How to Pick a Lover

Posts tagged ‘sex education’

The New Courtship

The pleasure of love is in loving. We are happier with the passion we feel than in that we arouse.
—François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims

For decades, for centuries, for a millennium, men have had the right and privilege of choosing as sex partners women who turned them on. If they wanted a partner who was young or mature, short or tall, blonde or dark, quiet or bold, curved or slender, they could pursue the women most pleasing to them.

Of course, not all men were successful in winning the kind of women they most preferred. And of course, some men didn’t allow themselves such indulgences but made pragmatic choices of wives who were heiresses or the daughters of bosses or women who were otherwise useful for disparate ends. Such marriages did not necessarily preclude their simultaneous quest for other women who would be mistresses. In most instances, the women selected as sex objects or as love objects were selected because they were judged to be sexy or lovable.

In contrast to this pattern, women for a millennium have selected men for practical considerations. A woman needed a provider for herself and a provider and father for her children. In most instances, the most valuable commodity a woman had, to negotiate with in the world, was her body. She used this marketable asset to her best advantage, offering virginity and then fidelity in exchange for protection and security.

It wasn’t so much that men had to be attractive as that they had to have attractive compensating features, such as money or power. For the good wife, sex was business, and sexual intercourse was work. Many good wives were happy in their work, but it was work all the same. If she refused her husband, she could be out of a job. In fact, she couldn’t refuse him. He provided for her, so he had a right to her body. She had been, in effect, sold to him and couldn’t be used by anyone else without his permission.

Supposedly, North America has experienced a social and sexual revolution over the past thirty years. Supposedly, there are now different options for women – compared to our grandmothers and mothers –  who are liberated in many new ways and who have given up old stereotypes. If this is indeed the case, then, shouldn’t we now think about sexual encounters from a new perspective.

sexual revolution

Photo credit: cdrummbks

Let’s assume for a start that the new woman is enough in tune with her body and its erotic potential to really like sex. Touching feels good, arousal feels good, and orgasms are nonproblematic. Sex for her is or can be joyous. Fun. Wonderful. At a minimum, nice.

Let’s further assume that the “new woman” is enough in charge of her life and destiny that she can make her own way. If she has enough resources to support herself and her children at a level she considers to be adequate, she can then afford the indulgence of evaluating men as sex objects in the same way that women have been evaluated over the centuries. Whether she works as an executive secretary or is herself an executive, she has a living wage which comes to her in some other way than trading her body for favors or protection.

Such a woman can afford to pick a lover because he’s sexy or lovable, not because he owns three apartment buildings in prime locations. She can try to find the kind of man most to her liking, using intrinsic rather than extrinsic criteria. She’ll have to pay her own bills, but in return, she has control of her own body and a wide range of opportunity for personal and erotic development.

The woman who is not physically or psychologically forced to have sex when she doesn’t want to has a new kind of freedom. She can opt for celibacy if she wants, but she can also opt to have sex for purely sexual reasons. For many that is a revolutionary idea. It’s an idea that is long overdue. It’s an idea whose time has come. It’s an idea that needs to be openly acknowledged.

I will explore this paradigm shift in female sexuality in future posts in greater detail.

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The Coolidge Effect

One day, President and Mrs. Coolidge were visiting a government
farm. Soon after their arrival, they were taken off on separate tours.
When Mrs. Coolidge passed the chicken pens, she paused to ask the man
in charge if the rooster copulates more than once each day. “Dozens of
times,” was the reply. “Please tell that to the President,” Mrs. Coolidge
requested. When the President passed the pens and was told about the
rooster, he asked, “Same hen every time?” “Oh no, Mr. President, a
different one each time.” The President nodded slowly, then said, “Tell
that to Mrs. Coolidge.”
-Gordon Bermant, Psychological Research: The Inside Story

The Coolidge effect is used by sexologists to describe, among animals, the phenomenon of male re-arousal by a new female. One wonders if, perhaps, most of the sexologists in question were male because it does not seem to have occurred to anyone that the same effect may be apparent among women. For most women, the quest for fulfillment involves, in part, a quest for long-term relationships. The crux of the issue, alas, is what is meant by “long-term.” There is no doubt that for most couples who have sexual rapport, the quality of that rapport increases with the passage of time. That process may take weeks or months or, for some, years, depending on how often they make love and with what intensity.

There is also no doubt that except for the most fortunate and exceptional couples, the quality of sexual rapport eventually peaks and, from that point on, tends to decrease with the passage of time. As a man and woman become more and more familiar with each other, the excitement and the erotic tension of their first encounters is diminished. The response patterns become too predictable. As the sexual experience becomes routine, there is a loss of intensity. They can still feel pleasure, but they are less likely to feel ecstasy.

National Lampoon's Joy of Sex movie poster

National Lampoon’s Joy of Sex movie poster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The idea of sex with a nice, affectionate, but totally familiar old husband may produce a state of profound sexual apathy. There is no antipathy, but neither is there much interest.

The decline in erotic enthusiasm can be minimized and delayed by incorporating a wide variety of sexual techniques and by using different props and locations. Eventually, however, there may be a sense that one has experienced all of the experiences possible with a given partner. Even the most enthusiastic lovers can become jaded with each other. The idea of making love with a different man, a strange man, may be much more appealing than making love with a familiar lover.

By any objective criteria, a prospective lover may have no more to offer than the current one and, indeed, may actually be less attractive. However, the appeal of a stranger is that he is strange. Sometimes, in seeking sexual fulfillment, you want nothing more than what you have experienced with one man; but you crave the added stimulus and excitement of experiencing it with a different man—a man who arouses curiosity and is still mysterious.

Girls Will be Girls: Sampling the Wild Rhubarb

Variety is not only the very spice of life, it is also the very spice of sex: the relish and the zest of all erotic life.

—Simon Van Velikoff, sexologist

Everyone knows that boys will be boys and that when boys are busy being boys, the one thing they do is sow their wild oats. To “sow wild oats” refers to sowing bad grain, that is to say, wild grain rather than the good, cultivated kind. The phrase encompasses a variety of youthful excesses which, under the circumstances, meet with greater permissiveness and indulgence than those same boys could hope for later in life.

Tomcat: Dangerous Desires

Tomcat: Dangerous Desires (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since it is also indisputably true that girls will be girls, we need an equivalent term for their experimentations conducted in a spirit of frivolity and exuberance. Shall we describe such behavior as merely “sampling the wild rhubarb”? (Rhubarb, incidentally, really does grow wild. It has a familiar color and a straight turgid stalk, and although some parts of it are known to be poisonous, other parts are purported to have medicinal properties.)

Sampling wild rhubarb is quite unrelated to long-term goals, such as falling in love and getting married and having children. It is simply fun and merriment for its own sake.

While sampling the wild rhubarb may, at first, be enticing, it is not likely to do well as a steady diet. Like other kinds of youthful excesses, it is likely to be a self-limiting condition, succumbing to boredom or fatigue if nothing else. As Jessamyn West observes in South of the Angels, “Enough tom-catting sooner or later acts as its own cure. There are more reformed rakes than reformed celibates.”

Sowing wild oats and sampling wild rhubarb in today’s world of HIV/AIDS, combined with the resurgence of sexually transmitted diseases, presents risks that cannot be ignored. Plan to discuss the perils and risks of sexually transmitted disease in future blogs.

Women on Top: The Decline of the Double Standard

Liberated sex means an end to the double standard about who can enjoy sex and who can’t, and how much, or who can initiate sex, and who can’t . . . It means an end to “nice girls don’t” and “real men must.”
—Charlotte Holt Clinebell, Meet Me in the Middle

In Victorian mentality, although marriage vows were considered sacred, they were considerably more sacred for wives than they were for husbands. Adultery for him was more or less expected as a regrettable but understandable consequence of the male sex drive; adultery for her was an unpardonable sin. The major issue of her adultery was the possibility of pregnancy and the resultant suspicion that any child born might not be the husband’s.

With the emergence of recognition of female sexuality and with the birth control revolution, it has become increasingly acceptable for women as well as men to be sexually involved with someone other than their mates. However, it still falls outside the range of acceptable behavior for many people; and like most sexual behavior, it is less acceptable for women than for men.

Married men often had mistresses while remaining attached to the women who were the mothers of their children. The wife-mother, loved as she may have been, fulfilled other kinds of needs than did the girlfriend, who was perhaps also loved but in a more erotic sense. It now became possible to think the unthinkable: if married men could have lovers, maybe married women could have lovers as well.

The sexual revolution of the sixties introduced the second wave of feminism which raised consciousness concerning the unfairness and chauvinism of the double standard in sex as well as in other things. Well, if men could have sex without marriage, they had to have it with someone. Given the new sexuality, why couldn’t that someone be a good girl as well as a hooker? If men did not have to give up all other women when they married, maybe women did not have to give up all other men. Maybe a married woman could have a lover or lovers without necessarily destroying her marriage or her life.

Many wives thought about such things late into the night, but they kept their opinions to themselves. Their fantasies were furtive. They existed in a kind of pluralistic ignorance: each one looked at herself in her bedroom mirror and believed that she alone felt this way, and that, if anyone else guessed the scandalous nature of her thoughts and fantasies, they would be shocked. The outspokenness of the second wave of feminism that washed through the 1960s swept women into consciousness-raising groups where they began to talk. One thing they talked about was the sexual poverty of many of their lives. For every wife who actually strayed, there were many others who thought about it and many others who were tempted and vulnerable.

Cover of "Sexual Politics"

Cover of Sexual Politics

Men and women still tried to divide the good women from the not-so good ones, but sexuality per se did not seem to be such an absolute standard anymore. Instead, there evolved a standard of judgment whereby the good woman came to be defined as one who had sex selectively and for the “right” reasons whereas the not-so-good one had sex promiscuously and for the wrong reasons. It was a distinction very hard to perceive from the outside. Kate Millett, the feminist-activist who wrote Sexual Politics, summarizes this way of thinking accurately when she observes, “Love is the only circumstance in which the female is ideologically pardoned for sexual activity.”

I hope the method of my madness is becoming clearer with each post.  My previous posts have been setting the stage and background for my future posts that will explore women’s ever evolving pursuit of sexual equality and fulfillment and happiness.  More to  come, so to speak.

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

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