How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘contemporary relationships’

Discovering Female Sexuality

The man’s desire is for the woman; but the woman’s desire is rarely other than for the desire of the man.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
Specimens of the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In Victorian times and, indeed, well into the twentieth century, the dominant view of sexuality in the Western world was the Puritan Christian view. Sex was considered to be evil, albeit a necessary evil. Sex was evil not only in and of itself but also because it caused other evils. It was a sinister force to be denied, sublimated, and suppressed as much as possible. It was an impulse to be controlled through both the law and the moral codes associated with Christian marriage. The drive for sexual expression was believed to be a masculine trait, and the problem in controlling sexuality was viewed mostly as a problem of repressing the lust and lasciviousness of men.

The History of Sexuality

The History of Sexuality (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most men in the Victorian era believed that most women did not have sexual feelings. More amazing than that, most women seem to have believed it as well. Sexual involvement for women was not supposed to be intrinsically enjoyable, at least not for respectable women. Good women were believed to be sexually motivated only by the desire to please their husbands, or at least to appease them, and by the desire for children alongside a sense of Victorian duty. We now laugh at those by-gone days when mothers advised their soon-to-be-deflowered daughters to “lie back and think of England.” Thinking of England wasn’t a ruse to get the virgin to dissociate from what was happening to her; it was a strong reminder of her duty to populate England and, particularly within the aristocracy, to provide “an heir and a spare” so that the land holdings remained in the family and increased its prestige and wealth. Bad women, who were whores or fallen women or women of the demimonde, were motivated by money or other kinds of exchange for their sexual favors.

The tradition of sexual repression began to be modified by major thinkers writing at the turn of the twentieth century. Havelock Ellis had a major impact with his seminal work Studies in the Psychology of Sex. The writings of Sigmund Freud placed the libido at the center of human experience and interpreted a wide range of behavior in terms of sexual impulses. Bertrand Russell expounded a philosophy of sexual expression and challenged Christian tradition with the publication of his controversial Marriage and Morals. By the time the Roaring Twenties started to roar, the secret was out. Men were sexual creatures but so were women. Sex was not all that bad; in fact, sex was a creative force. Rather than acceptance of an ideology of sexual repression, there arose an intensive quest for an ideology of appropriate sexual expression. Rather than being viewed as an evil, sex came to be seen as a positive force valuable not only as an end in itself but also as a means of contributing to personal growth and development.

Sadly, even with all the positive changes, the freedom of sexual expression continues to face strong opposition as we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century—as witnessed by the impassioned crusade of Evangelical Christians to ban premarital sex and demonize same-gender relationships

Women in Contemporary Relationships

I think we can all agree that romantic relationships have changed dramatically over the past 50 years.

A mere two generations ago relationships and marriage were rather vanilla. Couples were heterosexual, of the same race/ethnicity, religion, social/economic and political background – so much for diversity. Also, marital roles were fairly circumscribed – men were the breadwinners and women the homemakers. There were shared expectations about sex roles for men and women, which were primarily based on what constituted masculine and feminine behavior. Premarital sex was taboo – at least for women. There were “good” girls and “bad” girls, and I don’t think I need to tell you what made a good girl good or bad girl bad. In any given couple, the man was usually older, taller, better educated, and financially better off than the woman.  All things that defer more power to the man than the women. Few women worked outside the home. And when they did, it was to supplement her husband’s substantially larger income.

Well, so much for the good ole days. Today’s relationships run the gamut of the rainbow – heterosexual/gay, interracial/ethnic, interfaith, binational, older women and younger men, couples from widely different social, economic, political backgrounds. Women have full fledged careers and they are financially independent. For women, being a virgin – or almost a virgin – is no longer a prerequisite to marriage.  All in all, women today have a range of options and opportunities that far outstrip those of our grandmothers or even our mothers.

It all sounds wonderful.  However, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, many of our social values that govern love, sex and marriage remain markedly different for men and women in many ways. While both men and women may openly and freely engage in the pursuit of love and sex, how they reach their quest is not always the same.

"The world turned upside down" (gend...

“The world turned upside down” (gender-role reversal) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our cultural traditions are strong and differences in the socialization and physiology of men and women remain a reality. And unfortunately, or fortunately – depending on your personal views–many traditional sex roles remain deeply embedded in modern-day relationships – straight and gay. When these traditional roles collide with the realities of modern day – which they often do – couples find themselves in conflict.

While contemporary relationships may be much more rewarding than the those of our parents and grandparents, they are also much more complex and difficult.

Through this blog, I want to explore the relatively new emotional and sexual freedoms that women have gained through their struggle  for equality and freedom of sexual expression in contemporary relationships – including a woman’s option of having a lover(s) if she so chooses.

Each week I will post some specific thoughts about women in contemporary relationships for comment and discussion. Hope you will join in on what I believe will be a fun, enlightening and rewarding blog.

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