“And yet, despite repeated assurances that women aren’t particularly sexual creatures, in cultures around the world men have gone to extraordinary lengths to control female libido: female genital mutilation, head-to-toe chadors, medieval witch burnings, chastity belts, suffocating corsets, muttered insults about “insatiable” whores, pathologizing, paternalistic medical diagnoses of nymphomania or hysteria, the debilitating scorn heaped on any female who chooses to be generous with her sexuality . . . all parts of a worldwide campaign to keep the supposedly low-key female libido under control. Why the electrified high-security razor-wire fence to contain a kitty-cat?”--
from Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (Harper, an imprint of Harper Collins) by Christopher Ryan and Calcilda Jetha
As I read the last pages of Sex At Dawn, I was distracted by a story repeating in the CNN news loop—the young Afghan woman whose nose and ears were sliced off by her husband at the Talaban’s direction. I do not like to write in silence, so I work to the radio, wcbsfm 101.1 or sometimes to CNN. Being a news junkie is the equivalent of playing sub in an SM relationship, but I cannot break its hold over me. One hand on my forehead, looking down in avoidance of that disfigured face, I flipped through the pages of my new favorite book looking for the section quoted above.
Parts of the Middle East, held in the grip of the Taliban and other religious extremists, are stuck in Medieval times, an age not favorable to women. I am incredibly fortunate to live in the 21st Century in the Western world where, perhaps for the first time in history, a woman could create a career out of sex writing. But even here and now, science still questions why women lust past child-bearing age and society passes negative, often punitive, judgments on women who like sex “too much” (i.e., more than the judge does) or speak and write honestly and openly about sexuality. You won’t get on Oprah by confessing your passion for the penis—but write a sex-and-relationship book elevating monogamy at the expense of truth and, Babe, you have a shot.
Pulling together evidence from anthropology, primatology, anatomy, psychology, and sexual science—Ryan and Jetha set forth new theories about human sexuality and how it evolved. They challenge the Conventional Wisdom, even taking a few whacks at Darwin whose theory of female sexuality still holds sway. Briefly, he posited that women’s sexual role was to be coy and attract.
“Well, ask yourself what might change if everyone knew that women do (or, at least, can, in the right circumstances) enjoy sex as much as men…What if Darwin was wrong about the sexuality of the human female — led astray by his Victorian bias? What if Victoria’s biggest secret was that men and women are both victims of false propaganda about our true sexual natures and the war between the sexes — still waged today — is a false-flag operation, a diversion from our common enemy?
“We’re being misled and misinformed by an unfounded yet constantly repeated mantra about the naturalness of wedded bliss, female sexual reticence, and happily-ever-after sexual monogamy — a narrative pitting man against woman in a tragic tango of unrealistic expectations, snowballing frustration, and crushing disappointment. Living under this tyranny of two, as author and media critic Laura Kipnis puts it, we carry the weight of “modern love’s central anxiety,” namely, “the expectation that romance and sexual attraction can last a lifetime of coupled togetherness despite much hard evidence to the contrary.”
Few in our society are willing to look hard at the inconvenient truths of sexual passion. Sometimes those who do, like Hugh Hefner, also get stuck in their own place of initial sexual evolution, his being the realization that monogamy doesn’t work for a lot of men. Hefner celebrated the Darwinian version of female sexuality—woman as object of attraction—without demeaning women, no matter that the Sixties’ feminists said he did. (Have you looked at those centerfolds? Woman as idealized American girl, worshipped by the camera lens.) But he has never moved on from the guy who broke free of his marriage and woke up floating in a sea of inflatable breasts.
Still, he contributed a great deal to the sexual evolution of Western culture: He gave us lovely women who like sex, without painting them as sluts. For that, we owe him big time. Canadian director Brigitte Berman’s documentary “Hugh Hefner: Playboy Activist and Rebel”, in theatres now, is almost a glowing tribute, but I don’t have a problem with that. Hefner’s personal story is such an important part of our collective story; and like my mentor, Dr. Ruth, who appears in the film, he gave generations of men (and women) permission to be sexual. Read Andrew O’Hehir’s insightful review on salon.com, "Hugh Hefner and the Creation of American Manhood."
And let’s keep that conversation we started on women and lust going. What do you think about sexual objectification? Would we have sex if we didn’t objectify one another and then pursue the objects of our desire?