I was speaking at a college event recently with an anonymous Q & A at the end. One of the questions that came to the panel was this:
What should men know about women’s sexuality?
First, I feel that is one of the most insightful questions I have ever been asked. Ever. It’s phenomenal and very indicative of a strength of Generation Z (today’s high schoolers and college students). They want to understand and solve problems and support each other.
Second, where to begin? There’s a lot that can be said. Sexuality is complicated. It’s more than sex drive, and more than sensuality. My sexuality isn’t synonymous with orientation or libido. It is really an abstract idea that encompasses concepts of sex and gender.
Now, I know that’s a completely different can of worms and I don’t feel like opening it. Honestly, I feel like part of the confusion we’re seeing regarding healthy sexuality stems from the fact that we don’t ever talk about it in a healthy way.
So, my answer to him was this:
What you need to understand about female sexuality is that, for most of us, it has been shaped by shame.
The “Purity Culture”
Some women are raised being taught that sex itself is bad. That their own sexuality is somehow reprobate and evil. That being a woman nets them nothing. While their male counterparts are off being taught that sex is amazing and awesome and finding some sort of comraderie in being virile manly men, the women are told that it’s not their place to ask questions, to learn, or to even understand their own sexuality.
Christians, of which I am one, can even use Bible verses to back this up, citing a reference in Song of Solomon about not awakening love until its due time.
The “wisdom” seems to be: Women shouldn’t talk about sex, think about sex, or want to have sex, and they definitely shouldn’t enjoy it.
I wish I could locate the source, but I once read a page from an old Christian book on marriage for wives. The author explicitly told women that they under no circumstances should enjoy sex. (When I find it, I will update this with the reference.) It was unGodly for woman to express enjoyment for sex.
At an extreme, the message of the purity culture can be: A woman’s sexuality is dangerous, wicked, or wrong.
Let’s add to that the reality of sexual assault, exploitation, and violence against women.
The “Rape Culture”
I understand that “rape culture” can mean different things to different people and could be offensive to some or non-existent to others. If recent events are any indication though, our culture as a whole has a bit of a problem with understanding that women actually can possess autonomy over their own sexuality. No, her body is actually hers and yes, you actually do need to wait for her to tell you it’s ok. No, you can’t read her mind, and yes, it’s ok if she changes hers.
If statistics are to be believed, one in 6 women has experienced rape or attempted rape (source). Her sexuality was accessed without her permission. You only have to listen to a few victim statements from the Nassar trial or follow a handful of #metoo stories, to see the lasting impact and grief caused by sexual assault.
It’s not like someone stealing her favorite teddy bear. It’s someone kicking down the door to some of the most intimate parts of who she is. Of course it’s going to change her and shape her. When women live in fear of their sexuality being trounced on by predators, that affects their sexuality.
In a culture where women fear assault a woman’s sexuality is seen as a risk.
The “Porn Culture”
Yes, women watch pornography. Yes, women can be influenced by pornography. Even if a woman doesn’t watch pornography herself, odds are, she is surrounded by men (and other women) who do.
There’s two ways pornography can influence a woman’s sexuality.
- If a woman consumes pornography, it’s going to influence her understanding of who she is as a woman. It’s going to influence her sexual desires. It’s going to impact how she interacts with men (or with other women).
- Second, if she is around consumers of pornography, which is basically any woman in America, how others treat her can be influenced by their own use of pornography. Whether that’s how they view women in general or their attitudes toward sex, it can impact her and how she comes to understand her own sexuality.
Pornography is peddled as an antidote to both the stifling shame of purity and the oppressive fear of rape culture. It’s promoted as liberating and well within a woman’s rights as a sexual being.
One problem is it, as well as the other two cultures, objectifies women and influences sexuality.
Pornography tells a woman that her sexuality is meant to be on display.
Female sexuality is often shaped by a lot of heavy outside influences. Each one tries to define what it means to be woman.
The counter for all of these is the message of grace, healing, and true identity found in Jesus. If we want a truly healthy view of female sexuality, whether man or woman, that’s how it has to start. It stems from there and impacts how we view ourselves,sex, and how we relate to and love others.