Category Archives: Sexuality Studies- Current

Growing Up In The 1950’s

Sisters 1946 Black and white photo


Summer vacation was always going to the ocean, feeling sticky from the salt water and the heat of my sunburn on the back of my legs where I forgot to put the lotion.  The walk to the ocean from my grandmother’s house at Myrtle Beach on the planks that took you over the mound of sand to the breakers was hypnotic.   The distant buzz of the ocean became a roaring crash the closer you got to the breakers.   A mound of sand on the endless wall of sea grass could be seen up and down the beach, and then there it was the white foam ripples all the way down the beach after each wave.  The next wave right behind it building and building to the peak, and then the crash.


Mostly the beach was empty at 9 am, other than down by the Big Hotel where the staff would be setting up umbrellas and chairs for their guests.  The tide would have brought in broken shells and occasionally a perfect shell or a starfish.  Settling down on my towel, I could watch the dolphins coming in, looping their way across, usually in groups of 4-7.


The tradition was to go in the water if my grandparents were there, and my sister and I would get in up to our knees and wait for waves to ride.  The power of the ocean was already known to us from previous summers and a healthy respect for it was where we started our play today.  Papa stood with his arms folded, brim of his hat covering the top of his face and would motion to us if we went out too far.  I didn’t need reminding about the ocean and its power.  It was a few years before that my dad put me up on his shoulders and took me out, saying he would show me how to swim.  Papa had been there that time as well and he had motioned for dad to come back in, that he was too far out but dad had waved him off and went in deeper.  I remember when he told me to jump in, I hesitated but not for very long and the second time he asked me it was more of a command.  At that time, my dad was someone I had not known until the past 3 years.  He had been in the Navy up until I was nearly 4, and my dad and mother had never lived together after they married because my mother was pregnant with me.


I jumped off his shoulder and felt the explosion of the water as I went into the wave and its crash which pushed and shoved me in different directions driving me through the water at great speed.  I was trying to call for help under the water, could not see that much even with my eyes open and it was a little while before someone pulled me out of the ocean.  Later I would find out that my dad had been knocked down by a wave after I jumped from his shoulders and he himself needed help out of the ocean.  Were it not for the stranger that pulled me out, I would not have made it.


Unfortunately that  break of trust with the ocean and with my father was the result of that experience.  I never did learn to swim.   So today, out in the ocean I watched to see that Papa was watching us and we followed his hand signals indicating we were too far out.  He was now signaling it was time to come in, and head home to the house to get out of the sun.  The idea was be at the beach before 11 and after 4 and for the natives who lived at the beach, that was the pattern we would assume when we were there for six weeks.


Ruthie would have lunch when we got back to the house.  She, Papa, my sister and I were the only ones there often and this time, it was particularly peaceful at the house.  We always picked up a crate of peaches and a crate of tomatoes on the road to Myrtle Beach, and brought saltines and cottage cheese, and that’s what we ate for lunch every day and sometimes for supper with some fresh caught flounder.  Ruthie and Papa were serious about their fishing, wearing white shirts and pants that covered them and big fishing hats, as would my sister and I.  We would go out to the pier and in rhythm of the ocean and the silence,  a sudden whiiiirrr of the fishing rod line indicating a fish had taken the bait.  The flounder was always cooked in the black skillets outside at night after a fishing trip, often with a black skillet of corn bread to accompany it.


One summer I read Gone with the Wind.  The interesting thing was that was the first book that I ever read.  Reading out loud in school was my experience of reading before that.  I think there’s something to having kids not read until they get to a certain age and development, when it comes from a desire rather than from the need to perform in the classroom.  I found  Gone with the Wind and a Confidential magazine in a drawer in one of the 4 bedrooms.  Pictures of troubled movie stars  in the Confidential magazine with stories I couldn’t even understand still were of interest somehow.  But I would never be the same after reading Gone with the Wind.  I could see the grand staircase, I could imagine Scarlette so beautiful she could be willful and powerful with the men around her getting however she did the things she wanted.  Who knows how much that had to do with how I took on life but the image of her chocking on the carrot and saying she would never be hungry again deeply impacted me.  I drew strength from that and it did play out in my life-that kind of stand.

Melanie with her amazing kindness and compassion, as well as her weakness and vulnerability was a puzzle to me.  If I had known the word Ironic, it would have described how I saw that Scarlett for her own reasons employed her ruthless courage to save Melanie, and Melanie gave Scarlett dignity and respect unmoved by Scarlett’s scandalous behavior.  The power expressed by both women was a beacon of light to me.   Scarlett and Brett and Melanie lived for me that summer-I could envision them coming out of the mansions on drives throughout the  gardens of South Carolina in my grandparent’s Packard. The men also were interesting contradictions:  Brett with his heart of gold, strong, powerful, flawed and yet taken by his love for Scarlett, and Ashley, all that Brett wasn’t.   The lazy afternoons with the breeze from the ocean and the sound of waves in the distance were enriched by the experience of this world and a measure for me of what might be possible.

The light changes when summer is coming to a close and at the beach the shift would be evident. Summer was ending, the shadows would come earlier in the late afternoon, it was cooler in the mornings.  The calendar and the clock would come back into our lives as we prepared to leave.  My grandmother would be sad for days before we left.  That sense of sadness of leaving the beach, the summer and the grandparents would have both my sister and I feel dread at our return to Boston.

We would return to the chaos and crisis which was the rhythm of our parents’ house.  We would return,  but not as the same people who left.  Though we never could have said what that was, we have since spoken many times in recent years of those summers and what they gave us.  Our best guess is it gave us the sense of who we are before we knew what that might be or what we wanted it to be.  The contrast in how life might be lived, the different choices that had it be a particular way between South Carolina and Boston were all things we were observing, taking in and from which we drew a reservoir of strength we would need throughout our lives.


1960’s New Sexuality for Women and Men




For the women born in 1940, they have to know that the women who informed them of their roles as women came from the place of their own experience where the number of children and the conditions of their lives were a consequence of the man and the family and the community in which they lived.  By 1950, as the highest level of babies were born in the United States after World War II, new paths emerged.  It’s hard to imagine what life was like during World War II where most people’s families  hung in the balance of the men at war and the sacrifices everyone made to support the war.


Many men returned broken, many did not return at all.  For the women who had been working in the factories, farms and shipyards, those jobs were returned to the men and they returned home.  The VA loan provided the means for many to leave their families of origin and the single family home purchase, as well as the things needed for the home-the refrigerators, the sofas, the toasters, and produced the post war boom in the economy very much needed.  This is where in 1963,  Betty Freiden’s book  The Feminine Mystique opened the conversation with women about the “Cult of Domesticity.”  First a rumor among the powerful women in New York who were openly and stridently challenging the “status quo” but then a gradual revisiting occurred across the country of who women were and what they wanted.

covered in __________________________

Prior to this time, the conversation about women and their sexuality was framed in the medical context of function or dysfunction.   The function of sex to procreate and without the benefit of choice had women again rely on each other to find their own way of dealing with their husbands’ and society’s expectations of them.  The general issue was that women were not supposed to want to have sex out of marriage and so if there was no sex in the marriage, neither party had a place to take their concerns except their doctor or their chaplain.  The conversation brought up by Betty Frieden had women talk to each other about their own personal sexual experience, and the myth of “married bliss” was exposed.

The Dichotomy


Attitudes would change drastically during this period of time.  Life magazine did articles  on alternative lifestyles that were springing up.  It wasn’t just about philosophies, but had a very intense center if experimentation with male and female roles.   Young men drafted every day would face a war in Viet Nam that they neither understood, nor supported.  Prior to this time, the small voices of anti war rhetoric were an outgroup not even recognized by the population.  But young men torn from their families and communities with a war that became increasingly alien to them, and ultimately to the general population. It was messy.  Families had fights among themselves about their positions regarding the Viet Nam War.  It seemed unAmerican to not support the war. It was the young men who were drafted, and college campuses began to engage in protests against the war, and some engaged in  the Anti War Movement across the country.

The culture of politics and sexuality 1970

Bringing the women together for the anti war and civil rights  movement provided a format for women to consider their own roles in society, as well as to challenge the status quo of following along with the country’s attitudes about the war and about civil rights.   Jane Fonda in her antiwar activities became the focus of national attention in her kacki jeans with braless t shirt, no make up and long untethered hair.  From college campus to the  film industry and the media,  from California to New York, a social movement protesting the war and demonstrations that resulted in Ohio State where a college student was killed had the country aware of change underway the late 60’s.

Jane Fonda speak in 1970 at Stanford University,  conveyed the message of protest well as she spoke of her genuine support of the young soldiers who were dying in Viet Nam.  Her real intention was to support men and help share the burden the men were carrying for the country.  The long hair and blue jean clad young men on college campus represented the fact that the social and sexual identity of women and men was impacted by the changes underway in the country.  Masculine and feminine roles, with both men and women reevaluating their roles and their choices in determining the course of their lives and their  own choices in sexuality.  Life magazine had articles about the risk of loss of sexuality with men and women dressing the same with their blue jeans and t shirts, communal living and operating with the same level of sexual freedom.     Peace, justice and love were not just what the young people embroidered on their t shirts, this was a lifestyle they hoped to bring to the next generation.  Free of racial and sexual prejudice, out of the achievement orientation of the 50’s, they sought a new generation’s dreams of an equalitarian  society.

The Youngbloods,  The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob  Dylan were the messengers of the new society seeking freedom and a world without war.  The clothing styles at I Magnin’s and the social pages of the San Francisco Chronicle conveyed the message of the potential of this new society of brotherhood and love.  

As it turned out, the sexual revolution of the late 60’s did impact the standards and behavior of the culture.  However, by the 80’s the communes were emptying, people were back in the harness of the lifestyles they had found lacking in imagination and creativity.  People had lives, they needed paychecks, and men and women went to work to have those lives that spilled out into the suburbs from the cities.

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The History of desire: What do women want?


The history of desire begins with the new question that emerged after the sexual liberation of 1960’s:  What do women want?

Women having desire, and focus on what women wanted in their sexual lives was a new problem, a new question coming from the place of women choosing their own participation and choices in sexuality.  Masters and Johnson began as a result of fertility studies, the role of women prior to the sexual revolution was to be the carrier of life, producing babies in families.  It was a new perspective and a new area of concern to have as a focus: what women want sexually.  Worthy to the barefoot frontrunners, the focus to of  the studies  focused on female pleasure  illuminated choices and integrity around the subject of female sexuality. The value of women had been related to their productivity as child bearers, and mates to their partners.  The new day was about a realm of satisfaction around sexuality expressed in the choices available to women today. 

David Buss, Ph.D and Cindy M. Meston, Ph.D, Head of the Sexual Psychological Lab at the University of Texas at Austin in 2010 developed  through their work and offered a further perspective on “Why Women Want Sex Today?”  Forty years after the feminist movement, what we know is, women do not need to marry to have a family.  Adoption is available to single parents;  partnerless conception is a medically sound alternative to becoming a partnered biological parent. The structure of family has shifted over the years to accommodate these changes.  The need for the contract of marriage for  women has also responded to these changes; women marry and birth children later in their lives,  and do not require marriage to have a family.  They have their own 401K’s, Affordable Healthcare Insurance availability which they can acquire on their own.  A majority of the college graduates are women and they represent the highest number of Ph.D’s in recent years.  So for the  Meston-Buss study,the question was a significant one.  Why do women want sex and how do they experience their sexual roles today.   The Buss-Meston research reported that 32% of women 18-24 years of age, single and married reported little interest in sex.  33% of the women of all ages single and married reported little interest in sex.  37% of the 50-60 year old women reported little interest in sex.

Irony prevails when women born before the 1970’s had little power over their sexual choices that sex or the lack of it suggests that freedom to be sexual also allows not to be.  The lack of sex was not a problem  for the couples that they studied.  They reported that the decline in sexual activity was a loss to their relationship.  Rather than the lack of interest and activity in sex being a negative, the couples reported satisfaction in their lives with each other.

To that point , A study by Erik Jassen at the Kinsey Institute  in 2010 added in his study that if one side of the couple is not in agreement with the other in terms of sexual desire, that does have a negative impact on the relationship.  There was a time when sex was only allowed if you were married to the opposite sex; if your partner was not interested or was absent from you, you did without sex.  Jassen’s study suggests negotiation by women around their sexuality is another new advance resulting from the sexual liberation of the past fifty years.

Practice of sex a positive

Why is this subject important?  Barefoot Frontrunners takes the position that once women were free to choose how to express their sexuality and with whom, sex falls into a response by women to honoring their own desire, not obligation or compensation or qualification for being a woman or being in a relationship.  Sex has its place, and coming from a place of want and desire, authentic expression is the agenda.  In fact, the role of women around sex also changed the measure of sex for men as we discuss.   Dr. Oz and most authorities on the subject of the importance of sex in relationship express that sexual activity is healthy throughout all ages of life, and increases vitality and longevity.   Choice may be the mark of a culture demonstrating the level of  how free women feel to express their sexuality on their own terms.

True liberation could be measured in the freedom women have to express their desire around sexuality as part of the process of identity honoring their own choices of the conditions and content of their sexual expression, and personal power to determine their roles in or out of the family structure, and in the world they encounter through their participation.  It could be said that  modern feminism is seen in the choices available to them.

There are  women in many places in the world where the criteria for sexuality falls within the realm of no choice:  from entitlement to sex by their partners, to obligation due to social perceptions of the role of women, to the woman’s  value being attached to procreation and availability of sex for their husbands.

For these women, choices are made for them at birth or at age ten about the use of their bodies and  sexuality around gratification and pleasure is not on the table of awareness or practice.  In an Indian village last week, NPR had  a story about a town council that punished a woman who wanted to marry outside her social level by having the whole tribe of men rape her.  These stories are painful to hear but a reminder that women and their ability to choose their lives, sexually and otherwise, is a recent fifty year old consequence of those who worked hard for change in rights and privileges for women.

Recognizing how recent the developments have been that  allow women to choose their destiny, their paths as sexual beings as well as every other significant choice is important.   It’s good to be reminded that harsh judgement and punishment,-including stoning, bride burning  are sanctioned by both men and women in some  cultures.  There are many parts of the world where women are enslaved by their sexuality.

The new day, the new context of who women are began in the early feminist movements e will discuss, but sexual liberation in the 70’s provided the practice and  conversation about choice and gratification, dignity and respect for women.   Female sexuality is a fresh opening of discovery and self knowledge at all ages that are recognized as a source of well being and self expression that is the new order of the new day for women.