Carlin and I would agree with much of what David Ley has said in his book Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them about women's sexual roles changing in the last half of the century. He got it right when he pointed out birth control and financial independence as major contributors to our sexual freedom, but we question the concept of "Insatiable Wives". How about wives with healthy sexual appetites who just naturally enjoy sexual variety much like men do!
How do you think women's roles as sexual beings have changed in the last half of the century?
David: There is of course a great deal of feminist and sociological work that has been devoted to this question, and thus answers that are far more thorough and detailed than my own. But, in researching my book, I spent a great deal of very enjoyable time on the history of female sexuality, in order to help me understand the expression of female sexuality within marriages, currently and through history. Of course the development and easy access of birth control have led to significant social changes, in the ability for women in general to separate sexuality from reproduction, with tremendous change. But, there are some other significant historical trends I found, aside from the impact of birth control.
The first, and I think most significant thing, is that female sexual freedom throughout the history of the world, ties directly to the economic independence enjoyed by women in society. So, among the Inuit, where women, with their husband's permission, could pursue sex with other men, the women traditionally oversaw the family's economy. Among the Islamic culture in 19th Century Morocco, wealthy women often engaged in flagrant affairs, protected from their husband's anger by the fact that the family's wealth was in the wife's name, inherited from her family. In today's Western world, as women's economic status has risen, so have the rates of female infidelity, and, not incidentally, the attention to female sexual satisfaction within heterosexual relationships. Even among individual women, the more economically independent a woman is, the greater her chances of engaging in infidelity, and the more personal value she puts upon her sexual satisfaction. So, as female social and economic independence has grown in the past century, her sexual independence and autonomy has likewise grown.
Secondly, I found a lot of strong arguments and research that suggests that the history of suppression of female sexuality has involved the cooperation and incitement of other women, as much or more than men. Not to say that men have not engaged in horrific acts of violence against women throughout history, but that it is most often women who label another woman as a "slut." Men have always loved female sexuality - Mae West said, "men love a woman with a past, they hope history will repeat itself." Women who are highly sexual report that they most frequently have male friends, rather than female friends, due to the rejection and judgment they experience from other women. The reasoning behind this theory is that for millennia, sexuality and reproduction was one of a woman's only bargaining chips, as she negotiated with men for protection and providing for her and her children. If another woman down the street were "giving it away for free" so to speak, it lowered the value of what a woman had to offer. So, the theory goes, the price of a product is dictated by the person least interested in the transaction. By acting as though sexuality has little appeal, women were able to invite greater value from men, in exchange. One significant change in past years has been increasing acceptance and support of female sexuality, by other women. Shows like Sex and the City provide a great depiction of this change.
In ancient history, female sexuality held a significant power. There are records of women stopping wars by lifting their skirts and exposing their vaginas to the battling armies. But then, in Western religious traditions, female sexuality was equated with shame, and feared in its ability to incite lust in men. Some argue that this may have reflected social efforts to constrain female economic power. It is significant, I think, that one of the first laws in recorded history, was the order to stone to death women who had more than one husband. In the past fifty years, we have seen tremendous change in this application of shame to female sexuality. I'm thankful to raise my daughter in a world where she is not constantly told to be shameful of her body and desires.
Finally, I think the Internet symbolizes a tremendous democratization of sexual rights and freedoms. Through history, it was women of wealth and power, or women involved in the intellectual communities, who could assert their sexual independence and pursue sexual relationships that fulfilled their desires, whatever those desires were. Catherine the Great could pursue relationships with younger men she wasn't married to, but the average woman could not. But, with the Internet, and the open flow of information, ideas and experiences, women can now easily learn that they are not the only women with sexual desires and interests. Those freedoms once reserved for Queens are now available to women across society.
I don't think that female sexuality has itself changed in recent years, but the safe, free expression of this sexuality has changed as women's status and freedom in society has changed. There have always been women like Victoria Woodhull, a female candidate for President in the 19th Century, who advocated for "free love," and celebrated her orgasm. But now, there is greater opportunity for women to pursue this dictate, without experiencing the social rejection and stigma that befell Woodhull. There is incidentally, a Victoria Woodhull Foundation to which I refer your readers, which supports sexual freedom worldwide.
A long answer for a big question.
via The Examiner