Women choosing their own sexual lives was the process which engaged the generation of the 60’s produced the dynamic of some women who saw the opening to choose their roles and behavior in what would be considered a new level of consciousness, a view of feminism and the potential for equality in the bedroom and in their world. Not all women for sure, and there certainly was a significant difference in how women viewed themselves relative to the culture in which they lived, worked and raised their families. But the thread of new views on who women were and what the basis for sexuality might be about for women was changing.
Clitoral or vaginal orgasm had been challenged by Freud and Masters and Johnson in their 10,000 research recordings found there was no difference, and in fact measured the fact that women were capable of achieving many orgasms in a sexual encounter. But for most women this type of information if you got it at all came from your doctor when a problem in fertility was the case. Most women didn’t even discuss with each other the experience of their sexuality, and there was little available in terms of information for the public about women’s sexuality. The emotional content of women in their sexual experience was not considered scientific based and was discounted within the realm of study.
All the more reason for the social groundwork conditions which had Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963 become not only a best seller in this country but world wide has changed how women see themselves and their sexuality. Women began talking with each other, over the bridge tables, at the teas and church, found a vocabulary, found their voice around the rightness and validity of equality in the bedroom. They were the choosers and not just the chosen and responsible for the choices they made, not without a few bruises and not without trial and error, but that was how women came through their ownership of their sexuality if that was the course they chose in the late 60’s, early ’70s and change the culture they did.
THE PILL AND THE HITE REPORT
In 1973, Roe vs Wade offered the choice for women to take or not take pregnancy to full term. That same year, unmarried women were officially allowed to get birth control pills from their doctors. Talk to you grandmother or even your mother, your aunt or any of the women who have lived through the civil rights act to current times. A woman in the 1930’s in Brooklyn found her way to one of the first Margaret Sanger’s clinic. Some women went to Juarez, or to a doctor known to be compassionate towards women with unintended pregnancies that they did not want to take to term. Roe VS Wade like a bridge provided a certainty of choice that never existed before for women, away from being victims to their biology to conscious and responsible choice. For many women, this would never be a dilemma; for others, the option to terminate would never be what they would consider with or without the religious structure or mandate. But this did contribute, there’s no question to an increase in the interest in sexuality. There is not mistake to viewing the 70’s-80’s as the time of social and sexual experimentation with new game rules.
A shift of focus then to the new question of value and desire for women: what pleased them and why. And Cheryl Hite presented her woman researched book called The Hite Report in 1976 detailing the practices of women in their daily sexual lives. Sex for women was no longer perceived as fulfilling the biological function and responsibility for procreation or being a sexual partner to their husbands, the issue of pleasure and orgasm had taken the conversation to a new ground.
The Hite Report in 1976 gave a view of the intimate experiences of women relative to their reported pleasure and gratification of orgasm and specific sexual activity, including masterbation. Women began to talk to each other about their experiences, their expectations and their desires. It stirred up questions women had never before been willing to reveal about their sexual lives.
John Bancroft work at the Kinsey Institute in the 40’s was the tip of the iceberg in bringing up the scientific question of what lay behind the behavior of women relative to their sexuality, as reported by Julia Heiman, current director of the Kinsey Institute. But it would be the impact of the national conversation among women about their sex lives that was stimulated by the Hite Report that had the topic gain ground among women in the 70’s. The ladies bridge club tables in the late 60’s, early ’70’s and other ladies’ gatherings often provided the place and time for those discussions by women about women, the topic of orgasm had come into the conversation. Not all women identified with the strident voice and emerging presence of the National Organization of Women, in fact NOW seemed remote and alien to many women across the country, but women were talking to each other now more than ever.
SEXOLOGIST EARLY STUDIES
Helen Singer Kaplan, a sexologist in the 70’s developed a study on the physical response of women measuring those responses in the release of serotonin, heart rate, dilation of the eyes and lubrication. Her findings were that the emotional or cognizant awareness and the physiological response of women did not correspond . That is, the biological physiological changes in the body that corresponded with desire for sex were apparent but were not detected or reported by the women as they occurred. It was reported that the “split” -separation of feeling and physical response did not show up for men. When there was biological physiological change in men, men were aware of the desire that came with those changes. The obvious conclusion was that the evidence for physical response by men was observable and validated by erection.
But what could have been considered was the different standards about sexuality that are part of the education and experience of men and women as they enter puberty and adulthood. Men have historically had more approval of overt expression of interest in sexuality than women. Being aware of one’s own body and its desires for women is as recent as the social and political changes for women in the past forty years of western society.
When you consider the amount of pressure on women up until the mid to late 1960’s to withhold themselves from sexual activity for a variety of reasons relative to their value and inclusion as “good women,” their lack of recognition and experience of their sexual response makes sense. The rules socially adhered to by the majority of men and women didn’t include women coming to know their own bodies, their own desires and responses. The deal was to withhold their own pleasure and sexual activity until they married plain and simple. The release of societal standards in the sexual revolution of the 60’s cannot be overstated. The dramatic change from the mores that discouraged, limited women and even punished women relative to their expression of their sexual interest and appetite to expression to a NEW AGE; fulfillment, orgasm and birth control ushered in a new age, political, economic and social perception would be transformed.
Around the world today, there are countries and nations that still punish women for any overt expression of their sexuality and limit the women’s access to responsible care of themselves through the use of birth control. So for women, it could be said, the late 60’s was the beginning of owning their own sexual lives and choices. Today, incredulously, in the halls of congress, there is an attempt to take women back to that societal and legal constraint limiting their choices.
But the evolvement of women to know their own desire and their own bodies is relatively new ground for women that brought on new studies. Meridith Chivers of Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario directed her research in 2009 to “Discovering What Ignites Desire for women,” in the Archives of Sexual Behavior Anthology. Those studies and those of Lisa Diamond, a Sexologist at the University of Utah, also studied women’s desire in her sexuality study. The Diamond study revealed that women’s desire is more receptive to and dictated by need for intimacy and emotional connection. She measured the oxytocin as a factor in asserting that female desire was reliant on estrogen- and the cause of desire for women.
Marta Meana, Professor at University of Nevada, also researched in her study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, and her findings were that it wasn’t the closeness or communication that created the oxytocin that released desire, but that “being desired is the orgasm.” Meana attributed that to narcissism. Her study suggested that sexual response was a “yearning for self love.”
Major studies would follow relevant to the measure of how and under what conditions women experiencing their desire. But what can be seen is that with the advent of the birth control pill, those questions were really new questions and they brought on new options and dilemmas. That is, in the western world-while many countries continue to keep the conditions such that women are without the choice of birth control and are a victim to their sexuality.
There was considerable concern in the media and in society itself as women’s liberation and the choices to women about their sexuality became more accessible to women. Life magazine did stories about what if women become just like men sexually, free to choose their sexual roles and desires. Newspaper articles about how women would be just like men if they didn’t have the concerns that had provided constraints on their sexual choices and behavior. For some women, trying hard to achieve the a priori of what it was to be a successful woman, these choices to determine and manage fertility and sexuality, were considered by some as “unfeminine.” For the women who did choose to use the new support of birth control, self determination and personal liberty and responsibility was their choice. These women made their way thru uncharted grounds in a life that looked entirely different from their mothers, sometimes in opposition to their sisters, their colleagues and friends. It was a risk some women took, and an individual one made by the women who led.
Change certainly did come as a result of the independence of women, and 2013 saw for the first time, the majority of women choosing not to marry to have a family. Marriage, as was predicted in the 1970’s, was impacted by the changes in sexual behavior. The majority of Ph.D students are women, and women are primary breadwinners in 40% of the households with children. It is the new world, and birth control availability seems to be the world women have chosen and will not allow to pass into the rough and tough political attacks on women’s rights that have been a large part of politics since 2011.