying it. Girls tell of starting to have sex at 16 and having 1st orgasm at 25. Why is all the talk about abstinence vs PIV? Imo, real sexual revolution would push PIV from "that's what everybody does after X time" place and would talk of other 1001 ways men and women could bring each other to orgasm. Young people, including in college, would date for years with or without regular PIV, as they pleased, with culture supporting them in both cases. I hope you understand I don't come from the same place as conservatives do and my ideal society is very different from theirs. From my pov, different people want different levels of risk in their lives, even if they want to be sexual with another person.

May be you could write a post about the topic? You talked of asexuality not being normal, but is anti-PIV sentiment not normal too in your opinion?

She also talked about Dworkin's view of Right-wing-women. She may not be 100% right, but it sure is interesting.

Clarissa said...

el: I'm probably not the right person to advance this cause because PIV is absolutely the only kind of sex whatsoever that interests me. Nothing else interests me or has ever interested me. While I in no way condemn people who fulfill their sexuality in other ways, I wouldn't be able to speak to such experiences convincingly because I know nothing about them.

Has the time come for you to start your own blog? You already have a few interesting posts in the comments you have left here. I'd follow your blog with interest. Just sayin'. :-)